When the new AP Top 25 is released on Sunday, expect to hear lots of yelling from college football fans. The new rankings always come with their fair share of grumbling and celebration, but the curious case of the Big Ten in this flux week is going to make for a particularly interesting discussion.
The Preseason AP Top 25 made all 130 FBS teams available to its voters, including the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other conferences that had postponed their 2020 seasons. Including Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon and the rest of those teams allowed for a view of the college football landscape in some alternate reality where we weren't relying on frequent COVID-19 testing and strict protocols to even pull off a fall season. There would not be another update to the rankings until after Week 2, at which time those teams with postponed seasons would be removed from consideration.
The result was a massive shift in the rankings with 10 new arrivals to the top 25 and five teams making jumps of five spots or more. So what happens to the rankings now that the Big Ten has announced its eight-game season starting Oct. 24? The SEC has yet to start, and it's been allowed to hold onto its positions in the AP Top 25, so shouldn't the Big Ten be afforded that same opportunity as it ramps up for the season over the next month?
According to the AP, voters have been informed that Big Ten teams will be eligible starting next week now that the league's (third) schedule has been set for 2020. That means teams in the 20s better soak up their rankings and bring some impressive performances in Week 4 because Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and maybe even Iowa are going to want their spots back in the pecking order.
In terms of movement from last week's rankings after Week 3's results, the most obvious candidate for a big jump is Miami, which blasted Louisville in the first top 25 showdown of the season and picked up a key ACC win on Saturday night.
We're also projecting one top 15 team to fall a few spots despite winning and a few minor adjustments along the way as voters continue to grapple with the tough task of ranking teams that have played a game (or even two) against teams that have yet to take the field in 2020.
So with all that in mind, here's how we think the new AP Top 25 will look on Sunday.
1. Clemson (Last week --1): The big question for Clemson in terms of the poll comes when Ohio State returns and starts to take back some of those first-place votes that gravitated to the Tigers for last week's rankings.
2. Alabama (2): The Crimson Tide kick off their season next week against Missouri.
3. Oklahoma (3): After throttling Missouri State in Week 2, the Sooners were off this week and back in action next Saturday for their Big 12 opener against Kansas State.
4. Georgia (4): The Bulldogs kick off their season next week against Arkansas.
5. Florida (5): The Gators kick off their season next week against Ole Miss.
6. LSU (6): The Tigers kick off their season next week against Mississippi State.
7. Notre Dame (7): After a much cleaner performance from Ian Book and the Fighting Irish offense and a much more dominant showing from the defense, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Notre Dame potentially jump LSU in the pecking order. We're not going to predict that here since voters last week had LSU much closer to Florida and No. 5 than Notre Dame at No. 7.
9. Texas (9): After beating UTEP by eight touchdowns in Week 2, the Longhorns were off this week. Up next is the Big 12 opener at Texas Tech.
10. Texas A&M (10): The Aggies kick off their season next week against Vanderbilt.
11. North Carolina (12): Contract tracing and quarantines wiped out most of Charlotte's offensive line, forcing the 49ers to cancel their Week 3 date with the Tar Heels, who are not scheduled to play again until Oct. 3.
12. Miami (17): The biggest lesson learned from Miami's impressive win on Saturday night was the depth of skill position players capable of burning a defense. QB D'Eriq King alone can cause problems, and Cam'Ron Harris has put together two strong showings as one of the better running backs in the country, but the pass catchers stepped up in a big way against Louisville. The real fun starts if Miami does take care of business against Florida State (with Mike Norvell sidelined by COVID-19) to improve to 3-0 with No. 1 Clemson as its next opponent following a bye. If you thought the "U IS BACK" volume is turned up Saturday night, just wait until we have two weeks to preview that high-end ACC showdown.
13. UCF (14): After getting pulled into a sloppy back-and-forth with Georgia Tech, the Knights hit the gas in the fourth quarter and pulled away for a 49-21 win. The margin matters here because style points always matter for UCF, and the Knights would be less likely to see a bump in the rankings if they had won 28-21. So be nearly hanging a 50 burger with that three-touchdown fourth quarter, UCF lives up to the high-powered offensive standard voters have come to expect.
14. Cincinnati (13): Potential exists for a slight bump after a 55-20 win against Austin Peay in the Bearcats' 2020 debut. The big takeaway is the promotion of running back Gerrid Doaks as the featured player on offense in the wake of Michael Warren's departure. Doaks had four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) and led the team in both rushing attempts and receptions.
15. Oklahoma State (11): While the 1-0 is 1-0 regardless of the score or how it looked, voters are going to react to the Cowboys' 16-7 win over Tulsa with an adjustment in the rankings. The drop will be debated by fans since the injury to QB Spencer Sanders absolutely played a role in the lacking offense, but so did poor offensive line play and a generally disjointed effort. I think Tennessee, the No. 25 team in the preseason top 25, is Oklahoma State's floor because it's still perceived as one of the better Big 12 teams. But Saturday's opener had the Pokes looking more like unranked TCU or Iowa State than the top-10 duo of Oklahoma and Texas.
16. Tennessee (15): The Vols kick off their season next week against South Carolina.
17. Memphis (16): The Tigers' conference opener against Houston, originally scheduled for Friday night, was postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases in the program. Memphis' game set for next week vs. UTSA has also been postponed amid continued coronavirus-related issues.
18. Louisiana (19): In another week with a wider collection of FBS teams with game experience, the Ragin' Cajuns might be in jeopardy to lose their newly-gained national ranking after squeaking out an overtime win against Georgia State. The result might ultimately say more about the Panthers and the Sun Belt in 2020, but the potential for a letdown after beating Iowa State was nearly fulfilled. With the win and many other teams around this spot sidelined for Week 3, Louisiana stays in and doubles its number of weeks ranked in the last 70 years.
19. Louisville (18): The biggest disappointment for Louisville is that it was a step slow at too many key moments of a game against a team that appeared to be its peer in the conference. Malik Cunningham, Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell all lived up to their explosive reputation, but the Cardinals could not get the stops nor prevent chunk plays against Miami's skill players. This is still one of the better teams in the ACC, but its status as a contender for one of the top two spots in the standings is certainly in doubt after seeing how it matched up against the Hurricanes.
21. BYU (21): Saturday's scheduled game against Army had to be postponed because of a "small number" of positive COVID-19 tests and the resulting contact tracing.
22. Army (22): Though Army has tried to remain flexible with its scheduling, the Black Knights did not book a substitute opponent for BYU and were off in Week 3.
23. Pittsburgh (25): After rolling over Austin Peay in its opener, Pitt's offense ran into some stiffer competition with Syracuse and didn't do itself any favors in a sloppy, mistake-filled 21-10 win. The Panthers defense, which we knew to be elite, controlled the game, particularly up front. Pitt is going to win some games sloppy because of that group, but contending for a title game spot in the ACC will require more consistency and less mistakes from the offense.
24. Kentucky (23): The Wildcats kick off their season next Saturday against Auburn.
25. Marshall (NR): A warning shot was sent out from Huntington, West Virginia, across the bow of every Conference USA team. Marshall's rout of Eastern Kentucky was dismissed based on the opponent, but its tough showing in a win over then-No. 23 Appalachian State should get the league's attention. Brendan Knox might be the best running back in the league, and Marshall found an identity and a strong defensive effort against the four-time Sun Belt champs.
Projected to drop out: Appalachian State (23)