AP Top 25 Reality Check: Blue bloods chasing No. 2 Bearcats


By RALPH D. RUSSO - AP College Football Writer



Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford, left, takes the hand off from quarterback Desmond Ridder during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCF, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford, left, takes the hand off from quarterback Desmond Ridder during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCF, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)


Alabama defensive back Jordan Battle (9) celebrates his interception of a Mississippi State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Alabama won 49-9. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)


Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams (13) celebrates with fans while walking off the field after the team's team's 52-31 win over TCU in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)


A look at the top of The Associated Press college football poll might produce this reaction: One of these things is not like the other.

Cincinnati sits at No. 2 in the latest Top 25 presented by Regions Bank, right behind top-ranked Georgia and ahead of No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Ohio State.

That’s three programs with a combined 24 national championships staring at the Bearcats’ taillights.

Cincinnati has never been ranked this high, but of late few teams have been ranked as consistently.

With Florida slipping out of the Top 25 and snapping a 52-week streak of poll appearances, Cincinnati’s run of 34 consecutive appearances is now the fifth-longest active streak.

Only Alabama (221), Ohio State (154), Georgia (74) and Notre Dame (70) are ahead of Cincinnati. The Buckeyes’ streak does not count the polls in 2020 that they were not eligible for because the Big Ten was not planning to hold a fall season.

Staying ranked shouldn’t be a problem for Cincinnati this season. Staying at No. 2 could be, even if the Bearcats win out in the American Athletic Conference.

All those blue bloods have some big games against ranked opponents still left on their schedules. UC’s only remaining ranked opponent is No. 21 SMU.

That’s not a recipe to remain No. 2, especially when you’re a team that isn’t going to get a ton of benefit of the doubt from voters.

Reality Check backs the Bearcats as the No. 2-ranked team in the country — for now.

No. 1 Georgia (7-0)

Next: vs. Florida, Oct. 30.

Reality check: At one point during Saturday’s destruction of Kentucky, CBS’ Brad Nessler referred to DT Jalen Carter as a mini-Jordan Davis, the star interior lineman who plays next to Carter on Georgia’s line. Carter is listed at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds. Davis is 6-6, 340. This defense is different.

Ranked: Perfectly.

No. 2 Cincinnati (6-0)

Next: at Navy, Saturday.

Reality check: The only thing the Bearcats can do about their suspect competition is rip it to shreds and they have been doing just that, with nothing but double-digit victories and 108-24 in the last two games.

Ranked: This works.

No. 3 Oklahoma (7-0)

Next: at Kansas, Saturday.

Reality check: Sooners have their new star quarterback in Caleb Williams. Now, about that defense that was supposed to be the best of the Lincoln Riley era? OU ranks 89th in the country in yards per play at 5.78. The secondary has been particularly sketchy.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 4 Alabama (6-1)

Next: vs. Tennessee, Saturday.

Reality check: There has been some chatter about there being no clear Heisman Trophy frontrunner, but maybe it’s QB Bryce Young and we’re just not realizing it. The sophomore quarterback has 24 touchdown passes, 2,082 yards passing and only three interceptions.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 5 Ohio State (5-1)

Next: at Indiana, Saturday.

Reality check: Reason for optimism about the Buckeyes’ defense: second in the Big Ten in sacks at 3.17 per game. If you can pressure passers, it fixes a lot of other issues.

Ranked: Maybe a little high.

No. 6 Michigan (6-0)

Next: vs. Northwestern, Saturday.

Reality check: DE Aidan Hutchinson (5 1/2 sacks) has been the Big Ten’s best defensive player through the first half of the season. And is making a case for best in the nation.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 7 Penn State (5-1)

Next: vs. Illinois, Saturday.

Reality check: Might be helpful for the Nittany Lions to find a clear top option among the running backs before the Big Ten gauntlet starts in two weeks.

Ranked: About right.

No. 8 Oklahoma State (6-0)

Next: at Iowa State, Saturday.

Reality check: It’s a little hard to get past the Cowboys’ sluggish nonconference games, but their defense has been able to lock up two pretty good offenses in Texas and Baylor.

Ranked: A touch low.

No. 9 Michigan State (7-0)

Next: vs. Michigan, Oct. 30.

Reality check: The Spartans can be explosive on offense, but when they’re not —- like against Indiana and Nebraska — they have a hard time being methodical and efficient.

Ranked: About right.

No. 10 Oregon (5-1)

Next: at UCLA, Saturday.

