- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Johnny Manziel’s autograph problems didn’t stop Associated Press poll voters from signing their name next to Texas A&M.
The Aggies came in at No. 7 in the preseason AP Poll released Saturday, just one spot below their place in the preseason coaches' poll, which came out days before ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported that the NCAA is investigating whether Manziel was paid for autographing photos and memorabilia in January. Despite Manziel’s troubles and Texas A&M losing several key players from last year’s 11-2 squad, the voters still believe in Kevin Sumlin’s crew.
There was decidedly little drama in the initial AP rankings aside from A&M. The voting mirrored that of the coaches' poll, as the same 25 teams appeared, 19 in the same place. The AP Top 5 -- Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford and Georgia -- is the same as the coaches.
Alabama not surprisingly was the overwhelming choice at No. 1, receiving 58 of 60 first-place votes, tying the 2009 Florida team for the highest percentage of first-place votes in the preseason rankings. That two voters drifted from the Tide -- one to Ohio State, one to Georgia -- might be the real surprise. Sure, every year is different, but it’s hard to make a case for any other team at the top after watching Nick Saban’s crew dominate the college football landscape in recent years.
Both Oregon and Stanford won BCS bowls last season but come in behind Ohio State, the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to go undefeated last season. The Buckeyes hardly were dominant, nearly stumbling against Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State. The voters clearly think bigger things are ahead for the Buckeyes in Year 2 under Urban Meyer, who won a national championship in his second season at Florida, thumping the team he now leads.
Notre Dame’s rough offseason affected the AP voters more than the coaches, as the Irish came in at No. 14, three spots below their coaches' poll ranking. Brian Kelly’s team will have chances to prove itself as it plays four ranked squads, culminating with the regular-season finale at Stanford.
Could this be the year the Big Ten finally puts itself back on the national stage? The much-maligned league has five teams in the poll, tied with the Pac-12 for the second most of any conference. The problem for the Big Ten: Only Ohio State cracked the top 15, while the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC all have multiple teams. It’s still very much an SEC world as five squads made the top 10.
The Pac-12 might be the best bet to unseat the SEC as both Oregon and Stanford have been branded as preseason title contenders. The Big 12 enters the season with zero top-10 teams but a potentially appetizing race between Oklahoma State, Texas and Oklahoma.
The poll features just two teams -- No. 9 Louisville and No. 19 Boise State -- from outside the “big five” conferences. Neither squad will play any teams in the preseason poll, so a path to Pasadena for the BCS National Championship, even with an undefeated record, seems difficult.
The near consensus between the AP and coaches' polls creates a clear landscape entering the season. Someone needs to catch Alabama. We’ll see if Manziel gets a chance when the Aggies welcome the Tide to College Station on Sept. 14.