The release of the AP Top 25 is still a couple of weeks away, giving voters plenty of time to review every last bit of information before heading out for one final beach vacation before the start of the college football season. If you are taking your own guesses as to how the AP poll will look, consider giving the coaches poll a quick glance to help you build a foundation.
Last year’s preseason poll from the coaches and the AP had the exact same top four teams (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Florida State) and the next six teams in their respective top 10 within one ranking spot between the two polls (for example, Michigan was No. 7 in the AP poll and No. 8 in the coaches poll, Notre Dame was No. 10 in the AP poll and No. 9 in the coaches, etc.)
If you look at this year’s coaches poll, you can probably assume a similar trend when the AP Top 25 is released later this month. Alabama figures to be as safe a bet as they come to land the top spot in the AP poll, just as the defending national champs did in the coaches poll, but the possibility of a bit more sharing of first-place votes could be expected. Clemson landed the second spot in the coaches poll and could be looking at the same position in the AP poll. After that, however, things may be a bit more interesting.
Ohio State could be the biggest question mark. The Buckeyes were No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll, but since then the status of head coach Urban Meyer has been thrown under the microscope after being placed on administrative leave and a university investigation commenced that could potentially lead to a coaching change for the Big Ten favorites. The fate of Ohio State’s head coaching situation should be confirmed before the AP ballots are due, and if Meyer is not the head coach of Ohio State, enough voters may feel a drop in the preseason pecking order could be justified at the start of the season.
It will also be interesting to see how the AP voters weigh in on programs like Michigan and UCF. Michigan has received some good buzz this offseason from certain outlets following the addition of transfer quarterback Shea Patterson to potentially be a major upgrade to an offense in desperate need of improvement. UCF is coming off an undefeated season and returns one of the top quarterbacks in the nation with McKenzie Milton, yet the coaches poll put last year’s AAC champion one spot behind another perennial Group of Five favorite, Boise State. Will the voters in the AP poll be more optimistic about UCF under first-year head coach Josh Heupel, or follow the coaches and tab the Broncos as the top G5 threat to make the New Years Six lineup at the end of the season? Just once since 2013 have multiple Group of Five programs been ranked in the preseason top 25 from the AP, when Louisville of the AAC and Boise State of the Mountain West Conference being ranked No. 9 and No. 12, respectively. There is a track record of the top G5 program from the previous season getting some AP respect in the preseason ranking the following season, so UCF fans should feel pretty confident about the chances of seeing their Knights in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time in school history.
Knocking down the top 10 teams tends to be pretty straightforward for voters in both polls, but getting a consistent top 25 after going deeper down the rankings is where some of the bigger differences can be found. For example, last season’s preseason top 25 included Utah in the coaches poll but Washington State in the AP poll. The landing spots in the top 25 don’t usually stray too far away between spots in each poll for schools appearing in both polls, but it can happen. UCLA was No. 24 in the 2016 preseason coaches poll, but the AP placed the Bruins at No. 16 in the preseason poll. UCLA ended that season 4-8, so the coaches were at least a little bit closer to figuring out UCLA than the AP voters on this instance.
The bottom line is this; if your school is already in the coaches preseason poll, there is a very good chance your school will land in the AP preseason top 25. Furthermore, a school will likely have a similar ranking in the AP preseason poll compared to its current place in the coaches poll.