NEW YORK — Alabama starts this season where it ended last season — No. 1.
Coach Nick Saban has the Tide rolling the way Bear Bryant did in his day, in the top spot of The Associated Press preseason poll for the first time since 1978.
Alabama received 54 of 60 first-place votes from the media panel and 1,491 points to easily outdistance No. 2 Ohio State in the Top 25 released Saturday.
The Buckeyes, who have been ranked no lower than 11th in the last eight preseason polls, received three first-place votes.
Boise State is No. 3, its best preseason ranking, following another undefeated season. Underdogs no more, the Broncos even received one first-place vote.
Florida, Alabama’s Southeastern Conference rival, is No. 4. No. 5 Texas received a first-place vote.
The rest of the top 10 has TCU at No. 6, followed by Oklahoma, which received a first-place vote, Nebraska, Iowa and Virginia Tech.
The 10th-ranked Hokies face Boise State at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, on Labour Day night in the season’s first huge game.
As for Alabama, Bryant was coach the last time the Crimson Tide was the AP’s preseason No. 1. The Tide started and finished that 1978 season on top of the rankings, the first of two straight NCAA championships for Alabama.
The only other time Alabama was preseason No. 1 was 1966, when Bear’s team was coming off back-to-back championships.
Saban’s Tide, led by Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, will try to make Alabama the first program to win back-to-back AP titles three times. Oklahoma and Nebraska also have done it twice.
But please don’t call Alabama the defending champion — at least not in front of its coach.
“What was accomplished by last year’s team has nothing to do with this year’s team. The players have to understand that,” said Saban, who in three seasons has fully restored Alabama’s status as an elite program. “This team has to develop an image, an identity of its own by its performance.
“What was accomplished last year is just a standard for somebody else to top. Complacency is why the mighty fall.”
Saban has been trying to downplay this team’s No. 1 worthiness since the morning after the Tide beat Texas 37-21 at the Rose Bowl to win the BCS championship.
Back in January he practically was lamenting the fact that his team likely would be preseason No. 1 in 2010, quick to point out that while the Tide’s offence would be returning most of its stars, its dominant defence was facing major turnover.
Gone are All-Americans Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas and six other starters from last season.
Stepping in will be a cast of former five-star recruits and talented players who will be asked to expand their roles.
“We have confidence in our defensive players. I think it’s more a matter of knowledge and experience and maturity that the defence is going to have to develop,” Saban said.
Only 10 of the 60 previous preseason No. 1 teams have won the national championship. And only two (Florida State in ’99 and Southern California in ’04) have held the top spot for the entire season.
The second 10 in the preseason Top 25 starts with Oregon. The defending Pac-10 champion Ducks are No. 11.
No. 12 is Wisconsin and Miami is 13th.
Southern California is No. 14. The last time the Trojans started a season outside the top 10 was 2002, Pete Carroll’s second season as coach. Carroll is gone and USC is dealing with NCAA sanctions under new coach Lane Kiffin that prevent the Trojans from playing in the postseason.
Pittsburgh, the highest-ranked Big East team, is No. 15.
Georgia Tech, Arkansas, North Carolina, Penn State and Florida State round out the top 20.
No. 21 LSU is followed by Auburn and Georgia, giving the SEC six teams in the preseason rankings, the most of any conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference is second with five ranked teams.
Oregon State is No. 24 and West Virginia is No. 25.