AP Top 25 college football poll reaction: What's next for each ranked team?

Monday, November 16, 2020

The AP Top 25 college football poll is out, and there isn't much movement thanks to a weekend that featured a lot of cancellations and precious few upsets. Here's what's next for each team in the rankings.

No. 1 Alabama (6-0)

The Crimson Tide needed a week off to rest and maybe get back an injured player or two, most notably defensive lineman LaBryan Ray, who is the most talented pass-rusher on the team and has been out the past several games with an elbow injury. But did Alabama need two weeks off? Might the postponement of the LSU game -- essentially creating back-to-back bye weeks -- result in some rust on what has otherwise been a ship-shape machine? We'll find out against Kentucky on Saturday. -- Alex Scarborough

No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0)

The Irish got through their biggest test with Clemson, then proved against Boston College that they could handle success. The path isn't clear yet, with North Carolina next on the schedule, but the chances of Notre Dame landing in the ACC championship game keep looking better each week. The Irish haven't faltered yet, and the offense seems to be getting better as it goes. Quarterback Ian Book has nearly 600 yards passing and five total touchdowns in the last season, and Notre Dame is going to need that success to continue down the stretch, especially if another meeting with Clemson is in the cards.-- Tom VanHaaren

No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)

The Buckeyes' game at Maryland on Saturday was canceled after the Terrapins paused all football activities last week because of an elevated number of COVID-19 cases. While Ohio State gets an extra week to prepare for Indiana's visit, the Buckeyes also need games, both to be eligible for the Big Ten championship game and to make a strong case for the College Football Playoff. Through three games, Ohio State has been one of the most impressive teams in the country.-- Chris Low

No. 4 Clemson (7-1)

The Tigers had an open date after losing to Notre Dame, but the week off gave them an opportunity to work Trevor Lawrence back into the lineup and get healthier than they were last week. Now you have to wonder what type of statement Clemson is going to make when it plays Florida State on Saturday, with Lawrence back after missing two games because of the coronavirus. There is no question Clemson is firmly in the College Football Playoff conversation. But Florida State ranks among the worst teams in the ACC, as the gap between these two continues to grow. Lawrence may not even need to play the entire game. -- Andrea Adelson

No. 5 Texas A&M (5-1)

The Aggies' game against Tennessee was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the A&M program. If they're able to play this week, they'll host Ole Miss. As it sits currently, A&M is still in great playoff position, with four games left and only one of them against a ranked team (Auburn). -- Sam Khan Jr.

No. 6 Florida (5-1)

If Kyle Trask threw six touchdown passes against Arkansas, who knows how many times he'll find the end zone against a struggling Vanderbilt defense. Even if tight end Kyle Pitts isn't back after the concussion he suffered against Georgia, the Florida passing game should be just fine. What you're hoping to see if you're a Gators fan, though, is for the running game to step up and the defense to stop giving up chunk plays. Improving in those two areas will go a long way toward determining whether Florida can be competitive against Alabama in a potential SEC championship game showdown. -- Alex Scarborough

No. 7 Cincinnati (7-0)

Luke Fickell is trying to get his team into the College Football Playoff. He upset ECU last week after the 55-17 win for running a fake punt while up 32 points in the fourth quarter, but it's the kind of measures you have to take as a Group of 5 school trying to build the strongest résumé possible. This week, it might have its most difficult game left of the regular season against UCF. It's going to take another strong effort from the Bearcats to further the playoff agenda.-- Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 8 BYU (8-0)

The Cougars were off this week, and last week's blowout win against Boise State looks even better after the Broncos rebounded with a 31-point drubbing of Colorado State. BYU remains in good position to reach a New Year's Six bowl. With games against North Alabama and San Diego State remaining, there is little reason to expect the Cougars to end the regular season at anything other than 10-0.-- Kyle Bonagura

No. 9 Indiana (4-0)

