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

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Sunday, October 3, 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 (5-0)

Previous ranking: 1

Week 5 result: 42-21 win vs. No. 12 Ole Miss

What's next: at Texas A&M (Oct. 9, 8 p.m. ET)

X factor:Brian Robinson Jr. may not be the shiftiest running back in Alabama history, but he's a load to bring down and serves as an effective counter-balance to Bryce Young and the passing game.

What you need to know:Alabama's defense isn't perfect, but it's effective. With Phidarian Mathis clogging up the middle, Will Anderson Jr. rushing on the edge and Henry To'o To'o calling the shots, the Crimson Tide appear to have the nucleus of a championship defense.-- Alex Scarborough

2.Georgia Bulldogs (5-0)

Previous ranking: 2

Week 5 result: 37-0 win vs. No. 8 Arkansas

What's next: at Auburn (Oct. 9)

X factor:Georgia running backs. The Dawgs had four running backs rush for more than 45 yards, with James Cook leading the way with 87 yards. All four backs had runs of 10 yards or longer. Spreading the wealth like that in the running game makes Georgia even more dangerous, especially given how dominant the Dawgs have been on defense.

What you need to know: To beat this Georgia team, opponents had better figure out a way to block its front seven on defense and handle the Dawgs' overall team speed on that side of the ball. Coming off consecutive shutouts of SEC opponents for the first time since 1980, Georgia -- which has yet to trail in a game this season -- faces Auburn on the road this Saturday, then Kentucky at home followed by an open date and then Florida in Jacksonville.-- Chris Low

3.Iowa Hawkeyes (5-0)

Previous ranking: 5

Week 5 result: 51-14 win vs. Maryland

What's next: vs. Penn State (Oct. 9, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:QB Spencer Petras.His 11-2 record as the Hawkeyes starter should be enough to silence his critics, as Petras has shown measurable improvement in the past year, but he'll have to keep it up to lead Iowa to a Big Ten title.

What you need to know: ESPN's FPI gives the Hawkeyes at least a 50% chance to win each of its remaining games. They'll have home-field advantage on Saturday against Penn State in a game that will determine which team is the Big Ten's best hope at a playoff contender.-- Heather Dinich

4.Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0)

Previous ranking: 4

Week 5 result: 24-0 win vs. Indiana

What's next: vs. Iowa (Oct. 9, 4 p.m. ET)

X factor:WR Jahan Dotson. Penn State hasn't had a lot of consistency in its running game and has needed a big playmaker on offense. Dotson has been that guy, with touchdown receptions in six straight games going back to last season. Through five games, Dotson has 446 yards and six touchdowns.

What you need to know: The Nittany Lions are 5-0, but now they head to Iowa City to play Iowa. That matchup will be the Big Ten's first regular-season game with two top-five teams that doesn't feature Ohio State as one of the teams since 1997. Both Iowa and Penn State have beaten two ranked opponents and both are undefeated, so this game is going to have a significant impact one way or another.-- Tom VanHaaren

5.Cincinnati Bearcats (4-0)

Previous ranking: 7

Week 5 result: 24-13 win vs. No. 9 Notre Dame

What's next: vs. Temple (Oct. 8, 7 p.m. ET)

X factor:WR Alec Pierce. Quarterback Desmond Ridder gets most of the attention, but he leans on Pierce in a more-emphasized downfield passing attack. Pierce consistently beat Notre Dame's cornerbacks for 144 yards on six receptions and will remain Ridder's top option in the passing game.

What you need to know: Cincinnati's defense is ferocious, and not just in the back end. The Bearcats showed against Notre Dame they can take control of big games on big stages. Cincinnati ultimately needs to clean up some things on offense (third-down efficiency, running game) and on special teams, but could ride the defense all the way to a CFP appearance.-- Adam Rittenberg

6.Oklahoma Sooners (5-0)

Previous ranking: 6

Week 5 result: 37-31 win vs. Kansas State

What's next: vs. Texas (Oct. 9, noon ET)

X factor:Nik Bonitto. The outside linebacker had three sacks in the last two games against Texas and will be tasked with helping to slow Longhorns star Bijan Robinson. Bonitto had two tackles for a loss and a 70-yard fumble return in Saturday's win over Kansas State.

