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AP top 25: What we did with FSU, Tennessee, USC and Oregon

How do we balance the Vols’ wins over Alabama and LSU against their stunning loss to South Carolina?
Patrick Payton and the Florida State Seminoles have jumped into our top 15.
Patrick Payton and the Florida State Seminoles have jumped into our top 15. [ GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP ]
Published Nov. 20|Updated Nov. 20

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.

Related: AP Top 25: USC moves into top 5 for 1st time in 5 years

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?

South Carolina blew out Tennessee, creating some complications to our top 25.
South Carolina blew out Tennessee, creating some complications to our top 25. [ ARTIE WALKER JR. | AP ]

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.

Related: FSU football ready Florida Gators (even if Seminoles aren’t saying the name)

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.

Navy ran past UCF, knocking the Knights out of our rankings.
Navy ran past UCF, knocking the Knights out of our rankings. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

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

1. Georgia

2. Ohio State

3. Michigan

4. TCU

5. USC

6. Alabama

7. Clemson

8. Tennessee

9. LSU

10. Oregon

11. Penn State

12. Washington

13. Florida State

14. UCLA

15. Utah

16. Tulane

17. Kansas State

18. Notre Dame

19. North Carolina

20. Mississippi

21. Oregon State

22. Cincinnati

23. Coastal Carolina

24. Texas

25. University of Texas at San Antonio

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