A Saturday of statement wins and shakeups at the top of the college football rankings should show a brand new order of power when it comes to the new AP Top 25 poll after Week 5. Alabama and Georgia will remain at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but on a day when both teams played top-12 opponents and cruised to wire-to-wire wins, one of the day’s big storylines was the distance between those two teams at the top and the rest of college football.
That perceived gap was enhanced by an overtime loss for third-ranked Oregon at Stanford, bouncing yet another team from the conversation of “next best” behind the frontrunners in the SEC. But Oregon’s drop might not be as dramatic as it could have been due to losses for other top teams ranked behind the Ducks in the AP Top 25. In total, six of the top 15 teams lost, three of them losing to other top 15 teams (all as underdogs) and two falling in upsets. Oregon was joined by 10th-ranked Florida falling at Kentucky. The Wildcats are sure to be ranked now at 5-0 with a quality win on the profile, but the Gators will still be penalized more than Arkansas or Ole Miss for their loss.
Perhaps the biggest statement of the day came from Cincinnati, which logged one of its biggest wins in program history at Notre Dame. There’s not a ton of room for the Bearcats to move up in the rankings, but they are going to be in a favorable starting position in the College Football Playoff race as long as they continue to hold serve as a favorite. For now, we’re predicting Cincinnati lands in the top five after the win, just behind Penn State and Iowa.
Michigan had something to say as well, rolling into Madison, Wisconsin, as a narrow underdog and similarly rolling to an impressive double-digit win over Wisconsin. The Badgers weren’t the ranked opponent that Alabama or Georgia faced, but given the history of that Michigan-Wisconsin series and the expectations for the game the result was as notable. So notable that the Wolverines should find themselves in the top 10 when everything shakes out.
After a week of fallout from ranked-on-ranked matchups, there’s plenty of tough decisions for voters on Sunday. Here’s how we think the new AP Top 25 will look after Week 5:
1. Alabama (Last week — 1): A commitment to the run game with Brian Robinson leading the way defined a statement win for Alabama, one that solidifies its hold on No. 1 despite with surging confidence of the team directly behind it.
2. Georgia (2): Even considering the impact of Alabama’s wire-to-wire win against Ole Miss, there could still be some first-place votes that move from Alabama to Georgia based on the 37-0 win against Arkansas with Stetson Bennett IV starting in place of JT Daniels, who missed the game with a lat injury.
3. Penn State (4): Good college football teams walk away from dominant midseason wins with some things to improve but plenty of confidence in leaning on the success of the victory. Penn State had that kind of win against Indiana on Saturday night, holding the advantage for all four quarters in a 24-0 shutout win.
4. Iowa (5): There’s just not a lot of real estate for upward movement, but Friday night’s 51-14 win against Maryland sure felt like a moment of acceptance across the general college football populace, which includes many if not most AP voters. The Hawkeyes may not have the stylistic makeup of what we imagine from a “playoff team,” but there’s no question there aren’t four teams in the country that have played better so far in 2021.
5. Cincinnati (7): Thanks to the Bearcats’ win, we have one of the most interesting stories in college football with the team’s playoff push. Cincinnati being at No. 5 in the polls at this point in the year sets a great base line for rankings purposes as long as the team keeps winning.
6. Oklahoma (6): A close result against Kansas State isn’t going to seem too foreign to AP voters familiar with the way the Wildcats have matched up against the Sooners over the years.
7. Oregon (3): This is a real test of how much the 2021 voters value a head-to-head result, because the Ducks’ win at Ohio State could end up setting a might higher floor for the rankings drop after Saturday’s overtime loss at Stanford. If Oregon is an undefeated team without that win on the profile, this loss probably has the Ducks closer to No. 20. However, when it comes to comparing one-loss teams, no one else in the country has a win as impressive as what they accomplished in Week 2 in Columbus, Ohio.
8. Ohio State (11): C.J. Stroud looked healthy and extremely effective in a five-touchdown effort against Rutgers after missing last week’s win against Akron. After the Scarlet Knights’ played Michigan close last week, there was some real intrigue here, but the Buckeyes shut that down quickly in a 51-13 runaway win.
9. Michigan (14): Even though Wisconsin wasn’t a ranked team, the 38-17 win in Camp Randall Stadium conquered too many predetermined stereotypes of the Jim Harbaugh program for there not to be a bump in the rankings. It was the first time Michigan won as an underdog under Harbaugh. It was also his first win at Wisconsin as the Wolverines coach, and the game was won in a decisive manner that highlighted the Wolverines as worthy of top-10 consideration.
