Florida State has risen into my top 15, UCF is out entirely, USC jumped into the top five and Tennessee’s stunning loss to South Carolina created a major logjam in my AP top 25 ballot. Those are some of the takeaways from a confusing morning spent untangling some two- and three-loss teams in my weekly rankings.
We’ll start with the garnet-hot Seminoles, who have won four consecutive games by at least 25 points — the longest streak in the nation. They’re soaring because they’ve gotten healthy and Mike Norvell’s system has finally clicked with the personnel he has accumulated. FSU’s destruction of Louisiana was expected, but the growing body of work was enough for me to move the Seminoles up seven spots to No. 13 as the top three-loss team on my ballot.
Figuring out the top two-loss team was much more challenging. I began thinking through possibilities Saturday night as the Volunteers gave up 63 points in a blowout loss at South Carolina — the same South Carolina team that Florida blew out a week earlier. How do I balance the Volunteers’ head-to-head wins over Alabama and LSU against a 25-point loss to the middling Gamecocks?
Beating the teams you’re supposed to beat and avoiding blowouts with consistent performances have to count for something, I decided. And that influenced the rest of my ballot. USC moved past them all and up five spots to fifth after a nice rivalry win over UCLA. Next came Alabama, who lost by a last-second field goal at Tennessee and fell to LSU in overtime, both on the road. No blowout losses there, unlike the next three teams.
Clemson is seventh after a big win over Miami because the Tigers largely have taken care of business and have a few quality victories (against FSU and North Carolina State, before quarterback Devin Leary’s injury). I dropped Tennessee from fifth to eighth, slotting them ahead of LSU because of the head-to-head win. Reasonable people can disagree with the thought process, but that was how I found separation between very similar teams.
Elsewhere on my ballot:
UCF fell out after a head-scratching home loss to seven-loss Navy. The Midshipmen are always tricky because of their triple-option offense and the way they hold onto the ball. But there’s no justification for ranking the 8-3 loss Knights now.
Oregon moved up one spot and back into my top 10 after a 20-17 win over a good Utah team. The Utes slipped six spots to 15th, one behind UCLA (because of the Bruins’ head-to-head victory).
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North Carolina tumbled five spots to No. 19 with a 21-17 home loss to Georgia Tech. That outcome is notable for FSU fans. If Clemson makes the College Football Playoff, there’s a chance FSU could be the ACC’s Orange Bowl representative. We’ll find out more when the CFP selection committee announces its next rankings Tuesday.
Minnesota and Oklahoma State are off my ballot after rivalry losses to Iowa and Oklahoma. Coastal Carolina had been hanging around the 24-30 range for a few weeks and finally moved into my rankings at No. 23. Texas reentered after crushing Kansas (advanced metrics love the Longhorns). I gave the final spot to the University of Texas at San Antonio; the Roadrunners’ eight-game winning streak was the deciding factor over Boise State, Iowa and Troy, among others.
Our AP top 25 ballot
2. Ohio State
11. Penn State
13. Florida State
17. Kansas State
18. Notre Dame
19. North Carolina
21. Oregon State
23. Coastal Carolina
25. University of Texas at San Antonio
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