Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The ball has not been propelled skyward yet, but the release of the Associated Press preseason college football poll means the season is almost at hand.
The season’s first poll is anything but a surprise, as the Alabama Crimson Tide are on top, followed by Ohio State, Florida State and USC in the next four spots.
If at least two of those teams did not make the College Football Playoff at the end of the season, it would be a major surprise. However, if nothing changed and all four made it, it might be an even bigger surprise.
Upsets happen throughout the season, making the rankings fluid in the eyes of the voters.
The Big Ten has three teams in the Top 10 and one just outside it: Penn State (sixth), Wisconsin (ninth) and Michigan (11th).
Alabama is the only Southeastern Conference team in the Top 10, with Auburn and LSU at No. 12 and 13, respectively.
Here’s a look at the initial Top 25, along with previews of three teams in the Top 10 (the number in parentheses indicates the first-place votes that each school received):
1. Alabama (52)
2. Ohio State (3)
3. Florida State (4)
4. USC (2)
6. Penn State
10. Oklahoma State
18. Miami (Florida)
19. South Florida
20. Kansas State
21. Virginia Tech
22. West Virginia
24. Washington State
Alabama is a team that is under the constant pressure of high expectations.
The only thing that head coach Nick Saban is willing to accept is another national championship. That means the Crimson Tide can’t lose more than one early-season game if it intends to make the playoff and sweep the two games that it would take to win another title.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts has experience and knows what it takes to succeed. He had a 23-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and threw for 2,780 yards while completing nearly 63 percent of his passes. However, he struggled against Washington and Clemson, and Saban wants to see him improve against top-level opponents.
Hurts ran for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he is always a threat to run with the football effectively. Running back Bo Scarborough ran for 812 yards and 11 touchdowns, while wide receiver Calvin Ridley caught 72 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns.
The defense is often the backbone of Alabama’s success, and defensive tackles Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand are capable of collapsing the interior. Payne is the more accomplished of the two players, and he has massive strength along with excellent quickness.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick looks like a top pro prospect, and he is coming off a season with 66 tackles, seven passes defensed and six interceptions.
PFF College Football @PFF_College
When given a clean pocket, no returning Big 12 QB saw a better passer rating than Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. https://t.co/seaqWp1Snh
Is this the year that Baker Mayfield comes away with the Heisman Trophy? After two brilliant seasons, the QB should have an excellent chance to win that award for the No. 7 Sooners.
Mayfield is coming off a season in which he completed 70.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,965 yards with a 40-8 TD-interception ratio.
Tight end Mark Andrews caught 31 passes for 489 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and he figures to be one of Mayfield’s top targets. Wide receivers Jeff Badet and Jeffrey Mead should also be in the pass-catching mix.
Running back Rodney Anderson may turn out to be the key player when it comes to the team’s offensive success. If Mayfield does not have a complementary running game, the Sooners will disappoint.
Anderson has the size at 6’2″ and 218 pounds to play a physical game and eat up big chunks of yardage. He has the speed, quickness and strength to become a superstar after missing all of last season due to injury.
Defense in the Big 12 is always suspect, and the Sooners will need to pick it up in this area. Cornerback Jordan Thomas is a fine cover man who broke up 16 passes and had two interceptions last year, and this team returns seven starters.
The No. 9 Badgers appear to have an excellent chance of representing the West Division in the Big Ten championship at the end of the season since the bulk of the Big Ten’s power lies in the East.
The Badgers have a good shot of bringing an undefeated record into their November 18 home game against Michigan.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has to show quite a bit of improvement after completing 106 of 181 passes for 1,262 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2016. He has a huge offensive line protecting him, and that should help him stay upright and give him time to find his receivers.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli is a 6’6″, 248-pound target with good hands. He caught 47 passes for 580 yards last year, while wideout Jazz Peavy caught 43 passes for 635 yards.
Wisconsin led the nation in scoring defense in 2015 by allowing 13.7 points per game, and the Badgers ranked fourth last year with 15.6 points per game. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard returns seven starters, so the Badgers should be defensively stout once again.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards is one of the best tacklers in the Big Ten. He had 89 stops a year ago along with three sacks and three interceptions.