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

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Sunday, November 28, 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 (12-0)

Previous ranking: 1

Week 13 result:45-0 win vs. Georgia Tech

What's next:SEC championship game vs. Alabama (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:WR George Pickens. Pickens was one of the best returning wideouts in the country, but he suffered a torn ACL in spring practice back in March and has been out since. Against Georgia Tech on Saturday, he finally played and caught one pass for 5 yards. All signs point to him slowly getting more playing time in both the SEC championship game and the playoff, adding to the Bulldogs' treasure trove of talent at just the right time.

What you need to know:It's arguably the most anticipated game of the season. Georgia and Alabama for the SEC title -- and in Alabama's case, a spot in the playoff. While the Tide have been struggling to win convincingly of late, it feels like the Bulldogs haven't been tested much. Perhaps it's just that Georgia is so clearly ahead of everyone that it is too good to ever find itself in trouble. Maybe that will be the case Saturday, but one would think that a game of this magnitude, with this much talent on both sides, will be close. Buckle up. -- Paolo Uggetti

2.Michigan Wolverines (11-1)

Previous ranking: 6

Week 13 result:42-27 win vs. Ohio State

What's next:Big Ten championship game vs. Iowa (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:Running back Hassan Haskins helped motor the Wolverines past Ohio State with five touchdowns against the Buckeyes. When Haskins and Michigan are running the ball well, it's tough to beat them.

What you need to know:The Wolverines are in the Big Ten championship game for the first time under Jim Harbaugh and completed a remarkable turnaround season. Michigan had two wins in 2020 and finished this regular season with only one loss after beating Ohio State. If Michigan can win the Big Ten, it will go on to play in the College Football Playoff, which would be a first under Harbaugh as well. -- Tom VanHaaren

3.Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0)

Previous ranking: 4

Week 13 result:35-13 win vs. East Carolina

What's next:AAC championship game vs. Houston (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Desmond Ridder. The veteran quarterback has done everything he has needed to do to put the Bearcats in position to make the College Football Playoff. Ridder has thrown for over 300 yards in two of his past three games as he has seemingly hit his groove at the most important time of the year.

What you need to know:Cincinnati hosts Houston in the AAC championship game on Saturday, and that will be a tremendous home-field advantage. Ridder has never lost at Nippert Stadium, and the Bearcats have won 26 straight games at home. A win would complete a second straight undefeated regular season, but this year, the Bearcats would be in position to become the first Group of 5 school to make the College Football Playoff. -- Andrea Adelson

4.Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1)

Previous ranking: 3

Week 13 result:24-22 win vs. Auburn

What's next: SEC championship game vs. Georgia (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:A comeback win at Auburn doesn't cover up serious issues on the offensive line. If Alabama can give up seven sacks to the Tigers, how will it stop Georgia, which is arguably the best defense in college football?

What you need to know:Nick Saban switched out right tackle Damieon George for Chris Owens and center Darrian Dalcourt for Seth McLaughlin, which helped things in the second half against Auburn. While Owens might stick at right tackle, the future at center could come down to the health of Dalcourt's injured ankle, which Saban said limited him in the Iron Bowl. -- Alex Scarborough

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1)

Previous week: 7

Week 13 result:37-33 win vs. Oklahoma

What's next: Big 12 championship game vs. Baylor (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:QB Spencer Sanders. Coach Mike Gundy was pleased with Sanders' performance against Oklahoma despite two interceptions, saying he executed the game plan. His 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter stopped the Cowboys' slide -- OU had scored 16 straight points to take a 33-24 lead -- and he finished with 93 yards rushing. Against an opportunistic Baylor defense, Gundy will continue to find ways to keep Sanders on the move.

What you need to know:The Cowboys, angling for a College Football Playoff berth, have four wins over an opponent ranked in the AP Top 25. Only Georgia and Alabama can match that. But OSU is the only FBS team with two wins over teams ranked in this week's CFP top 10 (including Baylor, whom the Cowboys beat 24-14 on Oct. 2). -- Dave Wilson

6.Notre Dame Fighting Irish(11-1)

Previous ranking: 5

Week 13 result:45-14 win vs. Stanford

What's next:Regular season finished

X factor:QB Jack Coan concluded the regular season with one of his best games of the season, throwing for 26-of-35 with 345 yards in a rout of Stanford. It was his first 300-yard passing game since throwing for 366 against Fresno State in the season opener.

