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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The AP Top 25 college football poll is out, and Clemson held on to the top spot over Alabama. But it's also the last weekend without any Big Ten games, so expect things to keep changing. Here's what's next for each ranked team:

No. 1 Clemson (5-0)

The Tigers scored 73 points on Georgia Tech, so what is going to happen this weekend when they face the worst team in the ACC? Syracuse is a shell of the team that upset Clemson in 2017 (and nearly upset the Tigers in 2018), with a defense that has not done much to slow down anyone on offense. Syracuse has allowed a combined 701 yards rushing in its last two losses, so perhaps that means it is Travis Etienne's turn to have another big game. Whether it is Trevor Lawrence or Etienne, or the other standouts on the Clemson offense, it is hard to imagine Syracuse staying close. --Andrea Adelson

No. 2 Alabama (4-0)

The question is no longer whether Alabama is the class of the SEC. Saturday's 17-point win over Georgia proved that. No, the question has become whether the Crimson Tide can make the case for No. 1 nationally? With Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, the offense is certainly loaded. And now, after a strong second-half performance against Georgia, there's reason to believe that maybe the defense can round into championship form, too. If it does, the debate between Alabama and Clemson could get interesting. --Alex Scarborough

No. 3 Notre Dame (4-0)

This season has been up and down so far for Notre Dame. Most recently the Irish were held to 12 points against Louisville, barely squeaking out a win. Notre Dame is 4-0, but the schedule is going to get harder with Pitt, Clemson, Boston College and North Carolina still to come. The Irish are going to have to improve in the red zone and finishing drives if they're going to be able to keep up with some of those teams, especially with Clemson's high-powered offense that will be able to put up points. This is a good team that has shown some flashes of talent, but more consistency is going to be needed going forward. -- Tom VanHaaren

No. 4 Georgia (3-1)

By no means is Georgia out of it. Losing on the road against No. 2 Alabama doesn't disqualify the Bulldogs from anything. But the way they lost does raise serious questions moving forward. Chief among them: Can Stetson Bennett IV lead this offense where it needs to go? Bennett looked more than serviceable beating Tennessee a week ago and even had some good moments early against Alabama, but then it all came crumbling down with two second-half interceptions and doubt crept in. If he can't get back on track against Kentucky, coach Kirby Smart might have some difficult decisions to make. -- Scarborough

No. 5 Ohio State (0-0)

It's almost time for the Big Ten to start the season, and the Buckeyes have been chomping at the bit to get rolling. There is a real shot at a national championship run, but what everyone is going to be watching is how many games Ohio State, and the entire conference, can get in for this season. With eight weeks to play eight games, there isn't much room for postponed games or hiccups with COVID-19 protocols. The College Football Playoff selection committee understands everyone is in a unique situation, but getting in as many games as possible is going to be important for the Buckeyes. It helps to have the game against Penn State in the second week to give the committee a good look at what this team is made of, but it's going to be imperative to get through as many games as possible. - Tom VanHaaren

No. 6 Oklahoma State (3-0)

After consecutive weekends off (one scheduled, one not), the Cowboys return this week for what will be their biggest game of the season to date: Iowa State. The Cyclones, like the Cowboys, are unbeaten in Big 12 play. Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders, who missed the past two games for injury, is closing in on full strength, Mike Gundy said last week. A return to join Chuba Hubbard, LD Brown and Tylan Wallace would be a boost to the Pokes' attack in a key game for the Big 12 race. -- Sam Khan Jr.

