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

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Sunday, September 19, 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 (3-0)

Previous ranking: 1

Through 10 quarters this season, Alabama looked borderline invincible, dominating Miami, Mercer and Florida for a half. But then the Gators came to life in the second half on Saturday and put the scare of a lifetime into the Crimson Tide. Suddenly, the offensive line wasn't great, the defense couldn't stop the run and a normally disciplined team committed a slew of penalties. The offensive line just couldn't handle the noise inside the Swamp, and that could be an issue moving forward with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn in the future. -- Alex Scarborough

2.Georgia Bulldogs (3-0)

Previous ranking: 2

Through three games, good luck in finding a better defense than Georgia's. The Dawgs will surely face more explosive offenses, but they've given up just two touchdowns to this point -- both coming during garbage time -- capped by a 40-13 beatdown of South Carolina on Saturday. Georgia's front seven has smothered opponents' running games and forced them to pass, which will be the Dawgs' approach going forward. Georgia next travels to Vanderbilt before getting surprising Arkansas at home and then going back on the road against Auburn. If the Dawgs continue to grow on offense, their defense has championship material written all over it. -- Chris Low

3.Oregon Ducks(3-0)

Previous ranking: 4

The Ducks are still riding high after their win two weeks ago against Ohio State and head into the Pac-12 opener against Arizona as the only undefeated team in the conference. If the Ducks have trouble with the Wildcats, then the first few weeks of the season will have been a mirage. They're the clear favorite in Pac-12, and preseason talk of a potential College Football Playoff run has been validated, so far. -- Kyle Bonagura

4.Oklahoma Sooners (3-0)

Previous ranking: 3

After OU held off an upset-minded Nebraska team seeking to revive its glory years when the Sooners and Huskers battled for national titles, the Sooners get West Virginia at home on Saturday. The Sooners are 8-0 against the Mountaineers since they joined the Big 12, including a 52-14 win in Norman the last time they played in 2019. Riley promised after the Nebraska game that the OU offense is close to returning to the dynamic attack he has delivered in the past. The Mountaineers might just offer a cure: The Sooners have averaged 52 points per game in their past five meetings. -- Dave Wilson

5.Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0)

Previous ranking: 5

One more potential tuneup, and then the real work begins. Iowa moved to 3-0 -- and stretched its winning streak to nine games -- with an easy 30-7 win over Kent State on Saturday. It now prepares to face Colorado State. The physical Rams are coming off of their most impressive performance of the season (a 22-6 win over the Toledo team that nearly beat Notre Dame), but few teams out-physical Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes. After CSU comes a trip to 3-0 Maryland, followed by a visit to Penn State. Iowa is rolling, but there are plenty of tests on the horizon. -- Bill Connelly

6.Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0)

Previous ranking: 10

After a taxing stretch to open the season, Penn State must avoid a letdown against a solid FCS opponent in Villanova, which is 3-0 and already has 11 takeaways. Quarterback Sean Clifford has clearly improved in coordinator Mike Yurcich's offense and must continue to look downfield for wide receivers Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, as well as a talented collection of tight ends whom coach James Franklin wants to feature every week. A veteran defense hasn't always been dominant in the red zone, but it has been strong and must continue to grow as Big Ten play resumes the following week with Indiana visiting Beaver Stadium. -- Adam Rittenberg

7.Texas A&M Aggies (3-0)

Previous ranking: 7

The Aggies stumbled against Colorado in its second game, down late in the fourth quarter, but eventually scored the go-ahead touchdown for the 10-7 win. The team bounced back convincingly against New Mexico. Texas A&M needed a strong win before taking on an Arkansas team that just beat Texas 40-21 in Week 2. That game will start a tough stretch of conference games with Alabama two weeks later, so any bit of confidence will help. The Aggies are trying to push forward to another level, and these next few games will gauge where they currently stand. -- Tom VanHaaren

8.Cincinnati Bearcats (3-0)

Previous ranking: 8

Cincinnati made plenty of mistakes in its win against Indiana and it was the second game in a row in which it started slow in the first half. The Bearcats came back in the second half to beat the Hoosiers and stay undefeated. This was a good test for Cincinnati before the bye week to help prepare for Notre Dame the following week. As a top-10 team, Cincinnati is going to be scrutinized heavier than normal, so a win against Notre Dame will either provide some breathing room and momentum going forward, or bring on criticism. -- Tom VanHaaren

9.Clemson Tigers (2-1)

Previous ranking: 6

Clemson's offense has scored a combined 17 points against two FBS defenses this year. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has yet to generate a passer rating over 125, even including Week 2's game against FCS foe South Carolina State. Now the Tigers have to visit an NC State team that has allowed just 31 total points in three games. Clemson's own defense has yet to allow a touchdown and is the reason the Tigers remain the favorite to win the ACC. But following a narrow win over Georgia Tech, the tests will only get stiffer until Clemson's offense finds its bearings. -- Bill Connelly