What you need to know:At 11-1, can Notre Dame still find a way into the College Football Playoff? Consider this: If Georgia blows out Alabama, Iowa routs Michigan and Baylor wins ugly against Oklahoma State, the Irish would have a pretty good case.-- Kyle Bonagura

7.Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2)

Previous ranking: 2

Week 13 result:42-27 loss vs. Michigan

What's next:Regular season finished

X factor:C.J. Stroud has had better performances than the Michigan game but might have still helped himself in a wide-open Heisman Trophy race. He completed 69% of his passes for 394 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, keeping a one-dimensional offense in the game for a while.

What you need to know:Ohio State's first Big Ten loss under head coach Ryan Day means Michigan has won the Big Ten East Division and will advance to the league title game. The Buckeyes likely will fall out of the top four and probably out of CFP contention. A New Year's Six bowl could be coming for Ohio State, but it will feel like a hollow prize for a program that measures itself with Big Ten titles and CFP appearances. -- Adam Rittenberg

8.Ole Miss Rebels(10-2)

Previous ranking: 8

Week 13 result:31-21 win vs. Mississippi State

What's next:Regular season finished

X factor:WR Dontario Drummond. The senior had a season high in receptions (14) along with 138 yards, the second highest he has had all season. Having a star quarterback with a go-to target he can rely on in a rivalry game is a recipe for success.

What you need to know:If QBMatt Corral is healthy, he's planning on playing in the Rebels' New Year's Six bowl. Corral had announced on Nov. 19 that this year would be his last, and while he's expected to be one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects of the draft, he doesn't plan to opt out of one last game. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

9. Baylor Bears (10-2)

Previous week: 9

Week 13 result: 27-24 win vs. Texas Tech

What's next:Big 12 championship game vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday, noon ET)

X factor:The RB duo of Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner. The Bears survived an upset threat from Texas Tech with their backup quarterback thanks to a heaping helping of these two. They combined for 48 rushes and receptions for 295 yards and two touchdowns.

What you need to know:Thanks to their win over Tech and Oklahoma State's win over Oklahoma, the Bears are heading to the Big 12 championship for the second time in three years. In that span, they've gone 11-3, 2-7 and 10-2. Totally normal stuff. -- Bill Connelly

10.Oregon Ducks(10-2)

Previous ranking: 11

Week 13 result:38-28 win vs. Oregon State

What's next:Pac-12 championship game vs. Utah (Friday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:Anthony Brown. It's no surprise or secret by now: Oregon can win without a great game from Brown, but when it gets a good one, the Ducks can be exceptional. The senior quarterback threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 83 and a third score while completing 23 of his 28 passes in his last game at Autzen Stadium.

What you need to know:Oregon is one win from going to the Rose Bowl for the second time in three years. Of course, the team standing in its way in Las Vegas next week is Utah, which trounced the Ducks 38-7 last week. But to hear the Ducks talk about it Saturday night, they're relishing the opportunity to take another crack at a team they believe they can beat. It may not be a playoff berth they're fighting for anymore, but they'll certainly settle for a conference title with a side of revenge. -- Paolo Uggetti

11.Michigan State Spartans (10-2)

Previous ranking: 12

Week 13 result:30-27 win vs. Penn State

What's next:Regular season finished

X factor:Jayden Reed. His fourth-down catch in the corner of the end zone on fourth-and-15 was particularly impressive considering he watched the end of the Ohio State game with a boot on his foot. He had six catches for 89 yards against PSU and snagged the game-clinching onside kick.

What you need to know:Michigan State earned its first 10-win season since 2017 and has a shot at a New Year's Six bowl. -- Heather Dinich

12.BYU Cougars (10-2)

Previous ranking: 13

Week 13 result:35-31 win vs. USC

What's next: Regular season finished

X factor:RB Tyler Allgeier. The former walk-on continues to be one of the best running backs in college football. He has rushed for 739 yards over the past five games.

