Where will Cincinnati, Alabama, Notre Dame rank?

November 7, 2021
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud throws a pass during the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
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Losses by Michigan State and Wake Forest trimmed the list of unbeaten teams in the Power Five to just two: Georgia and Oklahoma.

The losses will also send the Spartans down and the Demon Deacons out of the top 10 in this week’s USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, which will be released Sunday.

But the biggest source of controversy comes from the debate over No. 2. While Georgia continues to cruise and will be the unanimous No. 1, three teams will contend for the spot just behind the Bulldogs.

Last week’s No. 2, Cincinnati, struggled for the third game in a row putting away a team in the bottom half of the American standings. Last week’s No. 3, Alabama, won by only six points as a heavy favorite against LSU. Could Oklahoma rise from No. 4?

Here’s how the top 10 of the poll may look:

1. Georgia (9-0)

The Bulldogs sailed past Missouri 43-6 in another balanced performance from the nation’s best defense and quarterback Stetson Bennett, who threw for 255 yards and two scores. Bennett’s high level of play has complicated things for coach Kirby Smart, turning what was once an absolute no-brainer — that JT Daniels regains the starting job when healthy — into a more nuanced debate. Daniels entered the win in the third quarter and completed 7 of 11 passes for 82 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

2. Cincinnati (9-0)

Voters didn’t bump Cincinnati out of the second spot after a sluggish victory against Navy, so the Bearcats should remain just behind Georgia after another close conference win, this time against Tulsa. Alabama might’ve changed that by doing better than a 20-14 win against LSU. But the unimpressive wins are beginning to add up, raising the odds that Cincinnati will at some point no longer get the benefit of the doubt. 

3. Alabama (8-1)

The one-possession win against LSU was a major surprise given Alabama’s play since losing to Texas A&M and the Tigers’ season-long inconsistency. A more impressive win in this rivalry could’ve lifted the Crimson Tide to No. 2, matching the Coaches Poll with the current playoff rankings. 

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4. Oklahoma (9-0)

Idle on Saturday for the first time this season, the break gives OU an opportunity to reset and refocus heading into the three-game stretch that will determine whether the Sooners get into the playoff. After taking on Baylor and Iowa State, the Sooners will meet Oklahoma State in a rivalry that could have a rematch one week later in the Big 12 championship game.

5. Ohio State (8-1)

The Buckeyes survived Nebraska’s upset effort thanks to a huge game from wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who pulled down a program-record 15 receptions for 240 yards and a score. That helped OSU overcome two interceptions from quarterback C.J. Stroud, who threw for just over 400 yards. The Buckeyes did get lucky: Nebraska missed multiple field goals and had several chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

MORE: OSU backup QB suspended indefinitely for OVI

6. Oregon (8-1)

Beating rival Washington is always cause for celebration. Still, winning 26-16 despite allowing just 166 yards of offense — and giving up a safety and handing UW a short field for its first touchdown — just isn’t going to sway voters who have already docked the Ducks for losing to Stanford and ignored the earlier win against Ohio State.

7. Notre Dame (8-1)

The Irish nearly outgained Navy on the ground in Saturday’s 34-6 win, running for 150 yards on 31 carries while holding the Midshipmen to only 166 yards on 55 carries. That was the program’s worst performance on the ground against Notre Dame since 2012, when Navy went for 149 yards, and comes after gaining at least 277 rushing yards in each of the previous seven meetings in the series.

8. Michigan State (8-1)

The loss to Purdue will have a negative impact on Michigan State’s spot in the Coaches Poll but does nothing to impact the equation for getting into the playoff, which always demanded wins against Ohio State, Penn State and the best team from the Big Ten West. The Spartans will fall several spots from last week’s No. 5 ranking, however. Of even greater concern is the subpar play of a defense that has allowed more than 1,000 yards in the last two games.

9. Michigan (8-1)

One week after blowing a 16-point lead to Michigan State, the Wolverines bounced back with a 29-7 win against Indiana to stick among the small group of one-loss teams in playoff contention. The big question in this week’s Coaches Poll is whether voters will keep Michigan behind MSU or ignore the head-to-head tiebreaker. 

10. Oklahoma State (8-1)

Oklahoma State should climb one spot from No. 11 and replace Wake Forest after beating West Virginia 24-3. But there’s a case to be made for Texas A&M, which smothered Auburn 20-3 and is now sitting at 7-2 with a shot at winning the SEC West. The Cowboys’ case centers on the best defense in the Big 12, several wins against teams with six wins or on the edge of bowl eligibility, and one narrow loss to Iowa State.

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg



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