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

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Sunday, November 21, 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 (11-0)

Previous ranking: 1

Week 12 result:56-7 win vs. Charleston Southern

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

X factor:TE Brock Bowers. Watching Bowers catch two short touchdown passes Saturday (he has a total of six on the season) made me believe that he's exactly the kind of player that will be good for at least one clutch touchdown grab in the red zone when Georgia starts playing meaningful games again. Also, his name is perfect for a tight end.

What you need to know: Rivalry week takes the Bulldogs to Atlanta for a matchup against Georgia Tech that won't be as easy as facing Charleston Southern, but should be nothing but a small speed bump Georgia has to get through in order to make it to the SEC title game the following week with an undefeated record.-- Paolo Uggetti

2.Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1)

Previous ranking: 5

Week 12 result:56-7 win vs. Michigan State

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

X factor:Quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 432 yards and six touchdowns against Michigan State, becoming the first quarterback to throw five touchdowns against the Spartans in a first half since Drew Brees did it in 1999. He then beat his own record and became the first quarterback to ever throw six touchdowns against the Spartans.

What you need to know:The Buckeyes' stifling defense held running back Kenneth Walker III to just 24 rushing yards in the first half and 25 total yards in the game. That's important, because Michigan has a talented group of running backs that have had a ton of success all season. If the Ohio State defense can have as much success against Michigan as it did against Michigan State, the Wolverines are in for a long game. -- Tom VanHaaren

3.Alabama Crimson Tide (10-1)

Previous ranking: 2

Week 12 result:42-35 win vs. Arkansas

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

X factor:QB Bryce Young. Not only is Young the ultimate X factor, but he's playing his way toward being Alabama's second straight Heisman Trophy winner. He torched Arkansas with 559 passing yards and five touchdown passes. In his past five games, Young has thrown 19 touchdown passes and has 38 on the season with just three interceptions.

What you need to know: Alabama has assured that it will play in the SEC championship game for the fourth straight year, but a trip to rival Auburn awaits this coming Saturday in the Iron Bowl before the Tide can start thinking about their matchup with No. 1 Georgia in Atlanta. If the Tide are going to make it back to the College Football Playoff, they will likely need to win these next two against Auburn and Georgia. -- Chris Low

4.Cincinnati Bearcats (11-0)

Previous ranking: 3

Week 12 result:48-14 win vs. SMU

What's next:at East Carolina (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Desmond Ridder. Ridder accounted for five total touchdowns in the 48-14 win over SMU -- three passing, one rushing and one receiving. He is believed to be the first player in school history to score all three ways. As the face of the program, the Bearcats need him to keep delivering, especially now that they are nearing another conference championship.

What you need to know: Cincinnati has already clinched a spot in the AAC championship game. To host it, the Bearcats need to win at East Carolina on Friday. The last time they played at East Carolina, Cincinnati needed to erase a 12-point deficit with nine minutes remaining and won on a 32-yard field goal as time expired.-- Andrea Adelson

5.Notre Dame Fighting Irish(10-1)

Previous ranking: 6

Week 12 result:55-0 win vs. Georgia Tech

What's next:at Stanford (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:Quarterback Jack Coan has been a different player since Notre Dame incorporated more tempo into the passing game after its open week. Coan continued to show accuracy and production against Georgia Tech, passing for 285 yards and two touchdowns on 75% completion in a 55-0 win.

What you need to know: Notre Dame remains very much alive on the fringes of the playoff conversation. The Irish need help but likely will finish 11-1 with solid wins against Wisconsin, Purdue and Virginia. The profile might not be strong enough, but Notre Dame has been mostly dominant since its great escape against Virginia Tech on Oct. 9 in Blacksburg. The Irish have outscored their past three opponents 117-9. -- Adam Rittenberg

6.Michigan Wolverines (10-1)

Previous ranking: 8

Week 12 result:59-18 win vs. Maryland

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

X factor:Freshman running back Donovan Edwards is the latest young player to give Michigan's offense a jolt. Edwards, who had just two receptions for 14 yards all season entering Saturday, torched Maryland for 170 yards on 10 receptions, including a 77-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. He had six more receptions than any other Wolverines player in the rout.

