CLEMSON - It's not where they start, it's where they finish; but South Carolina and Clemson sit in premium position to work their way into the playoff conversation.
The Gamecocks are ranked ninth and the Tigers are No. 16 in the Associated Press preseason college football poll, filled out by 60 writers and broadcasters around the country.
Defending national champion Florida State got 57 of the 60 first-place votes. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma each garnered one first-place nod.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, only five of the last 38 preseason No. 1 teams dating to 1976 finished the year No. 1 in the Associated Press Poll. The last team to do so was Southern Cal in 2004.
Clemson opened the 2013 season ranked No. 8 in both the AP and USA Today polls; South Carolina started last year No. 6 via the writers, No. 7 via the coaches. Both teams went 11-2; the Gamecocks were fourth in the final AP poll, and the Tigers finished eighth.
The rankings are more volatile early in the season, and both in-state schools have ample opportunity for upward mobility.
No. 9 South Carolina helps kick off the SEC Network's inaugural game broadcast at home against No. 21 Texas A&M on Aug. 28, then host No. 12 Georgia on Sept. 13 and No. 24 Missouri on Sept. 27.
South Carolina has not faced a ranked opponent in its season opener since traveling to No. 24 N.C. State, which won 10-0, in 1999, and hasn't hosted a top-25 guest since No. 14 Georgia, a 28-6 victor, in 1992.
Meanwhile, No. 16 Clemson hits the road to take on No. 12 Georgia and No. 1 FSU in the first four weeks of the season, then hosts No. 23 North Carolina on Sept. 27.
The Tigers haven't visited a top-12 opponent in a season opener since No. 8 Georgia edged unranked Clemson, 31-28, in 2002.
Down the road, South Carolina travels to No. 6 Auburn on Oct. 25 and Florida - the second team listed in the 'receiving votes' pile - Nov. 15. Vanderbilt, which hosts USC on Sept. 20, also received two votes.
Clemson hosts Louisville (sixth in the RV group) Oct. 11, and then of course welcomes South Carolina to Death Valley on Nov. 29.
Looking in-depth at six major publications' preseason polls - Associated Press, USA Today, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Phil Steele and Fox Sports - the same 17 schools appear unanimously in some order within the top 17, therefore creating an initial short list of teams expected to compete for one of the inaugural playoff's coveted four spots. Also, the top eight in all five polls consist of the same eight teams.
Those top eight schools are, in rough order of their ranking: Florida State, Alabama (Nos. 1 and 2 unanimously), Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn, UCLA and Michigan State.
The next tier follows with South Carolina, Baylor, Georgia and Stanford - those four make up No. 9 through 12 in some order in all five rankings. Following are LSU, Southern Cal, Wisconsin, Clemson and Notre Dame to round out the top 17.
The first College Football Playoff pecking order won't be announced from the committee - which includes Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich - until Oct. 28.