AP Top 25 Reality Check: Big Ten powers down, out of poll
The Big Ten is kind of upside down early in this strange and abbreviated season.
Indiana is No. 10 and Northwestern No. 23 in the latest AP Top 25. Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State are nowhere to be found.
The last time that foursome of former national championship programs was unranked at the same time was Oct. 13, 2013. Though that season Michigan State would finish No. 3 in the country. The other three were out by the end.
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, there has not been a season in which at least one of those four traditional powers has not finished the season in the Top 25.
That is on the way to changing.
Penn State is now 0-3 having had its streak of 63 straight poll appearances that dated back to mid-October 2016 snapped last week. The Nittany Lions were preseason No. 7.
This week Michigan got the boot after falling to 1-2. The Wolverines are unranked for the first time since the end of the 2017 season after starting the season No. 17.
Expectations were modest for both Nebraska and Michigan State and both have so far lived down to expectations at a combined 1-4. The Spartans have the lone victory. Against Michigan, of course.
Meanwhile, Indiana is poised to be the second-best team in the Big Ten East, which has spent several seasons touting itself as the toughest division in the country based on the strength at the top — Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State.
The Hoosiers (3-0) cracked the AP top 10 for the first time since 1969 after snapping a 24-game losing streak to Michigan.
Northwestern is 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 2000 and back in the rankings for the first time since it finished in the Top 25 to end 2018.
Which could be the next end-of-the-bench Big Ten team to crack the Top 25? Purdue is 2-0 heading into a pivotal Big Ten West game next week against Northwestern. Maryland has won two straight, including a blowout at Penn State, but the Terrapins host No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday.
Reality check has been skeptical of Indiana, the Big Ten’s biggest upstart, but with Michigan State on deck for the Hoosiers they could set up a top-10 matchup in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 21 against the Buckeyes.
What a season?
No. 1 Alabama (6-0)
Next: at LSU, Saturday.
Reality check: Nick Saban will coach his 81st game with a top-ranked Crimson Tide team. Alabama is 72-8 in those games.
No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0)
Next: at Boston College, Saturday.
Reality check: Only one opponent has cracked 4.0 yards per rush against the Fighting Irish (Louisville), and Clemson was held to 1.03.
No. 3 Ohio State (3-0)
Next: at Maryland, Saturday.
Reality check: The Buckeyes have been so-so defensively so far (5.51 yards per play allowed), but it’s hard to know how serious of a concern it is because they have been so thoroughly in control of their first three games.
No. 4 Clemson (7-1)
Next: at Florida, State, Nov. 20.
Reality check: The Tigers allowed 208 yards rushing (5.2 per carry) to Notre Dame, the most permitted by defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ defense since Alabama had 221 in the 2016 national title game.
No. 5 Texas A&M (5-1)
Next: at Tennessee, Saturday.
Reality check: With LSU falling apart, the only game the Aggies have left where they might not be favored is at Auburn on Dec. 5.
No. 6 Florida (4-1)
Next: vs. Arkansas, Saturday.
Reality check: Without a traditional dominant outside receiving threat, the Gators have three running backs who have combined for 27 catches for 471 yards to go with TE Kyle Pitts and versatile athlete Kadarius Toney.
No. 7 Cincinnati (6-0)
Next: vs. East Carolina, Friday.
Reality check: The Bearcats wrapped up what was expected to be a challenging three-week stretch against SMU, Memphis and Houston having outscored the AAC rivals 129-33.
No. 8 BYU (8-0)
Next: vs. North Alabama, Nov. 21.
Reality check: College football Twitter is dreaming about a hastily made matchup between the Cougars and Bearcats, but Cincinnati’s only open date is the week before the AAC championship game (Dec. 12).
No. 9 Miami (6-1)
Next: at Virginia Tech, Saturday.
Reality check: QB D’Eriq King has been everything the Hurricanes could have asked for when he transferred from Houston, with three games of more than 300 yards passing and 16 touchdown passes.
No. 10 Indiana (3-0)
Next: at Michigan State, Saturday.
Reality check: The Hoosiers don’t do anything exceptionally well, but they have just two turnovers, a kicker who has made all six fields-goal attempts, and a quarterback in Michael Penix Jr. who rarely gets sacked.
No. 11 Oregon (1-0)
Next: at Washington State, Saturday.
Reality check: Early returns on QB Tyler Shough were very encouraging. The new starter passed for 227 yards, ran for 85 and looked very comfortable in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offense.
No. 12 Georgia (4-2)
Next: at Missouri, Saturday.
Reality check: Watch for RB Zamir White, who has two straight 100-yard rushing games, to rack up big numbers down the stretch as the Bulldogs ride their running game against four very beatable opponents.
No. 13 Wisconsin (1-0)
Next: at Michigan, Saturday.
Reality check: The way Michigan is playing pass defense it should be a good opportunity for freshman QB Graham Mertz to build off his excellent debut — which feels like a month ago.
No. 14 Oklahoma State (5-1)
Next: at No. 18 Oklahoma, Nov. 21.
Reality check: Without injured WR Tylan Wallace, the Cowboys’ offense was a dud as they escaped with a victory at Kansas State. The Big 12’s leading receiver has two weeks to heal up for Bedlam.
No. 15 Coastal Carolina (7-0)
Next: at Troy, Saturday.
Reality check: Who circled the Coastal Carolina-Liberty on Dec. 5 when the two sides decided to put together a game in August?
No. 16 Marshall (6-0)
Next: vs. Middle Tennessee, Saturday.
Reality check: Among teams that have played at least three games, Marshall is tied for seventh in the country in sacks per game at 3.50.
No. 17 Iowa State (5-2)
Next: vs. Kansas State, Nov. 21.
Reality check: RB Breece Hall became the first player to reach 1,000 yards rushing this season. He is on his way to being an All-American.
No. 18 Oklahoma (5-2)
Next: vs. No. 14 Oklahoma State, Nov. 21.
Reality check: The Sooners are averaging 6.88 yards per play, a solid 18th in the country. But if they don’t pick up the pace it will be the first season since 2015 OU averages fewer than 7.0 yards per pop.
No. 19 SMU (7-1)
Next: at Tulsa, Saturday.
Reality check: QB Shane Buechele, who started as a freshman for Texas, has had three seasons with at least 20 touchdown passes and has quietly put together a really impressive college career.
No. 20 USC (1-0)
Next: at Arizona, Saturday.
Reality check: Who has four better receivers than Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, Drake London and Bru McCoy? Nobody in the Pac-12, that’s for sure.
No. 21 Texas (5-2)
Next: at Kansas, Nov. 21.
Reality check: Too often the Longhorns’ offensive identity appears to be QB Sam Ehlinger just coming up with enough plays to get by.
No. 22 Liberty (7-0)
Next: vs. Western Carolina, Saturday.
Reality check: QB Malik Willis, an Auburn transfer, has accounted for 19 touchdowns and thrown one interception.
No. 23 Northwestern (3-0)
Next: at Purdue, Saturday.
Reality check: The Wildcats’ defense is no joke. Northwestern has not allowed a second-half point.
No. 24 Auburn (4-2)
Next: at Mississippi State, Saturday.
Reality check: Freshman RB Tank Bigsby has 457 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the last four games.
No. 25 Louisiana-Lafayette (6-1)
Next: vs. South Alabama, Saturday.
Reality check: The Ragin’ Cajuns last six games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/
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