One of the primary storylines throughout Week 5 was a curiosity over how many undefeated teams would make it through the weekend maintaining that moniker. College football’s oft-unbalanced schedules create circumstances in which teams can get through the first month of the season with a zero in the loss column even if that’s not indicative of their true standing within the sport. It’s right about now — one-third of the way through the season — when conference play begins and that number declines rapidly.
Week 5 was a “prove it” period for many teams in the eyes of the AP Top 25 poll voters.
Oklahoma State and Ole Miss are two examples of teams coming out on the positive end of this “prove it” weekend with both remaining undefeated despite facing ranked opponents . The Cowboys’ best win had previously been Arizona State until Mike Gundy’s squad got in and out of Waco, Texas, with a win against Baylor. Similarly, the Rebels had just one win against a Power Five opponent prior to holding off Kentucky with a pair of fourth-quarter defensive stands. Oklahoma State and Ole Miss are not only slated for a bump up in the rankings, they picked up wins that will solidify their positions as two of the better teams in the country.
Just as we saw some ranked teams solidify their position, others fell short in their “prove it” opportunities. Minnesota had surged into the national picture with its win against Michigan State but will drop in the polls after falling to Purdue. The same was expected for Washington and Florida State as they were also favored to win this weekend but instead dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten. How voters respond to these setbacks will differ, but what’s certain is that all of these teams will be ranked lower than they were going into the weekend.
The most interesting debate for the AP Top 25 will be how the voters reward previously unranked teams that made it through the weekend undefeated. Kansas was the first team on the outside looking in last week — don’t blame us, they were No. 23 in the CBS Sports 131 — so the Jayhawks appearing in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009 is basically a guarantee.
However, the rest of the group was not as well represented in last week’s balloting. Will simply being undefeated be enough to jump other teams in the battle for those last 10-12 spots? UCLA and TCU seem like locks to not only be ranked but see massive jumps ahead of one-loss teams that were ranked last week as the Bruins knocked off Washington Friday night and TCU absolutely throttled Oklahoma Saturday afternoon. Still, Syracuse (ranked in the Coaches Poll last week), James Madison and others will be looking for more respect from the AP Top 25 voters.
Here’s how we think the new AP Top 25 college football rankings will look on Sunday.
1. Georgia (Last week — 1): The Bulldogs will drop some of their 55 first-place votes after avoiding an upset at Missouri, just not enough to lose the No. 1 spot. The concerns over the quality of performance these last two weeks are fair as the debate continues around the top three teams in the country, but 87% of voters thought the Bulldogs were No. 1 last week, and a narrow win won’t be the reason a majority of those voters change their mind Sunday.
2. Alabama (2): All the attention will be on Bryce Young’s status after the reigning Heisman Trophy winner suffered a shoulder injury in the 49-26 win at Arkansas. But the win, especially given the loss of Young, speaks to an Alabama team that just logged one of its best performances in a true road environment since the start of last season.
3. Ohio State (3): No Jaxon Smith-Njigba, no TreVeyon Henderson, no problem for the Buckeyes. There was a heated moment between Ryan Day and Greg Schiano, but ultimately, Ohio State cruised in a 49-10 win over Rutgers.
4. Clemson (5): Two of the toughest teams in the ACC have challenged Clemson in the last two weeks, and the Tigers have passed each test, winning both a high-scoring shootout with Wake Forest and then a low-scoring grinder with NC State. The defensive effort and quality of win should be enough to close the already narrow gap in voting points between Clemson and Michigan, providing a slight bump up in the new rankings.
5. Michigan (4): The Wolverines refused to fall victim to the familiar storyline of a top-five team falling at Iowa, using an early lead to avoid any upset anxiety in a 27-14 win. Michigan set the tone, created a difficult situation for Iowa’s offense with a double-digit deficit and rode yet another 100-yard rushing performance from Blake Corum to the its road win of the season.
6. USC (6): The Trojans are now 5-0 after beating Arizona State on Saturday night. The next two weeks will do a better job of helping voters judge USC against the best teams in the country with a visit from Washington State on Oct. 8 and a trip to Utah on Oct. 15.
7. Oklahoma State (9): The change in ranking won’t be as significant as the change in opinion regarding Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were less than 40 points behind the Tennessee last week (1119 to 1081), and that was before Oklahoma State had a single ranked win to its name this season. We’re projecting a jump ahead of the Volunteers now that the Pokes’ profile has been solidified with a road win at Baylor.
8. Tennessee (8): The Vols were off in Week 5 and will be back in action next week at LSU.
9. Ole Miss (14): Lane Kiffin has the Rebels off to a 5-0 start for the first time since 2014, and the defense that won the game against Kentucky has been a highlight all season. This was Kiffin’s first top-10 win since he was leading USC in 2011. Up next is Vanderbilt.
