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How to build a way-too-early top 25 for the 2019 college football season

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The season’s less than eight months away. Act quickly to put together a top 25 that respects convention.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 college football season is in the books at last, with Clemson the undisputed best team in the sport. The 2019 college football season starts on August 24, with a handful of pre-Week 1 contests.

Time’s already running short to decide on your preseason top 25. Before 2018’s body even gets cold, let’s get to work on a 2019 preseason ranking together. Our top priority in building this ranking is to honor the tradition of preseason top-25ing.

1. The Alabama-Clemson winner

A customary spot for a team that plays in the National Championship every year, especially one returning a great young QB and with tons of young talent to replace NFL losses.

(Update: Clemson won by 28 points.)

2. The Alabama-Clemson loser

A customary spot for a team that plays in the National Championship every year, especially one returning a great young QB and with tons of young talent to replace NFL losses.

(Update: Well, at least now Nick Saban has a lot to yell at his players about all offseason.)

3. Ohio State

Ohio State has a lot of talent, and it gets to stay in the top three until it randomly loses by 28 to Nebraska or whoever. Then the Buckeyes won’t lose again, and they’ll be at the center of whatever Playoff controversy comes up in December, like always.

4. Georgia

The Dawgs are one of the four most talented teams, and by ranking them fourth, you establish yourself as a purist who respects them as one of the Four Best Teams. You can now spend the offseason pretending Clemson would not have obliterated UGA in the Playoff. Shun anyone who asks you about the Sugar Bowl. How can anyone expect a team like Georgia to get up for a puny non-Playoff bowl after being denied its rightful place in the big dance?

5. LSU

Did you see that Fiesta Bowl win against UCF, when the Tigers were without a bunch of original starters and dominated the yardage margin? They have championship upside.

6. Michigan

Now that Jim Harbaugh finally has his guys in place and any holdovers from the Brady Hoke era are gone, could this finally be the year he beats Ohio State? (No, but we’re going to keep doing this every year anyway.)

7. Oklahoma

The Sooners are locked into this spot by law every year now. Expect them to inch forward until they give up 650 yards to Texas in the Red River Shootout in Week 7, at which point they’ll fall to 14th before winning the Big 12 Championship and giving up 700 yards to Alabama or Clemson in a Playoff semifinal. Speaking of ...

8. Texas

Someone has to ride a big bowl win to a preseason top-10 ranking that has little merit. The team that was ranked preseason No. 23 each of the last two years (following seven- and six-loss seasons) meets all the qualifications for an overcooked bowl bump.

9. Whoever won the other New Year’s Six bowl

Uh, Florida. Yeah, them.

10. Washington

The Huskies slot here, because you, living near some densely populated city on the East Coast or in the Midwest, do not want to be accused of East Coast Bias, no matter how much the Pac-12 resembled an FCS conference this year.

11. Texas A&M

Refer to No. 8 and tweak the rules as needed to make them fit here.

12. Oregon

An NFL QB with great hair who surprisingly decided to stay in school? Check. An all-world defensive end signee whom media can use to pretend the defense will suddenly be good? Check. A national assumption that because Chip Kelly made Oregon into a national power, the Ducks will automatically get back there at some point or another? Check.

13. Auburn

As a serious pollster, you don’t want to get caught being too far off base on any one team. For Auburn, a spot smack dab in the middle of the poll is great, because anything from a national championship to an unranked finish is always in the realm of possibility.

14. Penn State

The appropriate spot for a Blue-Chip Ratio team that has no certain answer at quarterback and just lost its fourth game of the season to Kentucky. Not too high, not too low.

15. Washington State

The Cougars were awesome this year. Gardner Minshew’s leaving, so their typical status as a CHAOS TEAM is only further entrenched heading into 2019. Other than Wazzu actually winning the Apple Cup for a change, no outcome would be all that surprising, so play it safe.

16. Syracuse

The Orange were 20th heading into bowl season and then beat a ranked West Virginia. S&P+ had the Orange 36th, and their best win was against NC State, and they’re losing QB Eric Dungey and some other vital pieces. But by process of elimination, they probably need to slot somewhere around here. Maybe Dino Babers will reward your faith.

17. Virginia Tech

The Hokies just default to around this spot in every preseason poll, no matter what happened the year before. Anywhere between 13 and 20 is fine for them.

18. UCF

Did you see that Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU, when UCF was without its starting quarterback and finished 9 points shy of a 26th straight win? The Knights have been a fraud all along.

19. Kentucky

The Wildcats are hard to place. On the one hand, S&P+ said they were just outside the top 40 in 2018, and they could have easily lost to Vanderbilt, Missouri, Middle Tennessee, and Penn State, and they just lost their cornerstone running back to the NFL. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the subject of a Finebaum segment about the blatant disrespecting of the SEC East, so you do the right thing and find them a spot here for a few weeks.

20. Utah

The Utes are finishing between 17th and 25th. Everyone and their mothers knows that at this point, so why not start them off in that range for a change? It’s silly that Utah hasn’t appeared in a preseason AP Top 25 since 2009, when it was still in the Mountain West.

21. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs are losing a lot from a top-three S&P+ defense, but you’d think their offense will be better in a second year under offensive whiz Joe Moorhead. This looks like an appropriate starting point, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see MSU climb.

22. Wherever Jalen Hurts transfers

The likely transfer from Alabama, where he was 26-2 as a starter, will be lauded for Teaching The Young Guys How to Carry Themselves at [insert school]. He’ll also give his new team a top-30-ish QB, at least, and even if that team is, like, Maryland, it’ll draw tons of preseason hype. Don’t disrespect this narrative by keeping the [insert team nickname] out of your ranking. Instead, get in on the ground floor and ride to the penthouse later.

23. Northwestern

Far be it from you to spurn a Big Ten division champ, even if NU was the worst Power 5 division champ maybe ever. The joke will be on anyone who doubts you for ranking them here, when the Cats somehow clunk their way to an inexplicable 10 wins.

24. USC

There’s no good reason for the Trojans to be ranked, after they went 5-7, didn’t fire Clay Helton, and hired and maybe lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury in less than a month. But your way-too-early top 25 isn’t a real way-too-early top 25 unless it badly overrates USC.

25. Nebraska

The Huskers finished with four wins in their last six games, including a close miss against Ohio State. It’s Scott Frost’s second year, and thus an undefeated record is inevitable.

Also receiving votes: North Carolina

Mack Brown will slick-talk the Heels to the precipice of the top 25 by August, as he does. Demonstrate your foresight by getting ahead of that particular curve.

Oh, and Notre Dame somewhere, sure

I forgot to rank the Irish initially but have since left them out on principle, because a crucial part of any good media member’s preseason top 25 is forgetting one team (there are lots of them!) and then defending it like you meant it all along. Admitting you made a mistake in an eight-months-too-soon football ranking is worse than treason.