What you need to know:While it's still likely the Cougars will wind up in the Independence Bowl, the chaos this week showed how quickly things can change. If enough results break in BYU's favor next week and the committee provides some help, there could be an at-large New Year's Six bowl waiting for the Cougars. -- Kyle Bonagura

13.Oklahoma Sooners (10-2)

Previous ranking: 10

Week 13 result:37-33 loss vs. Oklahoma State

What's next:Regular season finished

X factor:Motivation. It has been a slog of a season for Oklahoma, which struggled uncharacteristically on offense, went through a quarterback controversy and had to deal with speculation about Lincoln Riley and the LSU job. After six straight Big 12 titles, the Sooners will now likely end up in the Alamo Bowl. Will the Sooners' hearts be in it?

What you need to know:When Oklahoma State or Baylor is crowned Big 12 champion on Saturday, it will end the Sooners' reign atop the conference at 2,199 consecutive days. -- Dave Wilson

14. Utah Utes (9-3)

Previous week: 16

Week 13 result:28-13 win vs. Colorado

What's next: Pac-12 championship game vs. Oregon (Friday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Cameron Rising. The Utes have been a completely different team since Rising was inserted in the loss to San Diego State on Sept. 19, just before Pac-12 play began. The result: an 8-1 conference record, matching the best mark by any team in the conference since the Utes arrived in 2011.

What you need to know:Oregon's win against Oregon State sets up a rematch of a lopsided Utah win against the Ducks in Salt Lake City a week ago in the Pac-12 title game. A win would send the Utes to their first-ever Rose Bowl, while a loss would result in an Alamo Bowl berth.-- Kyle Bonagura

15.Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2)

Previous ranking: 17

Week 13 result:28-21 win vs. Nebraska

What's next:Big Ten championship game vs. Michigan (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods has had an excellent year, upgrading the all-important third phase for an Iowa team that lacks explosiveness on offense and needs different ways to win. Iowa's special teams accounted for four field goals, and a Joe Evansblocked punt led to a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that fueled the comeback. Standout punter Tory Taylorhad only two chances Saturday but averaged 44 yards per boot. Woods is one of the nation's best special teams coordinators and has shown it all season.

What you need to know:Iowa is headed to the Big Ten championship game for the first time since 2016, thanks to one rival (Minnesota) taking down another (Wisconsin) on Saturday. The Hawkeyes aim for their first Big Ten title since 2004 and their first outright title since 1985. They face Michigan, making its first Big Ten championship game appearance. The teams' past three games have been decided by seven points or fewer. -- Adam Rittenberg

16. Houston Cougars (11-1)

Previous week: 19

Week 13 result:45-17 win vs. UConn

What's next: AAC championship game vs. Cincinnati (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:Defensive coordinator Doug Belk. The Cougars have gone from allowing 32.0 points per game and 5.8 yards per play in 2020 to 19.8 and 4.7, respectively, this year, transforming themselves into one of the most aggressive units in the country. Belk was named a Broyles Award semifinalist last week, and for good reason.

What you need to know:Since losing to Texas Tech in Week 1, UH has won 11 straight games, and if Dana Holgorsen's ultra-aggressive Cougars upset Cincinnati in next week's AAC championship, they would likely earn their first New Year's Six bowl bid since 2015. Not bad for a team that won just seven games over the previous two seasons. -- Bill Connelly

17. Pittsburgh Panthers (10-2)

Previous week: 20

Week 13 result:31-14 win vs. Syracuse

What's next: ACC championship game vs. Wake Forest (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Kenny Pickett. Pitt is only as good as Pickett is, and he was the player they needed him to be against Syracuse. The Heisman contender finished with 209 yards passing, four touchdowns and just one interception.

What you need to know:The Panthers are off to the ACC championship to face off against Wake Forest, with the winner earning a New Year's Six bowl spot. Pitt, which joined the conference in 2013, has never won the conference title. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

18. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-2)

Previous week: 21

Week 13 result:41-10 win vs. Boston College

What's next:ACC championship game vs. Pitt (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Sam Hartman. Wake Forest has truly been outstanding on offense this season, and it all starts with Hartman, who has accounted for 44 total touchdowns this year. Wake Forest has scored over 500 points this season for the first time in school history. Only Clemson and Florida State have hit that mark in the ACC.

