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Poll Problems: Week 5

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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 Virginia Tech
Clemson notched its third win over a top-15 team with a 31-17 win in Blacksburg.
Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson passed another top-15 test to emerge from its September gauntlet unscathed. Alabama railroaded another overmatched SEC opponent. Pundits are already touting the inevitable rubber match between the Tigers and Tide, but there is plenty of football left to play. We appear to have yet another lackluster slate this week, as every team in the top 10 is favored by double digits, with many three touchdowns or more. But it’s college football, so nothing would surprise. The ACC leads the way this week with five teams in the poll, but the B1G now has its fearsome foursome crowding the top 10.

1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)

The debate for the No. 1 spot simply comes down to whether you prefer dominance or quality wins. Alabama won another game by 60 this week and probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon, as the Tide don’t face anybody with a pulse until they travel to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. That game will end a likely run of 10 straight unranked opponents.

2. Clemson (Last Week: 2)

The Tigers defeated a third top-15 opponent this week, becoming the first team in AP poll to accomplish that feat in the month of September. Clemson has inarguably the best resume in the country, and if we were talking CFP poll right now, you would be hard pressed not to rank them first.

3. Oklahoma (Last Week: 3)

The Sooners’ schedule is very backloaded, and we may not see them truly tested again for several weeks.

4. Penn State (Last Week: 4)

The Nittany Lions predictably handled Indiana and now face an interesting trip to Northwestern, which gave Wisconsin all it wanted this past week. That’s Penn State’s last game before the back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State that will decide the fate of their season.

5. Georgia (Last Week: 7)

I don’t want to jump too quickly onto the Georgia bandwagon because I know the Bulldogs historically are capable of faltering at any moment, but they currently possess one of the better resumes out there and seem to be making a statement every week. They are feasting - and should continue to feast - on a very weak SEC, so it’s hard to know exactly what they are. I think No. 5 in the country is too high of praise at the moment, but Georgia is certainly a team that has positioned itself in the early Playoff conversation.

6. Washington (Last Week: 6)

The Huskies parade of blowouts should continue for at least another couple of weeks. I don’t really have a problem with ranking Washington this highly despite their lacking resume, as they have a Playoff pedigree and are winning convincingly.

7. Michigan (Last Week: 8)

It wouldn’t shock me to see Michigan State go into the Big House and give the Wolverines all they want Saturday night. Michigan still has plenty to prove, and I don’t think it is the same caliber team from a season ago.

8. TCU (Last Week: 9)

I still want to see the Horned Frogs higher, but they can add another quality notch to their belt if they can dispatch of West Virginia at home.

9. Wisconsin (Last Week: 10)

The Badgers got a test from Northwestern but held off the pesky Wildcats. It will be interesting to see how voters treat Wisconsin as they presumably run through their incredibly weak schedule over the next few weeks. It seems to be an objectively good team, but will we have any idea exactly how good?

10. Ohio State (Last Week: 11)

The Buckeyes are skating by on brand name as they still lack a win of any significance. I would have Washington State and even Auburn ranked ahead of them until they beat anybody worthwhile.

11. Washington State (Last Week: 16)

Perhaps not the jump some might have expected after the Cougars upset Southern Cal on Friday night, but the voters are understandably hesitant to go all in just yet. The reasons? The USC win was Washington State’s first notable one, and they have yet to play a road game. We will see if they can follow this performance up with a win at Oregon.

12. Auburn (Last Week: 13)

I wasn’t ready to bury Auburn after the Clemson game like many were, and they appear to be turning things around. With the way the rest of the SEC West is falling apart around Alabama, Auburn could put itself in Playoff position if it could manage wins against in annual rivalry games against Georgia and Alabama. That’s no easy task, to be sure, but the Tigers seem to be gaining momentum.

13. Miami (Last Week: 14)

The Hurricanes controlled the game throughout in a 31-6 win at Duke to prove they are a force to be reckoned with in the ACC Coastal. Miami will need to beat a battered FSU team Saturday, however, if it wants to prove it has the potential to achieve more.

14. Southern Cal (Last Week: 5)

Southern Cal had been teetering on the brink of disaster for weeks, and fortune finally turned against the Trojans on Friday night at Wazzu. Sam Darnold was working behind a seriously depleted offensive line by the end of the game, but I think we can safely put any lingering Heisman hopes on the backburner.

15. Oklahoma State (Last Week: 15)

The Cowboys are far from out of the Big XII race (as I casually pretend to understand the current Big XII structure), but they can ill afford to allow the likes of Texas Tech to hang around if they want to establish themselves as a true threat. I’m not holding out much hope for that defense.

16. Virginia Tech (Last Week: 12)

I’m not enthralled with the Hokies, and I think they are truly more of a fringe top-25 team when it’s all said and done.

17. Louisville (Last Week: 17)

Louisville was clearly not ready to compete with a team like Clemson this season, but their Thursday-night matchup with NC State should prove to be a much better barometer for the Cardinals. Is Lamar Jackson enough to propel this team to a New Year’s Six bowl, or are they lacking too many pieces?

18. South Florida (Last Week: 18)

Rolled up ECU as they should have, but this is still just too high for a team that has done absolutely nothing of consequence.

19. San Diego State (Last Week: 19)

There is still no explanation for why the Aztecs are not the highest ranked Group of Five team at present.

20. Utah (Last Week: 20)

They have a lot of meat left on the schedule, but the Utes could be an interesting team to watch in the Pac 12 South. Upcoming games against Stanford and USC should tell us all we need to know.

21. Florida (Last Week: 21)

Don’t tell me Florida is going to BS its way to the SEC Championship again...

22. Notre Dame (Last Week: 22)

The Irish are an interesting case as a one-loss team. They have played very well since a heart-breaking loss to Georgia, and their remaining schedule is such that there are opportunities for quality wins, yet no game that seems like a certain loss. If you’re looking for a one-loss Playoff darkhorse, this may be your team (If quarterback Brandon Wimbush returns promptly from injury, of course).

23. West Virginia (Last Week: 23)

I don’t like Mountaineers at all, to be honest, but they can prove me wrong if they can win - or even compete - on the road at TCU this week.

24. NC State (Last Week: NR)

Is any team (besides Georgia Tech) lamenting an early-season loss like the Wolfpack? NC State has won four straight since dominating South Carolina everywhere but the scoreboard and can now position themselves as the top challenger to Clemson in the ACC Atlantic if they can take down Louisville on Thursday.

25. UCF (Last Week: NR)

Two years removed from an 0-12 campaign, Scott Frost has the Golden Knights beating the breaks off everyone they play. They have played just three games so far this season, but they look like a real challenger to South Florida in the AAC.