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Thursday, October 21, 2021 9:20 pm

Sinn's AP Poll: Week 8

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The biggest upset of Week 7 of the college football season came courtesy of Purdue, which went into Kinnick Stadium and ended No. 2 Iowa's undefeated season. The Boilermakers didn't just win the game, they pounded the Hawkeyes for four quarters and exposed all of the weaknesses that had hidden beneath the surface during Iowa's 6-0 start. 

As I wrote in this space last week, I was very skeptical that Iowa was the second-best team in the country and I had toyed with the idea of ranking Penn State ahead of them, despite the Nittany Lions' loss at Kinnick Stadium (while playing a backup quarterback in the second half). 

Following that Hawkeyes loss (as well as a revelatory performance from Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams in his first start in place of Spencer Rattler), I shook up my top five significantly. Here is my AP Poll for Week 8.

1. Georgia (7-0)

2. Ohio State (5-1)

3. Oklahoma (7-0)

4. Cincinnati (6-0)

5. Penn State (5-1)

6. Alabama (6-1)

7. Oregon (5-1)

8. Mississippi (5-1)

9. Michigan State (7-0)

10. Michigan (6-0)

11. Kentucky (6-1)

12. NC State (5-1)

13. Iowa (6-1)

14. Oklahoma State (6-0)

15. Clemson (4-2)

16. Coastal Carolina (6-0)*

17. Wake Forest (6-0)

18. Notre Dame (5-1)

19. Auburn (5-2)

20. Baylor (6-1)

21. Texas A&M (5-2)

22. San Diego State (6-0)

23. Southern Methodist (6-0) 

24. Texas-San Antonio (7-0)

25. Pittsburgh (5-1)

*The Chanticleers were 6-0 when the poll was released Sunday, but lost to Appalachian State on Wednesday night

To start with the teams I cover, there was little change in Notre Dame's ranking during its bye week. I still think the Irish are a work in progress, especially on offense, though it does seem like a decent sign that coach Brian Kelly named Jack Coan the starter at quarterback at the beginning of the week before the game against USC. Maybe the Irish found something that worked with Coan during his game-tying and -winning drives against Virginia Tech, but I remain skeptical and I'm reserving judgement.

As for Purdue, the Boilermakers moved into the top 25 for the first time since 2007 following their win over the Hawkeyes. I understood that impulse: Purdue won in one of the more difficult environments in the Big Ten and looked good doing it. It has also out-gained all six opponents it has faced this season, including Notre Dame, and probably should have beaten Minnesota. Once again, however, I am reserving judgement. I think the Boilermakers are definitely a better team than they were in 2020, with a vastly improved defense and an offense that has gotten back to some of the creativity that made it so much fun in 2017 and '18, but I don't believe the Boilers would beat Pittsburgh, the team I put at No. 25 instead. I could feel differently if Purdue defeats Wisconsin for the first time since 2003 when it faces the Badgers on Saturday.

The biggest changes in my poll came at the top this week. After dropping Iowa out of the No. 2 spot, I could have simply elevated Cincinnati from No. 3 to No. 2 as many pollsters did after the Bearcats beat UCF 56-21. I went a different direction and moved Ohio State all the way up to No. 2. Why is that? Quite simply, I believe the Buckeyes are the second-best team in the country and I should have done this sooner (probably after Alabama lost to Texas A&M). My rationale is this: since Ohio State's loss to Oregon, in which the Buckeye defense looked lost at times, it has changed play-callers on that side of the ball and has instituted an almost entirely new scheme on the fly. Those changes have paid immediate dividends and the Buckeyes have given up 17 points or fewer in three straight games. It stands to reason that the defense will get even better later in the season as the players adjust to the new scheme. Moreover, Ohio State's offense is filled with playmakers, CJ Stroud is looking more and more comfortable and the Buckeyes are leading the nation with 48.5 points per game. This is an entirely different team from the one that lost to Oregon and it still has more talent than anyone in the country except (maybe) Alabama and Georgia. In a hypothetical matchup of Ohio State and Cincinnati, give me the Scarlet and Gray, big.

That doesn't mean the Bearcats did anything wrong: I would still pick them to go to the College Football Playoff if the season ended today. But I believe that Ohio State is a better team head to head. That's enough for me to mostly write off the loss to Oregon as an anomaly from the BMB (Before Matt Barnes) days. Similarly, I had been skeptical of Oklahoma early in the season, but it seems as though the Sooners' once-struggling offense has turned a corner under the true freshman Williams, who is every bit the fantastic dual-threat he was billed as. 

Dylan's Bold Pick of the Week: Northwestern 20, No. 6 Michigan 17

This would be one of the bigger upsets of the year and I genuinely believe it has a chance to happen. Northwestern is not in the midst of one its "look-ugly-all-season-but-somehow-win-the-Big-Ten-West" seasons, but it always plays Michigan toughly and I don't think the Wolverines are as good as their record (or their ranking). Add in that UM could be looking ahead to a top 10 rivalry matchup with Michigan State next week and you have the ingredients for a shocker.

Last Week: Tennessee 38, No. 13 Mississippi 34

I wasn't right about the winner of this game, but the Vols certainly made it interesting, especially when their fans pelted the field with all manner of objects (golf balls and mustard among them) in the fourth quarter.

dsinn@jg.net


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