Alabama will begin 2013 as No. 1, duh. Who’ll give chase?

Will these two teams go at it again this December? Maybe. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Will we see these two teams go at it again this December? Maybe. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – On the morning after securing his fourth BCS championship ring, Nick Saban was asked what he does with his BCS championship rings. Does he wear them all at once? Rotate them by month, by week, by day?

Said Saban: “I just put ‘em on the coffee table for recruits to look at.”

This drew a huge laugh — such a kidder, that Nick! — but it does underscore the problem facing the rest of college football. Success on the field begets success in recruiting, which begets even bigger success on the field, which is how one team in a cutthroat conference has come to claim consecutive BCS titles and three of the past four.

And Alabama now has bigger fish to fry. Only three programs — Notre Dame in the late ’40s, Nebraska in the ’90s and Saban’s Alabama — have taken three (legitimate) national championships in four seasons. No school has ever won three in a row, or four in five seasons. But who’s apt to derail this Bama locomotive?

After his Crimson Tide crushed Notre Dame 42-14 on Monday night, Saban spoke of how difficult this latest journey had been. “We got here by five yards. Georgia was five yards away from scoring (in the SEC Championship game). So it’s a pretty tough league that we play in, and we’re going to have to continue to try to improve as a program to have an opportunity to win the SEC Championship or the national championship ever again because of the competition in our league.”

Then this: “Look, we’re really happy, we’re really pleased, we’re really proud of what we have to do here. We’re going to enjoy it for 24 hours.”

And then back to work. For Alabama, the next game will come Aug. 31 against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome. The Tide will enter the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game ranked No. 1, perhaps by unanimous vote. But what teams will be in closest — not to say truly close — pursuit? An early look at the 2013 Top 25.

1. Alabama. Duh.

2. Ohio State. Urban Meyer is the only active coach with even half as many BCS titles as Saban, and the Urbanator just went undefeated in Year 1 at his latest stop. It’s intriguing that Meyer has had two unbeaten seasons, neither at Florida. This tells us what we already knew: He can coach a little, too. And in Braxton Miller, Meyer may have his next Heisman winner. (His first was a guy named Tebow.)

3. Oregon. The most stunning development of the month wasn’t Florida losing the Sugar Bowl to Louisville but Chip Kelly apparently choosing to stay in Eugene. For months his departure to the NFL had been seen as a fait accompli, but he hasn’t gone anywhere yet. Assuming he doesn’t, the offensive onslaught will continue. (Provided the NCAA doesn’t intervene.) Think of sophomore-to-be quarterback Marcus Mariota as the Johnny Football of the Far West.

4. Texas A&M. No team — not even Alabama, which lost at home to the Aggies — was playing better at season’s end, but some remain skeptical. Is Johnny Manziel really that good? Will Johnny Football be the same without left tackle Luke Joeckel, who’s leaving for the NFL? Will the raging Aggies offense rage on without coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, gone to Texas Tech as head coach? Will flavor-of-the-month A&M be the same the second time around the SEC.

5. Georgia. The Bulldogs could play them themselves out of the Top 25 by the end of September — or they could stamp themselves as the biggest threat to Alabama. They open at Clemson, and then they play host to South Carolina and LSU in two of their next three games. The Bulldogs’ defense will be radically reconstituted, but with Aaron Murray’s decision to stay in school the offense should be even better.

6. Clemson. The road to ruin has been paved with rosy forecasts for the orange Tigers, but the Clemson that beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl really did seem more forceful. (Skill was never an issue.) The runner Andre Ellington departs, but quarterback Tajh Boyd and bookend receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins return. And Clemson is finally starting to play a little D.

7. Notre Dame. In the aftermath of Monday’s thrashing, SEC zealots were heard to wonder if Notre Dame would even finish in the top half of the only league that matters. Wrong question. The right question: Could any college team have held up against Alabama playing at its absolute zenith? (Answer: No.) Forget 42-14. Do not underestimate the capacity of a famous program that has, after many false starts, gotten it going again. Do not underestimate the recruiting pull of the Fighting Irish.

8. Stanford. Remember when USC was supposed to reclaim the Pac-12 for Troy? That lasted only until the Trojans ran across Stanford, which has weathered the recent losses of coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck to remain robust. In David Shaw, the Cardinal has its new Harbaugh; in Kevin Hogan, it has its new Luck. Coming off its first Rose Bowl victory in 40 years, Stanford eyes even bigger prizes.