What you need to know: The Sooners, winners of 13 straight, are headed to Dallas to face Texas in the Red River Shootout next Saturday. The Sooners have won four of the past five October meetings, as well as the December 2018 Big 12 title game.-- Dave Wilson

7.Ohio State Buckeyes (4-1)

Previous ranking: 11

Week 5 result: 52-13 win vs. Rutgers

What's next: vs. Maryland (Oct. 9, noon ET)

X factor:C.J. Stroud returned after nursing a shoulder injury and threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns against Rutgers. Stroud having success, continuing to progress and showing consistency is a big key to the rest of Ohio State's season.

What you need to know: Coach Ryan Day said after the win that this was the first week he felt like the team had made a lot of progress toward their goal. Questions about the defense this season resulted in a change in playcall duties, but the Buckeyes' defense caused three interceptions against Rutgers and looked more like a typical Ohio State defense than it has in the past four games.-- Tom VanHaaren

8.Oregon Ducks(4-1)

Previous ranking: 3

Week 5 result: 31-24 loss vs. Stanford

What's next: vs. Cal (Oct. 15, 10:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:DE Kayvon Thibodeaux. The star defensive end's injury concerns are behind him -- a massive boost for Oregon's defense -- but he was flagged for targeting late in the fourth quarter and will sit the first half of the Ducks' game against Cal on Oct. 15.

What you need to know:CJ Verdell's leg injury is a significant one, according to Ducks coach Mario Cristobal. If he's out for an extended period of time -- which seemed like the expectation Saturday night -- it means the Ducks will be without arguably their best offensive player. With an inconsistent passing game, the onus will be on RB Travis Dye to carry the unit.-- Kyle Bonagura

9.Michigan Wolverines (5-0)

Previous ranking: 14

Week 5 result: 38-17 win vs. Wisconsin

What's next: at Nebraska (Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy. Michigan's success the rest of this season is going to rely on how the quarterbacks command this offense. Both quarterbacks showed progress and growth against Wisconsin, and if they continue to develop, Michigan could have a chance to finish the season strong.

What you need to know:Michigan's defense ranked 89th in yards allowed per game and No. 47 in points allowed last season. Coming into the game against Wisconsin, the Wolverines' defense was No. 4 in points allowed and 34th in yards allowed per game. This defense has improved, partially due to having a healthy Aidan Hutchinson and partially due to new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. The defense continuing to have success is going to determine how games against Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State fare.-- Tom VanHaaren

10.BYU Cougars (5-0)

Previous ranking: 13

Week 5 result: 34-20 win vs. Utah State

What's next: vs. Boise State (Oct. 9, 3:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:Tyler Allgeier. The running back bullied Utah State, running for 218 yards and three touchdowns, upping his season total to 569 yards and seven touchdowns through five games.

What you need to know: BYU doesn't qualify for the Group of 5 New Year's Six bowl spot, but the Cougars are inching toward consideration for an at-large spot. Unlike last year when BYU -- through no fault of its own -- played an easy schedule, one loss won't necessarily take them out of the New Year's Six picture.-- Kyle Bonagura

11.Michigan State Spartans (5-0)

Previous ranking: 17

Week 5 result: 48-31 win vs. Western Kentucky

What's next: at Rutgers (Oct. 9, noon ET)

X factor:WR Jayden Reed. In Kenneth Walker III and Jalen Nailor, Michigan State has a running back and wide receiver, respectively, who are among the best in the Big Ten at their positions, but in Reed, the Spartans have maybe the single best playmaker. He has five receiving touchdowns, two punt return scores and a rushing TD in five games.

What you need to know: The Michigan game is three weeks away. MSU will be at least a slight favorite against both Rutgers and Indiana on the road in the next two weeks, and if the Spartans survive, they'll be 7-0 when they host a potentially 7-0 Michigan on Oct. 30. The stakes of this resurgent season could go up soon.-- Bill Connelly

12. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-0)

Previous week: 19

Week 5 result: 24-14 win vs. No. 21 Baylor

What's next: at Texas (Oct. 16)

X factor:RB Jaylen Warren. In the past three games, including a road win at Boise State and two Top-25 wins over Kansas State and Baylor, Warren has been dependable and busy, averaging 155 yards and 32 carries per game with four touchdowns.

