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AP Top 25 Reality Check: Examining ‘Bama’s drop from top 5

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) is sacked by Auburn defensive end Big Kat Bryant (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. (Dan Busey/The Decatur Daily via AP) (© 2019 All Rights Reserved)

The Associated Press college football poll is a subjective and mostly backward-looking assessment, especially late in the season.

Voters sprinkle in some speculative forecasting when trying to order the plethora of teams that have never played. Would Team A beat Team B? But mostly, a ranking is a reward for accomplishments.

On Sunday, voters in the AP Top 25 presented by Regions Bank faced an unusual task: Where to rank an Alabama team with two losses at the end of the regular season? The Crimson Tide had not been outside the top-five in the AP poll since early November 2015, a record string of 68 straight poll appearances. The Crimson Tide had not lost more than one regular-season game since 2010.

The Tide landed at No. 9 in the latest rankings, which looked weird. According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, Alabama would be favored on a neutral field against No. 5 Utah (by three points), No. 6 Oklahoma (by 2), No. 7 Florida (by 6½), and No. 8 Baylor (by 11½). No. 4 Georgia and Alabama would be a pick’em. Forward-looking advanced analytics such as ESPN’s FPI and SP+ are bullish on the Tide. Same goes for the more old-school computer Sagarin ratings.

But with only championship weekend remaining for everybody but Army and Navy, the Tide counts not one victory against another ranked team on its list of accomplishments this season.

Reality check is OK with the way the AP voters treated the Tide, though resume should not always carry the day.

No. 1 LSU (12-0)

Next: vs. No. 4 Georgia, SEC championship.

Reality check: The Tigers had a season-high six sacks against A&M. That questionable defense now ranks 28th in the country in yards per play (5.11). Not too bad.

Ranked: Too high. Yep.

No. 2 Ohio State (12-0)

Next: vs. No. 10 Wisconsin, Big Ten championship.

Reality check: Facing an offense with weapons and a pretty good plan, the Buckeyes’ D showed some vulnerability for the first time against Michigan. But offense wins championships these days and Ohio State’s got all the firepower you could want.

Ranked: Put ’em No. 1.

No. 3 Clemson (12-0)

Next: vs. No. 22 Virginia, ACC championship.

Reality check: No one has ever been more slighted by having his team called the third-best in the country as Dabo Swinney has this season.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 4 Georgia (11-1)

Next: vs. No. 1 LSU, SEC championship.

Reality check: Even in an easy victory against Georgia Tech, QB Jake Fromm completed fewer than 50% of his passes for the fourth straight game.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 5 Utah (11-1)

Next: vs. No. 13 Oregon, Pac-12 championship, Friday.

Reality check: Utes TE Brant Kuithe is third on the team in rushing touchdowns with three and is averaging 14.6 yards on his five carries. Pretty cool.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 6 Oklahoma (10-1)

Next: vs. No. 8 Baylor, Big 12 championship.

Reality check: The Sooners showed against Oklahoma State they can be dominant if they can just hold on to the football.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 7 Florida (10-2)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: Among non-Heisman Trophy contenders, Kyle Trask (24 touchdowns, six interceptions, 159.24 efficiency rating) has been the best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 8 Baylor (11-1)

Next: vs. No. 6 Oklahoma, Big 12 championship.

Reality check: Plus-12 turnover margin leads the Big 12 and is tied for fifth nationally.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 9 Alabama (10-2)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: WR Jaylen Waddle is so fast he makes fast guys look slow.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 10 Wisconsin (10-2)

Next: vs. No. 2 Ohio State, Big Ten championship.

Reality check: One bad quarter against Illinois is keeping the Badgers out of the playoff picture.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 11 Auburn (9-3)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: The Tigers won the Iron Bowl and scored 48 points with their quarterback completing 50% of his passes for 5.8 yards per attempt. Strange game.

Ranked: About right.

No. 12 Penn State (10-2)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: The Nittany Lions played 12 games and never really found an offensive identity, and could still end up in the Rose Bowl.

Ranked: About right.

No. 13 Oregon (10-2)

Next: vs. No. 5 Utah, Pac-12 championship, Friday.

Reality check: By almost every measure, QB Justin Herbert had a darn good season (31 touchdowns, five interceptions, 8.2 yards per pass). Yet it feels as if the Ducks did not maximize his potential.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 14 Notre Dame (10-2)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: The highest scoring team (37.1 points per game) of coach Brian Kelly’s 10 seasons.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 15 Minnesota (10-2)

Next: vs. TBD.

Reality check: Gophers are a troublesome team to rank, with a head-to-head victory against Penn State — but not much else to get excited about.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 16 Memphis (11-1)

Next: vs. No. 21 Cincinnati, AAC championship.

Reality check: The Tigers have SEC-level playmakers on offense.

Ranked: Little too high.

No. 17 Michigan (9-3)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: If the Wolverines could just get Ohio State off the schedule.

Ranked: Too low. Should be between Penn State and Notre Dame.

No. 18 Iowa (9-3)

Next: TBD.

Reality check: The Hawkeyes held nine opponents under 200 yards passing. The other three each went over 300 yards in the air, but none of those broke 100 rushing.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 19 Boise State (11-1)

Next: vs. Hawaii, MWC championship.

Reality check: Three quarterbacks and only one loss. Been a resilient group of Broncos.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 20 Appalachian State (11-1)

Next: vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Sun Belt championship.

Reality check: One clunker at Georgia Southern away from maybe being in line for a New Year’s Six bowl.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 21 Cincinnati (10-2)

Next: at No. 16 Memphis, AAC championship.

Reality check: Wil be an interesting debate for the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six if the Bearcats beat Memphis. How much should UC be punished for losing to Ohio State?

Ranked: Too low.

No. 22 Virginia (9-3)

Next: vs. No. 3 Clemson, ACC championship.

Reality check: Bryce Perkins is an old-school star. Not the most efficient quarterback, but so much fun to watch.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 23 Navy (9-2)

Next: vs. Army, Saturday, Dec. 14.

Reality check: A six-win turnaround from last season with one more very big one to play.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 24 Southern California (8-4)

Next: vs. TBD.

Reality check: No matter who is the head coach, the Trojans need to fix a defense that ranks 101st in the country in plays allowed of 10 yards-plus.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 25 Air Force (10-2)

Next: vs. TBD.

Reality check: Maybe the quietest 10-win season in the country.

Ranked: Just right.

Instead of Virginia how about UCF?

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/

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