The AP Top 25 voters have been put in an unenviable position in 2020 as it pertains to the teams and conferences that have waffled on their decision to play football in the fall. The Big Ten and Pac-12 teams were included in the preseason edition of the college football rankings, then removed from consideration for the first full update when ballots were submitted after the first weekend of ACC and Big 12 play on Sept. 12.
Meanwhile, the SEC was still two weeks from the start of competition, but those teams remained in the rankings while the Big Ten and Pac-12 teams lost their spots in the pecking order. Then once the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced their return and schedules for an amended 2020 season, AP voters were once again allowed to consider those schools (along with the Mountain West and MAC) for spots in the rankings.
But something happened during that layoff and the availability of results for teams in the rankings and absence of results for the teams sidelined resulted in an unintentional penalty for Big Ten. Ohio State was No. 2 in the preseason rankings with 21 first-place votes to Clemson's 38, but when the Buckeyes were back in the mix, they landed at No. 6 -- behind a 2-0 Notre Dame squad and ahead of a 1-0 Auburn -- with just four first-place votes. Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan all saw similar drops from their preseason position when they were returned to the rankings despite just two teams, Miami and Pittsburgh, having played more than two games.
So now that the Big Ten has a full week of results, we're predicting a course correction in the rankings with some noticeable jumps for the big winners of the weekend. Ohio State won't be back in its preseason position of No. 2, but it should jump ahead of Georgia and close the gap with Notre Dame for No. 3. Michigan should see a big leap in the rankings after not only winning on the road against Minnesota but answering some of the big questions regarding its new quarterback. And speaking of new quarterback, the 2020 debut for Graham Mertz and Wisconsin was impressive enough to warrant a bump up to the edge of the top 10 after dominating Wisconsin.
Indiana should crash the rankings after its first top-10 win since 1987, and the Hoosiers' rise should provide some padding for Penn State's fall from the top 10. As long as Minnesota doesn't depart from the rankings, which would be a surprise given the absence of several key players from the lineup, the Big Ten is in a position to have nearly half of its conference ranked when the new AP Top 25 is released on Sunday.
Here's how we think the updated version of the AP Top 25 will look on Sunday with Week 8 in the books. Last week's ranking can be found in parenthesis below.
1. Clemson (1): Trevor Lawrence correctly assessed the Tigers' performance on Saturday as lacking the energy they needed to play at the highest level. It was enough to beat Syracuse by nearly four touchdowns but not enough to win against teams like Alabama or Notre Dame. With a trip to South Bend, Indiana, coming up on Nov. 7, the time has come to flip the switch with Saturday serving as an off day.
2. Alabama (2): Nothing will be adjusted in the polls on account of Jaylen Waddle, but the loss of the Crimson Tide star wide receiver and playmaker is the biggest storyline around the program from the weekend. Rolling over Tennessee is nothing new for Nick Saban since his arrival, so how Alabama can raise its level of play on both sides of the ball following Waddle's injury will be a key to its pursuit of a national championship.
3. Notre Dame (3): Total dominance was on display as the Fighting Irish get closer to a form that matches their ranking. There's no doubt that some voters were wavering considering the 12-7 result against Louisville last week, but any concern was put to bed with a complete and balanced 45-3 win against Pitt.
4. Ohio State (5): I fully expect Georgia to get jumped as a result of the idle week, but it's not out of the question that Ohio State could land even another spot higher at No. 3 after Justin Fields' star-studded performance in the 2020 opener against Nebraska. The Buckeyes were No. 2 in the preseason, and now at 1-0, the discussion should be ongoing as to whether the best team in the country resides in Columbus, Ohio.
5. Georgia (4): The Bulldogs were off in Week 8.
6. Oklahoma State (6): Tested in a way that they haven't been yet this year, the Cowboys kept their inside road to the Big 12 title game with a 24-21 win against Iowa State. We're not used to seeing these championship race showdowns be decided in the 20s in the Big 12, but Saturday's win was more affirmation for Oklahoma State's defense as one of the best in the country.
7. Texas A&M (7): The Aggies were off in Week 8.
8. Cincinnati (9): The Bearcats remained in control from the start in a statement win against SMU. The 42-13 result is enough to solidify Cincinnati's spot as a top-10 team but not enough to warrant a major jump in the pecking order.
