Top 25: Contenders, big games become clear


Halfway through the college football season the contenders have become fairly clear and the most meaningful games are pretty easy to spot.

Of the top 11 teams in the latest Associated Press college football poll, 10 play each other in upcoming regular season games.

No. 5 LSU is at No. 8 Alabama on Nov. 7. No. 9 Florida State also plays at No. 6 Clemson that day. On Nov. 21, No. 7 Michigan State is at No. 1 Ohio State. No. 2 Baylor is at No. 4 TCU the day after Thanksgiving and No. 11 Notre Dame is at No. 10 Stanford that Saturday.

There will be upsets, no doubt. Other games have potential to shake-up the College Football Playoff race and other teams will no doubt be in contention. But there is also a good chance the winners of those games will comprise most if not all of the final four.

This is also the point in the season where most teams have built up enough of a resume that ranking teams on one or two big wins doesn’t quite fly. A team can show itself to be very good even if its competition isn’t. The AP voters have had their say. Time to heat check their work, but remember: This stuff will work itself out.

No. 1 Ohio State (7-0)

When the Buckeyes don’t turn the ball over and convert their red-zone trips into touchdowns, they are that unstoppable team they were expected to be this season. Still might be the best team in the country. Still looking for that centerpiece victory.

Next: at Rutgers.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 2 Baylor (6-0)

If it was this easy to score 60 every week, other teams would do it. But we reserve the right to be a little skeptical.

Next: Iowa State. Smells like another 60.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 3 Utah (6-0)

Against one of the tougher schedules in the country so far, the Utes are unbeaten. It might feel weird to vote them No. 1 but it would be the right thing to do.

Next: at USC.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 4 TCU (7-0)

The Horned Frogs have played only three games at home and outscored the opposition 176-51 there.

Next: West Virginia.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 5 LSU (6-0)

QB Brandon Harris and the passing game are coming around. But the Tigers have played only two road games

Next: Western Kentucky.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 6 Clemson (6-0)

The Tigers have dusted a couple of inferior conference foes the last two weeks at home. That’s what big-time teams do. The resume win against Notre Dame makes up for the lack of road credentials.

Next: at Miami.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 7 Michigan State (7-0)

So this is weird: The Spartans played one of their best games of the season at Michigan and had they lost Heat Check would have endorsed not dropping them far. That they won in such a bizarre manner leaves Heat Check reluctant to reward Michigan State too much. Voters seemed to have had a similar reaction and left the Spartans right where they were.

Next: Indiana.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 8 Alabama (6-1)

Make it two convincing road wins. Similar to Ohio State in that the talent makes it easy to overlook the flaws. In the Tide’s case, the flaw is a home loss to an Ole Miss team that hasn’t played well since beating ‘Bama.

Next: Tennessee.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 9 Florida State (6-0)

The Seminoles’ resume is lackluster, like Ohio State’s, but they seem to be getting better. By the way, Everett Golson has zero interceptions. How about that?

Next: at Georgia Tech.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 10 Stanford (5-1)

Northwestern over Stanford is becoming 2015’s Virginia Tech over Ohio State. Christian McCaffrey and the Cardinal are crushing foes.

Next: Washington.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 11 Notre Dame (6-1)

No team has a better loss and the Irish have flashed dominance in their wins.

Next: Temple, Oct. 31.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 12 Iowa (7-0)

The Hawkeyes are the classic example of a good team that catches a couple of breaks early, gains confidence and now thinks it’s better than it is. That’s a good thing. They played their best game against Northwestern, beating the heck out of the team that beat Stanford. Heat check is starting to warm up to Iowa … a little.

Next: Maryland, Oct. 31.

Heat check. Too hot.

No. 13 Florida (6-1)

A nothing-to-be-ashamed of loss at LSU.

Next: Georgia, Oct. 31.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 14 Oklahoma State (6-0)

The Cowboys and Hawkeyes can start the no-respect-no-losses club.

Next: Kansas.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 15 Michigan (5-2)

If the Wolverines get that punt off they are probably a top-10 team. Should also be noted that some of Michigan’s offensive flaws were exposed against the Spartans.

Next: at Minnesota, Oct. 31.

Heat check: Just about right.

No. 15 Texas A&M (5-1)

The Aggies need to have an elite offense and they don’t.

Next: at No. 24 Ole Miss.

Heat check: Just a touch too hot.

No. 17 Oklahoma (5-1)

Maybe Heat Check was too harsh on the Sooners after they lost to Texas? That 55-0 win at Kansas State has Heat Check eyeing that Boomer Sooner bandwagon again.

Next: Texas Tech.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 18 Memphis (6-0)

Plenty of Power Five conference teams would take Paxton Lynch over their quarterback.

Next: at Tulsa, Friday.

Heat check: Little cold.

No. 19 Toledo (6-0)

Heat Check fully endorses rewarding Group of Five teams that might lack schedule strength with rankings in bottom-third of the Top 25 ahead of so-so Power Five teams.

Next: at UMass.

Heat check: Just right, though this might be pushing it.

No. 20 California (5-1)

Bears face a second straight tough road test. Cal might only be favored in one of its remaining games (home against Oregon State).

Next: at UCLA, Thursday.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 21 Houston (6-0) and No. 22 Temple (6-0)

Would the Cougars and Owls beat Mississippi State or UCLA? Maybe not, but why reward those teams for being nothing special.

Next: Cougars at UCF; Owls at East Carolina, Thursday.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 23 Duke (5-1)

It is fun to put Duke in the Top 25, whether the Blue Devils deserve it or not. Best win is against collapsing Georgia Tech. Probably not.

Next: at Virginia Tech.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 24. Mississippi (5-2)

If it’s possible to average 43.6 points per game and have an underwhelming offense, that’s Ole Miss. The Rebels get to live off that Alabama win for one more week.

Next: No. 15 Texas A&M.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 25 Pittsburgh (5-1)

The Panthers are a 57-yard field goal by Iowa from being unbeaten. And a 56-yard field goal by their kicker, Chris Blewitt, away from being 4-2. Heat Check also endorses giving some new teams a spin at No. 25 when you can. Pitt has not been ranked since 2010.

Next: at Syracuse.

Heat check: Just right.

Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

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