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AP poll release offers a prelude to playoff race

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FSU-Alabama set for epic opening-week clash (0:56)

No. 3 Florida State and No. 1 Alabama will put each other to the test with a star-studded matchup on Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. (0:56)

The College Football Playoff selection committee is supposed to ignore this. Look the other way. Forget about it. Pretend the AP preseason Top 25 released today doesn't exist.

Its 13 members "will be required to discredit polls wherein initial rankings are established before competition has occurred," according to CFP protocol. But not here. Not in the rest of the college football world. Here's a look at what the first official (and yet still unofficial) poll of the season could mean to the playoff picture:

1. At least two CFP contenders will be playing from behind with little margin for error: No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State (Sept. 2, ABC & WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET) open the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which is also the site of this year's national championship game. In Week 2, No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 7 Oklahoma (Sept. 9, ABC & WatchESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET). The committee has taught us not to eliminate a team early, but the losers of these games will undoubtedly face more pressure to finish the rest of the season undefeated -- unless this is the year a two-loss team gets in. While that's certainly possible, the Crimson Tide (SEC West) and Seminoles (ACC Atlantic) play in arguably the two toughest divisions in the country, and don't forget FSU also plays No. 17 Florida. The Iron Bowl is at No. 12 Auburn this year. And despite going undefeated in conference play and winning the Big 12 last season, OU couldn't recover from early nonconference losses to Houston and Ohio State.

2. Crossover opponents, or the lack thereof, will come into play: The Pac-12's two highest-ranked teams, and top CFP contenders, No. 4 USC and No. 8 Washington, won't play each other in the regular season. Neither Ohio State nor No. 6 Penn State play No. 9 Wisconsin, though No. 11 Michigan does. Alabama doesn't play Florida or No. 15 Georgia. Ideally, we'll see teams face off in the league title game with each hoping to play themselves into the top four. If a team stumbles, though, not having those quality crossover opponents could be a drag on its overall strength of schedule.

3. If two teams from the same conference make the CFP, it's likely to be the ACC: No. 5 Clemson and No. 3 Florida State are both ranked in the top five and each have strong nonconference opponents from the SEC West. It's possible that the loser of their matchup wouldn't be disqualified from the CFP race, even if it would disqualify them from the ACC title race. Ohio State got in last year without winning its division. Somebody else can, too.

4. Will the Big 12 be vindicated by its decision to have a conference championship game? No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 7 Oklahoma are the league's highest-ranked teams by a fair distance, but is the prospect of them playing each other twice in short order a good thing? It depends on the scenario. Bedlam is on Nov. 4, while the Big 12 championship game is on Dec. 2. If there is a rematch and one of them is undefeated and the other has just one loss, it will be a great show for the selection committee. If one becomes irrelevant in the playoff picture and then pulls off the upset, it's a nightmare for the Big 12.

5. How good will the SEC West really be? The gap between Alabama and the next highest-ranked SEC team -- No. 12 Auburn -- could be significant, especially if No. 13 LSU and Auburn don't live up to preseason expectations. To gain the selection committee's respect, teams have to beat opponents ranked in the committee's top 25. As mentioned before, Alabama doesn't play Florida or Georgia. Its best opponent, Florida State, hails from the ACC. Right now, every other Power 5 conference has at least two teams ranked in the top 10. The Big Ten has three. Alabama has four ranked opponents on its schedule -- Florida State, LSU, Auburn and No. 25 Tennessee -- and likely would add a fifth in the SEC title game, so overall strength of schedule will not be a problem as long as the West lives up to expectations.