10. BYU (13): The Cougars didn’t let Utah State be a road trap on Friday night. The 14-point win won’t spark a huge rush of votes it didn’t already possess, but the losses elsewhere create room to move up.
11. Arkansas (8): There’s not a lot of positives to come out of the Georgia game for Arkansas in terms of ranking, so it’s spot in the poll will be mostly reliant on its best wins, and at least Texas strengthened that argument in Week 5.
12. Ole Miss (12): No reason to expect the voters to change the order of the two high-profile SEC underdogs who lost to the top two teams in the country. The Rebels lost by less points in the 42-21 defeat to Alabama but the game was similarly tilted in the Crimson Tide’s favor for much of the contest.
13. Coastal Carolina (16): The 53-point win against ULM adds to a wild set of blowouts here for the Chanticleers in 2021, but all attention turns to the status of starting quarterback Grayson McCall. Coach Jamey Chadwell told reporters the walking boot McCall sported after halftime was for extra precaution because of a rolled ankle, which is good news for a team that has one of its biggest games just a couple weeks away, at Appalachian State on Oct. 20.
14. Michigan State (17): Western Kentucky has given lots of teams fits with its offense, and Michigan State was no different. Luckily, the Spartans have an effective offense themselves this season and had answers when the Hilltoppers made their push late.
15. Oklahoma State (19): One of the under the radar ranked-on-ranked matchups of Week 5 was Oklahoma State and Baylor, and the Cowboys emerged victorious to improve to 5-0 on the season.
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16. Notre Dame (9): A revolving door at quarterback and a reevaluation of Notre Dame’s profile — especially after Wisconsin’s Week 5 loss — define this week in South Bend, Indiana, as the reeling Fighting Irish try to avoid falling further in the rankings next week at Virginia Tech.
17. Auburn (22): Outlasting LSU in Death Valley is going to solidify the Tigers’ position in the rankings, but it might not be enough for a move inside the top 15. Still, it’s a great win for the team and even better with a Bo Nix highlight reel of clutch plays powering the effort.
18. Wake Forest (24): The case for Wake Forest as the best team in the ACC is solidified by winning the kind of sideways game that tends to pop up against Louisville. The culprits from WakeyLeaks are long gone, but Dave Clawson still likely relishes getting a win against a tough division rival like the Cardinals.
19. NC State (23): The letdown spot got a little dicey for the Wolfpack after beating Clemson last week, but they held on to improve to 4-1.
20. Texas (NR): One of the highest-ranked teams outside the top 25 last week is sure to be in the poll after the win at TCU. It was an ugly win with a lot of missed opportunities, but when you have lost seven of the last nine to an in-state foe like the Horned Frogs, you get to celebrate this road win league play.
21. SMU (NR): Cincinnati has understandably been the story of the week, but I think AP voters will notice SMU’s 5-0 start, which includes a win against TCU, and give the Mustangs a boost. After checking in 30th in voting points last week, crashing the top 25 should be easy for the American Athletic Conference’s next-best challenger to the Bearcats.
22. Kentucky (NR): AP voters hadn’t given Kentucky much credit for its undefeated start, but the win against Florida is sure to rally support as the Wildcats are now 5-0 with a ranked win on the profile.
23. Arizona State (NR): The lone loss on Arizona State’s 4-1 profile is to BYU, a team that has proven to be increasingly worth respect with each week, and now it’s got its best win of the season after beating UCLA. All of it should put the Sun Devils back in the top 25 after getting bounced from the rankings following the loss to the Cougars.
24. Florida (10): This is a frustrating loss for Gators fans, who saw the close defeat against Alabama as representative of the proximity the team held to the top of the SEC. Saturday night’s loss in Lexington, Kentucky, revealed the floor to that Week 3 ceiling.
25. Clemson (25): Even after last week’s loss, the Tigers had a major advantage in voting points against the likes of SMU and Kentucky. That, plus the fact that Boston College was the 29th best team in last week’s balloting, cements the prediction that Clemson will still be ranked. The quality of performance certainly did not inspire confidence as the team needed a fourth down stop in a 19-13 win as a two-touchdown favorite, but it was a win. Also it helps Clemson’s case with the voters that so many ranked teams lost. The Tigers might have won ugly, but they won.
Projected to drop out: Texas A&M (15), Fresno State (18), UCLA (20), Baylor (21)