- Phil Steele, ESPN Staff Writer
In each of the past four years, during the offseason, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. I do this by taking several different factors into account:
• Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First, they look at the number of returning starters the team has coming back, particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting quarterback and a combination of its running backs and wide receivers, for example, is often more highly regarded than a team that loses its starting quarterback but returns its entire offensive line.
Similarly, a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers is usually more highly regarded than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill-position players on offense.
• Another factor that is weighed heavily is the performance of the team in its bowl game, which is undoubtedly the lasting image voters carry with them of that team during the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win is usually more highly regarded than a team that is coming off a bowl loss, regardless of what its schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
Using these factors -- and a few others, such as strength of schedule -- I project the preseason AP top 10 every year at the conclusion of the previous season -- which in most cases is six months in advance of the poll's release. Now, as you all know, a lot can happen between January and August, including injuries, suspensions and transfers, but over the past four years, I have been very successful using this method, correctly projecting 37 of 40 teams, including all 10 teams last year.
Before I go into the rankings, it is important to make the point that this is not my preseason top 10 for next season, but rather what I am projecting the AP top 10 will look like to start the season. If you're familiar with my college football preview magazine, you will know that every year I tend to go out on a limb for a couple of teams in my top 10, and this year will be no different.
Now let's take a look at this year's projected preseason AP top 10 teams, ranked in order.
How do you top becoming just the second school since World War II to win three national titles in four years? You try to become the first program to win four in five.
The Crimson Tide look poised to do so in 2013. It starts with the return of quarterback AJ McCarron, who has played brilliantly in each of the past two BCS National Championship games. He is surrounded by some of the best skill-position players in the country in true sophomores running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The only question on offense is how the Tide will replace center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker on the offensive line.
The defense also loses nose guard Jesse Williams, cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester, but linebacker C.J. Mosley shockingly announced his return, as the Tide just continue to reload on that side of the ball. They have led the nation in total and scoring defense each of the past two seasons.
The schedule is also manageable, with an opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta followed by a bye week that leads into Bama's revenge game against Texas A&M at Kyle Field. The rest of the schedule is a walk in the park, with key games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee all at home, and two weeks to prepare for a home game against LSU. Add it all up and the Tide look just as strong, if not stronger, than last year's team, and AP voters will reward them.
4hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
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