The oddest, saddest ranking in the 85-year history of the Associated Press preseason college football poll appeared Monday and groaned with nine teams that actually won’t play this fall.
Led by No. 2 Ohio State, the list also included No. 7 Penn State, No. 9 Oregon, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan, No. 17 Southern California, No. 19 Minnesota, No. 22 Utah and No. 24 Iowa. All of those teams will spend the fall idle after two major conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-12, scrapped those seasons on Aug. 11, because of United States’ inability to minimize the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Buckeyes come off a 13-1 season in which they made the College Football Playoff and lost a crusher of a semifinal Fiesta Bowl to Clemson, and then figured to return their Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback, Justin Fields. Their placement at No. 2 came as a sort of fleeting balm of normalcy to their populous fan base.
“The preseason poll has always been a speculative ranking of teams based on last year’s results and knowledge about the new makeup of teams,” Associated Press global sports editor Michael Giarrusso said in a story on the wire service. “This year, we think it is crucial to give all the teams and all their fans a snapshot look at what the top 25 would have been to open the season.”
That snapshot had Clemson, which finished as the national runner-up last January after winning two of the three national titles before that, as the obvious No. 1 in the tally of the preseason guesswork of 62 sportswriters and broadcasters. LSU, which defeated Clemson last January but lost 31 players from that team, including a Heisman Trophy winner, a Biletnikoff Award winner and a Jim Thorpe Award winner, got another signal of its reputation for strong recruiting when it got a ranking of No. 6.
For a season in which only 67 of the 130 top-level teams aim to play this fall, the three Power Five league still going – the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC – got five of the top six spots and seven of the top 10. Alabama, which has won five of the last 11 national titles but missed the four-team College Football Playoff for the first time last year, stood at No. 3. Its brawny next-door neighbor Georgia, which is scheduled to play at Alabama on Oct. 17, took No. 4.
Oklahoma led the Big 12’s four ranked teams and became its only preseason top-10 team with the No. 5 ranking.
Florida of the SEC held down No. 8, while Notre Dame set to begin its one-season adventure as a full-on football member of the ACC at No. 10.
As always in the time-honored concept of naming a preseason top 25, the voters chose some teams based largely on apparent promise. Two teams that went 7-6 in 2019 made the list: No. 18 North Carolina and No. 23 Iowa State, both of which aim to play this fall. Five teams that went 8-5 but tend to see themselves as superior to same also appeared: No. 13 Texas A&M, No. 14 Texas, No. 15 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Southern California and, wedging in curiously at No. 25, Tennessee, seen as improving after a long 2010s decade. Of those seven teams, all but Southern California still aim to have a season.
The list also included two teams from the Group of Five, the sport’s second tier within its first tier. Those were No. 20 Cincinnati and No. 21 Central Florida, both still set on playing. In the strangest of years, Cincinnati becomes the highest-ranked active team in Ohio even as it sits 18 places below its far louder neighbor.