Ness Notes: CFB 2021: Play Away!

by Larry Ness

The coaches' preseason poll (established in 1950) came out back on August 10 and to no one's surprise, defending champion Alabama garnered 63 of the 65 first-place votes. FYI...Alabama has been ranked No. 3 or higher in each of the last 12 coaches' preseason polls. Clemson checked in at No. 2 but No. 3 Oklahoma was the school which grabbed the remaining two 1st-place votes. Rounding out the top-10 were No. 4 Ohio St, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 8 Iowa St, No. 9 North Carolina and No. 10 Cincinnati, The AP poll (established in 1936) released its preseason poll on August 16 (AP began its preseason rankings in 1950). Naturally, Alabama was No. 1 but unlike in the coaches' poll, 16 of the 63 AP voters chose someone other than 'Bama as its top choice. Alabama got 47 1st-place votes, followed by No. 2 Oklahoma's six, No. 3 Clemson's six, No. 4 Ohio State's one and No. 5 Georgia's three.

I choose to refer to the AP rankings during the regular season until the CFP rankings take over. Here's some interesting tidbits worth mentioning with the season kicking off on Saturday. It marks Alabama's EIGHTH preseason No. 1 ranking, tying Ohio St but both schools trail Oklahoma's 10 preseason No. 1 rankings. Just 11 schools in AP history have opened No. 1 and ended No. 1, the most recent being Alabama in 2017. Only TWO schools have gone through a season as the AP's No. 1 team wire-to-wire, Florida State in 1999 (rest in peace Bobby Bowdon) and USC in 2004 (Pete "I know nothing about violations" Carroll). More on Alabama. The Crimson Tide have now been ranked in 214 consecutive weekly AP polls, a streak that began back in 2008. During the 2020 season, Alabama moved past Florida (209 weeks from 1990-2002) and Florida St (211 weeks from 1989-2001), into second-place all-time. This seems hard to believe but Nebraska now, but Nebraska was ranked in 348 consecutive weekly AP polls from 1981-2002. Don't worry Husker fans, Scott Frost is ready to make a run at the record.

Some more random thoughts regarding the AP preseason top-25. Texas A&M was the "last team out" in the final CFP rankings of 2020 and opens No. 6 in the AP poll, the school's highest since ranking No. 3 in the 1995 preseason poll. Iowa St opens ranked 7th, the school's highest-ever AP ranking. Cincinnati (AAC) opens at No. 8, the highest preseason ranking for a non-Power 5 school since Boise St (MWC) earned a No. 5 ranking in 2011. Notre Dame lovers will not like that the Fighting Irish check in at No. 9, one spot BELOW the Fighting Bearcats!  Rounding out the top-10 is North Carolina, which has its highest preseason ranking since being No. 7 back in 1997. Ironically, Mack Brown was the school's head coach back in 1997, as well. Talk about "Back to the Future!"

The 2021 season kicks off Saturday with a 'whimper,' featuring a modest seven-game card with nary a ranked team involved.  However, the first week of September features a busy card with all top-25 teams in action. The schedule includes five games between ranked opponents, highlighted by No. 5 Georgia taking on No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte (early line has Clemson favored by three points) and No. 1 Alabama taking on No. 14 Miami-Fl in Atlanta (early line has Alabama favored by 18.5 points).

The bowl schedule calls for 43 games, including the two CFP semifinal contests and the CFP national championship game. We enter the season hoping that things go smoothly. There were 118 games postponed or canceled last year due to COVID-19. As we get set to open the 2021 season, every Power-5 conference has announced that schools that are unable to play due to COVID-19 this fall will have to forfeit the game and receive a loss. Let me take a quick peek back at the top-10 in the final CFP of the 2020 season (Dec 20). No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 7 Florida, No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Iowa State.

Alabama, Georgia and Iowa St were the only schools in this group that didn't cause a postponement or cancellation, while Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Oklahoma Cincinnati would have each been saddled with a loss under this year's policy. Florida would have taken the biggest hit, as the Gators would have forfeited two games (ending with FIVE losses instead of three). Other than Alabama remaining No. 1, the College Football Playoff standings could have looked much different last Dec 20th under this season's rules. Fingers crossed.

Good luck...Larry 

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