This year's preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll is likely one of the most unusual in its history. Four Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have postponed their seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic, and some of the nation's best players are opting out with health concerns.
The Associated Press decided its All-America team will include players who opted out or had their fall seasons canceled, and its preseason Top 25 will also include teams that aren't playing.
LSU football beat reporter Brooks Kubena is one of the voters. Below is Kubena's preseason ballot, along with details regarding each team.
No. 1 Clemson
Dabo Swinney's program has appeared in four College Football Playoff national championship games in the past five years, winning two. LSU beat Clemson 42-25 in last year's title match, but South Carolina's Tigers bring back the bulk of its stars, including Heisman frontrunner Trevor Lawrence. Clemson kept perhaps the nation's top running back when Travis Etienne announced he was returning for his senior year. Brent Venables' defense looks solid again.
No. 2 LSU
Yes, there is no more Joe Burrow. Or Joe Brady. Or Dave Aranda. I expected these changes would drop LSU farther than they should. And they did. This is still an immensely talented team and the replacements have mostly well-established histories of success. Bo Pelini is a proven defensive mind. Scott Linehan led successful NFL offenses. Myles Brennan will need to prove himself, but he's got the Biletnikoff Award winner in Ja'Marr Chase to throw to. All-American cornerback Derek Stingley leads a talented defense. It's enough for the burden of proof to be on the opponents to show that LSU can't sustain success.
No. 3 Ohio State
Ohio State will never get to prove they belong to be this high. The Big Ten announced it was postponing its fall season earlier this month. Down went a national power that would have been a lot of fun to watch in 2020. Last year, Justin Fields was the best quarterback north of Louisiana, and Ryan Day would've had to replace star running back J.K. Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young. I thought the Buckeyes would reload, but now we'll never know.
No. 4 Alabama
Last year was the first time Alabama's missed the CFP since the playoff began in 2014. The Crimson Tide have the talent to make sure sitting out in January doesn't become a new streak. QB Tua Tagovailoa is gone, but probable replacement Mac Jones will have stars DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to throw to and can hand off the ball to Heisman candidate Najee Harris. The return of U-High product and linebacker Dylan Moses from a knee injury gives Nick Saban the front-seven solidity he was missing a year ago.
No. 5 Florida
Florida makes the Top 5 because, when compared to the remaining teams, Dan Mullen's is the most poised team to win the national championship. QB Kyle Trask is the SEC's top returning passer and has All-SEC tight end Kyle Pitts (who gave LSU fits) leading a talented receiving corps. Todd Grantham has proven he can plug and play when defensive stars must be replaced. Georgia transfer and former five-star LB Brenton Cox was a vital offseason pickup who could lead the Gators' pass rush.
No. 6 Oregon
Yet another team that won't get to prove its worthiness. At their best, the Ducks could hang with just about anyone in 2019, and Mario Cristobal won't have the chance to show his team can be more consistent in 2020. The Pac-12's postponement eliminated the opportunity to see if QB Tyler Shough would replace Justin Herbert, the sixth-round pick in the NFL draft. No sack highlight reels for DE Kayvon Thibodeaux. No flashy jerseys. No Pac-12 title defense. Not this year.
No. 7 Penn State
Like LSU, James Franklin had to manage one of the biggest coaching staff rebuilds of the offseason. But we won't get to see if new OC Kirk Ciarrocca's offense confounds Big Ten defenses like it did when his old team, Minnesota, upset the Nittany Lions in an instant classic last fall. Dual-threat QB Sean Clifford and RB Journey Brown — All-Big Ten honorable mentions in 2019 — would've headlined one of the league's best rushing attacks, and LB Micah Parsons was a favorite to win the Butkus Award in 2020.
No. 8 Georgia
By omission, Georgia is a Top 5 team, and they'll eventually crawl in there if a season is to be played. As usual, Kirby Smart has a very talented team that can win the SEC East. Defense is not an issue. Dan Lanning will coach one of the nation's best secondaries with safety Richard LeCounte returning. But can the Bulldogs' offense help win the big games? Enter OC Todd Monken, who returns to the college level after four years coaching NFL offenses. Can Wake Forest transfer QB Jamie Newman give Georgia the spark they've been missing?
No. 9 Oklahoma
With five consecutive conference titles, Oklahoma has proven it's the best team in the Big 12. But that hasn't meant much in the CFP era. The Sooners were clobbered by LSU, 63-28, in last year's Peach Bowl semifinal, and Lincoln Riley will have to replace Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts. Finding a new QB has never been an issue in Norman, but this particular rebuild won't be made with a transfer. Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler has never started in a game, but he has the second-best odds to win the Heisman. Can Alex Grinch's defense play elite enough to make six consecutive Big 12 titles the charm?
No. 10 Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard is one of the most electric players in the country, and last year's 2,000-yard rusher could become Oklahoma State's first Heisman Trophy winner since Barry Sanders (1988). Paired with 2018 Biletnikoff finalist Tylan Wallace, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury, the Cowboys could outgun Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. Questions remain on defense, although first-team All-Big 12 safety Kolby Harvell-Peel leads a talented secondary.
