Seventy-five years after its first appearance, the once-dominant Associated Press poll's greatest virtue at this point is its role as curmudgeonly counterweight to the new world order wrought by television networks, corporate sponsors and revenue-hungry conferences: The AP not only refuses to participate in the newfangled "BCS" fad, but occasionally rejects the premises altogether. And yet, even the contrarian writers can't resist the overwhelming tide pegging Alabama as the favorite to repeat as national champion.
'Bama picked up 54 of 60 first-place votes in the AP's preseason poll, released this morning, echoing the near-unanimity for the Tide in the preseason Coaches' poll and just about every other preseason poll that came before them this summer. (See the entire poll here, and break down individual writers' ballots here.) Like Florida last year and USC in 2005 and 2007, there is no argument about who begins the season as No. 1 – though it must be added that all three of those supremely talented outfits ultimately fell short of the title, and none of them entered the season with anywhere near the question marks surrounding the 2010 Crimson Tide in the wake of staggering attrition from 2009's chart-topping defense. In fact, the last team to start and finish atop the AP poll was Florida State, which went coast-to-coast at No. 1 way back in 1999.
In general, though, if you're looking for an argument with the status quo, the AP poll isn't the place to find it. The top five – Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Florida and Texas – are the same teams that finished in the top five at the end of last season, and that make up the top five in the Coaches' poll. Putting the mainstream polls side by side, seven teams in all (No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 11 Oregon, No. 12 Wisconsin, No 15 Pittsburgh, No. 18 North Carolina, No. 20 Florida State and No. 25 West Virginia) land in exactly the same position in the AP and Coaches' polls, and only three (Virginia Tech, Penn State and LSU, all ranked four or five slots lower by the writers) come in with a difference of more than two positions. The only teams that appear in one poll but not the other are Utah (No. 24 according to the coaches) and USC (No. 13 by the AP), and that's only because the coaches were specifically prohibited from voting for the Trojans while they're under NCAA sanctions.
Even the conference breakdown is the same: As in the Coaches' poll, the Big 12 places the most teams in the AP's top ten (3), the ACC places the most in the top 20 (5) and the SEC has the most in the entire poll (6), thanks to LSU, Auburn and Georgia coming in at Nos. 21, 22 and 23, respectively. Again, Boise State and TCU are pioneers as the first teams in the history of the poll to start in the top ten from outside of one of the "Big Six" conferences. Again, Oklahoma is expected to rebound from last year's injury-riddled, 8-5 slump to finish in the top ten.
All hail the conventional wisdom. Now let's blow it to smithereens with some actual games.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.