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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The new AP Top 25 college football poll is out, and while there's not much movement at the top, one new team (North Carolina) joins the party. Here's what's next for each ranked team.

No. 1 Alabama (7-0)

It's been a while since Alabama has been tested. You have to go back more than a month to Oct. 17 against a then-third-ranked Georgia, and the Crimson Tide ended up running away with that one in the second half. But will the machine that is Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith & Co. keep rolling when it faces its biggest remaining regular-season challenge against No. 22 Auburn on Saturday? The Tigers got the best of that battle last season, picking off Jones twice and winning a 48-45 shootout. Alabama's defense has shown some vulnerability this season and will be put to the test by Auburn and its trio of quarterback Bo Nix, running back Tank Bigsby and wideout Seth Williams.-- Alex Scarborough

No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0)

The Fighting Irish had an open date this week and remain in good shape to make the College Football Playoff if they can win their final three ACC regular-season games. Even a loss, especially if it's close, in a rematch with Clemson in the ACC championship game would keep Notre Dame squarely in the playoff picture. The Irish have been plenty explosive offensively this season and have scored more than 40 points in five of their eight games. -- Chris Low

No. 3 Ohio State (4-0)

The Buckeyes handled everything that Indiana could throw at them and will go into this week trying to improve a defense that gave up a few too many big plays. Even when Ohio State wasn't at its best, it looked like one of the best teams in the country. Look for Justin Fields to shake off his three interceptions against the Fighting Illini defense this week, and a defense closer to the one that showed intensity on its first drive against Indiana. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 4 Clemson (7-1)

Clemson will have had two weeks off, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence three weeks off, before it faces Pitt on Saturday. The Tigers wanted to play Florida State this past weekend despite having a player who traveled with the team to Tallahassee test positive for coronavirus, but the Seminoles pushed back and the teams could not agree to play. Lawrence has been off since Oct. 31 after a positive coronavirus test, and the last time Clemson played was in a loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7. -- Andrea Adelson

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

After two weeks of virus-related postponements, the Aggies look to return to action this week against LSU. Things still look promising for Texas A&M -- they're still a top-10 team with a top-10 win on the schedule and a shot to win out. If they do that -- assuming they're able to make up their postponed games -- they'll have a solid case as a potential playoff team. --Sam Khan Jr.

No. 6 Florida (6-1)

Dan Mullen called the Gators' win over Vanderbilt "ho-hum" after they started slowly on offense and had more defensive breakdowns. There is plenty to correct going into next Saturday's home game against Kentucky, and one of the areas has to be tackling, which was a problem. The other is the type of defensive rotation Florida wants to use. Mullen said he asked defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to roll more players through against Vanderbilt, and that could mean seeing more young players take on bigger roles. -- Adelson

No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0)

After grinding out a 36-33 win, Cincinnati is one step closer to a perfect regular season. Desmond Ridder keeps making things happen both through the air and on the ground, and hasn't shown signs of slowing down. At this rate, it's easy to look forward to the Bearcats' Dec. 12 game against Tulsa, but a trip to Temple comes first. Of course, the possibility of scheduling another game still looms as they try to make the best possible playoff case. -- Lyles Jr.

No. 8 BYU (9-0)

Nothing new was learned as BYU cruised to an easy win as a 50-point favorite against FCS foe North Alabama, and with only one game left, against San Diego State on Dec. 12, it remains a heavy favorite to finish the season undefeated. With a win against San Diego State, BYU is a shoo-in for a New Year's Six bowl berth, and it's worth wondering, going into the first playoff rankings, how it will factor in to the playoff race. If the Cougars can line up, and beat, a quality opponent, it would help their playoff résumé, but a loss could cost them a spot in the New Year's Six. -- Kyle Bonagura

No. 9 Oregon (3-0)

The Ducks look like the best team in the Pac-12, but in terms of the playoff, they were already fighting an uphill battle with a limited schedule. It always figured to take a unique set of circumstances plus several dominant showings from the Ducks to push them into the top four. While they can't be ruled out, they need to show better over the final month to have a legitimate case for inclusion. -- Bonagura

No. 10 Miami (7-1)

The Hurricanes did not play this weekend and will not play next weekend after coronavirus issues forced the program to move their games and pause practice. Miami is able to do socially distanced workouts for now. Coach Manny Diaz also tested positive and is currently in isolation, so there is not much the Hurricanes can do until they are given clearance to practice again. Their next game is scheduled against Wake Forest on Dec. 5. -- Adelson

No. 11 Northwestern (5-0)

The Wildcats have united over their #disrespect by being compared to a television personality, and the Fighting Rece Davises are sitting pretty in the Big Ten race. After a 17-7 win over No. 10 Wisconsin, they're 5-0 in the conference for the first time since 1996, when coach Pat Fitzgerald was a senior linebacker, and FPI gives the Cats a 96% chance to make the title game. Up next: 1-3 Michigan State, which is coming off losses to Iowa and Indiana by a combined score of 73-7. -- Wilson

No. 12 Indiana (4-1)

If you scoffed at Indiana's No. 9 ranking last week, you learned that it wasn't a fluke given the fight the Hoosiers put up against Ohio State. Michael Penix Jr. and Ty Fryfogle were an explosive combination against a Buckeyes defense full of future NFL players, and we'll see how they follow up that performance against a Maryland team that hasn't played since Nov. 7. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 13 Georgia (5-2)