9. South Carolina. Jadeveon Clowney might or might not win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but barring injury he’ll be the nation’s best player. Steve Spurrier has proved he can win without the great back Marcus Lattimore, gone from Columbia after a second knee injury, and the Gamecocks stunned Clemson in Death Valley without injured quarterback Connor Shaw. But in 2013 Carolina will play Georgia in Athens, and the Bulldogs are past due in that game.

10. Florida. The bloom came off a return-to-glory season in that Sugar Bowl — even Gators fan Chipper Jones Tweeted his displeasure — and now Florida faces tough questions. Can its pedestrian offense, ranked 103rd among 120 FBS teams, improve enough to play for championships? This is no trifling matter, given that the Gators’ defense is losing seven starters. And, in case you missed it, the Georgia alum Will Muschamp has yet to beat his alma mater.

And the rest: 11. Louisville. 12. Florida State. 13. Boise State. 14. Oklahoma. 15. TCU. 16. Vanderbilt. 17. LSU. 18. Northern Illinois. 19. Oregon State. 20. Kansas State. 21. Oklahoma State. 22. Miami. 23. Georgia Tech. 24. Nebraska. 25. UCLA.

By Mark Bradley

264 comments Add your comment

Scot Krause

January 8th, 2013
2:12 pm

GTT

January 8th, 2013
2:14 pm

Scot Krause

January 8th, 2013
2:14 pm

Hey Mark, since I was first, could you please revise this list and put my Vols somewhere?

: )

Mark Bradley

January 8th, 2013
2:16 pm

Kudos, Scot. And I’ll take your request under advisement.

Biff

January 8th, 2013
2:23 pm

Half the top 10 is SEC, amazing how that doesn’t even seem outlandish anymore.

Under The Bleachers

January 8th, 2013
2:24 pm

A nice exchange between Aaron Murray and AJ McCarron about McCarron’s girlfriend:

Tweet from Murray:

@aaronmurray11: Aj McCarrons girlfriend needs to become a Dawg fan #dawgsontop

McCarron’s response:

@10AJMcCarron: @aaronmurray11 u don’t win enough bud!! #15

Coach Mark Richt

January 8th, 2013
2:27 pm

Coach Mark Richt

January 8th, 2013
2:28 pm

Maybe if we wear our special red-and-white-checkers NIKE Jersey…

Yeah, that’ll initimidate those Bammers.

[...] BCS title loss, optimism persists at Notre DameSI.comMLive.com -Washington Post -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 9,892 news articles » http://news.google.com [...]

What a joke

January 8th, 2013
2:30 pm

So of course a Ga. team with no defense is in the top five and then you put a Clemson team just behind them really?

[...] 7, 2013, in Miami. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip). storyidforme: 42712645 tmspicid: 15792874 …Alabama will start 2013 as No. 1, but who's apt to challenge?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Notre Dame's Brian Kelly looks forward, finds something [...]

Under The Bleachers

January 8th, 2013
2:32 pm

Mark

The SEC is going to be a Monster in 2013. Yeah, Probation Bound Oregon is a threat due to their lack of competition outside of Stanford( USC will be luck to win 6 games in 2013) but outside of the weak scheduling of the ACC’s Florida St( who will be better with Winston at QB) and your token Texas, Oklahoma group there just is not much competition to the SEC level of play.

You could take Alabama, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia( if they play defense), Vanderbilt( yes Vanderbilt) Ole Miss( much better especially if ( Kim-Dee-Chee brothers play together) and LSU( depending on how many more bolt to the NFL- the number is in the teens by now) put them all in a bag and anyone could beat anyone and still be better than Practically Everyone Else in the country in a bowl game.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
2:36 pm

Most of these SEC teams on your list will lose a lot of talent to the NFL. Bama, UGA, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M, S.Carolina – all losing to NFL. Ohio State plays a Notre Dame type schedule – over hyped & over rated. Notre Dame would be next to last in the SEC East or West. Oregon is for real but not enough defense to win the BCS. Looks like Bama has the most coming back on defense so I will give them the edge. They should be better on defense but there will be a drop off on the offense.

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

January 8th, 2013
2:36 pm

Put Scot’s Vols in the “not a snowball’s chance” list perhaps?

Under The Bleachers

January 8th, 2013
2:37 pm

Alabama
Texas A&M
South Carolina
Stanford
Oregon
Georgia
Florida
Florida St
Ohio St
Louisville

Say It Again Bama

January 8th, 2013
2:38 pm

QUESTION: How many National Championships does the Rev. Richt hold at UGA?

ANSWER: ZERO

QUESTION: How many National Championships does the Right Satan Saban hold?

ANSWER: FOUR THAT IS CORRECT.

Now boys and girls you all can shut-up about the 5 yards and wait ’til next year.