10.Ohio State Buckeyes (2-1)

Previous ranking: 9

The Buckeyes lost to Oregon in Week 2, then came out flat against Tulsa and ended up in a dog fight with a team that was 0-2 coming into the game. There were mistakes across the board for Ohio State with penalties and issues in coverage on defense, plus quarterback C.J. Stroud didn't play his best. The team has Akron, Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana before facing Penn State in Columbus. This didn't look like a top-10 team against Tulsa, and the staff has a lot to work on if they want to finish the season without any more losses. -- Tom VanHaaren

11.Florida Gators (2-1)

Previous ranking: 11

The Gators face rival Tennessee at home, a game in which Florida hopes to build off the positives from its loss to Alabama. Emory Jones played a far more consistent game, and the ground game was powerful, with great play from the offensive line and tough running from backs Malik Davis, Nay'Quan Wright and Dameon Pierce. Florida also showed some toughness defensively, but the Gators have to clean up the penalties -- particularly pass interference. Coach Dan Mullen also hopes Anthony Richardson will be available after missing the Alabama game with a hamstring injury. Florida knows how crucial each game is on the league schedule. To get a possible rematch with Alabama, the Gators need to win -- starting Saturday. -- Andrea Adelson

12.Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0)

Previous ranking: 12

While the Irish offense continued to start and sputter against Purdue on Saturday, the defense was much better after giving up too many big plays in the first two games. The Boilermakers found the end zone only once and were limited to just 4-for-16 on third downs. The Irish had three sacks and intercepted two passes. Purdue averaged just 2.3 yards per carry and 5.4 yards per pass. It was a vast improvement compared to Notre Dame's defensive performances against Florida State and Toledo. The Boilermakers aren't exactly Alabama, but they averaged 39.5 points in their first two games. Clearly, the Irish are a work in progress and will have to get better on both sides of the ball. An upcoming four-game stretch against No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 15 Virginia Tech and rival USC will probably define the Irish's season. -- Mark Schlabach

13.Ole Miss Rebels(3-0)

Previous ranking: 17

It's a game that can't get here soon enough: Ole Miss vs. Alabama. Lane Kiffin vs. Nick Saban. The Rebels will get a week off after moving to 3-0 on Saturday night with a 61-21 thrashing of Tulane. The trip to Alabama the first weekend in October will provide a clearer picture of just how much Ole Miss has improved on defense. The Rebels have averaged 52.7 points in their first three games, but they've also looked significantly better on defense after finishing 117th nationally in scoring defense and 126th in total defense last season. Ole Miss rolled up 647 yards in total offense a year ago in the 63-48 loss to Alabama but also gave up 723 yards. Yes, those are video game numbers, which means we could be in for a lot of fun come Oct. 2. -- Chris Low

14.Iowa State Cyclones (2-1)

Previous ranking: 14

The Cyclones begin Big 12 play on Saturday at Baylor with the same expectations they did when the season started: to be in the mix for the conference title. Last week's loss to Iowa was disappointing, but this team is still talented enough to challenge Oklahoma. That said, there are few gimmes, either, and a loss in Waco is within reason. There wasn't much to learn from the blowout loss against UNLV, but it was encouraging to see how easy quarterback Brock Purdy made things look. -- Kyle Bonagura

15.BYU Cougars (3-0)

Previous ranking: 23

The Cougars host South Florida next week, ending a three-game stretch of wins against Pac-12 teams to open the year. This is the time of year when BYU can really look forward to its Big 12 membership. As the rest of the country begins conference play, the stakes don't elevate for BYU. Still, there is an intriguing slate of games approaching with games at Utah State, home against Boise State and at Baylor over the next three weeks. -- Kyle Bonagura

16.Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0)

Previous ranking: 20

The last time Arkansas was ranked and 3-0, the Razorbacks went to Jerry World and lost to a top-10 Texas A&M team, triggering a run of six losses in their final 10 games. That was five years ago. Now, they get a chance to right old wrongs. They're once again 3-0, and they'll once again head to Arlington to face an A&M team that steadied itself with an easy 34-0 win over New Mexico in Zach Calzada's first start. Arkansas has already taken down one old SWC (and future SEC) rival in Texas; if the Hogs can do it a second time and best the Aggies, they could move into the AP top 15 for the first time in more than nine years. Huge game. -- Bill Connelly

17.Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (3-0)

