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Poll Problems: Week 4

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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: Texas Christian at Oklahoma State
TCU threw its hat into the Big XII race by stunning Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

While several top-25 teams had to pull escape acts against unranked teams, TCU and Georgia notched convincing wins over fellow ranked opponents to vault themselves into the top 10. Not everybody avoided upsets, however, as Florida State fell to 0-2 with an ugly home loss to NC State and Oregon’s hot start was ruined by Arizona State. Clemson will be at the center of the college football world again this week as they travel to Virginia Tech for their third prime-time game against a top-15 opponent.

1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)

Clearly put off by pundits questioning its No. 1 ranking, the Tide went into Vanderbilt and put a whooping for the ages on the helpless Commodores. Alabama out-gained Vandy - which beat Kansas State in the same building just a week ago - by nearly 600 yards and reasserted itself as the top team in the country.

2. Clemson (Last Week: 2)

It was a tense first three quarters in Death Valley as the Tigers battled terrible field position and put forth an uninspired offensive performance before finally pulling away from Boston College on the legs of Travis Etienne. Clemson will need a much better effort this Saturday if it’s going to get out of Virginia Tech with a win.

3. Oklahoma (Last Week: 3)

Very different from - and yet the same as - Clemson, the Sooners were locked in a slugfest with winless Baylor before getting loose for a 49-41 win. Maybe it’s time to pump the brakes on that newfound Oklahoma defense we heard about after the Ohio State game. The yearly exposing of the Sooners will come at some point ... perhaps late in the season, but it will come.

4. Penn State (Last Week: 4)

It was an odd game - as night games in Iowa City often are - what with Penn State out-gaining the Hawkeyes by more than 300 yards but trailing 19-15 with 4 seconds to play on the Iowa 7-yard line. But Trace McSorley had one more throw in him and threaded the needle between multiple defenders for the game-winning touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson as time expired. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley shot to the front of the Heisman race with another outstanding performance.

5. USC (Last Week: 5)

Same for the Trojans, as they continue to largely underwhelm. Like the rest of their top-5 brethren, save Bama, the Trojans weren’t able to shake Cal until the fourth quarter. They did so by forcing an unthinkable six turnovers in a game where their potent offense was largely stifled. Things could get very interesting Friday night when USC travels to Washington State.

6. Washington (Last Week: 7)

It’s hard to know how much stock to put into the Huskies blowout win at Colorado - a team that lost a lot but started 3-0 after reaching the Pac-12 title game a season ago. It is certainly the first win they have that could back up a top-10 ranking, though we may go several weeks before we can get a definitive feel on Washington because its schedule is seriously lacking in resume-boosting opportunities.

7. Georgia (Last Week: 11)

I don’t mind issuing an apology to the Bulldogs for selling them short against Mississippi State, whom they crushed 31-3, but a No. 7 ranking is high praise for a team whose two quality wins are against “top-25” teams that the jury is still very much out on. If you want to slide Georgia just into the top 10, that’s fine, but this is a little much for my taste.

8. Michigan (Last Week: 8)

... not that I’m high on Michigan, by any means. The Wolverines struggled with an unranked foe just like the rest of the cool kids before finally ousting Purdue in the second half. Quarterback Wilton Speight went down with an injury, and John O’Korn (whom I have always preferred to Speight, personally) led Michigan to the win. The Oct. 21 bout with Penn State is really going to be a proving ground for both of the participants.

9. TCU (Last Week: 16)

TCU went into Stillwater and nabbed one of the best wins of the young season in beating Oklahoma State by two touchdowns. This is too low for the Horned Frogs, quite frankly. They have about as solid a resume as anyone outside of Clemson.

10. Wisconsin (Last Week: 9)

Sconny begins an incredible streak of seven unranked B1G opponents this week when they host Northwestern. I like the Badgers’ early returns, but they will need style points if they are going to make any significant hay in the rankings in the coming weeks.

11. Ohio State (Last Week: 10)

The Buckeyes have three straight cakewalk games and a bye week before they play another game of any importance, when Penn State travels to Columbus on Oct. 28.

12. Virginia Tech (Last Week: 13)

It’s hard to know what to make of the Hokies. They have spent the last three weeks beating up on awful teams since squeaking out a win against West Virginia - which is ranked again this week for no particular reason. It seems that Clemson should have a superior team, on paper, entering Saturday night’s showdown, but Lane Stadium houses one of the best atmospheres in college football. Can the Hokies legitimize themselves with an upset of the Tigers?

13. Auburn (Last Week: 15)

As we predicted, the Tigers got well against Missouri and now will try to kick Mississippi State while they’re down in what may amount to an early SEC West elimination game.

14. Miami (Last Week: 14)

Miami started slow and trailed Toledo at the half, but the Hurricanes scored 42 in the second half to separate from the Rockets. Still kind of baffling they are ranked this high with no real body of work to reference. A Friday night trip to Duke should give us an early gauge on both teams.

15. Oklahoma State (Last Week: 6)

The Cowboys’ hype train derailed unexpectedly as TCU took it to them in Stillwater. Oklahoma State isn’t out of the Big XII race yet, but it will have to figure things out on the defensive side of the ball quickly if it wants to be a real factor.

16. Washington State (Last Week: 18)

I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cougars a little higher, seeing as how they have done as much Virginia Tech, Auburn, or Miami has. They have a huge opportunity Friday night when USC comes to Pullman, however, and a win could send them soaring up the rankings.

17. Louisville (Last Week: 19)

The Cardinals have another walkover against Murray State before heading to Raleigh on a short week to face a suddenly threatening NC State team.

18. South Florida (Last Week: 21)

Nice to see that a win over Temple can give you a three-spot boost in the poll. It’s criminal to have South Florida ranked higher than San Diego State.

19. San Diego State (Last Week: 22)

Count me among the San Diego State believers, not only because of Heisman-contending running back Rashaad Penny, but also because the Aztecs have a better resume than half the teams ranked in front of them. While none of the trio of wins including @ Arizona State, vs. Stanford, @ Air Force looks great on its own, the collection as a whole is quite respectable. I would rank the Aztecs in the top 15 right now.

20. Utah (Last Week: 23)

The poll just doesn’t feel quite right if Utah isn’t lurking in the bottom third.

21. Florida (Last Week: 20)

I guess there’s something to be said for winning, but can we just stop with the Florida stuff. Two of the Gators’ four touchdowns in their 28-27 win over Kentucky came because the Wildcats left a receiver COMPLETELY UNCOVERED. Again, this happened TWICE. Kentucky fans have to be absolutely sick, and so am I because I have to continue to see a little number beside Florida’s name.

22. Notre Dame (Last Week: NR)

Perhaps Georgia’s convincing win this past weekend led to some retroactive forgiveness for the Irish, as they made a fairly substantial climb with their 20-point win at Michigan State.

23. West Virginia (Last Week: NR)

Much like in the preseason poll, I don’t understand the infatuation here.

24. Mississippi State (Last Week: 17)

Well, it seems the hype that emerged from the Bulldogs blowout win over LSU was a bit premature, as plenty of idiots like me thought they would knock off Georgia - which throttled them by four touchdowns.

25. LSU (Last Week: 25)

The previous sentence alone should be enough to remove the Tigers from the top 25, as the transitive property of college football holds that Georgia would beat them by 58 points.