CFP National Championship Clemson Alabama Football

Alabama coach Nick Saban and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney led teams which played for the college football championship trophy after the 2018 season. Their teams rank among the preseason favorites again in 2019.

It's a starting point.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

And when putting together my preseason ballot for the Associated Press college football poll -- which is scheduled to be released at 11 a.m. today -- I'm starting with the defending champions.

I'm ranking Clemson and Alabama 1-2 in the preseason poll, although they could easily be ranked 1A and 1B.

There is a lot to like about both teams and either could have topped this poll.

Nothing in NCAA history tops Dabo Swinney's new 10-year, $92 million contract, however, at least not yet so that along with the skill returning in quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, makes the Tigers the team to beat as the 2019 season kicks off.

Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and company may have plenty to say about that ultimately and Nick Saban's program continues to stockpile talent as well. Until someone proves otherwise, Alabama and Clemson are the cream of the collegiate crop.

Georgia isn't far behind and QB Jake Fromm and the Bulldogs were an easy pick for third on the preseason ballot.

I'm probably going against the grain in fourth by picking Texas, but I'm giving the Longhorns a chance to use their experience to build on last season's double-digit win total and edge Oklahoma in the Big 12.

I have the Sooners slotted in eighth in the preseason, but admit the match-up in Dallas could have me rethinking this a few weeks into the season.

Between the two Big 12 programs I have Ohio State in fifth, Michigan in sixth and Florida in seventh. LSU in ninth and Pac-12 preseason favorite Utah in 10th round out my top 10.

Justin Fields will be the key element to the Buckeyes' hopes in the Big 12 East. If the transfer QB doesn't deliver, Michigan will.

I'm banking on Michigan State's defense to make things interesting in the East as well, ranking the Spartans 14th.

Wisconsin has questions, particularly at quarterback, but they also have Jonathan Taylor and enough line depth to move a mountain. The Badgers face a challenging schedule, but I'll begin with them at 17th and as the top rated team from the Big Ten West.

I have Iowa State and Iowa in the 19th and 20th spots, respectively. I see a lot of similarities between the two teams and plenty of reason for fans of both programs to be excited about the prospects for the upcoming season.

Both defenses have elite potential and both have veteran quarterbacks and growing offensive lines that should make life interesting between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers throughout the fall.

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will settle this poll positioning on the field during week three of the season at Jack Trice Stadium, but that home-field edge is why I start with ISU in front of Iowa.

There's plenty of parity in today's college game and as was the case a year ago, I somewhat expect the 18th through 25th spots on my ballot to be in scramble mode throughout much of the season based on weekend results.

Beyond the teams that begin there, I took a look (in alphabetical order) at Boise State, Cincinnati, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, Northwestern, Oklahoma State Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech for the final few spots on the initial ballot.

The first poll of the regular season will be released on Tuesday, Sept. 3 and will follow on Sundays throughout the rest of the season.

Follow along and here is my ballot for the AP preseason poll which will be released at 11 a.m. today:

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Georgia

4. Texas

5. Ohio State

6. Michigan

7. Florida

8. Oklahoma

9. LSU

10. Utah

11. Notre Dame

12. Texas A&M

13. Oregon

14. Michigan State

15. Washington

16. Auburn

17. Wisconsin

18. UCF

19. Iowa State

20. Iowa

21. Mississippi State

22. Stanford

23. Washington State

24. Penn State

25. Army

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