With eight losses by ranked teams on Saturday, the college football rankings are sure to see some major changes when the new AP Top 25 is released on Sunday morning. There are tons of unknowns that we’ve tried to predict, including how to handle Iowa State and Louisiana after the Cyclones’ win against Oklahoma and whether Mississippi State and LSU need to be sorted in order of their head-to-head result following the Bulldogs’ loss to Arkansas.
One thing seems to be clear at the top of the rankings: Alabama is going to get more attention in the debate for No. 1 with Clemson. Not only did Bama show championship form in the way it dusted Texas A&M, but Clemson allowed Virginia to be feisty in a rematch of last year’s 45-point ACC Championship Game win. No one is doubting the Tigers or the Crimson Tide as College Football Playoff contenders or even favorites to win their respective conferences, but the jockeying between the two took a new turn with Alabama’s stock rising and Clemson showing some flaws after two games that did not require Trevor Lawrence’s services in the fourth quarter.
These debates are going to take place on a voter-by-voter basis across the country with entirely subjective ranking methods, but the consensus will reveal how these title favorites stack up against each other. Clemson will likely remain No. 1, but keep your eye on the count of first-place votes as an indicator for how strong that hold is going to be heading into next week’s top-10 showdown with Miami.
1. Clemson (Last week — 1): The film study will provide plenty of coachable moments for the Tigers this week as they prepare for a visit from the Hurricanes in Week 6. The Tigers never saw the kind of threat that the other ranked teams did in their losses, but they also failed to put Virginia away in the manner that many expected given the four-touchdown spread heading into the game.
2. Alabama (2): The way the Tide hit the jets in the second quarter and turned a 14-14 tie into a 21-point game represents the difference between good teams and elite teams. The elite teams rise to the occasion in the game’s pivotal moments, and that’s exactly what Alabama is in 2020.
3. Florida (3): Kyle Pitts for Heisman? With six touchdowns and more than 200 receiving yards in two games, Pitts has changed the conversation from “best tight end in the country” to “best offensive weapon in the country.” The Florida offense continues to wow, but the way South Carolina hung around in this game did nothing to calm the concerns about the Gators defense, which has now given up 59 points during the team’s 2-0 start.
4. Georgia (4): There is a real chance that the Bulldogs jump their SEC East rivals for No. 3 after a suffocating performance against Auburn, but the low-scoring 27-6 final might leave them short of Florida in terms of voting points due to a lack of actual points following another impressive performance from the Gators offense.
5. Notre Dame (5): The Fighting Irish had a scheduled off week. After postponing its Week 4 date against Wake Forest because of positive COVID-19 tests, Notre Dame is scheduled to be back in action next week against Florida State in South Bend, Indiana.
6. Ohio State (6): The Buckeyes are underway in preseason camp preparing for their opener on Oct. 24 against Nebraska. I suspect the four AP voters who have Ohio State at No. 1 will keep their ballots as such until they hit the field, but for many voters, this team becomes a line in the sand for their individual top-10s.
7. Miami (8): The Hurricanes were off in Week 5 but are back in action next week in a huge ACC battle against Clemson.
8. Penn State (10): The Nittany Lions are scheduled to kick of their season on Oct. 24 against Indiana.
9. Auburn (7): A fall in the rankings is coming for the Tigers, but there’s always been a limit to how far the voters will drop the loser in a top-10 matchup. Auburn was exposed in a couple ways in the loss to Georgia, but there’s not many teams like the Bulldogs that can exploit those same weaknesses. When it comes to splitting hairs with teams like North Carolina, Cincinnati and an Oregon team that hasn’t even taken the field yet, I think Auburn holds strong in the rankings.
10. North Carolina (12): There is definitely reason to be concerned about where the Tar Heels stand after mustering just three offensive points in the second half of a 26-22 win at Boston College. It’s hard to attribute those struggles to rust since Sam Howell looked sharp out of the gate but there’s also not a lot of great options for comparison in terms of moving North Carolina down in the rankings without a loss.
11. Cincinnati (15): A whopping five South Florida interceptions and a kick return touchdown helped power the Bearcats 28-7 win on Saturday to improve to 3-0. Like North Carolina, the win wasn’t enough to inspire a great jump in the rankings, but the pecking order won’t be disrupted by the result.