JB

January 8th, 2013
2:39 pm

For Dawgs, it will all come down to stopping someone and getting them off the field. There was something not quite right about that Dawg D all year. Worlds of talent, but really gave up the yards. Lot’s of folks saying how much worse can we be……I wouldn’t go there. Grantham did little this year to bring that group together……and if you ask some, it was Shawn Williams calling them out. Very well could be 1-3 early unless we just outscore everyone.

Steve

January 8th, 2013
2:41 pm

Mr. Bradley sir how do you feel about the fact that the final season polls for this year have Texas A&M and Georgia ranked below Notre Dame? for that to have happened proves polls are a joke and have no business in deciding a national champion

Under The Bleachers

January 8th, 2013
2:41 pm

Flo-ri-duh

I know Alabama will lose Fluker, Lacey as underclassmen, but trust me when I say I know the group ready to step in are going to be outstanding and Alabama will be much stronger in 2013 if they stay focused and hungry which is very very hard to do with teenagers and young men.

Florida is the one who I think will be hurt by the departures, those guys leaving them were the heart and soul of The Gators defense.

LSU is the one who is going to be hurting,,,they are losing a ton of guys and the rats seem to be jumping the ship very fast down there. Have you seen their list of guys leaving? Unheard of the number of guys who are not even in the top 4 rounds of draft. Going to get interesting for them.

Stinger 2

January 8th, 2013
2:43 pm

Mark: Thank you for being nice about GT. I hope you are right.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
2:43 pm

To early to predict – after the draft and signing day will be the time for predictions. Laremy Tunsil, Tyrone Crowder, Kublinow & company added to the returning OL would put UGA on a higher level on offense than any other team in the country. Special teams will be solid. Defense will be a work in progress with the most difficult 1st half schedule in the country…. starting with Clemson, S.C. and LSU. Do not underestimate the loss of Marlon Brown and Tavarres King….. both will be in the NFL.

JB

January 8th, 2013
2:44 pm

I’m thinking the bloom may be coming off the rose for Miles. The guy seems mentally unstable or something. He may be smart like a fox, but I don’t know. He bet the farm on Mettenberger and it’s not paying off for him.

JB

January 8th, 2013
2:46 pm

Stinger…..any rumor of a DC over your way?

Paul in NH

January 8th, 2013
2:51 pm

Did I read someone say how Vanderbilt could beat anyone in the country outside the SEC? This is the same Vanderbilt who beat exactly 1 FBS school with a winning record – an NCSU team that finished 7-6 and fired its coach before the bowl game.
Same guy said Ole Miss could beat anyone in the country outside the SEC. Texas must be from another planet then, because all they did was beat Ole Miss 66-31 in Oxford.

The SEC is easily the best conference but the delusion of some homers is amazing.

rcb

January 8th, 2013
2:53 pm

If the defense under performed most of this year, were they really under performing? And if they were not underperforming, why can’t we put just as good a team on the field next year? My take on all of this is the defense had too many “stars” who thought they didn’t have to work for it. Thought they just had to show up. How many “stars” do you see on the Alabama defense?

Paul in NH

January 8th, 2013
2:54 pm

Steve

January 8th, 2013
2:41 pm

Mr. Bradley sir how do you feel about the fact that the final season polls for this year have Texas A&M and Georgia ranked below Notre Dame? for that to have happened proves polls are a joke and have no business in deciding a national champion
——–
What the heck does it matter? I don’t think Texas A&M or UGA wanted to hang a “2012 We are #2″ banner. The BCS uses the polls to match up the 2 top ranked teams and the winner is automatically #1.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
2:55 pm

Bleachers – YES I know Bama is three deep with talent…… if Fluker goes they will only have ONE returning starter on the OL. Thing about OL is that experience counts and all of these guys leaving on Bama’s OL had multiple years starting. LSU’s offense hasn’t been good in a while and now they are losing their DL and have a QB that I have little confidence in. Florida will take a step or two back on defense but the offense has to be better – doesn’t it? Not sure S.C. should be ranked so high as they are losing talent also and their heart and soul, Lattimore, is gone. Texas A&M will probably lose at least three starting OL to the NFL. I see UGA winning the east again and Bama or Texas A&M the west. Still waiting to see what UGA’s NT Geathers is going to do – return or early to the NFL. That will be a key to the defense.

captguitarman

January 8th, 2013
2:57 pm

Not buying the argument that Notre Dame is any where as good as its national, big sports media hype machine thinks that it is, or that they just happened to run into Bama in full, blooming juggernaut mode. These guys were over rated all year, and ranking them over Stanford, South Carolina, and Florida (yes, even bowl game sleep walking Florida) next year is also way too generous.

