What does Nick Saban have to do to earn your respect, ESPN? Is five national titles in nine years not enough for you?
Relax, we’re just joking around. But the “Worldwide Leader” did drop the Crimson Tide from the top spot in the newest edition of its “Way-too-Early” Top 25.
The defending national champs were no longer sitting atop the college football throne in ESPN’s Mark Schlabach rankings, which were released on Wednesday. He hinted at his potential reasoning for ranking the Crimson Tide No. 2 behind Clemson.
“Bama will miss two of their better playmakers, [Calvin] Riley and [Bo] Scarbrough, who left early for the NFL draft,” Schlabach wrote.
He also mentioned Saban’s task of replacing coordinators on both sides of the ball, as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll now holds the same title with the Buffalo Bills and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has assumed the head coaching role at Tennessee.
“Clemson’s chances received a major boost when a handful of underclassmen — defensive linemen Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins and linebacker Kendall Joseph — decided to return to school,” Schlabach explained in the piece.
While the distinction between Alabama and Clemson as the national’s top team heading into 2018 is a minor issue for a good offseason quibble, what is becoming increasingly clear is that these two programs are College Football Playoff mainstays. A return for Clemson would be four in a row. Alabama has already made an appearance in each of the final four showdowns since the format was adopted in 2014.
So what about the rest of the SEC? Here’s a look:
19. Mississippi State
25. South Carolina
SEC Country’s Alex Martin Smith released his own version of the Way-too-Early Top 25 earlier in the month. Here’s a look at where the SEC teams ranked in his rendition, for comparison’s sake:
20. South Carolina
Smith appears to be much higher on Auburn upon the news of Jarrett Stidham’s return, while Schlabach appears to be more bullish on Mississippi State’s chances at sustained success under Joe Moorhead after Dan Mullen’s departure for Florida.