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AP Top 25 college football poll reaction

Written by on October 17, 2021

The AP Top 25 college football poll is out, and after a wild weekend of games, there’s some movement high in the rankings. Here’s what’s next for each ranked team:

Previous ranking: 1

Week 7 result: 30-13 win vs. No. 11 Kentucky

What’s next: at Florida (Oct. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: Yes, Georgia’s defense, anchored by defensive lineman Jordan Davis, has been incredibly dominant throughout this season, but how about the play of backup quarterback Stetson Bennett? Playing in place of JT Daniels, Bennet threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-13 win against previously unbeaten Kentucky. Bennett hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games — all against ranked opponents.

What you need to know: The Bulldogs have a bye week before a home showdown against Florida. A year ago, the Gators threw for 474 yards against the Georgia defense, but this year, the Bulldogs have allowed 144.9 passing yards per game, first in the FBS. — Matt Eisenberg

Previous ranking: 3

Week 7 result: 56-21 win vs. UCF

What’s next: at Navy (Oct. 23, noon ET)

X factor: Running back Jerome Ford. Cincinnati has a much more formidable offense when Ford gets going, as he did in Saturday’s win over UCF. After quiet performances against Indiana and Notre Dame, Ford has 338 rushing yards and six touchdowns over his past two games. His production takes pressure off quarterback Desmond Ridder and the downfield passing game, and it allows Cincinnati to control the pace and rest its signature defense.

What you need to know: The Bearcats’ playoff profile won’t get much help from the AAC this year, so Luke Fickell’s team needs to keep dominating. Two games with more than 50 points scored is an excellent start. Cincinnati’s defense remains its engine, but a balanced and efficient offense will make it harder to poke holes in the Bearcats’ CFP candidacy. They now travel to Navy, which is 1-5 and is lost on offense but also is always capable of creating headaches for its opponents. — Adam Rittenberg

Previous ranking: 4

Week 7 result: 52-31 win vs. TCU

What’s next: at Kansas (Oct. 23)

X factor: QB Caleb Williams. It’s an obvious choice, but after dazzling in the second half against Texas and dominating TCU in his first start (18-of-23, 295 yards and four TDs passing, 66 yards and another TD rushing), what kind of damage will he be allowed to do against Kansas?

What you need to know: Williams became the first Oklahoma true freshman to start at quarterback since current OU assistant coach Cale Gundy in 1990. Gundy has been on the Oklahoma staff since 1999 and is currently the Sooners’ co-offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach. — Dave Wilson

Previous ranking: 5

Week 7 result: 49-9 win vs. Mississippi State

What’s next: vs. Tennessee (Oct. 23, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor: OLB Will Anderson Jr. called his teammates out to some extent in a Monday media session — he said some variation of “football has to be the most important thing” on multiple occasions — and then backed it up, sacking Mississippi State’s Will Rogers four times and leading a dominant 49-9 win in Starkville.

What you need to know: The Tide still very much control their own destiny in both the SEC and national title races. They could be favored by double digits in every game until the SEC championship, and if they beat mighty Georgia, they’re clearly in. Next up: a visit from up-tempo Tennessee. — Bill Connelly

Previous ranking: 6

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: at Indiana (Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: Quarterback C.J. Stroud has been gaining confidence on the field and has said he is feeling fully recovered from his shoulder injury. If he continues to progress, Ohio State is going to be difficult to beat. Not many teams can match the Buckeyes point for point when they’re clicking.

What you need to know: As well as the offense is playing, the defense also has started to show signs of progress. This group has gone through a coordinator change midseason and looks as though it is still working through some of its issues. Some younger players are starting to step up, namely freshman cornerback Denzel Burke, who has an interception and 16 tackles on the season. If the group improves each week, Ohio State will be a different team than the one that allowed 408 yards in Week 1. — Tom VanHaaren

Previous ranking: 8

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: vs. Northwestern (Oct. 23)

X factor: Running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins make this Michigan offense go. The Wolverines are tied for ninth in rushing touchdowns for running backs this season with eight apiece. No other running back tandems in the country have combined for more rushing touchdowns than them.

