AP Top 25 college football poll reaction: What's next for each ranked team?

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Monday, September 27, 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:

1.Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0)

Previous ranking: 1

While there might be some consternation over how close the win at Florida was two weeks ago, Alabama did what it was supposed to by dominating Southern Miss on Saturday to start the season 4-0. Now comes the hard part. With Ole Miss coming to town this weekend, it's worth remembering that the Rebs gave the Tide their biggest challenge last regular season -- a 63-48 shootout in which Alabama didn't pull away and win until late in the fourth quarter. Former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin returns to Tuscaloosa with a loaded offense and perhaps the best quarterback in college football, Matt Corral. -- Alex Scarborough

2.Georgia Bulldogs (4-0)

Previous ranking: 2

Now 4-0 and looking stronger every week, Georgia hasn't been challenged since its season-opening 10-3 victory over Clemson. The Dawgs have been suffocating on defense, and the first unit has yet to allow a touchdown. Both of the touchdowns Georgia has yielded have come in the fourth quarter, long after the outcome had been decided. The Dawgs return home this Saturday to face a physical Arkansas team that's one of the more improved teams in the country going back to the start of the 2020 season. Then comes Auburn on the road the following weekend. -- Chris Low

3.Oregon Ducks(4-0)

Previous ranking: 3

The far-and-away favorite in the Pac-12, Oregon plays the Bay Area schools in its next two games -- at Stanford (Oct. 2) and vs. Cal (Oct. 15) -- before an intriguing trip to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA on Oct. 23. With an obvious path to the College Football Playoff, every game the Ducks play carries massive stakes. After their underwhelming win against Arizona and another injury exit for Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Ducks are in need of a statement win. -- Kyle Bonagura

4.Penn State Nittany Lions (4-0)

Previous ranking: 6

A month into the season, it's premature to call anybody the class of a conference. But Penn State has made as strong a case as anyone in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are rock-solid on defense, own two wins over nationally ranked teams and have a redshirt senior quarterback, Sean Clifford, who's spreading the ball around to his top playmakers. One of the things to watch as Penn State gets set for eight straight Big Ten games is how much more consistently the Nittany Lions can run the ball. They get Indiana at home this Saturday and then travel to Iowa, which could exploit the Lions if they're too one-dimensional on offense. -- Chris Low

5.Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0)

Previous ranking: 5

The Hawkeyes survived Colorado State in a lackluster affair, but don't blame them if they were looking ahead a bit. Now 4-0 and firmly established in the top 10, Iowa must head to College Park to face unbeaten and explosive Maryland in Week 5, then return home to face Penn State in a potential top-10-versus-top-10 battle. The Hawkeyes got by with a shaky effort on the ground against CSU -- Tyler Goodson had just 57 yards on 18 carries -- but the offense must get back on schedule if it wants to turn a 4-0 record into 6-0 over the next two weeks. -- Bill Connelly

6.Oklahoma Sooners (4-0)

Previous ranking: 4

Granted, we're just now flipping the college football calendar to October, but something seems amiss with Oklahoma despite the Sooners' 4-0 start. In all three of the Sooners' games against FBS foes, they've looked very beatable, and they needed a field goal as time expired Saturday to stave off West Virginia at home. These next three weeks could be interesting with a trip to Kansas State this Saturday, then the Red River Showdown against Texas on Oct. 9 and TCU at home on Oct. 16. The Sooners have everything it takes to be a College Football Playoff team for the fourth time in the past five years. They just need to start playing like it. -- Chris Low

7.Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0)

Previous ranking: 8

ESPN's Football Power Index gives Cincinnati a 47.1% chance to win at Notre Dame on Saturday -- the only game on the schedule the Bearcats aren't favored to win. If they do win, though -- and they've had a bye week to prepare for it while the Irish played Wisconsin at Soldier Field -- it could catapult Cincinnati toward an undefeated season. According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, if Cincinnati goes undefeated and wins the American Athletic Conference, it would have a 70% chance to reach the playoff. Entering Saturday's game against the Irish, Cincinnati has a 9% chance. -- Heather Dinich

8.Arkansas Razorbacks (4-0)

Previous ranking: 16

The Razorbacks' Cinderella season continued with a tough win, ending No. 7 Texas A&M's 11-game winning streak while also snapping the Hogs' nine-game drought against the Aggies. Suddenly, Saturday's matchup with No. 2 Georgia is one of the marquee games on the schedule. Arkansas got a good preview of a Georgia-style matchup in the Aggies, who have a strong run game and one of the best defensive lines in the SEC, and seemed to have the perfect game plan to address both of those strengths. Sam Pittman, a former Kirby Smart assistant, knows the Bulldogs will be a formidable challenge. But the Razorbacks have proved it isn't smart to write them off. -- Dave Wilson