What you need to know:Michigan has responded well from an infuriating loss at Michigan State to put itself in position for goals that were unthinkable last December, when coach Jim Harbaugh's future seemed in doubt. The 10-1 Wolverines get Ohio State in the Big House with the Big Ten East Division on the line and a chance to advance to their first league championship game. They haven't beaten Ohio State since 2011 and will need their most complete performance, especially on defense, to overcome Heisman Trophy front-runner Stroudand the Buckeyes. -- Adam Rittenberg

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-1)

Previous week: 9

Week 12 result:23-0 win vs. Texas Tech

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

X factor:The entire secondary. The Cowboy front seven has been so good this year that it has almost distracted us from the work of a physical and dynamic secondary. Corners Christian Holmes and Jarrick Bernard-Converse and safeties Tanner McCalister, Jason Taylor II and Kolby Harvell-Peel limited Texas Tech to 10 completions for 83 yards on Saturday. They've been excellent all year.

What you need to know: The Pokes are in the Big 12 championship, and at 10-1, they're still alive in the CFP race if they get some breaks over the next two weeks. After years of playing some of the most explosive offense in the country, OSU is now wholly defined by an equally explosive defense.-- Bill Connelly

8.Ole Miss Rebels(9-2)

Previous ranking: 10

Week 12 result:31-17 win vs. Vanderbilt

What's next:at Mississippi State (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Matt Corral. The Rebels go as Corral goes. Despite a poor defensive showing (454 yards allowed) against one of the more lackluster teams in the entire FBS, the game was never in question. Corral completed 27 of his 36 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns.

What you need to know:The Rebels are set up for one of the most anticipated Egg Bowls in recent memory in Starkville. A matchup between offenses led by Corral and Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers would undoubtedly be a good time, but the Rebels will have to do better on third downs (they were 1-for-8 against Vandy) against the Bulldogs. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

9. Baylor Bears (9-2)

Previous week: 11

Week 12 result: 20-10 win vs. Kansas State

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

X factor:QB Blake Shapen. After losing starting QBGerry Bohanon late in the first half, Shapen was tasked with holding the lead that Bohanon built, and he did just that. Shapen finished the game 16-of-21 with 137 yards passing.

What you need to know: Keep an eye on Bohanon's injury. Baylor faces Texas Tech next week, which isn't necessarily one of its bigger tests of the year. But Bohanon has been solid for this Baylor offense this year, both in the air and on the ground. At the very least, Shapen showed in his small sample that he's not going to sink the ship.-- Harry Lyles Jr.

10.Oklahoma Sooners (10-1)

Previous ranking: 12

Week 12 result:28-21 win vs. Iowa State

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

X factor:QB Caleb Williams. In the freshman's first three starts, he threw for 12 touchdowns and one interception, completing more than 75% of his passes against TCU, Kansas and Texas Tech. But in the past two weeks against Baylor and Iowa State, he's completed 17 of 36 passes for one TD and two INTs. Against Oklahoma State's stellar defense, the Sooners will need him to regain early season form.

What you need to know: Oklahoma is 6-0 and averaging 46.8 points per game against the Cowboys since Lincoln Riley arrived as offensive coordinator in 2015 and subsequently took over as head coach. But coming into Saturday, Oklahoma State ranked third in defensive efficiency this season behind Georgia and Wisconsin. -- Dave Wilson

11.Oregon Ducks(9-2)

Previous ranking: 4

Week 12 result:38-7 loss vs. Utah

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

X factor:WR Devon Williams. Of the Ducks' top four receivers in terms of production this season, Williams will be the only one available the rest of the way following injuries to Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd, and the departure of Mycah Pittman.

What you need to know: The Ducks are out of the College Football Playoff conversation and still need to win against Oregon State in order to ensure passage to the Pac-12 title game. To go from the CFP to the Alamo Bowl in a matter of weeks would be quite the fall.-- Kyle Bonagura

12.Michigan State Spartans (9-2)

Previous ranking: 7

Week 12 result:56-7 loss vs. Ohio State

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

X factor:Walkeris what makes the offense go for the Spartans. However, Ohio State bottled him up, and the Spartans trailed by so many points that they had to try to pass their way out of it.

What you need to know: Losing to Ohio State takes away the chance for a berth in the Big Ten championship, as the Spartans now have two conference losses with one game remaining. That doesn't mean this wasn't a productive season or a positive one for the future of the program. After only winning two games in 2020, Michigan State turned itself into a contender with a Heisman candidate and a ton of momentum to build on going forward. -- Tom VanHaaren

13.BYU Cougars (9-2)

Previous ranking: 14

Week 12 result:34-17 win vs. Georgia Southern

What's next: at USC (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:BYU's offense has been successful primarily because of how good Tyler Allgeier has been all season, but QB Jaren Hall's ability to limit turnovers and keep defenses honest has played a major role -- especially over the last month.