What you need to know: The players at Michigan are talking about having a confidence and an aspect of player leadership they’ve never had. After coming back to beat Nebraska on the road, quarterback Cade McNamara said other Michigan teams would’ve lost that game, but not this team. The players have taken on more accountability this season and are pushing themselves and their coaches to this excellent start. — Tom VanHaaren

Previous ranking: 7

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: vs. Illinois (Oct. 23, noon ET)

X factor: Quarterback Sean Clifford was injured in the second half against Iowa, and Penn State’s offense wasn’t the same without him. Clifford’s injury status is still up in the air, and coach James Franklin hasn’t updated a potential timeline. Without him, the offense is going to have to be creative and get backup Ta’Quan Roberson some needed reps.

What you need to know: Penn State lost to Iowa by only three points despite not having Clifford as its quarterback. At one point in the game, backup Roberson had seen 30 plays and the offense had only 56 yards with no touchdowns; compare that to the 33 plays Clifford ran before his injury, with the offense registering 193 yards and two touchdowns. If Penn State is going to continue to compete the rest of the season, the offense will need Clifford back on the field. — Tom VanHaaren

Previous week: 12

Week 7 result: 32-24 win vs. No. 25 Texas

What’s next: at Iowa State (Oct. 23)

X factor: LB Malcolm Rodriguez. The super senior battering ram/linebacker will be on Breece Hall duty against Iowa State. Rodriguez, one of the country’s best linebackers (59 tackles for the season and double-digit totals in three games), faces off against one of the country’s best running backs, who had 197 yards against Kansas State on Saturday.

What you need to know: Texas entered the game against OSU averaging 44.5 points and converting 51.9% of its third-down tries. The Cowboys held the Longhorns to 317 total yards and 24 points and allowed them to convert just 4 of 14 third-down tries. — Dave Wilson

Previous ranking: 10

Week 7 result: 20-15 win vs. Indiana

What’s next: vs. Michigan (Oct. 30)

X factor: Linebacker Cal Haladay. The transfers are the story at Michigan State, but the team wouldn’t be 7-0 without big contributions from holdover players. Haladay, who appeared in four games as a true freshman in 2020 but didn’t record a tackle, has become a key part of an improved Spartans defense. He had seven tackles and an interception return for a touchdown in a 20-15 win against Indiana. Haladay is fourth on the team in tackles (48) and has been involved in several Spartans takeaways. He forms a strong linebacker group with Angelo Grose and Quavaris Crouch.

What you need to know: The open week comes at a good time for Michigan State, which has been fortunate in two of its past four victories (Nebraska, Indiana). The Spartans have extra time to gear up for their biggest game of the year against Michigan in a meeting that could pair top-10 undefeated teams. (Michigan hosts Northwestern this week.) Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne gets a chance to reset after his shakiest performance of the season, before facing an improved Wolverines defense led by Aidan Hutchinson. — Adam Rittenberg

Previous ranking: 9

Week 7 result: 24-17 win vs. Cal

What’s next: at UCLA (Oct. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: RB Travis Dye. With senior quarterback Anthony Brown struggling and running back CJ Verdell out for the season with a leg injury, it’s Dye’s turn to give the Ducks a jolt. He did Friday to the tune of 88 yards and a touchdown, all without gloves. According to the ESPN broadcast, when asked why he doesn’t wear them like all of his peers at the position do, Dye said, “I just do me.”

What you need to know: Oregon will head to the Rose Bowl next week to face a UCLA team that, much like the rest of the conference, has been tough to assess. The Bruins are 4-2 and still in contention for the Pac-12 South; but Oregon should be favored on the road, and it can’t afford another close call, let alone a second loss. — Paolo Uggetti

Previous ranking: 2

Week 7 result: 24-7 loss vs. Purdue

What’s next: at Wisconsin (Oct. 30, noon ET)

X factor: TE Sam LaPorta. Iowa’s passing game has some significant flaws, including the fact that a tight end continues to be the team’s most targeted and productive pass-catcher. But LaPorta continues to deliver, adding to his team-leading totals with five receptions for 61 yards against Purdue. LaPorta has 10 more receptions and 98 more yards than any other Iowa player this season.

What you need to know: One loss doesn’t undo all the good things Iowa did in the first half of the season, nor does it completely remove the Hawkeyes from the Big Ten race. But in the words of coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa will have to “stew and sit on” its worst performance in quite some time. Iowa needs to find more options and consistency in the passing game. The team’s inexperience along the line of scrimmage showed Saturday. Iowa also needs to find ways to win when the opponent doesn’t commit turnovers in bunches. — Adam Rittenberg

Previous ranking: 13

Week 7 result: 31-26 win vs. Tennessee

What’s next: vs. LSU (Oct. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: It’s always quarterback Matt Corral, but it was even more so during the Rebels’ chaotic 31-26 win over Tennessee on Saturday night in Knoxville. He nearly became the first SEC quarterback since Johnny Manziel to both rush and pass for 200 yards in the same game, finishing just 5 rushing yards short.