10. Michigan (18): On the Cover 3 Podcast, my co-host Barton Simmons said that Josh Gattis traded in the big-body Cadillacs of Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins for a room full of speedy dirt bikes at wide receiver. Well the dirt bike offense looks like it's perfect for new starting quarterback Joe Milton and the Wolverines answered all of the pressing questions on offense in one of the most impressive results of the weekend, rolling Minnesota in a 49-24 win.
11. Wisconsin (14): Graham Mertz was nearly perfect and Wisconsin was so committed to establishing the passing game that we saw the Badgers throwing on first down! Mertz was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and has Wisconsin's offense looking as dynamic as its been since Russell Wilson was in town. The offensive coordinator for that year, by the way? Current coach Paul Chryst.
12. Miami (11): The Hurricanes had to rely on their defense for the second straight week in a low-scoring grinder of a win against Virginia.
14. North Carolina (14): Reaching the top five of the AP Top 25 brought out all kinds of unique historical notes for North Carolina, but it probably wasn't the best representation of the Tar Heels' talent, at least not at this point in the season. Still maturing on defense and still without a complete offensive performance prior to Saturday, North Carolina had one of its best games of the season in a wire-to-wire 48-21 win against rival NC State.
15. Penn State (8): The Nittany Lions are destined to see a significant drop in the rankings, but it's possible, if not likely, that the wild ending in Bloomington, Indiana, keeps some padding on that fall. Penn State still has one of the more talented rosters in the country and outgained the Hoosiers significantly in the box score, so it's possible this overtime loss won't be enough to drop them from the top 20.
16. Indiana (NR): Where will the Hoosiers land after Michael Penix Jr.'s heroic two-point conversion in overtime? Indiana received just four voting points in last week's balloting, which had them as high as the mid-20s on a single ballot or at No. 25 on four different ballots, so there's a lot of ground to make up -- even after a historic win against a top 10 opponent. A jump into the top 20 seems certain, but it's possible that the low ranking heading into the week allows for Indiana to fall behind the team it just beat, Penn State.
18. Iowa State (17): A narrow loss at Oklahoma State shouldn't be enough to cause a major adjustment in the rankings for the Cyclones, though their spot in the top 25 is not a bit more tenuous after its first loss since that opening weekend upset to Louisiana.
19. Kansas State (20): The Wildcats outscored Kansas 48-7 across the middle two quarters of Saturday's rivalry game and got two punt return touchdowns from Phillip Brooks. Undefeated in Big 12 play, they aren't going to see their AP Top 25 status changed significantly until they log a win against Oklahoma State or Iowa State. The former visits Manhattan on Nov. 7 in what might be a preview of the Big 12 title game.
20. Oklahoma (NR): The Sooners looked like a much more complete team at TCU. It wasn't a perfect or even championship-caliber performance, but the defense delivered enough stops, T.J. Pledger helped give some consistency in the ground game and Spencer Rattler threw for 332 yards on just 13 completions. The explosiveness is there, and if the defense can hold up against the rest of the Big 12 schedule, this is still a strong conference title contender.
21. Marshall (22): From the start of the season, it was shown that this year's Marshall team would be led by its defense. That's why it's no surprise to see that side of the ball dominate when tested by FAU on an off day for quarterback Grant Wells. The 20-9 win won't do much to boost the Thundering Herd's place in the rankings, but they won't give up the push or more respect nationally.
22. Minnesota (21): The Golden Gophers were down several key contributors for the contest but also didn't play great in key situations to make Saturday's highly-anticipated opener more competitive. We're guessing that momentum for Michigan actually helps Minnesota stay in the top 25, but a rush of votes for Memphis or Tulsa could leave P.J. Fleck's squad in the "Others Receiving Votes" category.
24. Coastal Carolina (25): One week after picking up one of the biggest wins of the season in the Sun Belt, the Chanticleers nearly got caught against Georgia Southern in a letdown spot. Even with its starting quarterback sidelined, Coastal Carolina was able to win 28-14 and should hang on to its spot in the AP Top 25.
25. SMU (16): The Mustangs finally met a defense that could slow its high-powered attack, but Cincinnati might have one of the best defenses in the country. There's a fall coming for SMU, but whether or not it's all the way out of the rankings might come down to how many voters jump on Boise State as the next Group of Five squad in the pecking order.
Projected to drop out: Virginia Tech (19), NC State (23)