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How we voted: It’s Alabama over Clemson in our initial Top 25 poll

The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson is one of 62 national media members voting in the Associated Press Top 25 football poll this season. Every week throughout the 2019 season, he’ll break down he voted, offering three thoughts on the latest edition of the poll, an update on the Pac-12’s ranked teams and a look at local Top 25 representative Washington State.

Three thoughts

1. An overwhelming majority of voters had both Alabama and Clemson in their top two. But most didn’t rank the Crimson Tide and Tigers in that order, which makes me somewhat of an outlier. And really let that sink in for a moment: voting Alabama No. 1 will earn you more scrutiny than not doing it. Has the landscape shifted or was the natoinal championship game just an aberration. Clemson deserved the praise and Swinney’s team was certainly more prepared than Nick Saban’s when the Tigers and Tide clashed in January. But my gut tells me it would be Alabama by a hair if the teams met again today. Tua Tagovailoa was outplayed by Trevor Lawrence in the only game that mattered, but Tagovailoa’s body of work was better and I believe he’ll have slightly better weapons – Jerry Jeudy and Jaylen Waddle leading the bunch – at his disposal in 2019.

2. Last season, Florida and Washington State were omitted from the Preseason Top 25, but both produced shocking records that allowed them to finish inside the top-10 – the Gators at No. 7 and the Cougars, as most reading this know, at No. 10. That also signified the first time in school history WSU finished the season ranked higher than every one of its Pac-12 Conference peers. Who’s most likely to take the unranked-to-Top 10 path this season? Missouri didn’t make the cut, collecting 117 Top 25 votes, and the Tigers’ schedule sets up nicely with five of the first six games at home, followed by a three-game road stretch where Mizzou should only be tested once, at No. 3 Georgia. But, it’s worth noting that follows a bye week. The Tigers will presumably need to beat eithr the Bulldogs or No. 8 Florida for a top-10 nod at the end of the season, but the path at least seems feasible.

3. And what about a team that cracked my own Top 25, but didn’t make it onto the official list? Army’s won 10 games in two of the last three seasons and the Black Knights have a pretty easy road if the Black Knights want to do it for a third time. If they can somehow upstage No. 7 Michigan in week two, you can pretty much pencil the Black Knights in for a 10-plus win season. Next to the Wolverines, Army’s toughest game is probably … Air Force? Expect dual-threat QB Kevin Hopkins Jr. (17 rushing TDs in 2018) and the Black Knights to pour on the points this fall.

Perusing the Pac-12

Oregon (No. 11/17) – For future reference, the numbers in the parentheses reflect the actual AP ranking, followed by my own. So, yes, I do believe Oregon, Mario Cristobal and Justin Herbert enter the season with more hype than they warrant. Herbert wasn’t as effective as he was supposed to be in 2018 and you could argue someone who was projected as an early No. 1 Draft pick last season was only the third best QB in his own conference. Herbert, just like the Ducks, still needs to prove he’s worth the hype.

Washington (No. 13/15) – Ranking the Huskies ahead of the Ducks also reflects how I voted in the Pac-12 preseason poll. I do believe Washington will take the North division for a second straight year, even with the uncertainty at the QB position, and they have a favorable Pac-12 schedule, with home games against Oregon, Utah, USC and WSU, and just one truly challenging road game, Oct. 5 at Stanford.

Utah (No. 14/12) – As for the Utes? Well, I believe they’re the strongest team in the Pac-12 and give the conference the best chance of ending its multi-year College Football Playoff drought. The Utes return the league’s best backfield in quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, not to mention one of the Pac-12’s best all-purpose players in wide receiver/kick returner Britain Covey. And Utah’s offense still takes a backseat to its defense, which has three all-conference/fringe All-American players on the defensive line and two more all-leaguers in the seconday.

Washington State (No. 23/22) – See below.

Stanford (No. 24/NR) – The Cardinal bring back K.J. Costello, who earned All-Pac-12 Second Team honors last season behind Gardner Minshew, but his top three receivers left for the NFL and so did Bryce Love, who didn’t have his best stuff in 2018 but was still easily the team’s most productive rusher. The defense has an All-American talent in cornerback Paulson Adebo but there isn’t another preseason All-Pac-12 player on the team. My guess? The Cardinal backslide in 2019. But David Shaw has surprised us before.

Home cooking

For just the fourth time in program history, Washington State opens the season in the Top 25, at No. 23 in the official poll and at No. 22 in my poll. Either the voters used last year’s final AP poll, where the Cougars were ranked 10th, as a starting point, or they conducted some deeper research, recognizing how many offensive starters WSU returns (nine) or that the team has improved on defense every season since Alex Grinch was hired. Two ambitious AP voters ranked the Cougars No. 14 and 15, so for anyone reading, send all thank you notes to Brooks Kubena of The Advocate in New Orleans and Ryan Aber of the Oklahoman.

Either way, the fact that 41 of the 62 media members gave WSU a nod before the Cougars could play a game signifies how far the Cougars have come under Leach. But not to worry, 21 voters left them out, so we won’t retire the “Cougs vs. Everyone” slogan just yet.

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