What you need to know: After winning two of the wildest games you’ll ever see — first, the 52-51 win over Arkansas, then the last-second win in Knoxville — Lane Kiffin and his Rebels return home to host an LSU team that just enjoyed its own wild win over Florida. This Rebels’ season probably isn’t slowing down anytime soon. — Bill Connelly

Previous ranking: 14

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: vs. USC (Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: Running back Kyren Williams ranks No. 87 in total rushing yards this season, with 370 through six games, and 184th in rushing yards per attempt among all running backs. If Notre Dame wants more consistency on offense, the coaches need to find a way to get more production out of Williams.

What you need to know: A big part of Williams’ lack of success has been tied to the offensive line. The line has been inconsistent and struggled through the first six games. Following some shuffling around, the line has shown improvement over the past few games, especially against Virginia Tech. Williams and the offensive line both need to improve if Notre Dame wants consistent performances from its offense. — Tom VanHaaren

Previous ranking: 15

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: at Appalachian State (Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: QB Grayson McCall. McCall has been solid once again this season for the Chanticleers, with 1,478 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception. He is coming off his best game of the season against Arkansas State, throwing for 365 yards and tying a career high with four touchdowns.

What you need to know: Coastal Carolina has scored 50 or more points in three straight games, but it has lost the past two meetings at Appalachian State. Isaiah Likely had a career-high 232 yards and four touchdowns the last time out, on Oct. 7. — Andrea Adelson

Previous week: 11

Week 7 result: 30-13 loss vs. No. 1 Georgia

What’s next: at Mississippi State (Oct. 30)

X factor: RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. The 5-foot-11 junior was held to 7 yards on seven carries against Georgia’s stellar defense. Over his first six games of the year, he had 768 yards on the ground and eclipsed 125 rushing yards four times.

What you need to know: Though the undefeated run came to an end, Kentucky could very well finish the regular season with one loss. Mark Stoops’ Wildcats have a bye week before facing Mississippi State on the road and Tennessee at home. — Matt Eisenberg

Previous week: 16

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: at Army (Oct. 23, noon ET)

X factor: LB Luke Masterson. Masterson has put together an All-ACC type of season so far, leading the Deacs with 39 tackles, including five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He will be a big key against the Army triple-option.

What you need to know: Wake Forest has two nonconference games remaining on its schedule, starting with Army on Saturday. With a win, the Demon Deacons will start 7-0 for the first time in school history. — Andrea Adelson

Previous week: 21

Week 7 result: 35-14 win vs. Missouri

What’s next: vs. South Carolina (Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: Running back Devon Achane. Coach Jimbo Fisher must look for ways to get Achane more touches. He had a career-high 16 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri, complementing Isaiah Spiller nicely in the run game. Achane also had a 27-yard reception, and he should be targeted more in the coming weeks. Without consistently elite quarterback play, Texas A&M should lean even more on its top playmakers to assist.

What you need to know: Texas A&M did a nice job avoiding any letdown at Missouri. The Aggies return home for another game in which they’ll be heavily favored, versus South Carolina, before a key open week. Top A&M quarterback Haynes King likely isn’t returning anytime soon, so the continued development of Zach Calzada and the offense will be essential before a closing stretch featuring Auburn (home), Ole Miss (road) and LSU (road). The Aggies’ defense is strong enough to win out. — Adam Rittenberg

Previous ranking: 22

Week 7 result: 33-7 win vs. Boston College

What’s next: at Miami (Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: QB Devin Leary. Leary played perhaps his best game of the season in a 33-7 win over Boston College, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 66.7% of his passes. His veteran leadership shines through when NC State needs it most.

What you need to know: The Wolfpack take a trip to play struggling Miami, a team they lost to a season ago in a wild game in which they blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. NC State is in far better shape in the ACC than Miami, and a win would help the Wolfpack stay atop the Atlantic Division standings with Wake Forest. — Andrea Adelson

Previous week: unranked

Week 7 result: vs. 38-23 win vs. No. 17 Arkansas

What’s next: vs. Ole Miss (Oct. 30)

X factor: Quarterback Bo Nix, forever and always. When he’s good, the Tigers are extremely hard to beat. And he was fantastic against Arkansas, completing 21 of 26 passes (to 10 different targets) for 292 yards and two touchdowns and icing a 38-23 win with a 23-yard touchdown run.

