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

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Sunday, October 31, 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.Georgia Bulldogs (8-0)

Previous ranking: 1

Week 9 result:34-7 win vs. Florida

What's next: vs.Missouri (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:Quarterback Stetson Bennett knows he didn't play his best in Saturday's 34-7 win over Florida, but thanks to his team's menacing defense, he didn't have to. Bennett, who started the season as the third-stringer, still has the keys to top-ranked Georgia's offense. Bennett completed 10 of 19 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and two picks against the Gators.

What you need to know:Former starter JT Daniels hasn't played in more than a month because of a lat injury; coach Kirby Smart said he was available to play against the Gators, but he didn't. The longer Daniels sits, the less likely it seems he'll get the starting job back -- unless, of course, Bennett doesn't get the job done. Bennett figures to start again in Saturday's home game against Missouri. Bennett has the support of his teammates. "You [the media] call him a weak point," linebacker Nolan Smith said. "But he doesn't listen to anyone. He just works. He's a blue-collar guy. I trust him. He puts his best forward every day. It might not look pretty to you guys, but he gets it done." -- Mark Schlabach

2.Cincinnati Bearcats (8-0)

Previous ranking: 2

Week 9 result:31-12 win vs. Tulane

What's next:vs. Tulsa (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Tight end Josh Whyle. For the second straight game, Whyle has been a critical component of the win, accounting for a total of four touchdowns on eight receptions. Against Tulane, Whyle caught four passes and two of them were touchdowns -- the same stat line he recorded in the 27-20 win at Navy.

What you need to know:This is the second straight road game Cincinnati has underwhelmed against an unranked opponent with a losing record, and it could be a factor in the first CFP ranking on Tuesday. The Bearcats' remaining strength of schedule is No. 82 in the country, but they will have had to win 10 straight games without a bye to finish as undefeated conference champs. -- Heather Dinich

3.Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1)

Previous ranking: 3

Week 9 result:No game

What's next:vs. LSU (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor:Outside linebacker Drew Sanders, who missed the past three weeks with a hand injury, will be examined by doctors this week. His potential return could help solidify a defense that's struggled at times this season.

What you need to know:This isn't likely to be the kind of Alabama-LSU game we've grown accustomed to. The Tigers are missing so many players, including top receiver Kayshon Boutte and top cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., that they couldn't even scrimmage last week. -- Alex Scarborough

4.Oklahoma Sooners (9-0)

Previous ranking: 4

Week 9 result:52-21 win vs. Texas Tech

What's next:at Baylor (Nov. 13)

X factor:Alex Grinch. The Sooners' defensive coordinator got a solid performance from his beleaguered unit this week against Texas Tech, and should start getting some reinforcements back in a banged-up secondary for a stretch run. The offense looks like it's clicking. If Grinch's defense can do the same, the Sooners can make a playoff push.

What you need to know:Lincoln Riley is 13-2 against the Sooners' three remaining opponents -- Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State -- with both losses coming to the Cyclones in 2017 and 2020. -- Dave Wilson

5.Michigan State Spartans (8-0)

Previous ranking: 8

Week 9 result:37-33 win vs. Michigan

What's next:at Purdue (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Running back Kenneth Walker III only strengthened his Heisman candidacy against Michigan, rushing for 197 yards and five touchdowns in the 37-33 win. Walker now has 1,194 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns on the season.

What you need to know:Michigan State is 8-0 for the first time since 2015 and is in the hunt for a Big Ten championship berth and potentially a College Football Playoff berth as well. The defense showed its holes in the secondary against Michigan, but Walker and the offense put up enough points to put the game away. The Spartans got through this first test but still have Ohio State and Penn State to end the season if they want to accomplish their goals. -- Tom VanHaaren

6.Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1)

Previous ranking: 5

Week 9 result:33-24 win vs. Penn State

What's next:at Nebraska (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:Defensive end Tyreke Smith's return from injury is paying off, as he had a sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry to help trigger Ohio State's pass rush against Penn State. Along with Zach Harrison, J.T. Tuimoloau and others, Smith is helping the Buckeyes generate more consistent pressure than they did earlier this season.

