With five teams from last week’s AP top 25 losing Saturday, including two of the top six squads, this week’s new rankings were bound to include some notable changes. Sure enough, they did, as Alabama was the only top-five team to remain in its same spot (No. 1, of course).
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the AP poll after Week 8:
1. As expected Ohio State isn't out of the playoff hunt
There was an immediate rush of caution to avoid overstating the impact of the Buckeyes’ stunning loss to Penn State on Saturday night. After all, Ohio State made the College Football Playoff two years earlier with a worse loss to Virginia Tech at home, so surely it could overcome a three-point road defeat to the Nittany Lions.
Sunday’s poll confirms why that caution was warranted. Although playoff selection committee has no obligation to factor in or even look at the AP poll, the committee members will likely come to a similar conclusion as the AP poll voters, who ranked Ohio State No. 6 this week. Even with a close loss in a hostile road environment, the Buckeyes are still clearly a top-10 team. They’ve blown out several opponents and have two quality road wins over ranked foes in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Whether the playoff committee sees things exactly as the AP voters do or not is irrelevant. The larger point for now is that if Ohio State wins out, it’ll make the playoff. That’s the same thing that could have been said Saturday before the Buckeyes’ loss.
2. When will West Virginia get the respect it deserves?
The Mountaineers continued their incredible start to the season Saturday with a 34–10 thumping of TCU. And praise for their defense should only get higher after the same Texas Tech attack that West Virginia held to 17 points in Lubbock last week went for 59 points and 854 total yards against Oklahoma on Saturday night.
So what possible justification do AP voters have for ranking Baylor (No. 7) ahead of the Mountaineers (No. 10)? Both teams are 6–0, yet West Virginia has beaten five teams ranked in the top 60 of Football Outsiders’ S&P + ratings while the Bears have only beaten one. Even without getting into advanced statistics, it’s pretty easy to see that a schedule of Missouri, Youngstown State, BYU, Kansas State, Texas Tech and TCU is better than one that includes Northwestern State, SMU, Rice, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas.
The answer for the discrepancy is simple. Baylor is a more established brand (ironically, a less-valued brand was the gripe Baylor fans used to complain when the Bears were left out of the playoff two years ago) and was ranked higher in the preseason, so it’ll likely continue to be ranked higher until it loses. Still, that’s a poor reason that voters should disavow.
Luckily it won’t matter in the long run. The Bears and Mountaineers meet in Morgantown on Dec. 3.
3. Welcome back, Penn State
For the first time since 2011, the Nittany Lions are in the top 25, ranked No. 24 on the heels of their massive upset of Ohio State. It’s been a long climb for coach James Franklin, who went 14–12 in his first two season in Happy Valley, including a 6–10 record in Big Ten play. Even worse, until Saturday Penn State had yet to beat Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State, the teams that make up the elite tier of the conference that the Nittany Lions would like to rejoin.
Saturday’s win was a critical step in that direction, and with Michigan State’s sudden downfall this season, Penn State has a prime opportunity to capitalize. Sitting at 5–2 right now, the Nittany Lions end the season with trips to Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers and home games against Iowa and Michigan State. Taking all five of those games will require much more consistency on offense than Penn State has shown to date, but each of those matchups is definitely winnable. Expect to see the Nittany Lions rise further up the rankings as long as they can avoid a stumble.
6. Ohio State
9. Texas A&M
10. West Virginia
12. Florida State
13. Boise State
20. Western Michigan
21. North Carolina
24. Penn State
25. Virginia Tech