What you need to know: After seven games, including trips to Penn State, LSU and Arkansas and a visit from Georgia, Bryan Harsin’s Tigers get a much-deserved bye week before a five-game stretch that will likely include at least three ranked teams. The slate doesn’t get easier, but the 5-2 Tigers have proved they can hang with just about anyone. — Bill Connelly

Previous week: unranked

Week 7 result: 38-24 win vs. No. 19 BYU

What’s next: vs. Texas (Oct. 30)

X factor: Nickelback Jalen Pitre. While the Bears’ offense dominated in a 38-24 win over BYU on Saturday, the defense has been a steadying force all year, and Pitre (10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) remains the anchor.

What you need to know: The Bears get a bye week before resuming their Big 12 title chase, and while they remain a game back of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the loss column, they will welcome OU to Waco on Nov. 13. They are well-rounded and explosive on both sides of the ball. — Bill Connelly

Previous week: 23

Week 7 result: No game

What’s next: vs. Tulane (Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: Tanner Mordecai. The junior quarterback averages 4.3 touchdown passes per game and the Tulane defense allows an average of 40.2 points per contest.

What you need to know: Sonny Dykes is the winningest Division I coach at a Texas university since the start of the 2019 season with 23 wins over that span. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects the Mustangs to be favorites in three of their next four games — giving Houston a slight edge over the Mustangs on Oct. 30 — before a big Nov. 20 game against Cincinnati. — Dave Wilson

Previous week: 24

Week 7 result: 19-13 win vs. San Jose State

What’s next: at Air Force (Oct. 23, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor: Kicker Matt Araiza. In a game that featured only four field goals in regulation, Araiza didn’t just hit a career-long 53-yard field goal; he also boomed four punts of 50 yards or more, including an 86-yarder from his own end zone. Given the state of San Diego State’s offense, he has a case for being the team’s best offensive weapon outside of running back Greg Bell.

What you need to know: The Aztecs will try to remain perfect as they travel to Falcon Stadium in Colorado next week to face 5-1 Air Force in what should be another low-scoring matchup between the two best teams in the Mountain West and two of the best defenses in the country. — Paolo Uggetti

Previous week: unranked

Week 7 result: 28-7 win vs. Virginia Tech

What’s next: vs. Clemson (Oct. 23, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: QB Kenny Pickett. Over his past three games, Pickett has thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions as he continues his push to gain more national attention in the Heisman Trophy race. He did not have to be perfect against Virginia Tech, doing just enough for the Panthers to win handily.

What you need to know: Up next is a huge game with ACC championship implications on the line. Pitt hosts Clemson, which has had a stranglehold on the ACC over the past six years. But ESPN’s FPI now has Pitt as the favorite to win the ACC, and a victory here would go a long way toward reaching that goal. — Andrea Adelson

Previous week: unranked

Week 7 result: 45-0 win vs. Rice

What’s next: at Louisiana Tech (Oct. 23, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor: RB Sincere McCormick. McCormick posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season with a 117-yard performance against Rice. Though he didn’t find the end zone, he paced a Roadrunners running game that totaled 261 yards.

What you need to know: Louisiana Tech isn’t the same team that won the 2019 Independence Bowl, but Austin Kendall and the Bulldogs can still challenge a Roadrunners defense that recently surrendered 46 points to Western Kentucky. UTSA has an open week following the Louisiana Tech tilt, before taking on UTEP on the road. — Matt Eisenberg

Previous week: unranked

Week 8 result: 24-7 win vs. No. 2 Iowa

What’s next: vs. Wisconsin (Oct. 23, 3 p.m. ET)

X factor: QB Aidan O’Connell. The 6-foot-3 senior topped his 371-yard performance against Minnesota by throwing for 375 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa’s strong defense. Purdue turned the ball over just once, while Iowa QB Spencer Petras threw four interceptions.

What you need to know: Purdue’s 24 points were the most Iowa had given up in a game this season. It also marked the most the Boilermakers had scored since a 49-0 drubbing of UConn in Week 2. Games against Wisconsin and Nebraska precede matchups against Michigan State (Nov. 6) and Ohio State (Nov. 13). — Matt Eisenberg

Dropped out: Arkansas (No. 17), Arizona State (18), BYU (19), Florida (20), Texas (25)

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