Indiana is 4-0, and for the first time, the Hoosiers beat Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State in the same season. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has elevated this offense, and the defense is coming off a game where it allowed only 191 yards of total offense by Michigan State. The real test for this team, however, is next on the schedule, as Indiana has to square off with Ohio State. This is 2020, so you can't say anything is impossible, and an Indiana win would put the Hoosiers in sole first place in the Big Ten East. Ohio State is going to be the best team Indiana has faced this season, though, and it is going to be very difficult to come out with a win against the Buckeyes.-- VanHaaren

No. 10 Wisconsin (2-0)

In the past 23 days, Wisconsin has had two 38-point wins over Illinois and Michigan, and two canceled games. If the Badgers can stay on the field, they will be very tough to beat the rest of the way. Coordinator Jim Leonhard's defense bullied Michigan, which recorded no first-half points, only 10 first downs, two turnovers and 47 rushing yards. After being boosted by Graham Mertz's record-setting passing performance in the season opener, Wisconsin returned to its running roots against Michigan (51 carries, 341 yards, five touchdowns). The Badgers can't afford to miss any more games, but if they can beat Northwestern this week, the West Division could be theirs again. -- Adam Rittenberg

No. 11 Oregon (2-0)

After a strong offensive showing on the road in a 43-29 win against Washington State, the Ducks have shown their preseason billing as the Pac-12's best team was justified. They'll be heavy favorites against UCLA and Oregon State the next two weeks -- the middle third of their season -- before games with Cal and Washington to wrap the regular season. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's creativity has raised the ceiling for what the program can be.-- Bonagura

No. 12 Miami (7-1)

After beating Virginia Tech, Miami coach Manny Diaz said that game was on the brink of postponement because of coronavirus issues in the program. So as the Hurricanes prepare to play Georgia Tech, monitoring the roster and whether Miami will have more players available Saturday jumps to the top of the priority list. Getting more consistent play from the offensive line is high on the list, too, but this is a position that was hit hard by the coronavirus-related issues, so we should keep an eye on that as well. -- Adelson

No. 13 Georgia (4-2)

Kirby Smart's team had the week off because of a combination of coronavirus issues at Missouri. It otherwise might have been the most difficult game left on the schedule, and now the Bulldogs get to prepare for a Mississippi State team that -- aside from a one-score win over Vanderbilt -- hasn't looked good since Week 1 at LSU. If there was a time to work on and experiment with the offense, this could be it.-- Lyles

No. 14 Oklahoma State (5-1)

The bye week was a welcome respite for the Cowboys, who were without Tylan Wallace last week before Chuba Hubbard left the Kansas State game with an injury. But at full speed, the Cowboys have the firepower for a Bedlam shootout, but the defense to prevent one. Could this be the season that Mike Gundy, who is just 2-13 against Oklahoma, can stop the Sooners' reign?-- Dave Wilson

No. 15 (tie) Coastal Carolina (7-0)

Jamey Chadwell's Chanticleers got an unexpected Saturday off when their trip to Troy was canceled Friday. That gave them a little extra time to prepare for next Saturday's huge home game against Appalachian State. A win would not only keep their unbeaten run alive but also all but clinch a spot in the Sun Belt title game, but a stout Mountaineers defense could make life pretty difficult for quarterback Grayson McCall and a dynamic Chants attack. --Connelly

No. 15 (tie) Marshall (7-0)

Marshall moved to 7-0 with an easy 42-14 jaunt over MTSU on Saturday. The Thundering Herd defense remained dominant, and a big-play passing game came up big after a slow start. The Herd are the clear favorites in the Conference USA race, but the big question is whether they can remain unbeaten and put pressure on Cincinnati to keep winning to stay ahead in the battle for the Group of Five's New Year's Six bowl slot. -- Connelly

No. 17 Iowa State (5-2)

The Cyclones were idle over the weekend and are gearing up for a critical stretch run. With only one conference loss, Iowa State is in great position for its first Big 12 title game berth. If the Cyclones beat Kansas State and Texas in the next two weeks, they'll clinch a spot in the conference championship game. What an accomplishment that would be for the Cyclones. -- Sam Khan Jr.

