Georgia is No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll unveiled Saturday, with Florida jumping into the top five, USF earning its first preseason ranking, Florida State missing the opening cut for the first time in 26 years and Miami not receiving a single vote.
Florida, No. 13 in the final poll last season, is ranked No. 5, behind Georgia, Ohio State, Southern Cal and Oklahoma.
The No. 5 ranking elicited little emotion from Florida players and coaches, who insisted their only goal is to see their names atop the poll — in January.
"Our guys know where they want to be ranked at the end of the year, and it has nothing to do with where you're ranked at the beginning of the year," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen said. "So I think it's a lot of fun for the fans to look at and speculate, but for the players and the coaches, I don't really think it matters."
USF is ranked No. 19, the first time the Bulls have been ranked entering the season. The Bulls, who are No. 21 in the preseason coaches' poll, earned their first rankings last season, when they went as high as No. 2 after a 6-0 start but finished the season unranked after losing to Oregon in the Sun Bowl.
"It's different to be ranked before the season, but we know from last season it doesn't matter where you start," USF linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "Wins are what counts. We have to win early and keep it going to achieve our goals of a Big East championship and more."
As was the case in the coaches' poll, USF made a huge jump from the final 2007 AP poll, which had the Bulls unofficially 34th based on the total votes. USF's jump of 15 spots is the largest of any team in the top 20, ahead of West Virginia (13 spots), Wisconsin (11 spots) and Texas Tech (10 spots). No. 24 Alabama and No. 25 Pittsburgh did not receive any votes in the final poll last season.
Florida State failed to make the writers' Top 25 for the first time since 1982, when the Seminoles were coming off a 6-5 season. Coach Bobby Bowden said he understands why the Seminoles aren't getting more recognition.
"They're not picking us high because we don't deserve to be picked high," Bowden said recently. "All your pickings are based on last year. Whoever's picked No. 1 must have finished No. 1 or 2. We were always picked No. 1 back in the '90s. We got preseason No. 1 a lot. We didn't win a championship every year."
So the state schools have their sights on the final poll.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Florida senior receiver Louis Murphy said. "That's our whole theme this year."
Gone to Dawgs
For Georgia, which returns 16 starters, it is the first preseason No. 1 ranking in school history. It also garnered the top spot in the USA Today coaches' poll, released earlier this month.
The Bulldogs are 22 points ahead of Ohio State in the national media poll. The AP poll is not one of the polls used for the BCS rankings.
"To me, I can't think of another word than exciting," coach Mark Richt told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. "It's exciting and fires me up that people think that about our program. The football world thinks we've got a shot and holds us in high esteem."
Richt found out about the honor midway through Saturday's practice. He informed his players and said the excitement spread quickly.
Still, while the preseason top spot is an honor, Georgia has other things on its mind. "Our goal is always set to win the Eastern Division," he said. "Our goal is always set to try to win the Southeastern Conference."
One of the biggest worries for Georgia is its schedule, which includes dates with six teams also ranked in the AP poll. South Carolina fell just one point shy of the top 25, as well.
"We look at our schedule and say it's going to be a battle royal," Richt said.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford joined his coach in saying there is a lot of work ahead.
"I think we're smart enough to realize that we play in the SEC, and it's not going to be just given to you," Stafford said. "It means nothing until you get out there on the field and prove it."
Player death: Sam Collins, a freshman defensive lineman for Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, died Friday after practice. He was 18. School officials said an official cause of death hasn't been determined. Montgomery Police Department spokesman Capt. Huey Thornton said the coaching staff thought Collins might have had heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
Times staff writers Antonya English and Brian Landman contributed to this report, which includes information from Times wires.