Familiar faces back for 2010 ... except one

The college football season starts Thursday with four ranked teams in action: Marshall Thundering Herd at 2 Ohio State Buckeyes; Florida A&M Rattlers at 13 Miami Hurricanes; 15 Pittsburgh Panthers at Utah Utes; and 14 USC Trojans at Hawaii Warriors (11 ET on ESPN and ESPN3.com). As for No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, they start defense of their national title on Saturday at home against the San Jose State Spartans.

In 2009, the Tide was the fourth SEC team in as many seasons to win the national championship (2009 Alabama, 2008 Florida Gators, 2007 LSU Tigers, 2006 Florida).

Alabama is the preseason No. 1 for the first time since. 1978. The Crimson Tide received 54 of 60 first-place votes -- that's the fifth-highest percentage of first-place votes (90.0) in the history of the AP preseason poll, which dates back to 1950. There has never been a unanimous No. 1 in the preseason AP Poll. (ESPN will use the AP poll as the source for rankings until the BCS Standings are released on Oct. 17.)

Alabama is the fifth defending champion in the last nine years to be ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll. The previous four all won at least their first 12 games of that next season.

Defending Champion Since 2000
AP Preseason No. 1

But January and the BCS Championship Game are more than four months away, and there are other story lines in addition to seeing if a non-SEC team will be crowned champion or whether Mark Ingram can become the second player in the history of the award to win back-to-back Heisman trophies.

• Joe Paterno is entering his 45th season as the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. He needs six wins to become the third football coach in NCAA history to reach 400 victories, joining John Gagliardi of St. John's (MN) and Eddie Robinson of Grambling. Paterno is 83 years old (turns 84 in December), which makes him the second-oldest, major-college football coach on record. Amos Alonzo Stagg was 84 in his final season (1946 at Pacific).

• The No. 19 Nittany Lions have three road games this season against teams ranked in the preseason top 10 (1 Alabama, 2 Ohio State, 9 Iowa).

• The Florida State Seminoles will play a game with someone other than Bobby Bowden as head coach for the first time since Nov. 22, 1975, when Darrell Mudra was their head coach. This season also marks the first year since 1969 that Bowden will not be patrolling the sidelines as a college football head coach.

• Speaking of Bowden, the ACC hasn't had a team go unbeaten through conference play since his Seminoles in 2000.

• No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers (ranked in the preseason top 10 for the first time since 2002) has played in the same conference as Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State every year since rejoining the Missouri Valley Conference in 1921. That's about to come to an end when the Cornhuskers depart for the Big Ten Conference in 2011. The Huskers don't have the Sooners on their regular-season schedule, meaning the longtime rivals could have already played their final game against each other … unless they meet in the Big 12 Championship Game.

• Since winning the 2000 BCS Title, No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners has been ranked in the AP preseason top 10 every year.

• No. 5 Texas Longhorns have won at least 10 games each of the last nine years. The only program to win at least 10 games in 10 straight seasons is Florida State (14 straight from 1987-2000).

• No. 15 Pittsburgh Panthers are the popular pick to win the Big East. The Panthers are coming off a 10-3 season, ago but they haven't won 10+ games in consecutive seasons since a three-year stretch from 1979-81 (11 wins each season).

• The Big Ten will have all 11 coaches returning from the 2009 season, making it the only conference that didn't experience a coaching change in the offseason. It's the first time since 2004 that the Big Ten didn't have a coaching change.

• The Oregon State Beavers have 36 wins over the past four seasons, that's more than traditional powers Florida State (30), Michigan (28) and Notre Dame (26).