What you need to know: The Cowboys have a bye week before a road trip to face Texas on Oct. 16. The Cowboys had won five straight in Austin before Texas escaped with a 36-30 victory in 2019. Texas beat OSU 41-34 last year.-- Dave Wilson

13.Arkansas Razorbacks (4-1)

Previous ranking: 8

Week 5 result: 37-0 loss vs. No. 2 Georgia

What's next: at Ole Miss (Oct. 9)

X factor:WR Treylon Burks.Coming into the Georgia game, Burks had averaged 19.6 yards per catch, but didn't catch a pass that went longer than 5 yards against the Dawgs' suffocating defense. Arkansas' running game will have better days, but Burks' ability to stretch the field and make explosive plays will be a big factor for the Hogs the rest of the way.

What you need to know: The Hogs will need to bounce back in a hurry. They go back on the road this Saturday against an Ole Miss team that can score points in bunches. A win over the Rebels would be huge, especially with three straight games at home on the back end of that trip to Oxford.-- Chris Low

14.Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-1)

Previous ranking: 9

Week 5 result: 24-13 loss vs. No. 7 Cincinnati

What's next: at Virginia Tech (Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor:TE Michael Mayer. Notre Dame's offense is struggling, but imagine where things would be without Mayer, one of the nation's biggest matchup nightmares. He led the Fighting Irish in targets (11), receptions (8) and receiving yards (93) against Cincinnati.

What you need to know:Coach Brian Kelly knows the quarterback rotation must end soon. "We can't continue down this road of who's the flavor of the week here," Kelly said after the Cincinnati loss. "We're going to have to sit down and figure this out and decide which direction we want to go." Jack Coan would be the pick if Notre Dame's offensive line had its usual sturdiness, but the Irish might need a more mobile option given the shaky blocking.-- Adam Rittenberg

15.Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (5-0)

Previous ranking: 16

Week 5 result: 59-6 win vs. UL Monroe

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

X factor:QB Grayson McCall. The Chants' offense was among the most efficient in the country beforeSaturday, when McCall went a perfect 13-for-13 in a romp over UL Monroe.

What you need to know: It's all about Oct. 20. Coastal has laid waste to a series of overwhelmed opponents and should move to 6-0 fairly easily against Arkansas State next week, but the Week 8 trip to Appalachian State could be a massive challenge. Win that, and an unbeaten campaign becomes awfully realistic.-- Bill Connelly

16. Kentucky Wildcats (5-0)

Previous week: unranked

Week 5 result: 20-13 win vs. No. 10 Florida

What's next: vs. LSU (Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: Defense. A year ago, Kentucky allowed 25.9 points and 380.7 yards per game, which ranked fifth and fourth, respectively, in the SEC. This year: 16.8 points (fourth in the SEC) and 284.4 yards (third).Kentucky might have been outgained 382-224 on Saturday, but the Wildcats stopped the Gators when it mattered most.

What you need to know: Kentucky has played LSU just twice since 2008, losing both times by a combined score of 76-10. If the Wildcats stay undefeated by beating the Tigers, a huge road game against Georgia looms on Oct. 16.-- Matt Eisenberg

17.Ole Miss Rebels(3-1)

Previous ranking: 12

Week 5 result: 42-21 loss vs. No. 1 Alabama

What's next:vs. Arkansas (Oct. 9)

X factor: It's asking a lot of the Ole Miss defensive line to rush three and try to create any pressure on the quarterback or stop the running game. An adjustment may be needed schematically moving forward.

What you need to know:The Lane Train went off the rails on Saturday, but one bad game can't turn into two for an otherwise talented offense. It will be interesting to see how quarterback Matt Corral & Co. respond against Arkansas next Saturday.-- Alex Scarborough

18.Auburn Tigers (4-1)

Previous ranking: 22

Week 5 result: 24-19 win vs. LSU

What's next:vs. Georgia (Oct. 9)

X factor:QB Bo Nix. The junior quarterback was at his rambling, gambling best on Saturday against LSU, throwing for 255 yards, rushing for another 74 and making some of the wildest plays you'll ever see. He is a wild card, for better or worse, in every game.

