A shake up in the top five, a clearer College Football Playoff picture and much more highlight what we expect from the new AP Top 25 as the college football rankings get updated following an epic Rivalry Week. Week 13 was, without debate, one of the best weekends of college football in 2021 with Saturday's all-day marathon of drama serving as a fitting end to one of the most-anticipated seasons in the sport's history.
No result will resonate more than Michigan's 42-27 win against Ohio State, which snapped a losing streak in the series that dates back to 2011 and gave Jim Harbaugh his first win in the series as head coach after five straight losses to the Buckeyes. The Wolverines will challenge for the No. 2 spot after the win, and the Buckeyes are certain to take a tumble after picking up a second loss. We're projecting that Michigan will indeed show up as the first team behind an unanimous No. 1 Georgia in the AP Top 25 poll when the new rankings are released on Sunday.
Michigan's move to No. 2 was opened thanks to Alabama needing four overtimes to get past Auburn in an Iron Bowl that continued the rivalry drama through Saturday afternoon. Bryce Young's 97-yard game-tying touchdown drive adds to his own Heisman Trophy argument, but the narrow win didn't do much to anchor an argument for the Crimson Tide to return to No. 2.
That rivalry theme carried all the way into Saturday night for an all-time edition of Bedlam with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma trading haymakers before the Cowboys handed Lincoln Riley his first-ever loss in the rivalry. That win not only tracks against the consistency of Oklahoma winning in the series but prevents the Sooners from competing for a Big 12 championship -- the perfect double whammy when it comes to rivalry hate.
To get "The Game," the Iron Bowl and Bedlam all in sequence with thrilling results and College Football Playoff stakes is about as good as it gets for a fan of the sport, and the voters, like us, will relish one of the last chances to engage in these debates around the College Football Playoff Rankings.
Here's how we think the new AP Top 25 will look on Sunday:
1. Georgia (Last week -- 1): The return of George Pickens was the most notable headline coming out of a 45-0 win against Georgia Tech. Pickens logged just one reception but his presence changes the outlook for the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, and ultimately for the Bulldogs, the College Football Playoff.
2. Michigan (6): The wire-to-wire nature of Michigan's win is ultimately what powers the projection that the Wolverines will jump to the front of the line among one-loss teams.
3. Alabama (3): Extended overtimes actually helped the postgame review of Alabama's 24-22 win at Auburn because it gave Young and the Tide offense opportunities to find success that wasn't coming for most of regulation. Voters may remember how subpar the performance was early in the game, but the final book reads better for those who didn't watch every snap.
4. Cincinnati (4): A more lopsided result than 35-13 might have pushed the Bearcats ahead of Alabama following the Friday win at ECU. The AP voters have shown Cincinnati some favorable treatment throughout the season, so it will be interesting to see if they give Luke Fickell's team a shot to reclaim the No. 2 spot.
5. Notre Dame (5): The Fighting Irish are in a great position for the playoff debate. They're 11-1 and have won convincingly coming down the stretch with their only loss coming to an undefeated team. They can sit on the couch next weekend and root for the kind of chaos that puts them in the CFP for a third time in four years.
6. Oklahoma State (7): College Football Playoff contention is real for the Cowboys, who now get a chance to emerge from conference championship weekend as a one-loss Power Five champion if they can beat Baylor for a second time this season in Dallas.
7. Ohio State (2): The landing spot for the Buckeyes could be anywhere between No. 7 and No. 11, depending on two important factors: how highly AP voters rate Michigan and whether the snowy conditions should impact how those voters react to the loss. Since we're projecting the Wolverines to No. 2, we're going to be on the higher end of that projection, but checking in one spot ahead of Michigan State is also a possibility.
8. Ole Miss (8): So much for all the talk about it not being healthy to hate your rival. The Rebels looked extremely motivated to hand Mississippi State and the cowbell-carrying fans in Starkville, Mississippi, a 31-21 loss on Thursday night.
