AP Top 25 Reality Check: Hints at what’s to come from CFP

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The College Football Playoff rankings will be released for the first time this season Tuesday. 

Combine the latest AP Top 25 with a little history and you can find hints about what to expect.


Never has the selection committee’s initial top four precisely matched the top four of the AP poll that preceded it. Only once, in 2018, have all four teams been the same in each set of rankings, but that year two of the teams were slotted differently.

In three of the six seasons of the playoff, three of the four teams were the same in each ranking. In two others, only two of four were a match.

With that knowledge, this probably won’t be the committee’s top four on Tuesday because it was the AP’s on Sunday: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Clemson.

Reality Check believes the selection committee would be wise to match the AP voters this year.

The number of games played by teams ranked in the AP poll ranges from three to nine. How the selection committee handles that disparity will be one of the most fascinating parts of Tuesday’s reveal.


No. 1 Alabama (7-0)

Next: vs. No. 22 Auburn on Saturday.

Reality check: A little off the radar, WR DeVonta Smith is having a monster year as the Tide’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver with 65 catches for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns.

No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0)

Next: at No. 25 North Carolina on Friday.

Reality check: Maybe the best offensive line in college football will be without two starters against the Tar Heels: C Jarrett Patterson (foot) is gone for a while and G Tommy Kraemer is reportedly out after an appendectomy.

No. 3 Ohio State (4-0)

Next: at Illinois on Saturday.

Reality check: Buckeyes permitted four completions of at least 50 yards against Indiana. That matches the total number of 50-plus completions they allowed all last season. Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, the NFL first-rounders Ohio State had at cornerback last year, aren’t walking through that door. 

No. 4 Clemson (7-1)

Next: vs. Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Reality check: Assuming the Tigers do play next weekend, QB Trevor Lawrence will have gone more than a month between games. 

No. 5 Texas A&M (5-1) 

Next: vs. LSU on Saturday.

Reality check: Aggies have planted themselves a spot ahead of the Gators by beating Florida, but will the committee be so deferential to head-to-head? Will the AP voters continue to be? 

No. 6 Florida (6-1)

Next: vs. Kentucky on Saturday.

Reality check: The news from the Gators’ victory against Vandy was Kyle Trask only threw three touchdowns passes. It’s the first time this season he has been held under four in a game. He leads the nation with 31. 

No. 7 Cincinnati (8-0)

Next: vs. Temple on Saturday.

Reality check: The Bearcats have been putting on a master class in how to contain explosive offenses. Against UCF, they allowed 4.27 yards per play — more than a yard below the Knights’ previous season low — and held the ball for 37 minutes. 

No. 8 BYU (9-0)

Next: San Diego State on Dec. 12.

Reality check: The Cougars are coming off a glorified scrimmage against North Alabama and are idle for two weeks. Not a great time of year to be out of site, but maybe that could change.

No. 9 Oregon (3-0)

Next: at Oregon State on Friday.

Reality check: The Ducks were hoping two blue-chip freshman linebackers could be major contributors on defense, but Justin Flowe was already expected to miss the season with a leg injury and Noah Sewell was carted off the field Saturday.

No. 10 Miami (7-1)

Next: at Wake Forest on Dec. 5.

Reality check: Hurricanes are getting two weeks off to get a COVID-19 outbreak in order.

No. 11 Northwestern (5-0)

Next: at Michigan State on Saturday. 

Reality check: Few programs manage to find as much success playing with as thin a margin as Northwestern. The Wildcats’ perfect start comes while outgaining its opponents by 21 yards per game. By comparison, Iowa is plus-53 and 3-2. Ohio State is plus-145.

No. 12 Indiana (4-1)

Next: vs. Maryland on Saturday.

Reality check: Hoosiers can’t run at all (2.39 yards per carry), but QB Michael Penix Jr. and WR Ty Fryfogle are proof that a good pass-catch combo makes up for a lot of offensive shortcomings these days. 

No. 13 Georgia (5-2)

Next: at South Carolina on Saturday.

Reality check: Why did it take so long for QB J.T. Daniels to play? It’s hard to believe he could have been truly ready to play and left on the bench by coach Kirby Smart for weeks while the Bulldogs tried to hold the season together with a former walk-on at quarterback.

No. 14 Oklahoma (6-2)

Next: at West Virginia on Saturday.

Reality check: RB Rhamondre Stevenson is averaging 111 yards per game and has six touchdowns since returning from a NCAA suspension. Reality check underestimated what a difference-maker the 246-pound senior could be.

No. 15 Iowa State (6-2)

Next: at Texas on Friday.

Reality check: The Cyclones can clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game by beating the Longhorns. The last time Iowa State won a conference was 1912, the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. 

No. 16 Coastal Carolina (8-0)

Next: at Texas State on Saturday.

Reality check: DT C.J. Brewer was a 280-pound wrecking ball against Appalachian State with three tackles for loss and all kinds of disruption. 

No. 17 Marshall (7-0)

Next: vs. Rice on Dec. 5.

Reality check: Of the four unbeaten teams outside the Power Five, Marshall is most in danger of not being ranked by the CFP selection committee. That schedule is just not helping the Herd, who pass the eye test of a Top 25 team.

No. 18 Wisconsin (2-1)

Next: vs. Minnesota on Saturday.

Reality check: Take out 75 yards rushing on some fluky long scrambles by Illinoi quarterback Brandon Peters in the opener, and the Badgers have allowed 127 yards rushing and 2.1 per carry in three games. 

No. 19 Southern California (3-0)

Next: vs. Colorado on Saturday.

Reality check: USC defense has played a little better every week, which might speak more to the competition. With players such as OLB Drake Jackson and S Talanoa Hufanga, there is no reason this shouldn’t be the best defense in the Pac-12 or close to it.

No. 20 Texas (5-2)

Next: vs. No. 15 Iowa State on Friday.

Reality check: Win and the Longhorns control their path to the Big 12 title game. Lose and we start talking about coach Tom Herman’s job security. Such is life in Austin. 

No. 21 Oklahoma State (5-2)

Next: vs. Texas Tech on Saturday.

Reality check: The collapse of the Cowboys’ offense, eighth in the Big 12 at 5.17 yards per play, has undermined a season of high expectations. 

No. 22 Auburn (5-2)

Next: at No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.

Reality check: Tigers’ run defense is low-key bad. Auburn has allowed three games of more than 200 yards rushing, including 5.41 yards per carry against a Tennessee team with a dysfunctional passing game.

No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette (7-1)

Next: at Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

Reality check: Ragin’ Cajuns hope to have coach Billy Napier on the sideline for their next game after he tested positive for COVID-19. It will likely require him to travel to the game by himself. 

No. 24 Tulsa (5-1)

Next: at Houston on Saturday.

Reality check: Golden Hurricane have trailed by double-digits in the second half of four of their five victories. 

No. 25 North Carolina (6-2)

Next: vs. No. 2 Notre Dame on Friday.

Reality check: Tar Heels have been the best unranked team in the country, averaging 7.70 yards per play. The defense is a problem but the offense is elite.

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