Tomorrow's Top 25 Today: Mississippi State jumps in after upset as LSU falls
Projecting the new AP Top 25 poll college football rankings after Week 3
Last week, huge nonconference games carried significance that will linger into the College Football Playoff debates of November and December. On Saturday, we got our first small batch of significant conference games, and like those Week 2 showdowns, they will end up meaning far more than a single mark in the win (or loss) column.
Florida's miraculous Hail Mary win against Tennessee will be remembered by Gators fans forever, but it could also end up being the deciding factor in the SEC East. LSU might not be an SEC West title contender, but what if it does find a spark on offense and gets hot late? The Tigers could be out of the running due to to Saturday night's loss at Mississippi State. And of course, there was Clemson-Louisville.
The nonconference season is winding down and more of these swing games are on the horizon. Each data point provides more clarity to the top 25 picture, and each week presents the opportunity for unexpected results and a shake-up from what we thought we knew about these teams.
Here's how we think the AP Top 25 will look on Sunday:
1. Alabama (Previous -- 1): There were enough big plays to create highlights and win comfortably but definitely enough on tape for Nick Saban and the Alabama staff to find plenty of coaching points this week as the Tide gear up for SEC play, which starts next Saturday at Vanderbilt in the SEC Game of the Week on CBS.
2. Oklahoma (2): Things were awfully nervous for about a quarter in Norman. Tulane's ground game got going early, keeping the ball out of Baker Mayfield's hands, and if you were tracking the game (because it was on pay-per-view) the 14-14 score might have looked like a typo. Oklahoma's defense locked in and the Sooners eventually got it rolling, shutting out the Green Wave over the final three quarters and winning handily 56-14.
3. Clemson (3): All Clemson has done in the last two weeks is secure the wins it needs to pave a path back to the ACC Championship Game and a potential College Football Playoff bid. Beating Louisville gives the Tigers the head-to-head advantage they needed (both teams finished 7-1 in ACC play last year) to have a leg up in the Atlantic Division standings, and last week's win against Auburn is the crucial nonconference data point that builds out a good playoff resume. As Kelly Bryant continues to improve, the Tigers will only become more complete and more dangerous to the teams at the top of the rankings.
4. Penn State (5): The starters rested for most of the second half as Penn State rounded out its nonconference slate with a dominant offensive showing against Georgia State. Trace McSorely had five total touchdowns, Saquon Barkley had 226 total yards of offense, and there is a lot of anticipation to see how the reigning Big Ten champs will look next week in a primetime game at Iowa.
5. Oklahoma State (7): Seven offensive drives resulted in seven touchdowns as Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys passed with flying colors in their nonconference test against Power Five competition with a 59-21 win at Pittsburgh. Rudolph will be on the verge of rewriting record books throughout the season, and as long as Oklahoma State remains in the Big 12 title race, he'll be in the Heisman Trophy race. The early start and national audience should lead to a slight bump up in the rankings.
6. USC (4): Predicting the Trojans might get jumped by Penn State and Oklahoma State, in part because of the impressive performance of those two teams but also as a result of going to double overtime against Texas. Tremendous credit to freshman kicker Chase McGrath for drilling the game-tying and game-winning field goals under pressure.
7. Washington (6): Jake Browning only let the ball touch the ground three times (19-for-22 passing) and had four touchdown passes in a strong showing and dominant Huskies win. Dante Pettis continues to be a problem in special teams and on offense, scoring on a punt return for the third straight game and pulling in three touchdown receptions. Conference play starts next week with Colorado as Washington begins its campaign to defend the Pac-12 title.
8. Ohio State (8): While there will be talk about J.T. Barrett looking more effective in the Buckeyes 38-7 win against Army, the game doubled down on an early observation of the 2017 team: Things change when J.K. Dobbins can get loose. The true freshman running back ran for 181 yards against Indiana and totaled 172 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday against Army. He's a difference maker in space, and when Ohio State can build some momentum on offense, he's going to be the one to provide the explosive plays that were lacking in the loss to Oklahoma.
9. Michigan (7): After three games, it's worth considering that Quinn Nordin's heavy workload -- the freshman kicker tied a school record with five field goals in the win against Air Force -- might not be a great sign for Michigan's red zone efficiency. The defense and special teams are good enough for the Wolverines to win eight, nine or maybe even 10 games, but if Michigan is going to be a top 10 team all season and compete for a Big Ten title, it must get better when the field shrinks.
10. Wisconsin (10): Alex Hornibrook was nearly flawless against BYU, completing 18-of-19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns. But beyond this performance, which was bolstered by yet another strong showing for Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers ground game, is the fact that Hornibrook has been great on third down and in the red zone all season. The Big Ten West favorites can be more than conference title game participants. Wisconsin is a playoff contender in 2017.
