AP Top 25 Takeaways: Before 1st CFP rankings, field trimmed
The last weekend before the College Football Playoff rankings debut shook loose some hopefuls, clearing the clutter before the last month of the season.
No. 9 Florida? Done. No. 18 Iowa? There will be no Hawkeyes run. No. 6 Texas? Now a fringe contender at best after being on the short end of Saturday’s most significant upset, and one of eight ranked teams to lose to unranked teams this past weekend.
However, don’t count out No. 14 Washington State just yet. The Cougars are the Pac-12′s long shot last hope. If you’re a fan of playoff chaos, Mike Leach might be your man.
The Longhorns took their first Big 12 loss at Oklahoma State, which came in having lost two straight and three of four. Texas has one of the season’s best victories, beating No. 8 Oklahoma, but struggles against Kansas State and Baylor had Tom Herman’s team looking like it was not quite ready for prime time.
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys exposed the Longhorns, who are now tied with No. 13 West Virginia and the Sooners for first in the conference. The Mountaineers come to Austin next week.
There is enough potential for mayhem around the country, especially in the Big Ten, to keep the possibility of a two-loss conference champion making the playoff alive. Texas can still hope that two victories against Oklahoma will make a strong case. But the Sooners still look like the class of the conference.
Florida and Iowa have no such hope.
No. 7 Georgia bounced back from its loss at LSU to restore some order in the SEC East and hand Florida its second loss of the season. The Bulldogs looked the part of national title contender again, pulling away from the Gators with an array of weapons . And Jake Fromm did not need any assistance from freshman Justin Field. Fromm threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs can wrap up the SEC East crown and eliminate another one of those fringe contenders next week when they visit No. 12 Kentucky. The Wildcats won on the last play of the game at Missouri to set up the biggest football game in Lexington, Kentucky, maybe since Bear Bryant was coach there.
The Wildcats are a great story, but have not scored more than 15 points in any of their last three games. That’s probably not going to cut it against the Bulldogs.
By next Saturday night, the Alabama-Georgia rematch in Atlanta could be set. This time for the SEC championship instead of the national title. Georgia-Kentucky will be the first game of the nationally televised SEC doubleheader on CBS. The winner is East champ. The top-ranked Crimson Tide is at No. 4 LSU in the nightcap. Alabama clinches the West with a victory.
Those who like chaos in their playoff race will root for the Wildcats and Tigers, but don’t count on it.
Iowa’s playoff dreams went away at Penn State in a bizarre game that featured Kirk Ferentz calling fake field goals and punts and Penn State handing the Hawkeyes four points worth of safeties. It was starting to feel a little like 2015, when Iowa reached the Big Ten championship game unbeaten and came one long Michigan State touchdown drive from making the playoff.
Beating Penn State would have opened a clear path to Indianapolis for the Hawkeyes, but quarterback Nate Stanley was all over the place and they couldn’t close the deal. Another L for team chaos.
No. 14 Washington State (7-1) rallied to win at No. 24 Stanford and sits atop the Pac-12 North all by itself. The Cougars provide a glimmer of playoff hope for the fast-fading conference that had a crazy day; No. 15 Washington lost California without giving up an offensive touchdown , No. 19 Oregon was trounced at Arizona and Colorado blew a 31-point lead and lost to Oregon State in OT.
But the reality is that even if Wazzu wins out, its resume with no Power Five nonconference victories probably won’t win many selection committee debates.
Still, just think what fun it could be to have Leach in the mix as the committee’s ranking are released and his team is on the outside looking in week after week.
After beating Stanford, Leach quoted John Wooden and talked about how his team needed to focus on the small picture — and not the playoff race. He then talked about his desire for a 64-team playoff field.
“I think if you were to vote on it, there would be a lot more playoff teams,” Leach said. “I would vote for 64. But I do think there will probably be 16 (in the future). You know, and of course, how could you possibly do it? Like everybody else.”
UNLIKELY DIVISION LEADERS
The most surprising division leader entering November?
How about Northwestern (5-3, 5-1), which started the season 1-3 with a fortunate victory against Purdue and a home loss to Akron. The Wildcats entered Saturday minus-two in point differential for the season, and then blew out No. 20 Wisconsin , which was playing without quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
The Wildcats are alone in first in the Big Ten West. They host Notre Dame next week, but the week after that, the Wildcats go to Iowa for a game that very well could decide the division. Few coaches consistently squeeze more out of their roster than Pat Fitzgerald.
Or, maybe it’s Virginia (6-2, 4-1). The Cavaliers handled North Carolina in the South’s Oldest Rivalry and hold a half-game lead over Virginia Tech and Pitt in the ACC Coastal.
The Cavaliers have a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in JUCO transfer Bryce Perkins (329 total yards against North Carolina), and, like Northwestern, a defense that is OK at taking away one thing per game. Before the season, third-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said his roster had 27 ACC-level players. That might be enough to send the Cavaliers to the ACC title game for the first time.
AROUND THE COUNTRY: Wisconsin and No. 15 Washington, which lost to Cal , could join Auburn and Miami as preseason top-10 teams out of the rankings this week. ... The $14 million buyout might not be enough to save Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. In a matchup of the worst two teams in the ACC, the Cardinals were crushed at home by Wake Forest and buried by a running back whom Petrino jilted in recruiting. Might be time for buyout bake sale by the athletic association . ... No. 2 Clemson handed Florida State the worst home loss in school history. The Seminoles (4-4) need two victories to keep their record 36-season streak of appearances alive, and it’s not looking good. Florida State finishes the season with road games at No. 22 North Carolina State and No. 3 Notre Dame and home games against Boston College and No. 9 Florida. ... Army, which came into its game against Eastern Michigan leading the nation in time of possession, held the ball for 45:42 in a 37-22 victory that made the Black Knights bowl eligible for a third straight season . Army has never played in a bowl game three straight seasons.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast