There is no uncertainty as to which team will land at No. 1 in this week’s USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches poll.
Georgia removed all doubt with a 27-13 win over Tennessee in one of the biggest matchups of the regular season. With the win, the Bulldogs take an insurmountable lead in the SEC East and dramatically reduce the Volunteers’ chances of reaching the college football playoffs.
The only question is whether the Bulldogs will be a unanimous No. 1. There’s a chance based on the 14-point win and how Ohio State battled through tough weather to beat Northwestern.
Tennessee shouldn’t fall too far. Boosted by last month’s win over Alabama, the Volunteers shouldn’t be lower than No. 6 and stay in the playoff hunt.
Clemson’s place in the new Top 25 is worth debating after the Tigers were beaten by Notre Dame in a 35-14 loss. Previously No. 5 in the coaches’ poll and No. 4 in the first playoff rankings, the Tigers could fall from the top 10 depending on several factors: a series of poor performances in September and October, the decreasing value placed on victories against Wake Forest and Syracuse, and the general belief that the ACC ranks no better than fourth among the Power Five leagues.
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There’s also the question of where Alabama lands after a second loss, this time to LSU. The 32-31 overtime loss ends Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes and could signal a new hierarchy in SEC West.
With the loss of Clemson, Alabama and Tennessee, TCU has a real shot at moving from No. 7 to No. 4 after beating Texas Tech.
1. Georgia (9-0)
Not all 14-point wins are the same. For Georgia, the 27-13 final belied a dominant performance on both sides of the ball against the No. 1 team in the playoff standings. Going forward, it’s hard to find a team with enough balance on both sides of the ball and enough physical presence to prevent the Bulldogs from repeating themselves as national champions.
2. Ohio State (9-0)
Ohio State won’t fall from No. 2, though there may be some voters tempted to shake things up near the top of the poll given how deadly the Buckeyes looked in a win. 21-7 against Northwestern. Big favorites heading into Saturday, OSU couldn’t find a rhythm in the rain and wind and failed to rack up at least 300 yards for the first time in Big Ten play since losing. against Michigan State in 2015.
3. Michigan (9-0)
There was a very brief moment Saturday when Michigan seemed to falter by Rutgers, who took a 17-14 halftime lead. Then came the deluge: Michigan scored 28 points in the third quarter and won 52-17. Wolverines aren’t flashy, and there’s a question of how the offense would fare if forced to play from behind in the second half against a high-quality opponent. However, this team pushes the opponents.
4. TCU (9-0)
For the fifth game in a row, the Horned Frogs were in a tough position deep into the second half, but eventually pulled out to remain unbeaten. Texas Tech had the ball in TCU territory in the fourth quarter, down 20-17, before failing to convert on fourth down. The Horned Frogs scored quickly via a touchdown pass from Max Duggan to regain control of the game and stay in the playoff chase. Texas, Baylor and Iowa State are the final three regular season opponents.
5. Tennessee (8-1)
In addition to leaving Tennessee behind in the SEC and the playoff race, Saturday’s loss reopens the Heisman Trophy debate after Hendon Hooker moved ahead of the pack with a brilliant first two months before the regular season. After throwing an interception and finishing with 195 yards against the Bulldogs, Hooker may still be ahead of Heisman, but is no longer the heavy favorite to become the first winner in program history.
6. Oregon (8-1)
As expected, Oregon had no problem putting Colorado in an early hole and took a 49-10 victory. Then the Ducks embark on a three-game streak that will determine the composition of the Pac-12 Championship Game and whether the conference sends a team to the playoffs. First comes Washington, then Utah, then the rival state of Oregon.
7. Southern California (8-1)
The Trojans are capitalizing on Saturday’s madness and could see a two-point bump after hanging on to beat California 40-35. That’s two straight wins for USC, helping wash away some of the sour taste that resulted from last month’s 43-42 loss to Utah. What could have been? With a late defensive stoppage against the Utes, the Trojans could be No. 4 in this week’s poll.
8. ASU (7-2)
There’s no doubt that LSU will be the top-ranked two-game losing team in the nation and there’s a good chance the Tigers will land somewhere in the bottom of the top 10 – although that would be a big jump from the n ° 17 from last week. ranking. Seems like a good landing spot even though LSU should jump four teams to a loss in Clemson, Mississippi, UCLA and North Carolina.
9. Clemson (8-1)
Clemson could fall to No. 10 or out of the top 10 entirely after being lambasted by the Fighting Irish. The Tigers could also only fall to No. 8, dropping LSU one spot. But there have been worries and questions about the Tigers all season and many doubters, so Saturday’s loss could give some of the voters the excuse to really send Clemson plummeting to the Top 25.
10. Mississippi (8-1)
How Ole Miss and LSU might frustrate some voters: The Tigers won easily when they met last month, but are two losses to the Rebels. Beating Alabama means the difference, even if wins against the Crimson Tide don’t carry the same weight as before. The Rebels will get the next crack in Alabama next weekend in a game that will determine second place in the SEC West and a spot in the New Year’s Six.