The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 13, 2021 5:50 pm

Sinn's AP Poll: Week 7

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Much like several of the weeks that preceded it, Week 6 of the college football season featured some chaos at the top of the rankings, but not nearly as much as there could have been. Previous No. 1 Alabama was the big fish to go down, losing on a last-second field goal to unranked Texas A&M, the first defeat for the Crimson Tide since the Iron Bowl against Auburn in 2019. No. 4 Penn State's loss to third-ranked Iowa – much more on that below – made it two top five teams suffering their first defeat. No. 6 Oklahoma very nearly lost as well, coming back from 21 down to top Texas in maybe the best Red River Rivalry game of all time. In addition No. 9 Michigan had to rally multiple times on the road against a Nebraska team that can't seem to get out of its own way.

The result of all of that is a new top 10 dominated by the SEC and Big Ten – the latter has five teams in the top 10 for the first time in conference history. Here is my poll, which only has three of those teams in the top 10, while the others sit at 11 and 12.

1. Georgia (6-0)

2. Iowa (6-0)

3. Cincinnati (5-0)

4. Ohio State (5-1)

5. Penn State (5-1)

6. Kentucky (6-0)

7. Oklahoma (6-0)

8. Alabama (5-1)

9. Mississippi (5-1)

10. Oregon (4-1)

11. Michigan State (6-0)

12. Michigan (6-0)

13. Florida (4-2)

14. North Carolina State (4-1)

15. Clemson (3-2)

16. BYU (5-1)

17. Arkansas (4-2)

18. Arizona State (5-1)

19. Oklahoma State (5-0)

20. Notre Dame (5-1)

21. Wake Forest (6-0)

22. Coastal Carolina (6-0)

23. Texas A&M (4-2)

24. San Diego State (5-0)

25. Southern Methodist (6-0)

To start with the team I cover, I have Notre Dame six spots lower than the overall poll, where the Irish sit at No. 14 after a thrilling 32-29 comeback win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Saturday. It was obviously a positive result for the Irish, who went into one of the more hostile environments in college football, faced a desperate team (it's starting to feel as though the end might be nigh for coach Justin Fuente with the Hokies), fell behind twice and still emerged with a victory that was powered largely by true freshmen (quarterback Tyler Buchner, running back Logan Diggs and left tackle Joe Alt all played key roles in the win). That's all great for the future of the Irish, but their present remains unsettled. They now have three quarterbacks who have flashed significant talent but have also made back-breaking mistakes and – despite Jack Coan's heroics in the final minutes against the Hokies – none of them close to actually claiming the full-time starting job. The offensive line remains a work-in-progress, as well, though it was better against Virginia Tech. This is a team loaded with young talent and it obviously has heart, but I don't know if it's put-together enough to beat a good team right now. So, the Irish are at 20th in my poll. That doesn't mean "bad," but rather "could be better," which is where Notre Dame stands right now.

Closer to the top of my poll, I faced a genuine conundrum: what to do with the Iowa-Penn State result. The game, which took place in Iowa City, ended in a 23-20 Hawkeye victory that left me more convinced than ever that Iowa is just "Somewhat Better Wisconsin," a team with a very good defense, a weak spot at quarterback and a running game that isn't bad, but isn't good enough to carry the offense on its own. The Hawkeyes trailed 17-3 midway through the second quarter against Penn State and, despite a couple of interceptions, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was having success against Iowa's vaunted defense. Then, Clifford suffered a rib injury and the Nittany Lions had to turn to their backup quarterback, which went very poorly and the Hawkeyes came from behind to win.

I firmly believe Penn State would have won had Clifford played the whole game, which is why I only dropped the Nittany Lions to No. 5 in the rankings and I won't hesitate to put them above the Hawkeyes at some point this season if Clifford returns and Penn State continues to win. Head-to-head results have to mean something, but we don't have to pretend we all didn't see that Penn State's offense almost entirely disappeared when the backup quarterback came in.

In the end, I did put Iowa at No. 2 this week, though I don't feel particularly good about it. The Hawkeyes pretty clearly have the second-best resume in the country with wins over Penn State, Iowa State and Indiana (the latter two are not as good as we thought they'd be, but the Cyclones are decent and the Hawkeyes walloped IU), plus a blowout victory of a frisky Maryland team. But are they the second-best team in the country? Probably not. The question then becomes, who is? For my money, the answer right now appears to be Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost to Oregon because of a defense that didn't appear to be able to stop anyone, but they've since changed defensive play-callers and installed an almost entirely new scheme that seems to be working quite well. Couple that with an offense that still features the best receiver corps in the country and you have a team that will be extremely difficult to beat going forward. It's impossible to write off the loss to Oregon entirely just yet, but it's pretty clear the Buckeyes are a different (and much better) team than they were then. The Big Ten once looked to be more wide open than it's been in years. As of the season's midway point, Ohio State has probably returned to its usual status as the heavy favorite.

Dylan's Bold Pick of the Week: Tennessee 38, No. 13 Mississippi 34

The Volunteers have been a sleeping giant for so long that it's easy to forget they were one of the nation's premier programs within the last 25 years. They seem to be slowly awakening from their slumber in their first season under coach Josh Heupel, whose team features a high-powered offense behind Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker. The Rebels have played back-to-back slugfests against Alabama and Arkansas and might be exhausted. Heupel gets a big win early in his tenure.

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