No. 18 Oklahoma (5-2)

After two early-season losses to Kansas State and Iowa State by a total of 10 points, the Sooners have a path to a sixth straight Big 12 title. But Bedlam against Oklahoma State stands in the way with GameDay visiting Norman for the first time since 2012. FPI gives the Sooners at least a 72% chance of winning each of the final three games, including a 74.5% chance against the Cowboys.-- Wilson

No. 19 Northwestern (4-0)

Last year clearly was the exception for Northwestern, a bottoming-out that forced an offensive coordinator change and a quarterback upgrade. Northwestern is 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since coach Pat Fitzgerald's senior season in 1996. The team already has eclipsed its win total from 2019. Transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey and new coordinator Mike Bajakian are steadying an underperforming offense, and Northwestern has one of its soundest defenses in Fitzgerald's tenure, especially in the secondary. The West Division title likely comes down to this week's home game against Wisconsin. "They've put so much work to get to this point," Fitzgerald said. "No reason to stop now." -- Rittenberg

No. 20 USC (2-0)

The Trojans won, so it could have been worse, but their performance in a 34-30 win against Arizona didn't exactly improve the perception of how good they are. Arizona could turn out to be a decent team, but it entered the year with perhaps the lowest external expectations of any team in the Pac-12. If USC deserved to climb in the rankings, it was the type of game the Trojans should have handled with ease. -- Bonagura

No. 21 Liberty (8-0)

The Flames have had a couple of great weeks. A close win over Virginia Tech and a 58-14 dog-walking of Western Carolina has Liberty feeling good going into a game against NC State, where it'll be looking for its third ACC win of the season. The Wolfpack haven't exactly been a defensive juggernaut this season, and Malik Willis has been a pain for the opposition all year.-- Lyles

No. 22 Texas (5-2)

The Longhorns opened the season with a 59-3 rout of UTEP, then went 3-2 in five of their six games that were decided by one score or fewer. The only double-digit win in that streak was a 27-16 victory over 1-5 Baylor, which has beaten only Kansas this season. The good news: It's the Longhorns' turn to face Kansas, which has an offense that ranks 116th in the country and a defense that has allowed an average of 56 points in its past three games. -- Wilson

No. 23 Auburn (4-2)

The Tigers wanted to play Mississippi State. They had the momentum after beating down LSU, and they had the rested legs thanks to a bye week. But the postponement of the Mississippi State game threw a wrench into coach Gus Malzahn's plans to start off strong in the second half of the season. Instead, they'll have to try to pick up where they left off at home Saturday against a Tennessee team that's in desperation mode coming off four straight losses. -- Scarborough

No. 24 Louisiana (6-1)

Beat a P5 team (Iowa State in September)? Check. Clinch the Sun Belt West title weeks before the end of the regular season? Check. Billy Napier's Cajuns have already knocked off a good portion of this year's to-do list, and now they've got a few weeks to prepare to tackle the biggest item on the list: win the conference. The defense has held three of its past four opponents under 21 points, and the offense finally got off to a fast start on Saturday. Things are looking good in Lafayette.-- Connelly

No. 25 Tulsa (4-1)

Welcome back to the Top 25, Tulsa! It's been a while (almost 10 years -- the last time the Golden Hurricane were ranked was in the final AP poll of the 2010 season). This team pulled out its biggest win of the season Saturday, coming back from a three-touchdown deficit to overtake SMU. If Tulsa continues to win, it will punch a ticket to the American championship game. As it sits currently, only Tulsa and Cincinnati are still unbeaten in conference play, and those two are scheduled to meet on Dec. 4. -- Khan Jr.

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