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Alabama tops AP poll in drive for three-peat

NEW YORK — Alabama will begin this season the way it ended the last two — No. 1.

Nick Saban’s two-time defending national champions are top-ranked in the Associated Press preseason college football poll, with the Crimson Tide trying to become the first team to win three straight national titles.

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Much like the BCS title game against Notre Dame, the vote was an Alabama landslide. The Tide received 58 of 60 first-place votes from the media panel Saturday to easily outdistance No. 2 Ohio State. Alabama matched Florida in 2009 for the highest percentage of first-place votes received in the 63-year history of the preseason rankings. The Buckeyes received one first-place vote.

Oregon is No. 3, followed by Stanford, and Georgia, which received the other first-place vote.

Notre Dame, coming off a 42-14 loss in the BCS championship game to Alabama, is No. 14.

Alabama won its record ninth AP national championship last season, third BCS title in the last four years under Saban, and became the first team to win back-to-back BCS titles.

The Tide is AP preseason No. 1 for the fourth time, and first since 2010. Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll each of the last two seasons. The only time Alabama has started and finished No. 1 was 1978, when Bear Bryant led the Crimson Tide to the fourth of its five national championships with him as coach.

Now Saban’s Tide are trying to accomplish something Bear’s boys never could. Twice Alabama won back-to-back championships under Bryant, but couldn’t get the third.

Saban is hoping senior stars such as quarterback AJ McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Ed Stinson, and guard Anthony Steen have enough memories of what went wrong for the 2010 Alabama team to avoid it happening in 2013.

‘‘You’re in a position here where we have a lot of players that really haven’t lost much,’’ Saban said last week. ‘‘They have to really want to be good for the sake of being good.

Alabama will also be trying to run the Southeastern Conference’s streak of national titles to eight. For the second straight year, half the top 10 teams to start the season are from the SEC. Joining Alabama and Georgia are South Carolina (No. 6), Texas A&M (No. 7), and Florida (No. 10).

No. 8 Clemson and No. 9 Louisville, led by two other Heisman-contender quarterbacks, round out the top 10. Tajh Boyd and Clemson take on Georgia at home in Week 1 and are the favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals are the heavy favorites to get back to the BCS for the second straight year out of the newly renamed American Athletic Conference.

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