Ohio State starts the season where it hopes to end up for the first time in 30 years -- ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN college football polls.
The Buckeyes won their third national championship in 1968 under coach Woody Hayes. And now, a year after watching rival Michigan win its first title in 50 years, the Buckeyes are primed for another championship run under coach John Cooper.
"Being No. 1 is something you shoot for, so we're certainly not going to apologize for being picked as the best team to start the season," Cooper said. "The expectation level has always been high here, and it's a compliment to our program. It's something we'll try to live up to."
Ohio State received 30 first-place votes from the 70 sports writers and broadcasters on the AP panel, edging No. 2 Florida State by five points. The voting was the second closest in the 48-year history of the AP preseason poll -- in 1994, Florida beat out Notre Dame by two points.
The Seminoles received 22 first-place votes in gaining their 11th straight Top 5 preseason ranking. Florida State ended last season with a 31-14 win over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Georgia is the only area school included in the top 25. The Bulldogs, who were 10-2 last season and 10th in the final rankings of 1997, is ranked No. 18 in the coaches' poll and No. 19 by the AP this season.
Ohio State, 10-3 and No. 12 in last season's final AP poll, opens with Joe Germaine as the full-time quarterback. He has top-notch receivers in David Boston and Dee Miller. Seven starters return on defense, including All-American linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer and defensive backs Damon Moore and Antoine Winfield.
The schedule is favorable, too. After opening at West Virginia, the rest of the Buckeyes' tough games are at home -- against Penn State (Oct. 3), Michigan State (Nov. 7) and Michigan (Nov. 21). However, Ohio State is 1-8-1 against the Wolverines under Cooper.
"There's pressure, sure, but not any more than there's been the past few years," said Cooper, whose Buckeyes missed out on national title chances twice in the last three years after late-season losses to Michigan. "We were a good team last year, and the nucleus of that team is back."
This is the sixth time the Buckeyes open as the preseason No. 1 pick. The others were in 1958, 1962, 1969, 1970 and 1980. It also marks the second consecutive year a Big Ten team starts the season at No. 1 -- Penn State was the preseason No. 1 in '97.
Since 1950, eight teams were ranked No. 1 in the preseason and went on to win the national title: Tennessee (1951); Michigan State (1952); Oklahoma (1956, 1974, 1975, 1985); Alabama (1978); and Florida State (1993).
No team has gone wire-to-wire ranked No. 1, but two teams -- Nebraska in 1983 and Florida State in 1993 -- came close. The '83 Cornhuskers went 12-0 before losing to Miami 31-30 in the Orange Bowl. The '93 Seminoles were No. 1 for most of the season, lost to Notre Dame but beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the title.
Among top teams from last season who did not make the preseason Top 25 are Washington State -- No. 9 in the '97 final poll -- and Purdue, 15th in '97. Also, Colorado failed to make the preseason Top 25 for the first time in 10 years.
This season, the Bowl Championship Series, formerly the bowl alliance, will match the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4 based on a new and complex ratings system that involve polls, computer rankings, strength-of-schedule and won-loss record.
The final AP poll will be released Jan. 5.
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