No. 7 Texas A&M (3-1)

All of a sudden, the remainder of the schedule -- home to Arkansas, Ole Miss and LSU, on the road at South Carolina, Tennessee and Auburn -- doesn't look as daunting as it once did. The Isaiah Spiller/Ainias Smith backfield combo is a game-changer behind the Aggies' improved offensive line. If the defense can continue to improve (six sacks and 217 total yards allowed against Mississippi State), there's a window for A&M to make a run. -- Dave Wilson

No. 8 Penn State (0-0)

The Nittany Lions' offense is losing leading receiver K.J. Hamler, but will return tight end Pat Freiermuth, receiver Jahon Dotson and all four of the team's leading rushers from last season. The stable of backs with Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, combined with the running ability of quarterback Sean Clifford leaves that run game in good hands. Cain and Ford should only be better this season, now both in their second season in the program. Freiermuth was the second-leading receiver on the team in yards and touchdowns last season, so giving him an even bigger role this season will help Clifford, but finding that big-threat player that Hamler was last season is still needed this season. -- VanHaaren

No. 9 Cincinnati (3-0)

Cincinnati got an unexpected off week because of the coronavirus-related postponement of Saturday's game against Tulsa. Assuming the Bearcats are able to play Saturday, we could see one of the bigger games, rankings-wise, in American Athletic Conference history when a top-20 SMU hosts a top-10 Cincinnati. The Cincy defense is the best in the AAC and has given up just 37 points in three games, but SMU averages 43 points per game. Definite fun potential. -- Bill Connelly

No. 10 Florida (2-1)

The main objective is to get healthy and stay safe after a coronavirus outbreak postponed not only this past Saturday's game against LSU but this coming Saturday's game against Missouri as well. Coach Dan Mullen is the latest to test positive for the coronavirus, he announced Saturday, and all team activities remain suspended indefinitely. Florida continues to try to identify the cause of the teamwide spread and may end up changing travel protocols as a result. -- Adelson

No. 11 Miami (4-1)

While the Hurricanes got a solid win against Pitt, there will be several areas where they look to improve against Virginia next week. Let's start with the offensive line and run game, which struggled for large parts of the Pitt game. Until the Hurricanes played Clemson, they were averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground. But in their last two games against the Tigers and Panthers, they combined for 198 total yards rushing and D'Eriq King was held largely in check. -- Adelson

No. 12 BYU (5-0)

In a season that has seen many potential top-10 teams play like anything but, BYU has made statement after statement. Their only shaky moment came in the second half against UTSA a week ago, and they made up for that by laying the hammer down at Houston in the fourth quarter. Games against Texas State and WKU should allow the Cougars to head to Boise State on Nov. 7 still unbeaten and ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2009. -- Connelly

No. 13 Oregon (0-0)

As training camp progresses for the Ducks in anticipation of their season opener against Stanford on Nov. 7, Ducks players have been complimentary of new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who landed in Eugene after his short tenure as the head coach at Mississippi State. If Moorhead can have the type of immediate impact he had at Penn State, the Ducks' role as favorite in the Pac-12 will be justified. -- Kyle Bonagura

No. 14 North Carolina (3-1)

Without Clemson on the regular-season schedule, North Carolina had a chance to make a special run in the ACC this year, but after losing to Florida State, the Tar Heels' season takes on a whole new feel. The reality is the team never should have been ranked as the No. 5 in the country and now it can only hope to get back on track this week at home against NC State. -- Bonagura

No. 14 Wisconsin (0-0)

The Badgers need playmakers to step up on offense this season to help replace the production last season from leading rusher Jonathan Taylor and leading receiver Quintez Cephus, both now in the NFL. The offense is also going to be without starting quarterback Jack Coan, who underwent surgery on his foot after a noncontact injury in practice. The good news is tight end Jake Ferguson, running back Garrett Groshek and receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis are all back. That is four of the top seven receivers in terms of yards from last season. The biggest question will be in the run game and who replaces Taylor's 2,044 yards from last season. -- VanHaaren

No. 16 SMU (5-0)

The Mustangs are inching up the poll and have a huge one coming up when they host Cincinnati on Saturday night. Both teams are highly-ranked, chasing the American Conference title and the Group of 5's coveted New Year's Six bowl bid. SMU needed overtime to beat Tulane but continue to succeed under Sonny Dykes and behind QB Shane Buechele. Since the start of 2019, the Mustangs are an impressive 15-3. -- Khan