What you need to know:Penn State provided some clues on how to slow down Ohio State's offense, although the Buckeyes still gained 466 yards. Finishing drives will be a focal point for Ryan Day's team as it travels to Nebraska this week. The Buckeyes haven't lost a road game under Day. -- Adam Rittenberg

7.Oregon Ducks(7-1)

Previous ranking: 7

Week 9 result:52-29 win vs. Colorado

What's next:at Washington (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:RB Byron Cardwell. With CJ Verdell out for the season, it has been Travis Dye who has largely filled the void out of the backfield for the Ducks. But on Saturday, Cardwell stepped up and ran the ball seven times for 127 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown run.

What you need to know:The first edition of the playoff rankings will give Oregon a sense of where it stands going into the final stretch of the season, but it won't change that the Ducks still have to win out. Next up, they head to Washington to face a struggling 3-4 Huskies team.-- Paolo Uggetti

8.Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1)

Previous ranking: 11

Week 9 result:44-34 win vs. North Carolina

What's next:vs. Navy (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:RB Kyren Williams. The sophomore back has put together his two best games of the season, rushing for a combined 340 yards and four touchdowns in wins over North Carolina and USC. He appeared to hurt his foot on Saturday and went into the medical tent, but he reemerged and kept going for a career-high 202 yards.

What you need to know:Notre Dame faces Navy next, in a game in which the Irish will be heavily favored. They have won five of the past six in the series, and Navy is struggling through a 2-6 season.-- Andrea Adelson

9.Michigan Wolverines (7-1)

Previous ranking: 6

Week 9 result:37-33 loss vs. Michigan State

What's next:vs. Indiana (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Cade McNamara had one of his best games against Michigan State, throwing for 383 yards and two touchdowns. McNamara finding success through the air will balance out Michigan's offense and give the team a better chance to finish the season on the right foot.

What you need to know:Michigan's loss to Michigan State doesn't mean the Wolverines' season is over. With games against Penn State and Ohio State, and with Michigan State and Ohio State still playing each other, there is still a scenario in which Michigan can reach the Big Ten championship game. The loss to Michigan State means that Michigan has no wiggle room, though, and it'll be difficult to get through both the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes. -- Tom VanHaaren

10. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (8-0)

Previous week: 13

Week 9 result:45-7 win vs. Duke

What's next:at North Carolina (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:WR A.T. Perry. Perry has formed quite a duo with leading receiver Jaquarii Roberson, a preseason All-ACC selection. After playing a reserve role a year ago, Perry has emerged as a reliable starter, with 600 yards receiving and a team-high eight touchdowns.

What you need to know:Wake Forest plays North Carolina in a nonconference game next Saturday. You read that right. In an effort to play each other more often, the programs scheduled a home-and-home nonconference series several years ago. This is the second in the series, at North Carolina. -- Andrea Adelson

11. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-1)

Previous week: 15

Week 9 result:55-3 win vs. Kansas

What's next:at West Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Spencer Sanders hasn't thrown an interception in the past two games and has thrown five touchdown passes and rushed for a touchdown. The Cowboys will need that kind of efficiency from him to stay in the Big 12 race.

What you need to know:With Iowa State losing, Oklahoma State is tied with Baylor for second place in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma. The Cowboys will be favored in their next three games and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Baylor. They face Oklahoma at home to end the regular season. -- Chris Low

12. Auburn Tigers (6-2)

Previous week: 18

Week 9 result:31-20 win vs. Ole Miss

What's next: at Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Bo Nix is on a roll. In his past two games against Arkansas and Ole Miss, he's 2-0 with three rushing touchdowns. During that time, he has completed 76% of his passes for three touchdowns and one interception.

What you need to know:Who would have guessed that after Auburn's rocky start to the season -- losing at Penn State and nearly getting beaten by Georgia State -- that we'd find the Tigers second in the SEC West standings in November? Give credit to new coach Bryan Harsin and his staff for developing Nix and fielding a team that is playing sound football and not beating itself. -- Alex Scarborough

13. Texas A&M Aggies (6-2)

Previous week: 14

Week 9 result:No game

What's next:vs. Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Zach Calzada. Haynes King, who was the Aggies' starter heading into the season, was injured in Week 2 against Colorado with a fractured leg and "mid-October" listed as a possible return. But while the Aggies waited, Calzada struggled mightily in losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State, then turned it around to throw three TDs and 285 yards against Alabama. Calzada has still thrown an interception in six straight games and completed just 51% of his throws against Missouri and South Carolina.