What you need to know: What's the reward for winning in Death Valley for the first time since 1999? Welcoming Georgia to town. Auburn's schedule is forever ridiculous, and now the Tigers have another huge game on deck (followed by a trip to Arkansas).-- Bill Connelly

19. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-0)

Previous week: 24

Week 5 result: 37-34 win vs. Louisville

What's next: at Syracuse (Oct. 9)

X factor:DE Luiji Vilain. Vilain has a sack in four straight games and leads the team with 4.5 total sacks

What you need to know: With a trip to Syracuse up next, Wake Forest should be favored to win and get off to a 6-0 start. The Demon Deacons are now the only undefeated team in the ACC, but the schedule gets much more difficult in the second half of the season.-- Andrea Adelson

20.Florida Gators (3-2)

Previous ranking: 10

Week 5 result: 20-13 loss vs. Kentucky

What's next: vs. Vanderbilt (Oct. 9, noon ET)

X factor: The offensive line. The unit played well through the first four games but struggled with eight false start penalties against Kentucky.

What you need to know: Florida hosts Vanderbilt in a game it will try to use to get back on track offensively. Against Kentucky, Florida failed to rush for more than 200 yards for the first time all season.-- Andrea Adelson

21. Texas Longhorns (4-1)

Previous week: unranked

Week 5 result: 32-27 win vs. TCU

What's next: vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 9, noon ET)

X factor:RB Bijan Robinson. The running back is living up to his promise as a five-star recruit, coming off a career-high 216 yards on 35 carries against TCU. Texas is 6-0 dating back to last season when he has more than 100 yards.

What you need to know: Welcome to one of college football's greatest rivalries, Steve Sarkisian. The Longhorns coach will get his first shot at Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, the game that has always defined the careers of coaches at the two schools. The Longhorns have lost three straight to the Sooners, including last year's 53-45 four-overtime classic. No pressure.-- Dave Wilson

22. Arizona State Sun Devils (4-1)

Previous week: unranked

Week 5 result: 42-23 win vs. No. 20 UCLA

What's next: vs. Stanford (Oct. 8, 10:30 p.m. ET)

X factor: QB Jayden Daniels. The junior topped 300 passing yards five times as a freshman but hasn't done so in 11 straight games. Still, Saturday's performance (13-of-19, 286 yards, two TDs and no interceptions) marked his most passing yards in a game since he threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns against then-No. 6 Oregon in November 2019.

What you need to know: The Sun Devils have topped 35 points in four of five games this season, but they'll face a Stanford team that has scored 30 points in three of its last four games, including an upset of third-ranked Oregon on Saturday.-- Matt Eisenberg

23. NC State Wolfpack (4-1)

Previous ranking: 23

Week 5 result: 34-27 win vs. Louisiana Tech

What's next: at Boston College (Oct. 16)

X factor:QB Devin Leary. Though he did not have his best game of the season against Louisiana Tech, Leary made the plays needed to win. And over his past three games, he has thrown nine touchdown passes to zero interceptions -- perhaps the best stat of all for a quarterback.

What you need to know: The Wolfpack have an open date before entering a tough stretch that begins with back-to-back games against Boston College and Miami. They will need to recapture the intensity they showed in their win over Clemson to remain atop the Atlantic Division.-- Andrea Adelson

24. SMU Mustangs (5-0)

Previous week: unranked

Week 5 result: 41-17 win vs. South Florida

What's next: at Navy (Oct. 9, p.m. 3:30 ET)

X factor:Delano Robinson. The senior linebacker was SMU's leading tackler last season and had four tackles for a loss on Saturday against South Florida, including a tackle for a loss and a sack. He'll be a key in the Mustangs' defensive game plan with Navy's triple option next on deck. The Midshipmen ran for 348 yards in an upset of UCF on Saturday night.

What you need to know:The Mustangs are averaging 43 points and 550 yards per game, and Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai has thrown 24 TD passes in five games, tied with West Virginia's Geno Smith (2012) and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell (2007) and B.J. Symons (2003) for the most through five games in the past 20 seasons.-- Dave Wilson

25. San Diego State Aztecs (4-0)

Previous week: unranked

Week 5 result: Bye week

What's next:vs. New Mexico (Oct. 9, 9 p.m. ET)

X factor:The running backs. Greg Bell topped 110 rushing yards and a touchdown in each of San Diego State's first three games, but he left the Aztecs' Week 4 win over Towson after two carries because of an injury. In his place, Chance Bell, Kaegun Williams and Jordan Byrd each topped 75 yards, and all found the end zone.

What you need to know: After a week of rest, the Aztecs face a New Mexico team that has lost three straight before facing San Jose State, which beat San Diego State 28-17 a year ago.-- Matt Eisenberg

Dropped out: Texas A&M (15), Fresno State (18), UCLA (20), Baylor (21), Clemson (25)

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