No. 11 Auburn
Bo Nix may emerge as one of the SEC's top quarterbacks in his true sophomore season. However, Auburn's biggest setback is on the defensive line. No more Derrick Brown or Marlon Davidson — star defensive tackles who terrorized opposing backfields and kept Auburn in some close games. Can Kevin Steele's defense still keep games as close?
No. 12 North Carolina
The Tar Heels? This high? If North Carolina can get its on-campus coronavirus clusters under control, Mack Brown's football team could be one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season. QB Sam Howell set the FBS true freshman record and school record with 38 touchdown passes last year, and he'll have two 1,000-yard receivers in Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown. All losses were by six points or fewer in 2019. Maturity could make the difference.
No. 13 Texas
This seems as make-or-break as it can get for fourth-year coach Tom Herman, whose Longhorns went 5-4 in conference play after its 45-38 loss to LSU last season. Texas has a new offensive coordinator in former Ohio State passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich. A new defensive coordinator in former Rutgers DC Chris Ash. With returning QB Sam Ehlinger and a healthy DB Caden Sterns, is this finally the right combination for success in Austin?
No. 14 Notre Dame
Ian Book returned for his senior season after throwing for 3,034 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019. Brian Kelly's program struggled to win the big games with a 23-17 loss to Georgia and a 45-14 blowout to Michigan. With Notre Dame playing a full Atlantic Coast schedule in 2020, circle Nov. 7 against Clemson to see if the Irish can take the next step.
No. 15 Texas A&M
When the Aggies beat Oklahoma State 24-21 in last year's Texas Bowl, it was their first win over a team ranked in the AP Top 25. Has Jimbo Fisher's team improved enough to win the games that count? QB Kellen Mond needs to take the step toward elite that was expected last season, and Mike Elko's defense must hold down the SEC's top offenses in Alabama and LSU.
No. 16 Wisconsin
We won't know how well Wisconsin would have done this year without star running back Jonathan Taylor, who averaged 2,000 rushing yards in three seasons, finished top 10 in the Heisman voting each year and scored 55 career touchdowns. I predicted a drop-off, but now we won't know.
No. 17 Boise State
The Mountain West Conference also canceled its fall season, and, now, this kind of summation is getting repetitive. Bryan Harsin would have had one of the best Group of Five teams. Sophomore QB Hank Bachmeier could have had an elite year after injuries dampened his 2019 season. The Broncos should have pushed for the G5 spot in the CFP. But we all know about would's, could's and should's.
No. 18 Memphis
Hey! A team that's playing. For now, at least. Mike Norvell left for Florida State after last year's 12-2 season that ended with a Cotton Bowl loss to Penn State. But replacement Ryan Silverfield still has 4,000-yard passer Brady White and 2,000-yard all-purpose running back Kenny Gainwell. Norvell left plenty of firepower behind for another run at the American Athletic championship.
No. 19 Baylor
Former LSU DC Dave Aranda is overseeing a major rebuild in his first head coaching job. The "Professor" only has two returning defensive starters, but there are still plenty of depth pieces from Baylor's disruptive 2019 front for Aranda's famed "simulated pressure." A veteran QB in Charlie Brewer helps, but OC Larry Fedora is in his first major job since he was fired at North Carolina after going 5-18 in 2017-18. Many questions for a program that is once again rebuilding.
No. 20 Southern Cal
Another team that won't play, and it's a shame. The Air Raid was catching on in Los Angeles, and QB Kedon Slovis was poised for growth after throwing for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a true freshman in 2019. Clay Helton survives another year on the hot seat, and he didn't even have to win a game.
No. 21 Cincinnati
Cincinnati's only problem in 2019, aside from a blowout loss to Ohio State, was that it just couldn't get past Memphis in back-to-back losses, including the AAC title game. Dual-threat QB Desmond Ridder leads a potent rushing attack and returning All-AAC defensive backs Ahmad Gardner and Ja'von Hicks could give the conference's quarterbacks fits.
No. 22 Minnesota
Was 2019 a fluke, or is P.J. Fleck really building a Big Ten power in Minneapolis? We'll have to wait another year to find out. Unfortunately, Gophers fans won't get to see another season with All-America WR Rashod Bateman, who declared for the NFL draft.
No. 23 Michigan
I was early on shorting Michigan in 2019, and a 24-21 squeaker against Army in Week 2 all but justified the doubts and my No. 18 preseason ranking for the Black Knights last year. The 2020 season would have begun with the same introductory song and dance for Jim Harbaugh's sixth season — Can his talent win the big games? — but we'll keep that cued for the 2021 playlist.
No. 24 Iowa State
Matt Campbell has helped construct an Ames offense that can finally compete in the Big 12. QB Brock Purdy will lead the high-powered offense again along with Charlie Kolar, perhaps the best tight end in the nation. If the defense continues to play stout, the Cyclones can be more than just a middling nuisance in the conference.
No. 25 Utah
Utah slid to an underwhelming finish in 2019. A convincing win against Oregon in the Pac-12 title would likely have sent the Utes to their first CFP appearance. Instead, the Ducks rolled and then Utah suffered another embarrassing loss to Texas, 38-10, in the Alamo Bowl. We won't get to see how Kyle Whittingham would have rallied his program in 2020.
My honorable mentions: Air Force, Appalachian State, Arizona State, Central Florida, Iowa.