RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The Associated Press preseason Top 25 is out. Take a look at how the ballots break down, and find out what to watch for when the college football season begins this month:
‘NOLES NATION DOMINATION
Finish No. 1. Start No. 1. Even Bobby Bowden’s best Florida State teams never did that.
Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles will. Jameis Winston and the defending national champions are preseason No. 1 for the sixth time.
In two of the previous five seasons Florida State started No. 1, the ‘Noles went on to finish No. 1, including a wire-to-wire title in 1999. But they never did start the following year top-ranked.
OK, the 2000 Seminoles were preseason No. 2, and after Bowden, the Hall of Fame coach whom Fisher replaced, won his first national championship in 1993, Florida State started 1995 ranked No. 3.
Fisher’s Seminoles have a long way to go to compare to Florida State’s unprecedented run of national championship contention, a string of 14 straight seasons during which the ‘Noles finished the season ranked in the top five of the AP rankings.
Still, make no mistake: Florida State 2.0 is built to last.
“We’re the second-winningest team in the country the last four years, the winningest team the last two years and have had the most NFL players,” Fisher said. “We’ve recruited well, too. Recruited a lot of great young players we’ve been able to mentor and develop as we go, so we’re very comfortable with the guys who are replacing the guys that left.”
The Seminoles were an overwhelming choice as No. 1, receiving 57 of 60 first-place votes from the media panel. No. 2 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma got one first-place vote each.
Ohio State is No. 5 and Auburn, which lost the final BCS national championship game to the Seminoles 34-31, is No. 6.
Last season was a good reminder that preseason rankings can look pretty silly by the end of the season. Four teams that finished in final top 10 last season (No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Michigan State, No. 5 Missouri and No. 10 UCF) were unranked to start the season. Throw in No. 13 Baylor, No. 20 Arizona State and No. 23 Duke, and seven of the teams that either won or played for the championship in the six conferences with BCS automatic-qualifying status began 2013 unranked.
The Bowl Championship Series is gone now, replaced by the College Football Playoff. The top four teams will be placed into national semifinals to be played on New Year’s Day and advance to the championship game about a week and half later.
Expect surprises, though coming up with a scenario in which Florida State is not part of college football’s first final four is difficult.
Winston will make a run at his second Heisman behind an offensive line that returns four starters. There’s turnover at receiver and running back but still plenty left of four- and five-star talent left behind.
Same goes on defense, where sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Mario Edwards step into leadership roles.
Florida State is the hunted again. Fisher wants them to still act like hunters.
“We better have that attitude. It’s got to be your attitude every year,” said Fisher, starting his fifth season as Florida State coach. “We call it an attitude of domination. You can never be satisfied.”
Florida State starts its season with a rebuilding Oklahoma State team at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which, coincidentally, is also the site of the first College Football Playoff national championship game.
Do not think for a second that the end of the Southeastern Conference’s streak of national championships means the SEC is slipping.
The SEC begins the 2014 season with eight ranked teams, matching its own record for most teams from one conference in the preseason poll, set in 2011.
After Alabama and Auburn, South Carolina is No. 9, Georgia is 12, LSU is 13, Mississippi is 18, Texas A&M is 21 and Missouri is 24.
The Pac-12, which gave the SEC a good run as the nation’s best conference last year, has six ranked teams — No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 Southern California, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington — the most ever for the league in the preseason.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
— No. 7 UCLA has its best preseason ranking since 1998, when the Bruins were also seventh.
— No. 8 Michigan State has its best preseason ranking since 1967, when the Spartans were No. 3.
— No. 10 Baylor is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1986 and has its best preseason rankings since 1957, when the Bears were No. 7.
— No. 25 Washington, with new coach Chris Petersen, formerly of Boise State, is making its first preseason appearance since 2003.
START TO FINISH
Since the AP preseason poll debuted in 1950, Florida State in ’99 and Southern California in 2004 are the only teams to start and end the season No. 1 in the AP poll. Eight other preseason No. 1s have also won the national championship.
— Ohio State has been ranked in 26 straight preseason polls, the nation’s longest current streak.
— Alabama has been ranked in the top five in six straight preseason polls, the nation’s longest current streak.
Full poll listing can be found at http://collegefootball.ap.org/poll
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