Reality check: How much have the Ducks’ missed DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, who has missed time to an injury and a targeting penalty? Go back and watch the second half of the Cal game, where he disrupted about every other play.

Ranked: About right.

No. 11 Iowa (6-1)

Next: at Wisconsin, Oct. 30.

Reality check: Hawkeyes could go from top five to slogging through the Big Ten West in a big hurry if they don’t find a some answers on offense.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 12 Mississippi (5-1)

Next: vs. LSU, Saturday.

Reality check: Two weeks in a row Lane Kifin’s late-game prayers for a defensive stop were answered, but this seems like a less-than-ideal strategy.

Ranked: Touch high.

No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1)

Next: vs. USC, Saturday.

Reality check: Back half of the Irish’s schedule features zero top-50 defenses. A good situation for a team trying to develop an offensive line on the fly.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 14 Coastal Carolina (6-0)

Next: at Appalachian State, Wednesday.

Reality check: Chanticleers face their toughest test this week, and it’s a team coming off 28-point loss to Louisiana.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 15 Kentucky (6-1)

Next: at Mississippi State, Oct. 30.

Reality check: Wildcats put together maybe the best looking drive of the season against Georgia’s defense. That’s almost like a win, right?

Ranked: Too low.

No. 16 Wake Forest (6-0)

Next: at Army, Saturday.

Reality check: The season will come down to back-to-back November games against North Carolina State and Clemson.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 17 Texas A&M (5-2)

Next: vs. South Carolina, Saturday.

Reality check: A huge day against Mizzou’s terrible run defense might not mean a lot, but it seems like the path forward for the Aggies should be lots of Isaiah Spiller (6.28 yards per carry) and Devone Achane (6.86) —- if the offensive line is up for it.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 18 North Carolina State (5-1)

Next: at Miami, Saturday.

Reality check: Wolfpack have held all but one opponent below 5.0 yards per play.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 19 Auburn (5-2)

Next: vs. Mississippi, Oct. 30.

Reality check: Tigers have allowed 433 yards rushing in the last two games, but don’t be fooled. It took 103 attempts by Georgia and Arkansas to get those yards (4.20 yards per carry).

Ranked: Little low.

No. 20 Baylor (6-1)

Next: vs. Texas, Oct. 30.

Reality check: If you had the Bears as the top offense in the Big 12 (7.26 yards per play) halfway through the season, you are probably lying.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 21 SMU (6-0)

Next: vs. Tulane, Saturday.

Reality check: Mustangs have been held under 24 points once in their last 29 games, and under 30 just four times.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 22 San Diego State (6-0)

Next: at Air Force, Saturday.

Reality check: Aztecs have an Iowa thing going on with stingy defense (4.03 yards per play) and not much offense (5.10).

Ranked: Too high.

No. 23 Pittsburgh (5-1)

Next: vs. Clemson, Saturday.

Reality check: Ranked, favored against Clemson and with a potential Heisman contender in QB Kenny Pickett. This is a pretty big moment for the Panthers.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 24 UTSA (7-0)

Next: at Louisiana Tech, Saturday.

Reality check: Roadrunners are ranked for the first time in program history, with wins against a Big Ten team (Illinois) and an AAC team (Memphis).

Ranked: About right.

No. 25 Purdue (4-2)

Next: vs. Wisconsin, Saturday.

Reality check: Boilermakers are ranked for the first time since 2007, driven by two of the Big Ten’s best players: WR David Bell, who toasted Iowa, and DE George Karlaftis, a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

Ranked: Pickings are slim, so why not reward the Boilermakers?

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford, left, takes the hand off from quarterback Desmond Ridder during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCF, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/10/web1_127423467-1861b3136a134d7b86a13b57c44d8ac1.jpgCincinnati running back Jerome Ford, left, takes the hand off from quarterback Desmond Ridder during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCF, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Alabama defensive back Jordan Battle (9) celebrates his interception of a Mississippi State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Alabama won 49-9. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/10/web1_127423467-d5bf93bd89f742cca333e37f026fcab5.jpgAlabama defensive back Jordan Battle (9) celebrates his interception of a Mississippi State pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Alabama won 49-9. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams (13) celebrates with fans while walking off the field after the team’s team’s 52-31 win over TCU in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/10/web1_127423467-5051dfae0762426b847dd04ff19fe95d.jpgOklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams (13) celebrates with fans while walking off the field after the team’s team’s 52-31 win over TCU in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)

By RALPH D. RUSSO

AP College Football Writer