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AP TABS FLORIDA AS THE TEAM TO BEAT

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The Florida Gators, No. 3 in their own state for the past decade, are now No. 1 in the nation.

Long overshadowed by Florida State and Miami, the Gators are the preseason pick as college football's top team in The Associated Press poll."We're certainly honored," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Being No. 1 is very special to me, my players and all Gator fans."

Florida edged Notre Dame by two points, the narrowest margin since the preseason poll began in 1950. The Gators received 15 first-place votes and 1,416 points from a nationwide media panel, while the Irish got 13 first-place votes and 1,414 points.

Spurrier, whose team won a school-record 11 games last season, said he's not worried about the pressure that comes with being No. 1.

"I'm glad I'm No. 1 sometime in my life," said Spurrier, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida in 1966. "It's better than never being No. 1."

Although Florida is the largest university in the state, Florida State and Miami have been more prominent in football.

Now, Florida is ranked ahead of both teams. Florida State is No. 3 in the preseason poll, and Miami is No. 6.

Notre Dame, which finished No. 2 last season, is starting in the same spot this season. That's one place ahead of Florida State, which won the 1993 national title even though the Seminoles lost to the Irish and both teams finished with one loss.

"People have as much business picking us No. 2 in the preseason this year as they did picking us No. 2 at the end of last year. Neither one of them makes sense to me," he said.

Nebraska, which finished third last season after losing to Florida State 18-16 in the Orange Bowl, is fourth in the preseason poll despite getting more first-place votes than any other team.

Michigan is fifth, followed by Miami, Arizona, Colorado, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Rounding out the Top 25 are Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, UCLA, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio State, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Washington, West Virginia and Clemson.