One week after eight ranked teams lost on the same day, we saw a top-five team lose and two iconic college football brands take losses that will likely knock them from the AP Top 25 when the new college football rankings are released on Sunday. It was a day that featured little defense, fistfuls of penalties and enough mistakes to make your head spin.
Florida’s bad defense cost it a game and likely its spot in the top 10 in a loss at Texas A&M. Alabama’s defense made Saturday night’s meeting with Ole Miss way too close. Notre Dame got caught in a 17-14 hole against Florida State in its return to action after a couple weeks off. It was soggy across much of the southeast as the remnants of Hurricane Delta made its way back to the Atlantic Ocean, and we saw sloppiness nearly everywhere football was played.
Even Clemson, which appears to be the most complete team in the country, looked far from its championship form in a 42-17 win against Miami. The Tigers had three field goals blocked (one returned for a touchdown), turned the ball over and committed enough penalties to cost at least another 7-10 points off its final total. On this particular night, Clemson benefited from Miami committing even more penalties and turnovers. The Tigers defense seemed to have an answer every time the Canes made a potential game-changing mistake.
But maybe there is something misguided about viewing the entire football season through the lens of looking for perfect teams. Oklahoma’s four-overtime, five-hour epic against Texas in Dallas proved that you don’t need championship-caliber teams to produce the kind of game that grips the attention of the nation. Neither the Sooners nor Longhorns are going to win a national championship in 2020 and likely won’t even be part of the College Football Playoff picture, but there was more drama and entertainment than most CFP semifinals.
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Week 6 highlighted the beauty in an imperfect sport that, through six weeks in this strange 2020 season, appears to have no perfect teams. We’ve still got to find a way to sort through the flaws and rank them against each other, which is in itself the most imperfect method of comparison. The thing about the top 25 is — shoutout to Gary Parrish and the Eye On College Basketball Podcast — you have to have 25 teams.
AP voters don’t have a good collection of surefire “top 10” or “top 25” quality teams, but they are still asked to rank 25 every Sunday morning. With last week’s rankings and Saturday’s results in mind, here’s how we believe the new AP Top 25 will look on Sunday.
1. Clemson (Last week — 1): If anything we might see Clemson’s hold on No. 1 increase with more first-place votes after a dominant 42-17 win against No. 7 Miami coupled with Alabama’s struggles at Ole Miss.
2. Georgia (3): While the opponents and results have been different all three weeks, the one through line in Georgia’s 2020 season has been its elite defense putting the clamps on opponents in the second half. The Bulldogs have allowed just six second-half points so far (three in the third quarter against Arkansas and three in the third quarter against Auburn) and pitched a shutout after halftime against Tennessee. It’s the final product of playing against the best defense in the country and just how draining it is to face that combination of strength and athleticism on a down-by-down basis. There are only a handful of teams in the country that are anywhere close to that level in terms of talent and physicality, and one of them is on next week’s opponent, the Crimson Tide.
3. Alabama (2): This is a pretty bold swing back one week after I guessed that Alabama might take a chunk out of Clemson’s share of first-place votes, but that prediction came up well short of what would be considered a significant shift in priorities at the top of the rankings. Now that Alabama got caught in a shootout with Lane Kiffin, I think that voters will opt to align with Georgia’s instead of the high-scoring Tide, which couldn’t get a stop against the unranked Rebels.
4. Notre Dame (5): Florida State sure made things interesting with a 17-14 lead behind the efforts of new starting quarterback Jordan Travis, but the Fighting Irish defense woke up and the offense rode another prolific performance from running back Kyren Williams. The sophomore totaled 185 rushing yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns and Notre Dame put up 42 in an 18-point win against the Seminoles.
5. Ohio State (6): The Buckeyes kick off their 2020 season on Oct. 24 against Nebraska.
6. North Carolina (8): Prior to Saturday, the Tar Heels had not even really shown a level of play that matched the expectations for the preseason No. 18 team in the country, much less No. 8. But things came together for North Carolina’s offense against Virginia Tech to the tune of 56 points and 656 yards of offense. Sam Howell was efficient, but the stars were the one-two punch at running back with Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. The Heels should be favored in their next five games, giving them an opportunity to rack up wins and remain in the ACC Championship Game.
7. Penn State (9): The Nittany Lions are counting down until their 2020 opener against Indiana.
8. Oklahoma State (10): The Cowboys were off in Week 6 and scheduled to be back in action next week at Baylor, though the Bears did pause all football activities due to positive COVID-19 tests this week so stay tuned.
