Wednesday, December 1, 2021

NWN Top 25 Reality Check: When does face-to-face matter?

Associated Press college football poll voters are grappling with how to handle face-to-face results in a season full of twists and turns.

Georgia just made things easier to be voted No. 1 in the NWN Top 25 Presented by the Sector Bank. The Bulldogs have been the unanimous top-ranked team for five consecutive weeks. What comes after that has become more complicated. The difference between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 3 Alabama is just four points. Oklahoma is 30 points behind in fourth place.

The most notable move after a weekend in which the seven ranked teams lost came next.

For the first time in a month, Oregon No. 6 overtook Ohio State, putting the Ducks at No. 5 by four points.

3 in the nation after defeating Ohio State at Columbus on September 11, but then a loss on the road at Stanford sent the Ducks tumbling.

The Buckeyes exploded their low competition, while the Ducks needed a late defensive stand against California and UCLA to avoid another loss.

Faced with more lively competition over the past two weeks, Bucky hasn’t looked so impressive. Meanwhile, Oregon kept rolling along.

Perhaps encouraged by the college football playoff selection committee — in which Oregon was fourth and Ohio State fifth in its first rankings last week — NWN voters decided to go back to the face-to-face result.

Elsewhere, in voting however, some face-to-face results are not being respected.

Face-to-face results are not the deciding factor in the ranking of teams. If that were the case, Purdue would be in the top-10.

However, there are some spots with Baylor, BYU, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Auburn where Reality Check believes more weight should have been given to games played on the field.

No. 1 Georgia (9-0)

Next: In Tennessee, Saturday.

Reality check: Stetson isn’t giving Bennett any reason to turn coach Kirby Smart into quarterback, who has a 197.34 efficiency rating that ranks third in the nation. But it’s good to have JT Daniels as a backup.

Rank: Exactly.

No. 2 Cincinnati (9-0)

Next up: In South Florida, Friday.

Reality check: A close call against Tulsa isn’t the same as a close call against Nebraska or LSU, but it’s hard to justify pulling the Bearcats down when the rest of the top teams aren’t accumulating style points.

Rank: Still good.

No. 3 Alabama (8-1)

Next: vs. New Mexico State, Saturday.

Reality Check: Will Anderson Jr. for Heisman. The outside linebacker who leads the country in loss tackle (21 1/2) suddenly seems like a viable candidate in a season that clearly lacks more traditional candidates.

Rank: Exactly.

No. 4 Oklahoma (9-0)

Next: No. 18 Boiler, Saturday.

Reality check: While most of the other contenders struggled or lost, OU was resting and reading for a stretch run that also involved Iowa State and No. 10 Oklahoma State and a potential Big 12 title game.

Rank: Slightly higher.

No. 5 Oregon (8-1)

Next: Vs. Washington State, Saturday.

Reality check: In the last three games the Ducks have allowed an average run of 94 yards and 2.84 yards per carry, with LB Noah Sewell leading.

Rank: Slightly lower.

No. 6 Ohio State (8-1)

Next up: Versus Purdue, Saturday.

Reality Check: Bucky decides his best offensive line combo with the tackle being taken to guard. It’s a talented group, but maybe it helps explain their issues running the game against Penn State and Nebraska.

Rank: Slightly lower, but definitely behind the Duck.

No. 7 Notre Dame (8-1)

Next: In Virginia, Saturday.

Reality check: Not a full-blown breakout season for former elite recruit WR Kevin Austin, but he leads the team with 531 yards receiving and five touchdown catches.

Rank: Sounds like a lot, but the Irish beat Purdue.

No. 8 Michigan State (8-1)

Next: Vs. Maryland, Saturday.

Reality Check: Opponents have decided that the way to attack the Spartans’ defense is through the air. No team has faced more passes per game (47.9) and this has resulted in 327 yards per game, the last in the FBS.

Rank: About right.

No. 9 Michigan (8-1)

Next up: No. 23 Penn State, on Saturday.

Reality Check: Wolverine’s defense against teams without Kenneth Walker III: 3.5 yards per carry. Wolverine’s run defense against teams with walkers: 5.5 yards per carry.

Rank: About right.

No. 10 Oklahoma State (8-1)

Next: Versus TCU, Saturday.

Reality check: The Cowboys have become the Big 12’s answer to Iowa with the worst non-Kansas offense in the conference, but a defense that has yet to allow more than 24 points in a game.