What you need to know: There is an outside chance BYU could wind up in a New Year's Six bowl, but it's highly unlikely. A road trip to USC this week will cap the regular season before a trip to the Independence Bowl awaits.-- Kyle Bonagura

14. Texas A&M Aggies (8-3)

Previous week: 16

Week 12 result:52-3 win vs. Prairie View A&M

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

X factor:QB Zach Calzada. Calzada will have to be decisive against an LSU defense that has made adjustments since its bye week, holding Alabama to 20 points and Arkansas to 13 in regulation after ratcheting up the pressure by bringing more blitzes.

What you need to know: LSU won seven straight against the Aggies before Jimbo Fisher arrived. Fisher is 2-1 with a 74-72 win in seven overtimes in 2018 and a 20-7 victory last year. The Aggies suffered a 50-7 loss to LSU's national title team in 2019. The Tigers need a win over the Aggies this year to become bowl eligible in Ed Orgeron's final season. -- Dave Wilson

15. UTSA Roadrunners (11-0)

Previous week: 15

Week 12 result: 34-31 win vs. UAB

What's next:at North Texas (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET)

X factor:Destiny? You could certainly say it feels like it. UAB had the Roadrunners on the ropes in the fourth quarter, and faced a fourth-and-1 on their own 42 with 1:43 left. Instead of going for it, the Blazers took a delay of game, and punted the ball away to UTSA. The Roadrunners then went on a seven-play drive that went for 77 yards in 1:03, with the game-winning touchdown coming on a tipped pass from QB Frank Harris to TE Oscar Cardenas to keep their perfect season alive.

What you need to know: The Roadrunners are one game away from a perfect regular season. They'll be looking for their 12th win next Saturday at North Texas. With their win over UAB, they clinched the Conference USA's West Division title. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

16. Utah Utes (8-3)

Previous week: 24

Week 12 result:38-7 win vs. Oregon

What's next: vs. Colorado (Friday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:WR/PR Britain Covey. Covey's first punt return for a touchdown for the Utes came in 2015. His latest punctuated a dominant first half in a 38-7 win against Oregon -- and he's still eligible to return in 2022.

What you need to know: The Utes clinched the Pac-12 South with the win as Kyle Whittingham became the school's all-time win leader (142). They play Colorado this week before the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 3, where a Rose Bowl berth will be on the line.-- Kyle Bonagura

17.Iowa Hawkeyes (9-2)

Previous ranking: 18

Week 12 result:33-23 win vs. Illinois

What's next:at Nebraska (Friday, 1:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Charlie Jones gave Iowa a huge spark with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown after Illinois had stormed out to a 10-0 lead. Jones finished with 144 kick return yards and added a 13-yard punt return to help improve Iowa's field position. Iowa's often sputtering offense needs any help it can get, and Jones provided some Saturday.

What you need to know: Wisconsin's win means Iowa must beat Nebraska on Friday and hope the Badgers falter against Minnesota the following day to win the Big Ten West Division. Iowa can secure its first 10-win regular season since 2015 by beating the Huskers for the seventh straight season. The struggles on offense and at quarterback are worth watching against a Nebraska team that can pile up points but also is prone to turnovers, Iowa's speciality on defense. -- Adam Rittenberg

18. Wisconsin Badgers (8-3)

Previous week: 19

Week 12 result:35-28 win vs. Nebraska

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

X factor:RB Braelon Allen. A week after rushing for 173 yards and three scores against Northwestern, the freshman went for 228 and three more scores against Nebraska, and the Badgers needed it. Nebraska put up 452 yards and 28 points on the stout Wisconsin defense, but Allen's heroics helped in a 35-28 win.

What you need to know: Since a 1-3 start, the Badgers have won seven games in a row. With a win at Minnesota next, they would clinch their seventh appearance in the Big Ten championship. What a turnaround. -- Bill Connelly

19. Houston Cougars (10-1)

Previous week: 17

Week 12 result:31-13 win vs. Memphis

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

X factor:WR Nathaniel Dell. Dell, a Florida native, went to Alabama A&M out of high school in 2018, then transferred and spent 2019 at Independence Community College. He was mostly overlooked, choosing Houston over Central Michigan, New Mexico State and Old Dominion, but had his fourth 100-yard game of the season on Saturday, second-most in the AAC.