9. Miami (7): I just don’t think the Hurricanes will fall too far, even though they appeared noticeably a tier below where Clemson stands in the ACC. Some voters will attribute the 42-17 result to Clemson’s dominance and maybe even reward Miami’s flashes of competitiveness, but much of this prediction comes from a long history of not punishing teams to much for losing to the No. 1 team in the country.
10. Cincinnati (11): The Bearcats were off in Week 6 and scheduled to be back in action next Saturday at Tulsa.
11. Oregon (12): The Ducks are set to kick off their 2020 season on Nov. 7 against Stanford.
12. Texas A&M (21): Voters who are big on the quality loss analysis when it comes to ranking teams will be very high on the Aggies, who have a win against an SEC title contender and its only loss coming to another in Alabama. But the third result on that profile, a 17-12 win against Vanderbilt, is befuddling enough to think Texas A&M falls short of jumping into the top 10.
13. Florida (4): The fall for the Gators will be dramatic because their three-game profile lacks for quality wins. But while Florida will likely fall outside the top 10 this week, it won’t take much to get back. the Gators just need to avoid another loss before the Georgia game and wait for some of the other top-15 teams to play more (or any) games.
14. Tennessee (14): The first-half effort was good enough to pull off the upset, but Tennessee’s offensive line couldn’t keep the Bulldogs at bay in the second half. I don’t think the Vols will fall in the rankings much, if at all, due in part to that strong start and a surge of confidence in Georgia as one of the best teams in the country.
15. Auburn (13): Even if there wasn’t a controversial finish, the close call against Arkansas would be worth reassessing where Auburn stands against the best teams in the country. This shuffle leaves the Tigers down two spots but still above BYU thanks to the Cougars own issues with UTSA.
16. BYU (15): When BYU is playing on a Friday night, Monday night or at 10:15 p.m. ET, it’s looked like one of the most dominant teams in the country. So I guess it’s good for the Cougars’ ranking that Saturday’s bar fight of a game with UTSA fell way below the radar with Texas A&M-Florida, Oklahoma-Texas and Georgia-Tennessee all taking priority for the nation’s attention. Still, the scoreboard doesn’t do BYU any favors in terms of setting up a big jump in the rankings.
17. Wisconsin (16): The Badgers start 2020 against Illinois at home on Oct. 24.
18. SMU (18): The Mustangs were off in Week 6 and are scheduled to be back in action on Friday, Oct. 16 at Tulane.
19. Michigan (20): The Wolverines kick off their 2020 season at Minnesota on Oct. 24.
20. Louisiana (23): The Cajuns’ Oct. 10 date against Coastal Carolina — moved up from Oct. 17 when Louisiana’s game against Appalachian State was postponed because of positive coronavirus tests — was pushed back to Oct. 14 because of Hurricane Delta.
21. Iowa State (24): Brock Purdy had a productive day, totaling 302 yards and two touchdowns on 32-of-43 passing in the win against Texas Tech and Breece Hall continued to be outstanding in what has been a big step-forward season for the sophomore. But the Cyclones defense gets the game ball here after holding Texas Tech to just one offensive touchdown.
22. Kansas State (NR): The Wildcats were the first team outside the top 25 in last week’s poll. This week, they was able to hang on to beat TCU without starting quarterback Skylar Thompson in the lineup. It’s rarely pretty for Kansas State, now 3-0 in Big 12 play, they are once again a solid squad that can win lots of different ways.
23. Minnesota (25): The Gophers open their 2020 campaign against Michigan at home on Oct. 24.
24. Virginia Tech (19): Since North Carolina is a top-10 team and the Hokies outscored the Tar Heels over the final three quarters of the game, I think they hang on in the top 25. Virginia Tech has proven to be one of the most prolific offensive teams in the country through three games and has a win over an NC State that might get some more attention from the voters.
25. NC State (NR): The Wolfpack followed up their road win against then-ranked Pitt with another road win at Virginia, improving to 3-1 on the season with its only loss coming to Virginia Tech. This has been a different team since Devin Leary returned to the starting quarterback role after missing significant preseason practice time due to COVID-19 protocols, and while other ACC teams are falling short of expectations, the Wolfpack are exceeding them with marked improvement each game.
Projected to drop out: LSU (17), Texas (22)