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AP poll release offers a prelude to playoff race

The College Football Playoff selection committee is supposed to ignore this. Look the other way. Forget about it. Pretend the AP preseason Top 25 released today doesn’t exist.

Its 13 members “will be required to discredit polls wherein initial rankings are established before competition has occurred,” according to CFP protocol. But not here. Not in the rest of the college football world. Here’s a look at what the first official (and yet still unofficial) poll of the season could mean to the playoff picture:

1. At least two CFP contenders will be playing from behind with little margin for error: No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State (Sept. 2, ABC & WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET) open the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which is also the site of this year’s national championship game. In Week 2, No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 7 Oklahoma (Sept. 9, ABC & WatchESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET). The committee has taught us not to eliminate a team early, but the losers of these games will undoubtedly face more pressure to finish the rest of the season undefeated — unless this is the year a two-loss team gets in. While that’s certainly possible, the Crimson Tide (SEC West) and Seminoles (ACC Atlantic) play in arguably the two toughest divisions in the country, and don’t forget FSU also plays No. 17 Florida. The Iron Bowl is at No. 12 Auburn this year. And despite going undefeated in conference play and winning the Big 12 last season, OU couldn’t recover from early nonconference losses to Houston and Ohio State.

2. Crossover opponents, or the lack thereof, will come into play: The Pac-12’s two highest-ranked teams, and top CFP contenders, No. 4 USC and No. 8 Washington, won’t play each other in the regular season. Neither Ohio State nor No. 6 Penn State play No. 9 Wisconsin, though No. 11 Michigan does. Alabama doesn’t play Florida or No. 15 Georgia. Ideally, we’ll see teams face off in the league title game with each hoping to play themselves into the top four. If a team stumbles, though, not having those quality crossover opponents could be a drag on its overall strength of schedule.

3. If two teams from the same conference make the CFP, it’s likely to be the ACC: No. 5 Clemson and No. 3 Florida State are both ranked in the top five and each have strong nonconference opponents from the SEC West. It’s possible that the loser of their matchup wouldn’t be disqualified from the CFP race, even if it would disqualify them from the ACC title race. Ohio State got in last year without winning its division. Somebody else can, too.

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