9.Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-0)

Previous ranking: 12

Games against North Carolina and others remain, but Notre Dame could be facing its toughest test of the season this week as Cincinnati visits South Bend. The Irish are clicking on defense under coordinator Marcus Freeman, who spent the past four years in the same role at Cincinnati. A win would truly validate Notre Dame as a playoff contender again. Notre Dame still has challenges along the offensive line and needs its quarterbacks to stay healthy, but there's a real opportunity ahead in October with three big home games (Cincinnati, USC, North Carolina).-- Adam Rittenberg

10.Florida Gators (3-1)

Previous ranking: 11

Coach Dan Mullen said he is settling in to learning how to call a game with Emory Jones at quarterback, and we got to see the next step in a dominant win against Tennessee and Jones' best performance. Though Florida has owned the series against Kentucky, the Wildcats are undefeated, and this will be the first out-of-state road test for the Gators this season. Lost in Jones' performance is the way Florida played defensively in the second half even without Kaiir Elam -- something the Gators can build on moving forward. -- Andrea Adelson

11.Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1)

Previous ranking: 10

Beating Akron so handily was a nice way to bounce back after losing to Oregon and struggling to put away Tulsa in consecutive weeks. But now we have to keep an eye on the Ohio State quarterback situation. Does C.J. Stroud return to the starting lineup after nursing a shoulder injury, or will coach Ryan Day stick with Kyle McCord? McCord stepped into the starting lineup and was solid against Akron, completing 13 of 18 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. What looked like the easy part of the schedule -- Rutgers, Maryland and a well-timed bye week before a challenging two-game stretch against Indiana and Penn State -- now appears to be something of a proving ground with Rutgers coming off a close loss at Michigan and Maryland sitting pretty at 4-0. -- Alex Scarborough

12.Ole Miss Rebels(3-0)

Previous ranking: 13

The Rebels had a bye week to prepare for Alabama, but ESPN's FPI still gives Ole Miss only a 20.9% chance to win. Quarterback Matt Corral, who should arguably be leading the Heisman race after four weeks, has put up phenomenal passing numbers and will have to continue that success against an Alabama defense that was exposed by Florida on Sept. 18. The Tide's rushing defense was the problem against the Gators, and Corral alone has accounted for five rushing touchdowns this season, but all against unranked opponents. Ole Miss will learn how effective its offense truly is in Tuscaloosa, where Corral will have a chance at a Heisman moment. -- Heather Dinich

13.BYU Cougars (4-0)

Previous ranking: 15

A short in-state trip to Utah State this week doesn't look as imposing after the Aggies' 27-3 loss to Boise State on Saturday. Still, the Aggies, which started 3-0, should provide an interesting test before the Cougars get their own shot at Boise the following week. If BYU gets to 5-0, it's likely the Cougars will jump into the top 10 and could force their way into the New Year's Six conversation. -- Kyle Bonagura

14.Michigan Wolverines (4-0)

Previous ranking: 19

The offense is still a question mark for the Wolverines. Against Rutgers, Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara had nine completions, eight of which came in the first half. The team went four straight possessions in the second half without a first down and let Rutgers back in the game before narrowly winning 20-13. Michigan has won all four of its games, but the schedule is going to get harder, and the offense will need to figure out how to be a more balanced attack for an entire game. -- Tom VanHaaren

15.Texas A&M Aggies (3-1)

Previous ranking: 7

The Aggies' offensive flaws, exposed against Colorado, became a full-fledged fiasco in a loss to Arkansas. The Aggies are familiar with the fits Mike Leach can give them, but this defense is capable of handling the Mississippi State attack when it hosts the Bulldogs on Saturday. A&M's young offensive line hasn't rounded into shape yet, and those woes are magnified with backup quarterback Zach Calzada struggling to push the vertical passing game and open up space for Isaiah Spiller. With Alabama looming after Mississippi State, this game will tell a lot about the rest of the Aggies' season. -- Dave Wilson

16.Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (4-0)

Previous ranking: 17

After an easy, breezy 53-3 blowout of UMass, Coastal Carolina will get another tuneup this coming week with a visit from Terry Bowden's Louisiana Monroe squad. The Chants should handle that one with ease, but the degree of difficulty rises from there. First, they'll head to Arkansas State on Oct. 7, then to Appalachian State on Oct. 20. The Mountaineers have just about been their equal on paper this season; that will be the biggest test between now and a potential Sun Belt Championship Game. -- Bill Connelly

17.Michigan State Spartans (4-0)