12. Georgia (13): With Sony Michel sidelined, Nick Chubb got a full workload in the first half against Samford and made some history along the way. Chubb finished the game with 131 yards, moving into solo No. 2 in program history with 19 games of 100 rushing yards or more (breaking a tie with Todd Gurley at 18). With nine games left on the regular season schedule, he's eight games behind Herschel Walker (28) for No. 1 on that list.
13. Virginia Tech (16): ECU was at home and came out hot, holding a 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Then Virginia Tech showed no quarter to the Pirates, outscoring them 57-0 the rest of the way. After a low-scoring effort against Delaware, the offense was fully engaged again on Saturday with Josh Jackson throwing for 372 yards and five touchdowns.
14. Louisville (14): Hard to imagine the Cards will fall too far after losing to a top-three team but a slight step back wouldn't be that surprising after getting blown out as only a field-goal underdog at home.
15. Auburn (15): After failing to score a touchdown last week against Clemson, Auburn got caught in a grinder against FCS Mercer. The Tigers won 24-10 but did little to alleviate the concerns about the offensive execution with five turnovers and only a 10-3 halftime lead against a football program that was just rebooted five years ago.
16. Miami (17): The Hurricanes will be back in action against Toledo after Saturday's game against Florida State was postponed until Oct. 7.
17. TCU (20): Get you a team that can do both. TCU showed it could be physical and grind out wins at Arkansas last week, then turned around hung half-a-hundred on the board against SMU in a Texas-style shootout. The Frogs were a little sloppy on offense and gave up 463 yards, but after falling behind 19-7, they responded with three touchdowns in the final eight minutes of the second quarter to take the lead. They then pulled away late with explosive plays on the way to a 56-36 win. Up next: a trip to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State in a game packed with Big 12 title implications.
18. Washington State (21): Oh you know, just your run-of-the-mill six touchdown day for quarterback Luke Falk in a 52-23 win against Oregon State. Falk's had just 12 incompletions in 49 attempts with no interceptions and Washington State showed no hangover from Saturday's late night triple-overtime win against boise State.
19. South Florida (22): The penalties and other errors were typical of some of the slow starts we've seen from USF this season, but the offensive prowess shown over four quarters lived up to the expectations we had for the Bulls coming into the season. Quinton Flowers threw for four touchdowns and was one of three 100-yard rushers in a 47-23 rout of Illinois.
20. Florida (24): It just doesn't get much better than beating your hated division rival on a last-second Hail Mary. There's still a lot to figure out for this Florida team if it's going to win the SEC East for a third straight season but picking up the head-to-head win against Tennessee is a huge step to getting back to Atlanta.
21. Mississippi State (NR): Prior to Saturday night, Mississippi State had beaten LSU just once (2014) since 2000 but lost several times by single digits in heart-breaking fashion. Blowing the doors off the Tigers had a cathartic feel for the cowbell-ringing fans in Starkville, as Nick Fitzgerald proved that he could be just as dangerous against Louisiana State as he was against Louisiana Tech.
22. LSU (12): While the offensive struggles brought about familiar grumbling from LSU fans -- basically muscle memory at this point, really -- it was equally concerning to see Nick Fitzgerald and the Mississippi State offense tear through the Tigers across four quarters of action. Usually the faster and stronger group, LSU consistently found itself turned around and playing chase. Syracuse and Troy should provide some opportunities to build confidence and get back in rhythm on offense, but right now it's tough to consider the Tigers realistic threats in the SEC West.
23. Colorado (NR): It took nine quarters of college football, but Colorado eventually gave up a touchdown. The defense actually had one of its worst games of the season,but that will fly below the radar for most voters thanks to Steven Montez's career-high 357 passing yards and four touchdowns and Phillip Linday's 151 rushing yards in a 20-point win against Northern Colorado. The Buffs have been on the edge of the top 25, lingering at the top of "Others Receiving Votes," so we're thinking they're a good candidate to move up. Staying in the top 25 will be tougher with Washington coming to town next week for a rematch of last year's Pac-12 title game.
24. Vanderbilt (NR): The Commodores defense is nasty, and in a 14-0 win against Kansas State, they proved they are ready for national ranking consideration. Utah could end up in this spot (or in place of Colorado as mentioned above), but something tells me the team that's allowed just 13 points in three games will ride that momentum into the top-25.
25. San Diego State (NR): The Aztecs have knocked off Power Five opponents in back-to-back games, and Saturday night's upset win against Stanford is the program's first home win against a ranked opponent since 2010. Rashaad Penny (175 rushing yards) is no longer an afterthought to Donnel Pumphrey, as last year's 1,000-yard rusher is in position to be a Heisman dark horse (like Pumphrey was) in 2017.
Projected to drop out: Kansas State (18), Stanford (19), Tennessee (23), UCLA (25)
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