As I compiled my AP top 25 preseason rankings, I kept coming back to one question: How high is too high for Florida State? It’s the same one I asked colleagues last month at the ACC’s football kickoff.
The Seminoles’ ceiling is probably fourth, which is where I put FSU on my ballot.
Georgia was an easy choice at No. 1 because of its loaded roster. I am not, however, picking the Bulldogs to win a third national championship. The best/most talented team does not always win it all, and the last team to win three consecutive titles was Minnesota (1934-36). I envision Georgia slipping because of bad injury luck, an unfortunate bounce or simply a rough performance along the way.
Instead, my national championship pick is Ohio State, whom I ranked second. The Buckeyes have the best receiving corps in the country and have recruited at a national championship level. I think they’re due and break through this year.
Michigan came next. The coaching issues — including Jim Harbaugh’s expected suspension — gave me pause, as do the Wolverines’ recent semifinal showings.
Why FSU is No. 4 on our AP top 25 ballot
That brings us to FSU, ahead of LSU and Alabama. Quarterback Jordan Travis was very good last year; I think he makes the jump to elite this season thanks to a better, deeper offensive line and the skill talent Mike Norvell has amassed around him. I trust Norvell to use those playmakers well enough to make up for potential talent gaps against the Tigers of LSU and Clemson. I was also encouraged by FSU’s strong returning production and stable staff.
I understand ranking FSU anywhere between fourth and 10th. It’s possible last year’s 10-win season was a mirage thanks to empty-calorie wins late in the fall. Depth is an issue, too, and why I think FSU can make the College Football Playoff but probably not win it.
The other teams in this tier are flawed, too. LSU was overmatched at times last year. I’m concerned about Alabama with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and a new quarterback after a run of four straight stars (Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Bryce Young). That’s not sustainable, which is why I think the Crimson Tide will only be very good this year.
USC’s offense will be great, but I don’t think its defense will be as good as the one at FSU. I’m reluctant to buy into Texas until the Longhorns show more on the field. Though Tampa Bay Tech alumnus Michael Penix is a star at Washington, the Huskies’ top-to-bottom talent doesn’t stack up against FSU. Clemson has wobbled, so I see no reason why FSU can’t knock the Tigers off this year.
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All those factors together reinforced what I’ve said all offseason: I think FSU is a playoff team this season.
Other thoughts on my ballot before the full poll is released Monday:
• I put the Gators’ Week 1 opponent, Utah, at No. 12. I did so assuming that standout quarterback Cameron Rising will make a full recovery from a knee injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl.
• Teams I’m more skeptical about than most: No. 11 Penn State (I have questions about James Franklin’s game management until proven otherwise); No. 15 Tennessee (I want to see how the Volunteers look without quarterback Hendon Hooker and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh first); and No. 24 TCU (teams rarely lose transcendent quarterbacks like Max Duggan without regressing).
• Teams I’m more optimistic about than most: No. 16 Wisconsin (I expect new coach Luke Fickell to fix things quickly); and No. 23 Kentucky (North Carolina State transfer quarterback Devin Leary is a huge addition to a solid program).
• No teams outside the so-called Power Five made my ballot. The quirk wasn’t intentional but is a sign of talent coalescing at the top through traditional recruiting and the transfer portal.
My AP top 25 preseason rankings:
2. Ohio State
4. Florida State
11. Penn State
13. Notre Dame
17. Oregon State
20. Kansas State
21. Texas A&M
22. North Carolina
25. Texas Tech
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