No. 17 Iowa State (3-1)

This is the week we'll find out if the Cyclones are for real. After a season-opening loss to Louisiana, they hung on to post wins over TCU and Oklahoma, but now face a road trip against a top-10 Oklahoma State team. The bad news: The Cyclones are 1-7 in Stillwater when Oklahoma State is ranked. The good news: That one win came in their last visit there, a 48-42 Iowa State win in 2018. Expect a tight one: The previous four between Matt Campbell and Mike Gundy have all been decided by seven points or less, including last season's 34-27 win by the Cowboys in Ames. -- Wilson

No. 18 Michigan (0-0)

The Wolverines are going to get tested right away to start this season, playing at Minnesota. Everyone is watching this offense and what it looks like with a new quarterback at the helm in the second year under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. The offense had some momentum last season, and if Joe Milton ends up being the starter and can bring some stability and good decision-making that was lacking last season, the offense should be able to progress. A stable of running backs will help the new starting quarterback in the backfield, but replacing four of five starters along the offensive line, as well as wide receivers Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones, will be difficult. -- VanHaaren

No. 19 Virginia Tech (3-1)

The Hokies were still dealing with some roster issues, but things are looking up in the wake of their best performance of the season. Now they'll need to take advantage of a manageable three-game stretch (at Wake Forest, at Louisville, Liberty) leading into a game against Miami on Nov. 14. -- Bonagura

No. 20 Kansas State (3-1)

The Wildcats' off week included some bad news for them: Starting quarterback Skylar Thompson is out for the season. K-State turns to true freshman Will Howard, who started in Thompson's place and led the Wildcats to a road win at TCU on Oct. 10. The defense and the running game will have to carry this team moving forward. The Wildcats' next endeavor is rival Kansas, whom they've beaten 11 straight times. -- Khan

No. 21 Minnesota (0-0)

The Golden Gophers are opening at home against Michigan. This past Friday, wide receiver Rashod Bateman (who had originally opted out) and quarterback Tanner Morgan were both named to the Big Ten Football Preseason Honors list. There's plenty to feel good about in Minnesota this year, but as we've seen across college football, there's no telling what to expect as teams begin their respective seasons. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

No. 22 Marshall (4-0)

The Thundering Herd re-enter the Top 25 following a 35-17 win at Louisiana Tech. Running back Brenden Knox continues to rack up big numbers, finishing with 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the victory. The advanced numbers seem to agree, with Marshall up to No. 40 in SP+ rankings. Meanwhile, the four remaining teams on its schedule are all No. 82 or worse in the SP+ rankings, meaning the Herd could make a serious run at an unbeaten season.

No. 23 NC State (4-1)

While the Wolfpack improved to 4-1 with a 31-20 win over Duke, it came at a significant cost. QB Devin Leary is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks after breaking his leg against the Blue Devils. NC State was 3-0 with Leary starting, as the signal caller threw for 879 yards and eight scores. With Leary out, Bailey Hockman will take over and will be tested immediately against in-state North Carolina, which will be looking to bounce back after getting stunned by Florida State.

No. 24 USC (0-0)

It's fair to wonder if the Trojans belong in the Top 25 coming off an 8-5 season and not having played a game, but the offense under sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis could be among the most explosive in the country. The key will be how quickly the Trojans defense can jell under new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. -- Bonagura

No. 25 Coastal Carolina (4-0)

Coastal beat Kansas by 15, beat Kansas State conqueror Arkansas State by 30, then knocked Louisiana from the unbeaten ranks last Wednesday. The Chanticleers' first appearance in the AP Top 25, then, was extremely well-earned. Jamey Chadwell's squad is exciting and unique, and their reward for this achievement is two upcoming games against tricky Georgia teams -- Georgia Southern on Oct. 24, at Georgia State on Oct. 31. -- Connelly

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