What you need to know: With just 1-9 UConn remaining, the Cougars have already notched their first 10-win season since 2015 and have clinched a spot in the AAC championship game. Houston's passing game gets a lot of attention under Dana Holgorsen, but this team is tough. Its 22 rushing touchdowns between the tackles is tied for tops in the FBS, and the defense has recorded 20 takeaways this season, second in the conference behind Cincy. -- Dave Wilson

20. Pittsburgh Panthers (9-2)

Previous week: 20

Week 12 result:48-28 win vs. Virginia

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

X factor:WR Jordan Addison. Quarterback Kenny Pickett's 2021 star turn couldn't have happened without his leading receiver, who painted a masterpiece in Saturday's win over Virginia: 19 targets, 14 catches, 202 yards, four touchdowns and a 39-yard punt return for good measure.

What you need to know: The Panthers locked up a spot in the ACC championship with their 48-38 defeat of the Cavaliers. They are a rousing 9-2, and only losses by a combined seven points -- 44-41 to Western Michigan, 38-34 to Miami -- have sullied a potential CFP bid. -- Bill Connelly

21. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9-2)

Previous week: 13

Week 12 result:48-27 loss vs. Clemson

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

X factor:Wake Forest's offensive line. The Demon Deacons had allowed just 17 sacks in 10 games entering the Clemson contest, but they were no match for the Tigers' pass rush. Quarterback Sam Hartman was under duress for much of the game and sacked seven times.

What you need to know: Despite the 48-27 loss to Clemson, Wake Forest can still secure a spot in the ACC championship game with a win this Saturday on the road against Boston College. The Demon Deacons have scored points all year but need to shore up their defense. They've given up a total of 148 points in their past three games. -- Chris Low

22. San Diego State Aztecs (10-1)

Previous week: 23

Week 12 result:28-20 win vs. UNLV

What's next: vs. Boise State (Friday, noon ET)

X factor:P Matt Araiza. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Araiza's impact continues to be one of the most fascinating stories in college football. He's having what should go down as the best season ever for a punter, and that needs to be embraced at every opportunity.

What you need to know: The Aztecs need to beat Boise State this week to clinch a spot in the Mountain West title game. If they lose and Fresno State beats San Jose State, it would be the Bulldogs that win the West Division.-- Kyle Bonagura

23. Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns(10-1)

Previous week: 22

Week 12 result:42-14 win vs. Liberty

What's next: vs. UL Monroe (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:LB Chauncey Manac. Louisiana sacked Liberty quarterback Malik Willis seven times, with Manac accounting for four of them. His sacks resulted in losses of 12, 10, 9 and 13 yards. The Ragin' Cajuns defense forced six total turnovers in a dominant 42-14 win.

What you need to know: The Ragin' Cajuns have won 10 straight since a season-opening loss against then-nationally ranked Texas. With the Sun Belt West locked up, they face UL Monroe next week before facing Appalachian State for the Sun Belt championship on Dec. 4.-- Matt Eisenberg

24. NC State Wolfpack (8-3)

Previous week: 25

Week 12 result:41-17 win vs. Syracuse

What's next: vs. North Carolina (Friday, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor:LB Drake Thomas. The Wolfpack have gotten to 8-3 thanks first and foremost to a physical, aggressive defense, and Thomas is the engine -- he leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, and he was the team leader in all of those categories against Syracuse, too.

What you need to know: Only once in their history have the Pack won double-digit games: their 11-win 2002 campaign with Philip Rivers. Despite two gut-wrenching losses, they stand at 8-3, and both their 10-win and ACC Atlantic hopes remain alive heading into Rivalry Week. -- Bill Connelly

25. Arkansas Razorbacks (7-4)

Previous week: 21

Week 12 result:42-35 loss vs. Alabama

What's next: vs. Missouri (Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:WR Treylon Burks. The sixth-ranked wideout in Todd McShay's 2022 NFL draft rankings showed out against Alabama with eight catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns; however, he left late in the game with an injury.

What you need to know: Arkansas started the season on a four-game winning streak, lost three straight and then won three in a row before falling to Alabama. The Razorbacks look to end the regular season on a high note against Missouri on Friday.-- Matt Eisenberg