Of course, they would have deserved their number one ranking if teams were ranked based on luck –no ranked team had better dumb luck in 2012 than the Irish. Yes, the legendary Irish of yore, the luck of the Irish, Knute, the Gipper, touchdown Jesus, opposing teams missing easy field goals and losing, paper thin winning scores, etc.

But unfortunately, all the big sports media hype and America’s eager embrace of the Fightin’ Irish come back to life (plus the miguided hope that here is a team that can knock the hated SEC off of its perch) resulted in them and lots of folks drinking the cool aid of self-deceit and bitter disappointment after facing a team like Bama.

It is a sad joke that the hugely over rated Notre Dame did not fall to a more correct final ranking this year in the 9, 10, or 11 range. Look at how A&M and Georgia played the Tide. How could Notre Dame possibly have been ranked higher than them? Even Oregon (who lost to Stanford and always finds a way to lose at the end of the season) should not be above them. But he national hype machine loves the legend and there is bias a plenty, and so, incredibly, Notre Dame is ranked above A&M and Georgia after getting run out of the stadium and then run out of town last night. But, of course, college football political correctness would not tolerate three SEC teams in final top 5.

And their big defense player, their Heisman candidate, Manti T’eo, was obviously the most over rated player on the field along with lots of other over rated players including their quarterback. Would he even start at Bama, Georgia, A&M? No. Notre Dame finally met a great team, one that not even their number one ranking in luck could help them defeat.

Class of '98

January 8th, 2013
2:58 pm

The UGA-Clemson game is in Clemson, not Athens.

Go dogs.

[...] is in another leagueChicago Sun-TimesWhy would Nick Saban ever think of leaving Alabama?NOLA.comAlabama will begin 2013 as No. 1, duh. Who'll give chase?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Washington Post -Albany Times Union (blog) -MLive.comall 9,916 [...]

Class of '98

January 8th, 2013
3:00 pm

My mistake, I misread the column.

And go dogs.

JB

January 8th, 2013
3:00 pm

Clemson losing any starters?

Mark Bradley

January 8th, 2013
3:00 pm

I don’t have a real issue with Notre Dame being ranked ahead of Texas A&M and Georgia. Notre Dame lost one game. A&M and Georgia lost two.

Yes, both A&M and Georgia played Alabama far better than Notre Dame did. But so did LSU. And Georgia lost by as many points in Columbia as Notre Dame lost here last night.

Steve

January 8th, 2013
3:01 pm

yeah those same polls are now proving how worthless they are in coming up with the teams that play in the BS ooops BCS. it is not about hanging we are No. 2 banners it is about plain ol’ common sense. if you honestly think now that Notre Dame is better than Texas A&M or Georgia you had no business in voting in the polls to begin with.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
3:03 pm

UGA’s offense was BCS champ caliber – the defense needs to learn how to adjust to a double team in the trenches. Most over rated player and most over hyped – Notre Dames middle LB. Notre Dame was about #15 and yet they were given #3 in the BCS poll – wishful thinking and unwilling to say you were wrong is no good reason to have Notre Dame in the top #10. Ohio State is another Notre Dame – over rated schedule – over hyped – over rated. Maybe they should be #14 – right ahead of Notre Dame.

Steve

January 8th, 2013
3:05 pm

I have no problem with South Carolina being ranked ahead of Georgia. but the two loss, one loss thing is a big stretch. Texas A&M beat Bama and Georgia was only five yards away from beating Bama. if you are only going to judge on the one loss, two loss aspect you are penalizing those two teams from playing a tougher schedule that ND did.

Northside Dawg

January 8th, 2013
3:05 pm

It would be nice if Taj Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins went on to the NFL now.

dawgfan

January 8th, 2013
3:06 pm

“In the aftermath of Monday’s thrashing, SEC zealots were heard to wonder if Notre Dame would even finish in the top half of the only league that matters. Wrong question. The right question: Could any college team have held up against Alabama playing at its absolute zenith? (Answer: No.) Forget 42-14. Do not underestimate the capacity of a famous program that has, after many false starts, gotten it going again. Do not underestimate the recruiting pull of the Fighting Irish.”

