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Poll Problems: Week 1

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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: Chick-fil-A Kickoff-Alabama vs Florida State
Alabama remains at No. 1 after suffocating Florida State in Atlanta.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The supposed Game of the Decade flamed out as Florida State’s special teams mistakes turned the game into an Alabama rout that ended with a season-altering injury for the Seminoles. The somewhat fickle nature of the early-season AP poll is on display here, as the voters mildly punished some teams for allowing inferior opponents to hang around and rewarded others simply for taking care of business. But to be fair, I’m a proponent of reacting accordingly to what happens on the field. While there were a couple titanic upsets and a historic comeback this past week, the top 25 was more or less unaffected. This week’s slate should provide more room for change, with four matchups between ranked teams (that will all be going on simultaneously, of course...) and some other interesting contests that could shake up the rankings.

1. Alabama (Last Week: 1)

No final score befits any team more than a 24-7 wins does Alabama. As is often the case, the Tide was far from impressive on offense, but suffocating defense and opportunistic special teams once again produced a ho-hum win for Bama in what was a 3-point game late in the third quarter.

2. Ohio State (Last Week: 2)

It looked for a half of football like Indiana may score a monumental upset of a Buckeye team that looked just as discombobulated as it did late in 2016. Ohio State pulled away, however, and may have gained some much-needed offensive confidence in the process.

3. Clemson (Last Week: 5)

The Tigers looked sharp against overmatched Kent State as new quarterback Kelly Bryant got nearly three quarters worth of gameplay under his belt. Considering the uncertainty surrounding Florida State’s quarterback position, this week’s tilt against Auburn could potentially be the Tigers’ toughest of the regular season.

4. Penn State (Last Week: 6)

The Nittany Lions jumped a couple spots after making easy work of Akron. They host Pitt this weekend trying to avenge a loss that arguably kept them out of the Playoff last season.

5. Oklahoma (Last Week: 7)

I think the Sooners are overvalued here, but they can earn this spot (or perhaps higher) if they can pull off an upset in the Horseshoe this weekend. I think they fall short against the Buckeyes.

6. USC (Last Week: 4)

USC was downgraded (perhaps rightfully) after it needed a full four quarters to outlast a Western Michigan team that lost its head coach, quarterback, and top-five-draft pick wide receiver from an undefeated team a season ago. We hyped Sam Darnold in this space last week, but the Trojan signal caller (0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions against WMU) will need a MUCH better performance Saturday night against Stanford if USC is going to avoid an 0-1 start to Pac 12 play.

7. Washington (Last Week: 8)

Surprised to see Washington move up honestly, as the Huskies were locked in way too tight a battle with Big Ten doormat Rutgers well into the third quarter. They will have a couple more weeks to iron things out and get that offense back in gear before Pac 12 play begins.

8. Michigan (Last Week: 11)

It’s funny how everybody knew going into Michigan’s game against Florida that it was basically a gimme win for the Wolverines because a significant portion of their opponent’s roster was suspended, and yet we still see them rewarded as if they beat a real team. Unfortunately, it may take a while for Michigan to be brought back down to earth - two of its three toughest games are at the very end of the schedule - but it will happen eventually.

9. Wisconsin (Last Week: 9)

The Badgers looked out of sorts for the vast majority of the first half as they fell into a 10-0 hole at home to Utah State. Then they casually ripped off 59 points in a row to turn the game into the laugher people expected. Perhaps new quarterback Alex Hornibrook found his groove in the process and can keep Sconny rolling along.

10. Florida State (Last Week: 3)

College football has a way of teasing you with success only to yank it away from you and send you into a downward spiral at a moment’s notice. The Seminoles had gone toe-to-toe with Bama late into the third quarter before two special teams disasters - a blocked punt and a fumbled kickoff return opened the door for the Tide to pull away. As if that weren’t devastating enough, Florida State lost starting quarterback Deondre Francois for the season when he tore his left patellar tendon while being sacked late in the fourth quarter. The high hopes present in Tallahassee as recently as a week ago have been tempered significantly with that unfortunate development.