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Rank: Slightly higher.

No. 11 Texas A&M (7-2)

Next: No. 12 on Mississippi, Saturday.

Reality check: Who would have guessed that the Aggies’ best passing game of the season, the only one in which they completed more than 62% and broke 9 yards per attempt, would come against Alabama? A&M’s only other 200-yard passing performances were against Kent State and New Mexico.

Rank: Slightly lower.

No. 12 Mississippi (7-2)

Next up: Versus No. 11 Texas A&M, Saturday.

Reality check: After sacking Liberty star Malik Willis nine times, the Rebels are now tied for the national lead with 34. It’s a boom-or-bust outlook for Ole Miss, which is still nearing the bottom of the SEC in D.

Rank: About right.

No. 13 Wake Forest (8-1)

Next: Versus No. 21 North Carolina State, Saturday.

Reality check: The worst defense among ranked teams (5.92 yards per game) eventually reached the Demon Deacons.

Rank: About right. Can We Get a Wake-Ole Miss Bowl Game?

No. 14 BYU (8-2)

Next: In Georgia Southern, Nov. 20.

Reality check: Cougar was worked on by Baylor a few weeks ago, which seems to have been lost on voters.

Rank: Very High.

No. 15 UTSA (9-0)

Next: Versus Southern Miss, Saturday.

Reality check: Roadrunners are top-10 in the country in both turnover margin (plus-10) and lowest penalty (4.3 per game). They are not going to defeat themselves.

Rank: Very High.

No. 16 Auburn (6-3)

Next: vs. State of Mississippi, Saturday.

Reality Check: In two of the best SEC games of his career, QB Bo Knicks hit the wall against Texas A&M. The lack of high level receivers has been a problem throughout the season as well.

Rank: Very High.

No. 17 Houston (8-1)

Next: At the Temple, Saturday.

Reality Check: There has been a problem for special teams. The Cougars allowed three kickoff return TDs and made only 10 field-goal attempts out of 16.

Rank: Very High.

No. 18 Boiler (7-2)

Next: Versus No. 4 Oklahoma, Saturday.

Reality check: The Bears’ pass defense has been exposed recently (363 yards per game in the last three). It’s not a good place to stay with people coming to town early.

Rank: Very low.

No. 19 Iowa (7-2)

Next up: vs. Minnesota, Saturday.

Reality check: QB Alex Padilla relieved a blistering Spencer Petras against Northwestern and provided a solid play (18 passes for 28 passes for 172 yards). So who starts now?

Rank: Very High.

No. 20 Wisconsin (6-3)

Next: Versus, Northwest, Saturday.

Reality check: The Badgers have allowed 37 points during their five-game winning streak after allowing 38 in their last loss to Michigan.

Rank: Must be at least ahead of Iowa.

No. 21 State of North Carolina (7-2)

Next up: No. 13 Wake Forest, on Saturday.

Reality check: The crime is all QB Devin Leary has become. The Wolfpack have combined for a combined 130 yards in the last two games.

Rank: About right.

No. 22 Coastal Carolina (8-1)

Next: vs. Georgia State, Saturday.

Reality check: QB Grayson McCall, who leads the country in passer ratings, is out indefinitely with an upper body injury. It wasn’t a problem against Georgia Southern, but for a team with no margin for error as it tries to chase down Appalachian State, it could be a big one.

Rank: Very High.

No. 23 Penn State (6-3)

Next: vs No. 9 Michigan, Saturday.

Reality check: From 2016-19, Penn State never had fewer than 34 rushing touchdowns in a season. The Nitney Lions have 10 this season.

Rank: Wins over Wisconsin and Auburn are very rare.

No. 24 Louisiana-Lafayette (8-1)

Next: In Troy, Saturday.

Reality Check: Ragin Cajun has already won his fourth consecutive Sun Belt West title under coach Billy Napier.

Rank: Very High.

No. 25 Pittsburgh (7-2)

Next: Vs. North Carolina, Thursday.

Reality Check: QBs Kenny Pickett and the Panthers have scored at least 50 runs four times this season. The last time Pitt did this was in 1905.

Rank: Slightly lower.

Purdue probably deserved the ranks, but judging by the way the Boilermakers have played without ranks, they’re probably headed to Ohio State that way.

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

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More NWN College Football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 Sign up for NWN’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25

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