No. 1 Alabama tops preseason AP Top 25; Ohio State, Georgia next

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With two of the best players in the country leading the way – and a championship game loss as motivation – Alabama is No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason college football poll for the second straight season and ninth time overall.

Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, national defensive player of year Will Anderson Jr. and the Crimson Tide received 54 of 63 first-place votes and 1,566 points in the Top 25 presented by Regions Bank released.

Ohio State is No. 2 with six first-place votes (1,506 points) from the media panel and defending national champion Georgia is third with three first-place votes (1,455 points). Clemson is No. 4. Notre Dame rounds out the top five, setting up a tantalizing opener at Ohio State on Sept. 3.

The Tide’s preseason No. 1 ranking is the seventh in 15 years under coach Nick Saban. Since the preseason rankings started in 1950, only Oklahoma with 10 has been No. 1 in the initial poll more often than Alabama.

The Crimson Tide started last season No. 1 and finished ranked No. 2 after losing the national championship game to the Southeastern Conference rival Bulldogs.

Alabama coach Nick Saban recently called 2021 a rebuilding season for his Tide dynasty, which has won six national titles over the last 13 years. He has a point.

Young was in his first season as a starter last year, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line. He was unfazed, throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns.

Anderson was a force on the other side ball as Alabama broke in a back seven with mostly new starters. The sophomore led the nation in tackles for loss with 33 1/2, 11 1/2 more than No. 2 on the list.

Ohio State brings back a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback in C.J. Stroud while at Georgia, most of the key players from one of the best college defenses of the last 25 years are now in NFL. Still, quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America tight end Brock Bowers return to a Bulldogs offense that could be even more explosive in 2022.

Texas A&M, which finished last season unranked despite handing Alabama its only regular-season loss, starts this season No. 6.

Defending Pac-12 champion Utah is seventh, the best preseason ranking in school history. Defending Big Ten champion Michigan is No. 8 after making the playoff for the first time last season.

No. 9 Oklahoma is the highest-ranked Big 12 school, one spot ahead of defending league champion Baylor.

POLL POINTS

Alabama has been in the preseason top five in each of last 14 seasons and in the preseason top three in 13 straight. The Tide’s 31st preseason top-five ranking this year matches Ohio State for the most in poll history.

Turning preseason No. 1 into a national championship has proved tricky throughout history, even for Alabama.

The Crimson Tide has gone on to win the national championship after starting No. 1 just once under Saban and twice overall.

Since the AP preseason began in 1950, there have been 11 preseason No. 1 teams that also finished the season top ranked. Alabama was the last to do it (2017).

RARITIES AND STREAKS

– No. 13 North Carolina State is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack matched their best preseason ranking. They were also 13th in 1975.

– No. 17 Pitt is in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2010.

– No. 20 Kentucky is making its first preseason poll appearance since 1978.

– No. 22 Wake Forest made the preseason rankings for the first time since 2008.

– Ohio State is ranked in the preseason for the 34th straight season, breaking a tie with Nebraska (1970-2002) and Penn State (1968-2000) for the longest such streak in poll history.

– Texas A&M has the second-best preseason ranking for a team that finished the previous season unranked. Ohio State was No. 3 in the 1972 preseason poll after being unranked at the end of the 1971 season and Notre Dame also started No. 6 in 1983 after finishing unranked in 1982.

How did the seasons work out of those teams? Ohio State went 9-2 and finished the season No. 9. The Irish went 7-5 and unranked again.

NOTABLE LEFTOUTS

– LSU with new coach Brian Kelly will start the season unranked for the first time 2000, Saban’s first of five seasons as coach of the Tigers.

– Florida and Florida State are both unranked to start the season, which has not happened since 1974.

NEWBIES

Five schools ranked in the preseason poll have head coaches starting their first full seasons leading their teams: Notre Dame (Marcus Freeman), Oklahoma (Brent Venables), No. 11 Oregon (Dan Lanning), No. 14 USC (Lincoln Riley) and No. 16 Miami (Mario Cristobal).

This is the second time in the last five seasons that five teams with new coaches were ranked in the preseason, according to research done by Sportradar. It also happened in 2018, but before that season that type of representation in the preseason poll for teams with new coaches was a rarity.

You have to go all the way back to 1990 when six schools with coaches entering their first full season appeared in the preseason Top 25, according to Sportradar. That list includes some notable names: Gary Moeller, Michigan; Ken Hatfield, Clemson; Gene Stallings, Alabama; Jack Crowe, Arkansas; Paul Hackett, Pittsburgh; and John Jenkins, Houston.

CONFERENCE CALL

For the fourth straight season, the Southeastern Conference has three teams in the top six.

The Atlantic Coast Conference matched its best showing in the preseason poll with five teams. The ACC has reached that number four previous times.

SEC – 6 (Nos. 1, 3, 6, 19, 20, 21).

ACC – 5 (Nos. 4, 13, 16, 17, 22).

Big Ten – 4 (Nos. 2, 8, 15, 18).

Big 12 – 3 (Nos. 9, 10, 12).

Pac-12 – 3 (Nos. 7, 11, 14).

American – 2 (Nos. 23, 24).

Independents – 2 (Nos. 5, 25).

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.