What you need to know:Since Texas A&M joined the SEC, its series against Auburn, which is up next, has been a close one. Auburn leads 5-4, but the Aggies lead the average scoring 32-29. Four of the games have come down to one score, with Auburn leading those 3-1. -- Dave Wilson

14. Baylor Bears (7-1)

Previous week: 16

Week 9 result:31-24 win vs. Texas

What's next:at TCU (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Abram Smith converted from reserve running back to linebacker last season but has thrived since moving back to offense in 2021. He has gained 898 yards at 7.2 yards per carry, and his fifth 100-yard performance of the season paced a 31-24 win over Texas on Saturday.

What you need to know:The win over the Horns moved Baylor to 7-1 for the season with only a 24-14 defeat at Oklahoma State marring a perfect record. If the Bears get past TCU in Fort Worth next Saturday, they could seize first place in the Big 12 on Nov. 13 when they welcome Oklahoma to town. -- Bill Connelly

15.Ole Miss Rebels(6-2)

Previous ranking: 10

Week 9 result:31-20 loss vs. Auburn

What's next:vs. Liberty (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:Keep an eye on the health of Matt Corral. Coach Lane Kiffin wants to protect his Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, who is playing on two injured ankles, and not run the ball so much with him, but without his top three receivers to move the chains, the Ole Miss offense needs Corral to make plays with his arm and his feet.

What you need to know:Emotions could be running high on Saturday as Hugh Freeze makes his return to Oxford as the coach at Liberty. Freeze beat Alabama twice and won a Sugar Bowl as the head coach at Ole Miss, but abruptly resigned in 2017 after school officials found he had made phone calls to a number associated with a female escort service. -- Alex Scarborough

16. UTSA Roadrunners (8-0)

Previous week: 23

Week 9 result:No game

What's next:at UTEP (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Frank Harris has certainly benefited from the attention opponents pay to star running back Sincere McCormick, but he heads into November having completed 69% of his passes with a 16-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio.

What you need to know:The 8-0 Roadrunners will find out what the CFP committee thinks about their achievements this week, but wherever they start out in the playoff rankings, they could be favored in each of their remaining regular-season games (and the C-USA championship) and will have a solid chance of finishing 13-0. Next up: a trip to El Paso to face UTEP. -- Bill Connelly

17.BYU Cougars (7-2)

Previous ranking: 25

Week 9 result:66-49 win vs. Virginia

What's next: vs. Idaho State (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET)

X factor:RB Tyler Allgeier. One of the best backs in college football the past two seasons, Allgeier turned in his best-ever performance against Virginia, running for 266 yards and a school-record five touchdowns.

What you need to know:BYU's 66 points against Virginia were more than it had in its previous three games combined (62) and gave the Cougars their fifth win against a Power 5 program this year. With Idaho State, Georgia Southern and USC remaining, a 10-2 regular season is well within the cards for BYU.-- Kyle Bonagura

18. Kentucky Wildcats (6-2)

Previous week: 12

Week 9 result:31-17 loss vs. Mississippi State

What's next:vs. Tennessee (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Will Levis had thrown six touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his previous four games, but he threw three picks in the 31-17 loss to Mississippi State. Levis attempted 28 passes, as the Kentucky running game produced just 66 yards.

What you need to know:Kentucky had an open date coming off its loss to No. 1 Georgia, but the time off didn't help the Wildcats' offense, which has hit the skids. Kentucky still has a chance to win 10 games in the regular season for the first time since 1977, but will have to win its last four against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State and Louisville.-- Chris Low

19.Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2)

Previous ranking: 9

Week 9 result:27-7 loss vs. Wisconsin

What's next:at Northwestern (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor:Iowa's run defense remains tremendous, and Jestin Jacobs, maybe the Hawkeyes' most disruptive linebacker, is a major reason. Even with Wisconsin leaning on the run after building an early lead in Madison on Saturday, Iowa allowed only 166 rushing yards on 48 carries.