9. Baylor (9): All Baylor needed was a win to remain in the hunt for the Big 12 Championship Game, but Texas Tech nearly played spoiler before a game-tying field goal attempt missed in the 27-24 Bears win.
10. Oregon (11): It wasn't until late in the game when Oregon State's offense really got going, so there shouldn't be too much panic on the Ducks' stock following the 38-29 win against Oregon State. Up next is a rematch with Utah for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the New Year's Six.
11. Michigan State (12): Massive personnel issues as a result of injuries and the flu were not enough to prevent this Spartans team from reaching the 10-win mark in the regular season for the first time since 2015.
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12. Oklahoma (10): There could be a more dramatic tumble in the rankings than what we're predicting here, but the "good loss" factor could prevent the Sooners from dropping behind the highest-ranked three-loss teams in the top 25.
13. BYU (13): USC rolled off 18 unanswered points and even held the lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Cougars responded with a late score and key stops to pull off the win and improve to 5-0 against the Pac-12 and 10-2 overall.
14. Utah (16): All eyes on the Pac-12 Championship Game next week and not much for voters to take away from a 28-13 win against Colorado on Friday.
15. Iowa (17): There's not a ton of room for upward movement but the Hawkeyes should come out of Week 13 feeling as good as they've felt in several weeks. Beating Nebraska on the road and getting a Minnesota win against Wisconsin has propelled Iowa into the Big Ten Championship Game, and that division title combined with just two losses on the season could spark a minor jump in the rankings.
16. Houston (19): The Cougars wrapped their regular season with a 28-point win at UConn on Saturday, leaving Dana Holgorsen's team with an 11-1 record heading into next week's AAC Championship Game against 12-0 Cincinnati.
17. Pittsburgh (20): The first 10-win season of the Pat Narduzzi tenure is just window dressing for a campaign that will ultimately hang its hat on what happens next week against Wake Forest. The Panthers had the ACC Coastal clinched before their 31-14 win at Syracuse, but getting the appropriate result keeps confidence high for a team that's won eight of nine since the stunning loss to Western Michigan early in the year.
18. Wake Forest (21): The 41-10 final score against Boston College was impressive enough that a bump up might be warranted if this were the early part of the season. Individual results normally don't have as much influence on dramatic fluctuations in the rankings this late in the season when the favored ranked team wins.
19. San Diego State (22): Friday's early kick on CBS against Boise State was a big-time stage for Brady Hoke's Aztecs to punch their ticket to the Mountain West title game.
20. Louisiana (23): With the Sun Belt Championship Game coming up next week. it was understandable to see a closer game than expected against Louisiana-Monroe, but the 21-16 victory was a little bit too close for comfort.
21. NC State (24): One of the best editions of the NC State-North Carolina rivalry has cemented the Wolfpack's spot as a top 25 team, even if they will miss out on the ACC Championship Game. The effort to erase a nine-point lead in less than 30 seconds and beat the Tar Heels was a performance of affirmation in this year's team and Dave Doeren's program.
22. Arkansas (25): Three rivalry trophy wins in 2021 doesn't get Arkansas extra points in the AP Top 25, but these victories are small pieces of Sam Pittman's pitch on the recruiting trail. The Razorbacks never trailed in their 34-17 win against Missouri, snapping a five-game losing streak in the series.
23. Clemson (NR): Getting ranked by the CFP Selection Committee last Tuesday was the first piece of evidence to suggest the Tigers were set for a breakthrough, but the 30-0 rout against South Carolina did more to back up the argument for Clemson as a top-25 caliber team.
24. Texas A&M (14): The head-to-head loss against Arkansas from early in the year was outweighed by the strength of the Alabama win until Saturday night when a blown lead at LSU left the Aggies and the Razorbacks with the same record in conference play (4-4) and overall (8-4).
25. Minnesota (NR): This is a bit of a swing because beating Wisconsin on Saturday marked the first ranked win for Minnesota this season, but handing the Badgers their first defeat since early October could resonate enough to jump into the top 25.
Projected to drop out: UTSA (15), Wisconsin (18)