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Tide opens season in top spot, Tigers 23rd

Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the Heisman last year. This year he wants another national championship. | Scot Beard/FCT

Alabama’s quest to repeat as national champions begins in four weeks, but the Crimson Tide already has a head start on earning a berth in the title game with a preseason No. 1 ranking in the USA Today Top 25 Coaches’ Poll.

With the current BCS format using the poll to determine the participants in the national title game, Alabama controls its own destiny.

It is the third year in a row and Southeastern Conference team opened the season in the top spot.

The Crimson Tide lost several players from last season’s national championship team — especially on the defensive side of the ball — but eight starters return on the offense, including 2009 Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram and quarterback Greg McElroy.

The schedule seems to be in Alabama’s favor, with most of its big games at home. The Crimson Tide plays five teams ranked in the poll — No. 3 Florida, No. 14 Penn State, No. 16 LSU, No. 19 Arkansas and No. 23 Auburn — and three teams who also received votes — Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Five of those games will be played in the friendly confines of newly expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium. The only road games on that list are Arkansas on Sept. 25, South Carolina on Oct. 9 and LSU on Nov. 6.

Tigers back in poll

Since 2003 Auburn has been in the USA Today Top 25 Coaches’ Poll every season except last year.

The Tigers return the poll in 2010 at No. 23 and also have a favorable home schedule against ranked opponents this season.

Four opponents are ranked — No. 1 Alabama, No. 16 LSU, No. 19 Arkansas and No. 21 Georgia — while four other opponents — Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina and Ole Miss — also received votes.

The only road game against a ranked opponent is the final regular season game at Alabama and the only road games against teams also receiving votes are against Mississippi State and Ole Miss.