The good news is that coach Kirby Smart has found his quarterback. JT Daniels proved against Mississippi State that he's Georgia's best option at the position. His arm is simply on another level than that of Stetson Bennett and D'Wan Mathis. The bad news is that this discovery might be too little, too late. With two losses and games against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri remaining, there's not much opportunity to gain ground. Florida, which has only one loss and already beat Georgia head-to-head, would have to utterly implode to let the Bulldogs back in the race. -- Scarborough

No. 14 Oklahoma (6-2)

Oklahoma has found its groove in the past four games, outscoring opponents by an average of 50-16. The latter is the more surprising of those two numbers. Oklahoma State managed only 246 yards and 13 points on Saturday night in Norman; as the Sooners have grown healthier and deeper, their production has improved dramatically. OU is once again well-positioned to both reach the Big 12 title game and win its sixth straight conference title. -- Bill Connelly

No. 15 Iowa State (6-2)

For the second time in three years, Iowa State has ripped off a string of six conference wins in seven games. When they did it in 2018, a loss to Texas kept Matt Campbell's Cyclones out of the conference title game. Next week in Austin, they get to try to right 2018's wrong. They sit alone atop the conference standings, they're coming off of their most complete performance of the year, and a win at Texas would clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship. -- Connelly

No. 16 Coastal Carolina (8-0)

The Chanticleers made history with their first win over Appalachian State, the defending Sun Belt champions, after six straight losses. Not only did they get over the hump, but at 8-0 they're off to the best start by a team in conference history and all but locked up a spot in the conference title game. Coastal will have a chance to keep it going with a trip to 2-9 Texas State, which is coming off a 47-45 win over Arkansas State. -- Wilson

No. 17 Marshall (7-0)

The Thundering Herd will have an extra week for the holiday after the postponement of Saturday's game against Charlotte. They're not scheduled to play again until Dec. 5 against Rice (1-2), which is coming off a 27-17 loss to North Texas. At 7-0 and 4-0 in Conference USA, Marshall is the only unbeaten team in the league and has already beaten Florida Atlantic, which is second at 5-1. -- Wilson

No. 18 Wisconsin (2-1)

Graham Mertz played beyond his years in the first two games, completing 74% of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. But against Northwestern, he looked the part of a redshirt freshman with four turnovers as the Badgers were stymied. The good news: Freshman Jalen Berger averaged 6.2 yards per carry and looked capable of carrying the load. Minnesota, up next, has struggled against the run this year, allowing 216 yards per game and an average of 6.8 yards per carry. -- Dave Wilson

No. 19 USC (3-0)

At 3-0, USC is in an enviable position compared to most of the Pac-12, but it has yet to put together a complete, convincing performance. The Trojans will host Colorado (2-0) on Saturday following the Buffaloes' cancellation this week with a chance to take complete control of the division. It will be the first time this year USC will be playing against a team not making its season debut. -- Bonagura

No. 20 Texas (5-2)

The Longhorns' game over the weekend was postponed because of virus and injury issues with their scheduled opponent, Kansas, but Texas' attention now turns to its biggest game of the season: vs. Big 12 leader Iowa State. If the Longhorns still hope to find a way into the Big 12 championship game, they must win every game remaining. That starts with the toughest one of the three left on the slate, as the Cyclones look impressive coming off their blowout win of Kansas State. -- Sam Khan Jr.

No. 21 Oklahoma State (5-2)

OSU's Big 12 title odds are long after a Bedlam loss to Oklahoma, but the Cowboys will be favored in each of their last three games and could fulfill most of the hype rendered to them in the offseason. The key: a healthy backfield, or something close to it. Quarterback Spencer Sanders and running back Chuba Hubbard have struggled with injuries all season, and OSU's offense has wobbled. There's still time to find some stability (and hope for a break in the conference title race). -- Bill Connelly

No. 22 Auburn (5-2)

It's pivotal that Tank Bigsby (hip) gets healthy in time for Saturday's Iron Bowl against No. 1 Alabama. He's Auburn's most explosive running back, and the offense doesn't function the same without him. With that said, coach Gus Malzahn has to like where his offense stands after wins against LSU and Tennessee. The line has quietly improved, and quarterback Bo Nix is doing a better job of taking care of the football and staying in the pocket. If Auburn can play balanced football, it will be able to give Alabama perhaps its most difficult test of the regular season. -- Scarborough

No. 23 Louisiana (7-1)

The Ragin' Cajuns had to sit out this weekend because of COVID-19 issues within the program, forcing a cancellation of their contest with Central Arkansas. (Three days later, head coach Billy Napier tested positive.) The team hopes to be able to return to the field this week; it has two games left -- this week at Louisiana-Monroe and the regular-season finale vs. Appalachian State. The Cajuns already have the Sun Belt West Division and a spot in the Sun Belt title game wrapped up; they'll hope to finish out the regular season strong. --Sam Khan Jr.

No. 24 Tulsa (5-1)

Is it sustainable to rely on repeatedly winning tight, dramatic games? Probably not. But Tulsa has won five games in a row, four by one score, and will live in the rankings another week thanks to a dramatic Thursday night comeback victory over Tulane. It was driven by third-string quarterback Davis Brin, and we'll see what the Golden Hurricane's QB two-deep looks like a week from now, but for now, let's continue to bask in the glory of a 5-1 Tulsa and the promise of unending late-game drama. -- Bill Connelly

No. 25 North Carolina (6-2)

After an open date, the Tar Heels return to face their biggest challenge of the season, at home against No. 2 Notre Dame the day after Thanksgiving. We know how explosive both offenses can be, but the question is whether the North Carolina defense can limit the big plays against the Irish. North Carolina needs to play exceptionally well in its front seven in order to pressure Ian Book, limit his scrambles and contain the Irish running game. -- Adelson

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