AP Top 25 Reality Check: Separation at top around country


By RALPH D. RUSSO - AP College Football Writer



LSU coach Ed Orgeron and players celebrate after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. No. 1 LSU won 58-37. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

LSU coach Ed Orgeron and players celebrate after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. No. 1 LSU won 58-37. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)


Ohio State wide receiver Jaelen Gill (26) celebrates his touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 in Piscataway, N.J. Ohio State won 56-21. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)


Clemson's Travis Etienne (9) is lifted while celebrating a touchdown with Sean Pollard (76) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)


Separation at the top and a few random scheduling quirks has allowed the AP college football poll voters to work a little easier this season than last.

No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson held their spots in the AP Top 25 presented by Regions Bank this week. The only movement in the top five was Georgia edging past Alabama into No. 4. The Crimson Tide slipped to No. 5 after losing quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a season-ending hip injury.

With two weeks left in the regular season and championship weekend still to come, the AP Top 25 features 16 teams that have lost one game or fewer, including three unbeaten teams, and only five with three losses. At this same point last year, there were 12 teams with one loss or fewer in the rankings and 10 teams that had lost at least three games, including two with four losses.

For the most part, the best teams in their conferences have been mowing down the rest. It has also helped that the two best Pac-12 teams (No. 6 Oregon and No. 7 Utah) have not played in the regular season. Over in the Big Ten, Ohio State has yet to face No. 9 Penn State and No. 12 Michigan. Oklahoma and Baylor have pulled away from the other Big 12 contenders, though each has had to win some close games in the process. In the ACC, it has been Clemson and a bunch of parity and the SEC’s top teams have mostly taken care of its second-tier teams, while the schedule kept Georgia away from LSU and Alabama.

It’s been similar at the Group of Five level, where Boise State is the clear top team in the Mountain West and Appalachian State has mostly dominated the Sun Belt. In the American Athletic Conference, the depth of the league has been impressive but the best teams have mostly steered clear of upsets.

If form holds, always a risky proposition, it could set up a monster championship weekend with four Power Five conference title games matching teams with one loss or fewer. How does this look?

Big Ten — Ohio State (12-0) vs. Minnesota (11-1)

Big 12 — Oklahoma (11-1) vs Baylor (11-1).

Pac-12 — Oregon (11-1) vs. Utah (11-1).

SEC — LSU (12-0) vs. Georgia (11-1).

Reality check appreciates college football making things a little easier the voters this year, but still they’re having some head-to head issues.

No. 1 LSU (10-0)

Next: vs. Arkansas, Saturday.

Reality check: After giving up 614 yards of offense to Mississippi, the Tigers have three games allowing more than 500 and another of more than 450. That Oklahoma defense that is so often-criticized ranks 52nd in the country in yards per play (5.38). LSU is 53rd at 5.39.

Ranked: Just right, for now.

No. 2 Ohio State (10-0)

Next: vs. No. 9 Penn State.

Reality check: If the Buckeyes can do to the Nittany Lions what they have done to everybody else on their schedule, put them at No. 1.

Ranked: Just right, for now.

No. 3 Clemson (11-0)

Next: at South Carolina, Saturday, Nov. 30.

Reality check: This from ESPN Stats & Info: Clemson is the third major college team with four straight victories of at least 45 points, joining 1972 Nebraska and 1944 Army.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 4 Georgia (9-1)

Next: vs. No. 24 Texas A&M.

Reality check: Against just Power Five competition, the Bulldogs average 5.68 yards per play, last among teams ranked in the top 10.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 5 Alabama (9-1)

Next: vs. Western Carolina.

Reality check: Tide QB Mac Jones was terrific in his lone start against Arkansas, with 235 yards and three touchdown passes. But in the second halves against Tennessee and Mississippi State, he was a combined 13 for 22 for 164 yards and no touchdowns. The Tide scored one offensive touchdown in those two halves.

Ranked: Without Tua Tagovailoa, this might be too high.

No. 6 Oregon (9-1)

Next: at Arizona State.

Reality check: Three SEC teams have now beaten the only team (Auburn) the Ducks have lost to and Alabama could make it four.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 7 Utah (9-1)

Next: at Arizona.

Reality check: Teams ranked in the top-10 nationally in yards per play and yards per play allowed: Ohio State (sixth and first); Clemson (fourth and second); Utah (10th and fifth).

