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Even with due diligence, AP Top 25 voters know preseason ballot is an educated-guessing game

It’s not easy picking a preseason Top 25. Take it from voters in The Associated Press poll.

Unlike the regular season, when the panel of 63 writers and broadcasters from around the country judge teams on week-to-week performances and bodies of work, the preseason poll that will be released Monday at noon Eastern is based on the voters’ collective best guess on how teams stack up 1 through 25.

“I take it very seriously, and I probably do more work than I should,” said Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls, who has voted every year since at least 1990. “I don’t know if some people throw darts. I deliberate long and hard over the process. If you do your job right and take it seriously, every year is going to be hard.”

While methodologies used for handicapping teams varies, there are some commonalities, according to Bohls and fellow voters Brett McMurphy of Action Network and Matt Brown of The Athletic.

Number of returning starters, especially if one is the quarterback, is extremely important — but only if the team was good the previous season. A team’s additions and subtractions through the transfer portal, the manner in which the team finished and quality of coaching staff also are big.

The three voters said they look, to varying degrees, at computer power rankings, depth charts, preseason magazines and predictive analytics.

The exercise is proof how people can draw different conclusions from the same set of information, especially after the first few rungs on the ballot.

Bohls said he lines up the teams in the order he thinks they’ll wind up in the final poll, with the top four the ones he predicts for the College Football Playoff. That means Bohls takes schedule difficulty into consideration.

Brown gives some, not much, consideration to schedules. McMurphy gives none.

“This is my ranking of how good I think the teams are going into the season,” McMurphy said. “This is not my prediction on how they’re going to finish the season.”

McMurphy already has posted his preseason ballot to X, formerly Twitter, and has Georgia, Michigan and Florida State as his top three. Brown said he also voted two-time defending national champion Georgia No. 1. Bohls went with Michigan over the Bulldogs. All ballots will be made public once the poll is released.

“I don’t know how it’s going to come out when the poll is released, but the fact Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State all have new quarterbacks — Penn State is another one — could make for an interesting poll,” Bohls said. “I imagine the usual suspects are going to be there clustered near the top, but (quarterback) is always a really big component to me.”

Florida State, Washington and Tulane are trendy teams entering the season. FSU and Washington have sixth-year quarterbacks, and Tulane capped its 12-win season with a Cotton Bowl win over Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and Southern California.

Texas A&M and Texas caused consternation. Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies return a bevy of talent again, but they’ve been disappointments the last two years, starting each season No. 6 and finishing outside the Top 25. Texas also has shown a knack for underachieving.

The toughest task was figuring out which teams to put in the last few spots and which teams to leave out. The voters agreed there are probably 20-30 teams that merit consideration for spots between 11 and 25.

Once the ballots are submitted, voters know one thing for sure: how they ranked the teams in August won’t be the way they rank teams in January.

McMurphy compared the preseason voting process with making a pot of chili.

“You throw in a bunch of different things,” he said, “and you end up with what you end up with.”

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

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