12. Oregon (14): The Pac-12 schedule was released on Saturday, and the Ducks got a favorable draw with UCLA as their Pac-12 South opponent. Oregon will kick off its season on Oct. 7 against Stanford.
13. Oklahoma State (17): On a day where it was hard to find good headlines in the Big 12 — heck in a season where it’s been hard to find good headlines in the Big 12 — the Cowboys appear to be the league’s best hope for a College Football Playoff appearance. While the offseason hype centered around Chuba Hubbard and the returning pieces on offense, three games of 2020 have shown this to be one of the best defenses of the Mike Gundy era. It is fitting of this upside-down year for a Gundy team to be led by its defense, and if the Cowboys win a Big 12 title, that group will be a big reason why.
14. Wisconsin (19): The Badgers kick off their 2020 season against Illinois on Nov. 24.
15. Tennessee (21): One of the big headlines entering the week was offensive lineman Cade Mays immediate eligibility as a transfer from Georgia, so it’s impossible to ignore his impact as Eric Gray and Ty Chandler combined for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 35 touches to power a ground game that led the way in a comfortable win against Missouri. The Volunteers have now won eight straight heading into a huge meeting with Georgia in Week 6.
16. BYU (22): A great week for BYU started with adding late-season games against Boise State and San Diego State to its 2020 slate and ended with yet another 300-yard passing performance from Zach Wilson in yet another 30-point win. No team has scored more than two touchdowns against BYU’s defense, and the Cougars have put up 40-plus effortlessly in all three wins. Those Mountain West dates are important because they provide quality opponents in a crucial time for College Football Playoff consideration.
17. Texas A&M (13): This fight shown by the Aggies in this game well into the fourth quarter suggest that not every game they play this year will be this lopsided, but there remains a wide gulf between Texas A&M and Alabama. While it’s possible losing to No. 2 Alabama doesn’t result in as much of a drop as Texas to losing to unranked TCU, I think voters have these two tied closely together and will keep the order after each suffered their first loss of the season.
18. LSU (20): No LSU fan is coming out of a 41-7 win against Vanderbilt feeling like everything is all better after that season-opening loss to Mississippi State, but it does seem like the offense knows itself a little bit more than it did eight quarters ago. John Emery had a great dual-threat performance as the team’s leading rusher and viable receiving threat and Myles Brennan looked much more comfortable in the flow of the offense. The voters won’t make any major adjustments for the win, but some faith should be restored in the high-floor program that we’ve come to know and love in the SEC West.
19. Michigan (23): The Wolverines kick off their 2020 season on Oct. 24 on the road against Minnesota.
20. SMU (NR): As the only 4-0 team in the country, SMU absolutely deserves a spot in the new top 25. The win over Memphis, which will likely drop the Tigers out of the rankings, was not the Mustangs’ most well-rounded performance of the season since it squandered an early lead, but to hold on for a win is worth a nod from the voters
21. Texas (9): This is now six losses to TCU in the last seven meetings with Tom Herman holding a 1-3 record against Gary Patterson since his arrival in Austin, Texas. I don’t think the one loss will drop the Longhorns from the top 25 considering their top-10 status, but it will be close after yet another loss to the Horned Frogs.
22. Mississippi State (16): The Bulldogs might drop out of the rankings following a loss to Arkansas, but my bet is that the win at LSU leaves a strong enough impression for the voters to keep them with enough votes in the top 25.
23. Louisiana (NR): The Cajuns should make a return to the top 25, especially after TCU’s win against Texas. The transitive property won’t work properly with the three teams in the rankings — especially after Louisiana was sidelined in Week 5 because Appalachian State had to postpone their highly-anticipated Sun Belt championship game rematch because of COVID-19 protocols — but that win against Iowa State should anchor a resume worth voter consideration.
24. Iowa State (NR): The success of Matt Campbell and the Cyclones against Oklahoma is worth noting, but Saturday night’s win against the Sooners was more significant for its disruption of the Big 12 title race. Iowa State has knocked off Oklahoma before but was on the outside looking in on the of the conference championship. The gains the Cyclones showed since their season-opening loss to Louisiana suggested they are very much in the mix for the conference crown.
25. TCU (NR): The Horned Frogs might not end up ahead of Texas because of their loss to Iowa State, but the road win is going to be good enough to get them into top-25 consideration.
Projected to drop out: UCF (11), Oklahoma (18), Pitt (24), Memphis (25)