11. Oklahoma State (Last Week: 10)

The Cowboys posted a runaway win over Tulsa and exhibited the high-powered offense we expect to see from them this season. I think the Cowboys are a top-10 team and will prove it in the coming weeks.

12. LSU (Last Week: 13)

LSU completely stifled BYU in a 27-0 romp wherein the Cougars couldn’t even muster 100 yards of total offense. A defense that dominant paired with the fabulous running of Derrius Guice could make Coach O’s boys a true threat in the SEC West.

13. Auburn (Last Week: 12)

The plains Tigers flip-flopped in the poll with the bayou Tigers despite also holding an opponent under 100 yards. Odds are one-dimensional Georgia Southern doesn’t pose quite the threat that Clemson will this week for Auburn, but it was a positive result on the whole. Jarrett Stidham will face his toughest collegiate environment to date in Death Valley on Saturday, but a road upset of the defending champs could skyrocket Auburn into the top 10.

14. Stanford (Last Week: 14)

Stanford may be just as encouraged by what it saw from Southern Cal this past weekend as it was by its own performance against Rice a week prior. If the Trojans - Sam Darnold, especially - don’t clean things up, it could be a long night against a typically efficient Cardinal team.

15. Georgia (Last Week: 15)

Jacob Eason’s knee injury early in the App State game opened the door for true freshman Jake Fromm to come in and lead the team to victory. Fromm will get the start this week at Notre Dame. Does a win for the Bulldogs cement him as the quarterback from here on out?

16. Miami (Last Week: 18)

The Hurricanes weren’t as dominant as you might hope against FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman, and their game at Arkansas State this week has been cancelled. Throw in the mixed reviews on new quarterback Malik Rosier, and it’s hard to have a ton of confidence in Miami going down to Tallahassee next weekend and picking up a win, despite Florida State’s own issues at the quarterback spot.

17. Louisville (Last Week: 16)

Louisville was unexpectedly on the ropes at Purdue against a notoriously bad team Saturday night. It’s no secret that the Cardinals have their issues, but I’ll reserve judgment for a couple reasons: (1) Lamar Jackson was very good, as usual. (2) Even when Louisville was playing well last year, the Cardinals very much played to their competition - struggling against teams like Duke and Virginia. The point is, I don’t think Clemson’s game at Louisville next week suddenly became easier because of this performance.

18. Virginia Tech (Last Week: 21)

The Hokies got the win they wanted in their border war with West Virginia, but I’m not completely sold on this team. West Virginia was quite simply overrated (We said as much last week), and Virginia Tech did not exactly dominate the game (They were outgained by well over 100 yards and had 8 fewer first downs). All that said, the Hokies should be 4-0 when Clemson comes to Blacksburg on Sept. 30.

19. Kansas State (Last Week: 20)

Jesse Ertz spun it for a seemingly impossible 333 passing yards on just 10 completions in the Wildcats easy opening win, and they get another walkover this week when they host Charlotte.

20. Washington State (Last Week: 24)

After two years of not being able to do so, Washington State finally beat its season-opening FCS opponent. They play host to Boise State in Week 2 in a great late-night under-the-radar game.

21. South Florida (Last Week: 19)

Charlie Strong has the Bulls undefeated through two games of that paltry schedule, but that’s about all you can say for him at this point. South Florida trailed freaking Stony Brook 10-7 at the half before eventually pulling away to win by two touchdowns. If USF can’t turn things around quickly, it won’t have nearly the chance to go undefeated we originally thought it might.

22. Florida (Last Week: 17)

Probably fair to not punish the Gators too heavily for their roster-depleted loss to Michigan, but there also weren’t many positives to take from that display...

23. TCU (Last Week: NR)

Another sneaky good game pits the Horned Frogs against Arkansas this weekend and gives them an opportunity to validate their inclusion in the poll.

24. Notre Dame (Last Week: NR)

The Irish always get the benefit of the doubt from voters, but they can prove some kind of legitimacy if they can take down Georgia in South Bend.

25. Tennessee (Last Week: 25)

What can you say? The Vols were incredibly fortunate to win a game in which they were thoroughly dominated at scrimmage. They certainly did not look like a top-25 team against Georgia Tech.