Ranked: Too low.

No. 8 Oklahoma (9-1)

Next: vs. TCU.

Reality check: An impressive comeback against Baylor in many ways, but the Sooners persistency stood out. OU held the ball for 41 minutes and had five drives of double-digit plays.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 9 Penn State (9-1)

Next: at No. 2 Ohio State.

Reality check: The Nittany Lions have allowed three 300-yard passing games, including each of the previous two weeks against Minnesota and Indiana.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 10 Florida (9-2)

Next: vs. Florida State, Saturday, Nov. 30.

Reality check: Among ranked teams, only Iowa is averaging fewer yards per carry (4.03, 84th in the country) than the Gators.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 11 Minnesota (9-1)

Next: at Northwestern.

Reality check: The Gophers can still win the Big Ten, but reality set in at Iowa. They did just beat Penn State, though.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 12 Michigan (8-2)

Next: at Indiana.

Reality check: It took 23 game for QB Shea Patterson to have a 300-yard passing game at Michigan. He had seven in 10 games at Ole Miss.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 13 Baylor (9-1)

Next: vs. Texas.

Reality check: At some point, the close- game good fortune will catch up to you. For the Bears, it was against Oklahoma. Still, though they looked the part of a Big 12 contender.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2)

Next: vs. Purdue.

Reality check: RB Jonathan Taylor is one of the most prolific running backs in college football history and he might never be a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Ranked: Too low. That 35-14 victory over Michigan still exists.

No. 15 Notre Dame (8-2)

Next: vs. Boston College.

Reality check: The Irish have been tearing up poor defensive teams and have two more left in BC and Stanford.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 16 Auburn (7-3)

Next: vs. Samford.

Reality check: Tough season to work around a freshman quarterback.

Ranked: About right.

No. 17 Cincinnati (9-1)

Next: vs. Temple.

Reality check: Close calls against East Carolina and USF have made the Bearcats look vulnerable..

Ranked: Too high.

No. 18 Memphis (9-1)

Next: at South Florida.

Reality check: With a good kicker and punter and explosive returners, the Tigers’ special teams are among the most productive in the country.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 19 Iowa (7-3)

Next: vs. Illinois.

Reality check: In the category of best defensive ends not named Chase Young, A.J. Epenesa makes a good case.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 20 Boise State (9-1)

Next: at Utah State.

Reality check: The Broncos close with two road games and hopes of slipping into New Year’s Six bowl.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 21 SMU (9-1)

Next: at Navy.

Reality check: The Mustangs lead the nation in plays per game at 84.5.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-3)

Next: at West Virginia.

Reality check: The Cowboys still in position to reach the Big 12 title game, with some help from TCU against Oklahoma.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 23 Appalachian State (9-1)

Next: vs. Texas State.

Reality check: Only Group of Five team with two victories on the road against Power Five opponents.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 24 Texas A&M (7-3)

Next: at No. 4 Georgia.

Reality check: The Aggies have not beaten a team with a winning record, which seems to be an ominous sign heading into consecutive games against Georgia and LSU.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 25 Virginia Tech (7-3)

Next: vs. Pittsburgh.

Reality check: The Hokies are 5-0 when QB Hendon Hooker starts.

Ranked: Too high.

Instead of Texas A&M and Virginia Tech how about Indiana and Iowa State?

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

LSU coach Ed Orgeron and players celebrate after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. No. 1 LSU won 58-37. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/11/web1_123926968-c2c631f8c9f44a849e06b14e9cc898fc.jpgLSU coach Ed Orgeron and players celebrate after an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. No. 1 LSU won 58-37. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Ohio State wide receiver Jaelen Gill (26) celebrates his touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 in Piscataway, N.J. Ohio State won 56-21. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/11/web1_123926968-93eb051fb2ac479f9ca6aa1afa7e0677.jpgOhio State wide receiver Jaelen Gill (26) celebrates his touchdown reception during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 in Piscataway, N.J. Ohio State won 56-21. (Andrew Mills/NJ Advance Media via AP)

Clemson’s Travis Etienne (9) is lifted while celebrating a touchdown with Sean Pollard (76) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2019/11/web1_123926968-18a63c539e40489486031e646773e32f.jpgClemson’s Travis Etienne (9) is lifted while celebrating a touchdown with Sean Pollard (76) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

By RALPH D. RUSSO

AP College Football Writer