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Poll Problems: Week 7

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We take a look at the AP poll each week to see what the voters got right and what they got terribly wrong.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse
Syracuse stunned a lackluster Clemson on Friday night to kick off a weekend where four top-10 teams were upset by unranked foes.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Like we said last week, a week with only ranked vs. unranked matchups means there’s plenty of opportunity for chaos. And chaos is what we got. It started Friday with Clemson’s debacle at Syracuse and California’s pasting of Washington State, and continued Saturday with Auburn blowing a lead at LSU and Washington laying an egg at Arizona State. When the dust settled from the weekend, four top-10 teams had fallen. Unsurprisingly, we got a big-time shake-up in the AP poll.

1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)

The Tide rolled over another overmatched SEC opponent (Arkansas) and presumably will again this week when reeling Tennessee comes to Tuscaloosa.

2. Penn State (Last Week: 3)

Penn State’s gauntlet begins this week as they face a three-game stretch of Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State - the last two on the road. This brings the double-edged sword of quality-win opportunities but also possible stumbling blocks. I’m not sure they would be No. 2 in a Playoff committee’s opinion, given Georgia and TCU arguably have better resumes, but that can be changed if they remain undefeated in the coming weeks.

3. Georgia (Last Week: 4)

The Bulldogs are heading into a bye week and follow that with what should be a fairly manageable final stretch of the season. I would still give a slight edge to TCU when comparing the teams.

4. TCU (Last Week: 6)

Credit the Horned Frogs, who took care of business in a clear trap game at Kansas State and still have one of the best resumes in the nation. They get a gimme this week against Kansas before a trip to suddenly surging Iowa State.

5. Wisconsin (Last Week: 7)

The Badgers win over Purdue wasn’t a thing of beauty, but they outdid several other top teams this week by simply winning. Again, there will continue to be a damning lack of quality victories with Wisconsin’s body of work, but they have to be considered a Playoff threat the longer they remain undefeated.

6. Ohio State (Last Week: 9)

One of the biggest beneficiaries of this week’s carnage, the Buckeyes continue to be the highest ranked one-loss team. They are dismantling every opponent since losing to Oklahoma, but they still don’t have much of a claim to be ranked ahead of Clemson when you look at quality of wins. That said, this is a team that likely controls its Playoff destiny.

7. Clemson (Last Week: 2)

From coaches to players, it was an all-around disastrous effort from the Tigers on Friday night. While we knew Clemson could afford a mulligan (a la Pitt last season), this was a very frustrating place to take it, and the questions at the quarterback spot only compound the nervousness that comes with knowing your Playoff margin for error has disappeared. While losses by Auburn and Louisville mean Clemson’s profile isn’t as unassailable as it once seemed, the Tigers still have plenty of clout to make the Playoff at 12-1. Getting to that point now becomes the real challenge.

8. Miami (Last Week: 11)

Miami continues to live life on the edge, needing a miraculous catch on a fourth-down conversion to set up a game-winning field goal in a 25-24 win over Georgia Tech. I’m not opposed to the undefeated Hurricanes ranking behind one-loss Ohio State and Clemson necessarily, but it is interesting to note their position relative to a team like Wisconsin. Is Miami objectively worse than Wisconsin at this point? It will be interesting to see how the first Playoff poll places these various teams.

9. Oklahoma (Last Week: 12)

The Sooners coughed up a 20-point lead against Texas but eeked out a win in the Red River Rivalry. They kept their Playoff hopes alive for the time being, but it’s hard to see them making it through the rest of the season unscathed.

10. Oklahoma State (Last Week: 14)

Ditto for Oklahoma State, which still has some quality opponents left on the schedule. The Bedlam game between the Oklahoma schools is a de facto Playoff eliminator anyway if both teams somehow make it their with just one loss.

11. USC (Last Week: 13)

The Trojans were on the ropes late against Utah but stopped the Utes on a two-point conversion to get a win they had to have. They have what could be a Playoff elimination game this weekend when they travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame in a top-15 showdown.

12. Washington (Last Week: 5)

If you stayed up late Saturday night to watch Washington take on Arizona State, you were treated to one of the most head-scratching performances of the season in which the Huskies could do absolutely nothing offensively against a Sun Devil defense that had allowed at least 30 points in each of their prior six games. Washington’s 13-7 loss certainly ranks among the most bizarre of the season, and you could have reasonably dropped them even further than this.

13. Notre Dame (Last Week: 16)

We noted just two weeks ago that the Irish were a team to keep an eye on, and suddenly after a garbage win and a bye week they have crept all the way up to No. 13. A great opportunity awaits this weekend as Southern Cal comes to town.

14. Virginia Tech (Last Week: 15)

Still too high for the Hokies.

15. Washington State (Last Week: 8)

Wazzu did its part to contribute to the state of Washington’s worst weekend of football in who knows how long by turning the ball over seven times in a shocking 37-3 loss at Cal on Friday night. I would have dropped them outside the top-20 for a loss like that - which is the largest margin of defeat any current top-25 team has suffered this season.

T-16. NC State (Last Week: 20)

The next step in the Wolfpack’s progression is winning games in which they are a decided favorite, and they handled business with a three-score win at Pitt on Saturday. They now get a bye week to rest up before a critical pair of games against Notre Dame and Clemson.

T-16. South Florida (Last Week: 18)

Remaining undefeated can allow the Bulls to slowly move up the rankings despite the lack of competition.

18. Michigan State (Last Week: 21)

I pined for Sparty to move ahead of Michigan a week ago, and lookie there.

19. Michigan (Last Week: 17)

The Woverines dropped a couple spots after needing overtime to outlast struggling Indiana. We’ll see if they can turn things around against Penn State, but I wouldn’t count on it.

20. UCF (Last Week: 22)

UCF blasted another conference foe (ECU) but should have a tougher test this week against Navy.

21. Auburn (Last Week: 10)

Auburn looked like it would continue its recent stellar play as it jumped to a 20-0 first-half lead over LSU in Baton Rouge. But Coach O’s team battled back, outscoring the visiting Tigers 27-3 from that point to hand Auburn a devastating loss. Auburn still controls its own destiny in the SEC, so we can’t quite rule it out of the Playoff race, but the outlook is pretty bleak.

22. Stanford (Last Week: 23)

While Oregon has become somewhat of a sacrifical lamb recently, it’s interesting Stanford didn’t receive a little more love for its 49-7 destruction of the Ducks. Hard to give a two-loss team too much love at this juncture, I suppose.

23. West Virginia (Last Week: NR)

I’ve been hard on West Virginia, but you have to respect the Mountaineers using 29 unanswered points to turn a 35-17 deficit into a 46-35 win against Texas Tech. They are still a fringe top-25 team at best to me, however.

24. LSU (Last Week: NR)

While you could be forgiven for thinking Coach O was a dead man walking after LSU inexplicably lost to Troy, have back-to-back wins over conference rivals given him a little breathing room?

25. Memphis (Last Week: NR)

Memphis takes Navy’s top-25 spot after knocking off the Midshipmen this past week, and the Tigers have an opportunity to make another statement when they travel to Houston on Thursday night.