10. Penn State (11): Somewhere between the undefeated teams that notched “prove it” wins and the ones that took their first loss you’ll find Penn State, which turned the ball over enough to get knocked off. Luckily, it was facing a Northwestern team that could not turn those opportunities into enough points. The Nittany Lions will get moved around in the shuffle at the top of the rankings, but they’re not a team voters will identify for a big jump after the 17-7 win against the Wildcats.
11. NC State (10): When the top of the rankings are reshuffled, it’s going to be tough to move NC State too far down given the Wolfpack’s only loss just came on the road to a top-five Clemson team rounding into form. The challenge for Dave Doeren’s group will be regrouping after the defeat with a key stretch ahead that includes Florida State and Syracuse.
12. Kentucky (7): The floor for Kentucky’s drop is still high considering the Wildcats are 4-1 with a road win in conference play. Plus,the 22-19 loss at Ole Miss suggests little separation between the two teams. What’s disappointing is the opportunity lost as two turnovers in the final 3 minutes of the game prevented the Wildcats from improving to 5-0.
13. Utah (12): What was a close contest in the third quarter got blown open by a late 21-0 run and Utah’s 42-16 win against Oregon State will meet the eye test for voters. The Utes have won four straight since the season-opening loss to Florida, winning those games by margins of 67, 28, 21 and 26 points.
14. Oregon (13): The Ducks jumped out to a 31-3 halftime lead against Stanford and never looked back against their hapless Pac-12 North rival. Up next is a trip to feisty Arizona before an open week.
15. Kansas (NR): The chorus has been booming for Kansas to be ranked for weeks, and after grinding out a 14-11 win against Iowa State to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 2009, the Jayhawks will be ranked for the first time since 2009. The question is whether they are this high.
16. UCLA (NR): Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson told the media he and his teammates heard the critics who doubted the strength of UCLA’s undefeated start and took it as motivation with a top-15 team in town. The 40-32 win against Washington was not indicative of how the Bruins controlled the contest with a sizable lead for much of the evening, but the quality win and 5-0 record will spark a big move up in the rankings.
17. TCU (NR): When the best wins on TCU’s profile were Colorado and SMU, it was understandable to leave the Horned Frogs off top 25 ballots. But considering not just the opponent but the margin in a 55-24 win against Oklahoma. it is undeniable that Sonny Dykes’ team is deserving of a spot in the AP Top 25 on Sunday.
18. BYU (19): Things got a little dicey against Utah State in a 12-point win, so we’re projecting some of the undefeated AP Top 25 newcomers land ahead of the Cougars. Otherwise, no major changes in BYU’s poll position.
19. Wake Forest (22): A move up is justified for Wake Forest after it followed a double-overtime loss to Clemson with a 31-21 win at Florida State. The Demon Deacons are clearly one of the best teams in the ACC, and as long as they can remain a one-loss team, they will climb in the rankings.
20. Washington (15): The value of Washington’s win against Michigan State lessened following the Spartans’ 0-2 start to Big Ten play, but losing by just eight on the road to another undefeated team isn’t likely to be enough to bounce the Huskies all the way out of the top 25.
21. Kansas State (25): A late push by Texas Tech brought some uncertainty but Kansas State avoided a letdown loss and improved to 4-1 with a 37-28 win against the Red Raiders.
22. Syracuse (NR): The Orange were ranked No. 25 in the Coaches Poll last week while receiving far less support from the AP Top 25 voters. Beating Wagner won’t move the needle as much as maintaining that zero in the loss column, which should spark a boost into the top 25.
23. Mississippi State (NR): The Bulldogs may have the same record (4-1) as the LSU team that beat them earlier this season, but we’re projecting the lopsided nature of the 42-24 win against previously-ranked Texas A&M keys a move into the top 25 for Mississippi State.
24. James Madison (NR): The Dukes are still riding momentum from last week’s upset of Appalachian State in the eyes of voters (a couple of whom already had JMU on their ballots), and a 40-13 win against Texas State is going to push them further up in the pecking order.
25. Coastal Carolina (NR): This is admittedly a bold call considering Coastal Carolina did not receive any votes last week, but if Week 5 truly turns into a referendum on who is still unbeaten then the Chanticleers — with plenty of voter familiarity from their strong showings in 2020 and 2021 — could crash the top 25 as well.
Projected to drop out: Baylor (16), Texas A&M (17), Oklahoma (18), Arkansas (20) Minnesota (21), Florida State (23), Pittsburgh (24)