Previous ranking: 16

With back-to-back home games looming against UMass and Louisiana-Monroe, plus a winnable Thursday night game at Arkansas State, the Chanticleers should be undefeated heading into their Oct. 20 game at Appalachian State. It's the most difficult game remaining on the regular-season schedule, and ESPN's FPI gives Coastal only a 37.3% chance to win. It will help Coastal Carolina that its offense was tested on the road at Buffalo, but if the Chanticleers are going to enter the New Year's Six bowl conversation, they have to win with some style points. None of their opponents is ranked, and their remaining strength of schedule ranks 111th. -- Heather Dinich

18.WisconsinBadgers (1-1)

Previous ranking: 18

The Jack Coan reunion awaits the Badgers, who will face the quarterback who started 18 games in Cardinal and White before transferring to Notre Dame. Coan left Wisconsin following the emergence of Graham Mertz, whom the Badgers need to step up after he struggled in an opening loss to Penn State. Mertz, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season, faces a Notre Dame defense that has been vulnerable early this season. There's real urgency for Wisconsin, which hosts Michigan the following week and can't afford three losses before Big Ten West play even gets started. A win at Soldier Field is critical.-- Adam Rittenberg

19.Michigan Wolverines (3-0)

Previous ranking: 25

Michigan's offense looked more balanced against Northern Illinois than it did in the first two games of the season. Quarterback Cade McNamara had 191 yards passing in the first half, which was more passing yards than he had combined in the first two games of the season. Running back Blake Corum continues to rack up the yards, going over 100 in his third straight game to help the Wolverines' ground game gain 1,076 on the season. The defense continues to improve, but the Wolverines will have a good test next week against Rutgers before taking on Wisconsin in Madison for their stiffest challenge of the year.-- Tom VanHaaren

20.Michigan State Spartans (3-0)

Previous ranking: unranked

Michigan State is 3-0 to start the season for the first time since 2015, fresh off a convincing win against Miami on the road. The revamped Spartans, whose offense has put up 35 points or more in all three games, is taking on a 2-2 Nebraska team at home. If Michigan State's offense continues to put up points the way it has in the first three games, it's going to be tough for the Huskers to keep up. With a win over Nebraska, the Spartans have a good chance to enter their home game vs. Michigan with a 7-0 record. -- Tom VanHaaren

21.North Carolina Tar Heels (2-1)

Previous ranking: 21

Every team in the ACC Coastal Division has at least one loss, and the only team in the division with a 1-0 conference record is Virginia Tech. In short, North Carolina still has an opportunity to play its way back into the ACC championship game picture despite its season-opening loss to the Hokies. The Tar Heels won a wild 59-39 affair over Virginia on Saturday, but they have to play with more consistency to stay in the Coastal race. Their next four games are against ACC foes, starting with a game against Georgia Tech on Saturday in Mercedes Benz Stadium. -- Chris Low

22. Fresno State Bulldogs (3-0)

Previous week: unranked

Fresno State kept it close against Oregon in Week 2 and defeated a top-15 UCLA team in thrilling fashion in Week 4. The Mountain West has gotten off to a strong start this year -- San Diego State, Utah State and Wyoming are all 3-0. The Bulldogs face UNLV and Hawai'i, who are a combined 1-6, in back-to-back weeks before a road test against Wyoming on Oct. 16.

23.Auburn Tigers (2-1)

Previous ranking: 22

Despite the loss at Penn State, the Tigers showed they can handle a tough road environment, which should help as trips remain to LSU (Oct. 2), Arkansas (Oct. 16) and Texas A&M (Nov. 6). Auburn needs to fully commit to Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter and the run game -- behind an improved offensive line -- as the passing game remains too spotty and unreliable at times. The Tigers recorded 11 tackles for loss against Penn State but no sacks, so they must reestablish a pass rush this week against Georgia State before beginning a brutal SEC stretch (LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M). -- Adam Rittenberg

24.UCLA Bruins (2-1)

Previous ranking: 13

If there is a silver lining for UCLA coming out of its 40-37 loss to Fresno State, it's that it was a nonconference game. This team still should be in the mix to win the Pac-12 as the conference wilts around Oregon. That path starts Saturday at Stanford, which has looked good the past two weeks after a rough opening loss to Kansas State. UCLA's pass defense, which has allowed 785 yards passing the past two games, is a concern going against Stanford QB Tanner McKee. -- Kyle Bonagura

25. Kansas State Wildcats (3-0)

Previous week: unranked

A big reason for Kansas State's 3-0 start: running back Deuce Vaughn. The 5-foot-6, 172-pound Vaughn has topped 120 rushing yards in each of the Wildcats' three games, including a 127-yard performance against Nevada. There are five Big 12 teams with 3-0 records, and Kansas State faces four of them in four straight games: at Oklahoma State (Saturday), vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 2), vs. Iowa State (Oct. 16), at Texas Tech (Oct. 23).

Dropped out: Virginia Tech (15), Arizona State (19), Miami (24)

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