Previous ranking: 20

The Spartans had three convincing wins to open the season, then ran into trouble against Nebraska. MSU had only 14 yards of offense in the second half, which is uncharacteristic compared to what it showed in the first three games. Michigan State will have an opportunity to regroup against Western Kentucky at home next week, followed by Rutgers. The Spartans had four passing touchdowns in two games this year and scored at least 38 points in each of their first three games. If the Spartans can get back to that level of production, they should be in good shape entering their showdown with Michigan on Oct. 30. -- Tom VanHaaren

18. Fresno State Bulldogs (4-1)

Previous week: 22

Entering the Top 25 following its upset victory over UCLA, the Bulldogs rallied to beat a winless UNLV team 38-30 on Friday night. They face Hawai'i on the road next week and then have a bye week before taking on a Wyoming squad that is currently undefeated.-- Matt Eisenberg

19. Oklahoma State Cowboys (4-0)

Previous week: unranked

The Big 12 race appears to be wide open, and Oklahoma State clearly wants to be a part of that conversation. The Cowboys have held serve at home and get their fourth home game of the season this Saturday against Baylor in a meeting of two of the league's most surprising teams. That's almost certainly a must-win game for the Cowboys if they're going to be a factor in the Big 12 race this season, because after an open date on Oct. 9, they travel to Texas and Iowa State in back-to-back weekends. -- Chris Low

20.UCLA Bruins (3-1)

Previous ranking: 24

The best team in the Pac-12 South to this point, UCLA has an important test on Saturday against Arizona State at the Rose Bowl. ASU came into the season among the favorites in the division, and that remains the case. The Bruins have back-to-back road games against Arizona and Washington before what is shaping up to be the game of the year in the Pac-12 against Oregon on Oct. 23. -- Kyle Bonagura

21. Baylor Bears (4-0)

Previous week: unranked

The 4-0 Bears are one of the surprises of the young season after an upset win of No. 14 Iowa State, snapping a 12-game losing streak vs AP top-15 teams. Under new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who came from BYU, junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon has been ultra-efficient for the Bears, completing 73% of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Now, they travel to Oklahoma State, where the Cowboys are 4-0 but with three wins in one-score games. -- Dave Wilson

22.Auburn Tigers (3-1)

Previous ranking: 23

A narrow win over Georgia State might have been the beginning of the end of the Bo Nix era at Auburn. The Tigers' legacy quarterback was finally benched after two-plus years of highs and lows, and TJ Finley grabbed the reins and promptly led the come-from-behind victory. While Finley's far from perfect, when he's a decisive runner and passer, he's effective. With a week to prepare to face his old team, LSU, it will be interesting to see how he performs. But regardless of what happens at quarterback, Auburn has a lot of work to do as a team. The Penn State loss and the close call against Georgia State have revealed a lack of playmakers at receiver and a defense that needs to do a better job on third down. -- Alex Scarborough

23. NC State Wolfpack (3-1)

Previous ranking: unranked

Not only is NC State in the AP Top 25 after beating Clemson, but the Wolfpack are the highest-ranked ACC team in this week's poll -- at No. 23 overall, one spot above undefeated Wake Forest and two above the Tigers. NC State hosts Louisiana Tech next week, then is off before having back-to-back road games against Boston College (Oct. 16) and Miami (Oct. 23). -- Matt Eisenberg

24. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-0)

Previous week: unranked

Wake Forest has played well, but its success has come against mostly inferior competition. Saturday's win at unranked Virginia was the Deacs' toughest test to date and their only road trip in September. The schedule gets more difficult, but ESPN's FPI gives Wake Forest at least a 65% chance to win each of its next four games. If the Deacs can pull it off, they would be undefeated heading into their Nov. 6 trip to North Carolina. Wake's schedule is backloaded with three of its last four games on the road against its most difficult opponents: the Tar Heels, Clemson and Boston College. -- Heather Dinich

25.Clemson Tigers (2-2)

Previous ranking: 9

The road does not get any easier for Clemson, which hosts Boston College, a team that had the Tigers on the ropes last season -- also with D.J. Uiagalelei at quarterback. After losing to NC State, coach Dabo Swinney said everything on offense had to be reevaluated, but he will stay with Uiagalelei under center. He is probably the least of their concerns. The offensive line continues to struggle, and there is now a lack of depth at running back with Lyn-J Dixon gone and freshman Will Shipley most likely out with a leg injury. Uiagalelei can't do it all, and establishing the line of scrimmage must be a priority. -- Andrea Adelson

Dropped out: Iowa State (14), Wisconsin (18), North Carolina (21), Kansas State (25)

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