Do not underestimate the power of nostalgic wishful thinking to overcome sound objective reasoning. To anyone who was actually paying attention to the game last night Notre Dame has absolutely no business being mentioned in the same breath as the top teams in the country. They are a complete fraud. Maybe Bama was playing at its “zenith” because they were playing a total fraud instead of a real football team like UGA, A&M or LSU. How unstoppable did they look in those games? Did this ever once occur to you media geniuses? For the life of me I do not understand why the media continues to insist on hyping this total fraud of a football program. Forget 42-14? Why should we forget it? We UGA fans are reminded on a near daily basis about what Bama did to us, but we should all just forget the complete thrashing they gave to Notre Dame? Move along folks. Nothing to see here. Why do they get a free pass? Because “Rudy” was a good move? Because Knute Rockne gave some famous speech 220 years ago? Because Regis says so?

Unbelievable. I am so sick and tired of this crap.

JB

January 8th, 2013
3:09 pm

Teams above that Mason Dixon line, year in and year out, will never be better than a Southern team. You will have an exception now and then, but not often. It’s a sport up there, it’s a religion down here, with the horses to back it up.

Son of Sammy Davis Jr, Jr

January 8th, 2013
3:10 pm

Spurrier will make JawGA howl when he visits Athens this year.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
3:10 pm

Bradley – I’ve got a serious problem rating Notre Dame higher than #15…… they had a very weak schedule and lucked out or were given the Stanford game by the refs. They were LUCKY to have one loss – got out played by at least three other teams. As I said at least SIX SEC teams would stomp Notre Dame – and what the h… happened to MUSCHUMP? I can see him being on the HOT SEAT next yea despite only having two losses this year. His under class men are fleeing to the NFL in droves. MUSCHUMP is living on borrowed time.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
3:15 pm

Yes UGA will howl when they visit Spud – howl like a mad dog about to rip in to a helpless Game Crock. Spuds done. Did he ruin Lattimore’s career by rushing him back to soon? Even team doctors said it takes 1 1/2 years to recover from the serious injury Latt had the 1st time. He came back to soon.

Granthams The Man!

January 8th, 2013
3:16 pm

I like the top 10 except for Notre Dame. There are Six SEC teams that would have beat them this year, not to mention Oregon and a few others. Next year there will still at least Six SEC teams who are better than ND.

Don’t forget ND will lose T’eo their all world LB, who also got exposed and they don’t have any Offense.

Flo- Ri - Duh

January 8th, 2013
3:16 pm

Sammy Davis Jr’s son? Prove it. Can you tap dance for me?

Patrick

January 8th, 2013
3:17 pm

Great article, Mark. An honest answer from me would be Oregon to challenge Bama. We all know that Saban HATES the hurry-up offense and that is the reason that TX A&M was able to take them down. If Saban is not able to rotate defensive players between downs then he is at a huge disadvantage and he knows it. That’s my 2 cents worth. Hope you had a fun time down in Miami.

Dawg_Mike

January 8th, 2013
3:19 pm

Vandy would beat ND

[...] York TimesSorry, Notre Dame, but Alabama is in another leagueChicago Sun-TimesNOLA.com -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Albany Times Union (blog)all 10,092 news articles » Filed Under: Google News [...]

Max Sizemore

January 8th, 2013
3:19 pm

Under the Bleachers, I like your top 10 better than Mark’s; dropping Clemson and Notre Dame seems about right to me. Clemson doesn’t have near enough athletes on defense to be a factor; the only reason they beat LSU was abysmal play-calling by the Tigers.

Hey, Mark, I thought the top 25 poll is supposed to be a “ranking,” which presumably means voters think ND would beat the teams ranked behind them if they were to play on a neutral field. So, do those voters (or you) really think the Irish would beat UGA, A&M, LSU, etc.? I think not. Notre Dame happens only to have one loss because of a weak schedule, and should not even be in the top 10.

Dawg_Mike

January 8th, 2013
3:20 pm

Ole Miss would beat ND

dawgfan

January 8th, 2013
3:20 pm

There is absolutely nothing spectacular or fearsome about Notre Dame. All of those teams in that Top 10 bring something to the table that keep opposing coaches up at night, except Notre Dame. Some of those teams in that top 10 have great offenses. Some of them have great defenses. Some of them have both. What does Notre Dame bring to the table, a director’s cut of “Rudy?” How does that saying go? They are good at everything, but great at nothing.

The media is already trying to cover up and downplay 42-14. Just forget it Bradley says. Move along folks. Nothing to see here. The only problem is that if Notre Dame is ever going actually earn the respect bestowed upon them they’re going to have to beat teams like Bama, UGA, LSU, Oregon, etc. That goes for everybody. UGA has some proving to do too after getting blasted by South Carolina and losing the SECCG. Nobody is telling everyone to just forget about that. Notre Dame shouldn’t get a free pass because Knute Rockne gave some great speech 220 years ago.

Do not underestimate the power of nostalgic wishful thinking in the media to overcome sound objective reasoning.