What you need to know:Wake Forest is playing in its second-ever ACC championship game and the first since 2006. That season, the Demon Deacons beat Georgia Tech in the title game to win their first ACC title since 1970.-- Andrea Adelson

19. San Diego State Aztecs (11-1)

Previous week: 22

Week 13 result:27-16 win vs. Boise State

What's next:Mountain West championship game vs. Utah State (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Jordon Brookshire came off the bench with San Diego State down 13 against Boise State and led the Aztecs back to a comfortable 27-16 win. He completed 11 of 15 passes and threw for 192 yards in his first appearance since Oct. 15.

What you need to know:The win against Boise State clinched a spot for San Diego State in the Mountain West title game. The Aztecs will host Utah State on Dec. 4, where a win would give SDSU 12 wins for the first time in school history.-- Kyle Bonagura

20. Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns(11-1)

Previous week: 23

Week 13 result:21-16 win vs. UL Monroe

What's next:Sun Belt championship game vs. Appalachian State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Levi Lewis. He didn't throw for three touchdowns like he had done in three of his previous four games, but he had a 20-yard score and played turnover-free football as the Ragin' Cajuns won their 11th straight game.

What you need to know:Louisiana is undefeated since its season-opening loss to Texas. The Ragin' Cajuns ran through the Sun Belt and face Appalachian State, a team they dismantled 41-13 in mid-October, in the conference championship game. Over the past three seasons, they have won 32 of their past 37 games.-- Matt Eisenberg

21. NC State Wolfpack (9-3)

Previous week: 24

Week 13 result:34-30 win vs. North Carolina

What's next: Regular season finished

X factor:QB Devin Leary. The ACC has excelled at QB play this season, so it might be easy to forget how great Leary has been for the Wolfpack. Not only did Leary throw the winning touchdown pass to Emeka Emezie to beat rival UNC on Friday night; he also broke Phillip Rivers' single-season touchdown record, with 35 on the year. In all, Leary has thrown for 3,433 yards on the season to lead the Wolfpack to nine wins.

What you need to know:NC State has a chance to get to double-digit wins for the first time since 2002 and just the second time in school history. Under Dave Doeren, NC State has now won nine games three times in the past five seasons.-- Andrea Adelson

22. Clemson Tigers (9-3)

Previous week: unranked

Week 13 result:30-0 win vs. South Carolina

What's next: Regular season finished

X factor:RB Will Shipley. The freshman finished the game with 19 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. His 128 yards tied a career high that he set on Oct. 30 against Florida State.

What you need to know: The Tigers will be missing out on the ACC championship game for the first time since 2014. Dabo Swinney's Tigers won their last five games of the season after a surprising 4-3 start and, at the very least, look somewhat closer to what was expected of them coming into the season. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

23. Arkansas Razorbacks (8-4)

Previous week: 25

Week 13 result:34-17 win vs. Missouri

What's next: Regular season finished

X factor:QB KJ Jefferson. In Arkansas' past five games -- four wins and a near-upset of Alabama -- Jefferson has completed 74% of his passes with 10 touchdowns, no interceptions and an outstanding 184.8 passer rating.

What you need to know:After winning just seven games in three years, the Razorbacks took on one of the hardest schedules in the country and finished 8-4 in Sam Pittman's second year in charge. A bowl victory would give them nine wins for the first time in a decade. -- Bill Connelly

24. Texas A&M Aggies (8-4)

Previous week: 14

Week 13 result:27-24 loss vs. LSU

What's next:Regular season finished

X factor:DL Micheal Clemons, The defensive lineman entered Saturday with 3.5 sacks on the season and finished the day with four sacks against LSU. When Clemons didn't get to LSU QB Max Johnson, he was either applying pressure or allowing his teammates to get to him instead.

What you need to know:Texas A&M finishes the season having lost its last two SEC contests (Ole Miss on Nov. 13). The Aggies will find out their bowl fate on Dec. 5. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

25. Kentucky Wildcats (9-3)

Previous week: unranked

Week 13 result:52-23 win vs. Louisville

What's next: Regular season finished

X factor:Sure, running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. had his fourth straight 100-yard game, but quarterback Will Levis has wheels, too. A week after throwing for 419 yards and four touchdowns against New Mexico State, the junior from Madison, Connecticut, ran for 113 yards and four scores.

What you need to know: Kentucky won six straight games to start the year, lost three in a row and then finished with three straight wins. A bowl-game win would give Mark Stoops his second 10-win season in four years.-- Matt Eisenberg

Dropped out: UTSA (15), Wisconsin (18)

Related Video