What you need to know:The Hawkeyes' dreadful offense has turned the ball over seven times in two weeks, and they've lost two in a row because of it. They could still make a run to 10-2 -- there are no sure losses on the schedule -- but they're reeling. -- Bill Connelly

20. Houston Cougars (7-1)

Previous week: unranked

Week 9 result:44-38 win vs. SMU

What's next: at South Florida (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Marcus Jones. The corner/All-American kick returner has four special teams return touchdowns this year -- two on punts, two on kickoffs -- and nine for his career, including a winning 100-yarder with 17 seconds left to knock SMU from the rank of unbeatens. He added six tackles and an interception on Saturday.

What you need to know: After getting outscored 31-0 in the second half of a season-opening 38-21 loss to Texas Tech, Houston has rattled off seven straight wins. ESPN's FPI gives the Cougars a greater than 78% chance to win each of their last four games. -- Dave Wilson

21.Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (7-1)

Previous ranking: 24

Week 9 result:35-28 win vs. Troy

What's next:at Georgia Southern (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)

X factor:A somewhat slumping offense -- by Chanticleers standards -- could use a resurgent Isaiah Likely. After scoring eight touchdowns in four games, the talented tight end has failed to find the end zone in back-to-back games against Appalachian State and Troy.

What you need to know:Going on the road to Georgia Southern on Saturday should be a good opportunity for Coastal Carolina to get right offensively. The Eagles, who fired coach Chad Lunsford four games into the season, have lost two straight to drop to 2-5. -- Alex Scarborough

22.Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3)

Previous ranking: 20

Week 9 result:33-24 loss vs. Ohio State

What's next:at Maryland (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Sean Clifford always will give Penn State a chance when healthy. He spread the ball around nicely to Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington and others against Ohio State, and helped convert 11 of 18 third-down opportunities despite a virtually nonexistent run game.

What you need to know:Penn State had gone from No. 4 nationally to 5-3 on the season, despite a better effort against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions' streak without a Big Ten title will stretch to five seasons. They aim for bowl eligibility this week at Maryland before returning home to face Michigan.-- Adam Rittenberg

23.SMU Mustangs (7-1)

Previous week: 19

Week 9 result:44-37 loss vs. Houston

What's next:at Memphis (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:The corners. After giving up 412 yards and four touchdowns to Houston's Clayton Tune -- including completions of 55, 48 and 52 yards -- SMU will be tested by Memphis receiver Calvin Austin III, who is averaging 112.6 yards per game, with 57 catches for 910 yards and 8 TDs this year.

What you need to know:SMU's 30-27 win over Memphis last season ended a six-game losing streak to the Tigers. The Mustangs haven't won in Memphis since 2013, and the Tigers are 3-1 at home this year, with just a 31-28 loss to an undefeated UTSA team. -- Dave Wilson

24. Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns (7-1)

Previous week: unranked

Week 9 result: 45-0 win vs. Texas State

What's next: vs. Georgia State (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: QB Levi Lewis. The senior from Baton Rouge was effective against a weak Texas State team, throwing for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-0 rout.

What you need to know: Louisiana has won seven straight games since opening the year with a 20-point loss to Texas. The Ragin' Cajuns have dominated the Sun Belt West and face Georgia State and Troy in consecutive weeks before a nonconference showdown with Liberty. -- Matt Eisenberg

25. Fresno State Bulldogs (7-2)

Previous week: unranked

Week 9 result: 30-20 win vs. San Diego State

What's next: vs. Boise State (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor: RB Jordan Mims ran for a career-high 186 yards with two touchdowns to end San Diego State's unbeaten run. Over his past two games, he has totaled 320 rushing yards, 22 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.

What you need to know: Fresno State is back atop the Mountain West's West Division. The Bulldogs have games against Boise State, New Mexico and San Jose State left on the schedule. -- Matt Eisenberg

Dropped out: Pittsburgh 17, San Diego State 21, Iowa State 22

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