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Mike Lopresti | September 14, 2023

10 AP poll oddities college football fans need to know

The most successful walk-ons in recent college football history

Here in college football's alternate universe, where there is X formerly known as Twitter and Coach Prime’s Juggernaut formerly known as the 1-11 Colorado Buffaloes, this week’s Associated Press top 25 has the whiff of changing winds.

About the SEC, that touchdown holy land responsible for 13 of the past 17 national champions, stacked up by five different schools...

There’s a bit of trouble in paradise, or at least something unsettling. The empire is 1-4 so far against ranked opponents, the only win over Tulane, courtesy of Ole Miss. The league is also 3-6 vs. the other Power 5 conferences. It’s been like watching McDonald’s sales suddenly lag behind Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s and Burger King.

Would you believe a national championship game with no SEC involvement? That happened in the 2014 season, and never again since.

While we’re on the subject, about Alabama...

The 10-point beating by Texas was the worst home thumping Nick Saban had ever taken with the Tide, and sent them tobogganing down to No. 10 in the AP rankings. Saban’s teams invariably answer defeat with better news — 13-1 after the past 14 regular season losses — and who here is prepared to write off Alabama in mid-September? And yet, should the Tide stumble again soon and drop further in the rankings, historical alarms would be triggered.

Alabama has been in every Associated Press top 10 since 2015 and not fallen lower than No. 17 since 2008. In that 15-year Saban spree, the Tide have owned a top-10 spot in 96.6 percent of the polls, and top-5 in 85.5 percent of them. Imagine how a No. 20 ranking might shake Tuscaloosa.

About the Pac-12, the conference whose current structure will soon go the way of the pay telephone...

Before all the members head their separate directions like passengers in the TSA line at LAX, they seem to be intent on one last splash of united glory. Eight members are included in this week’s top 25; only the SEC had done that before, 21 times.  The Pac-12 is 20-3 against non-conference opponents, 6-3 against other Power 5 teams and has been highly entertaining. Five of the top eight passing quarterbacks in the nation so far play for Pac-12 teams.

The conference teams have looked so good, the College Football Playoff folks might even invite one of them to their party. It’s been seven years. There is considerable irony in the current Pac-12 showing so much life and vibrancy on its deathbed. Rivalries are closing down this fall. USC and Stanford, for instance, have played since 1905, but that likely can’t continue.

About the Pac-12 team hogging the attention...

This time last year, Colorado was on the way to a 1-11 season where it would be outscored by an average score of 45-15. Then Deion Sanders came to town, to rattle the cages and remake the roster. With quarterback/son Shedeur pushing buttons to blast the Buffaloes into the national spotlight — not to mention himself into the Heisman race — Colorado has put up 81 points to beat TCU and Nebraska and zoom to No. 18 in this week’s AP poll. Last season, it took the Buffs six games to reach 81 points for the season.

Colorado’s marketing profile, in all its Primeness, has seen the biggest explosion this side of Oppenheimer. In the week following the 45-42 upset of TCU, the school sold $500,000 worth of tickets and the program’s social media added more than 300,000 followers. Deion Sanders is hotter than Barbie.

But tougher tests come soon on the Buffs’ farewell tour in the Pac-12. Check back at the end of the month after they’ve gone to Oregon and hosted USC.

Colorado is not the only team intent on rekindling its salad days.

About Florida State, Texas and Miami . . .

Past traditional powerhouses all, but each has endured hard times. Just two years ago, they were a combined 17-19. Now the Seminoles are No. 3, the Longhorns No. 4, the Hurricanes No. 22. It's slightly jarring to realize this is the first time in six years with Florida State and Miami in the same regular season AP top 25. Texas hasn’t been ranked this highly in 14 years.

About the Big Ten...

Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State are top-10ers which is no surprise, but wait until the new recruiting class arrives next fall. If USC, Washington and Oregon were onboard now, the Big Ten would own six of the top 13 spots in this week’s poll. UCLA and Iowa would give it eight of the top 25. Then again, add Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC and that league would have seven. That’s 15 of the 25 from two leagues. Behold the future of the mega-conferences.

About Notre Dame...

The Irish are No. 9 using a thoroughly modern method.

One, there are riches from the transfer portal. Sam Hartman arrived from Wake Forest to throw 10 touchdowns his first three games. No Irish quarterback from Montana to Theismann had ever done that before. Notre Dame’s 143 points in the opening three games are its most since 1944.

Two, the Irish made the schedule a little friendlier. Central Michigan visits this week. Tennessee State was in earlier, the first time Notre Dame had ever played an FCS opponent since the divisions split in1978. That leaves USC as the only FBS team never to schedule the FCS.

About Duke...

The ball doesn’t have to be orange and round for the Blue Devils to make noise these days. The 28-7 win over Clemson was a true statement game for the Mike Elko program, being the largest Duke margin of victory over a ranked opponent since 1942, the first by multi-touchdowns over a top-10 team since 1952. Until that day, the Blue Devils had been 10-61-4 all-time against the top 10.

But Duke came into this season rightfully confident, losing only four games last season by a combined 16 points. It was the first season since 1953 without at least one double-digit loss. Elko’s 11-4 record through his first 15 games is the best start in school history. Now the Blue Devils are ranked No. 21, one spot behind their North Carolina pals from Chapel Hill. Duke had not been ranked since 2018.

By the way, about Clemson’s spot in the AP top 25...

Never mind. The Tigers aren’t there. Eight Pac-12 teams, but not Clemson. The No. 25 Tigers walloped Charleston Southern 66-17 and dropped from the rankings. That might be a record for biggest win by a team voted out of the polls..

Finally, about Georgia...

True, the Bulldogs are right where they’re supposed to be, ranked No. 1 with 35 wins in their past 36 games, 30 of them by double digits. And their unfathomable 20-game winning streak against SEC opponents.

It’s not their ranking that signals a change, but their goal. Since the birth of the AP poll in 1936, no team has won three consecutive national championships. If the college football landscape is to be dotted by rare sights this season, why not a three-peat?

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