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Penn State rises in Week 10 AP Top 25 poll and more thoughts

After winning its fifth straight game, the Penn State Nittany Lions rised to No. 12 in the latest AP Top 25 rankings. 

The AP Top 25 released its post-Week 10 poll Sunday, its first set of rankings since the College Football Playoff selection committee unveiled its first rankings of the season Tuesday.

Here are three thoughts on the AP poll:

1. AP voters stuck to their guns at the top 

The first AP poll after the playoff rankings come out is always intriguing because it’s interesting to see to how much the playoff rankings cause AP voters to reconsider their own ballot. This year, for example, Penn State shot up from No. 20 in last week’s AP poll to No. 12 this week, exactly where the playoff ranked the Nittany Lions on Tuesday. Penn State soundly thumped Iowa 41–14 on Saturday for is fifth straight victory, so it’s not surprising to see James Franklin’s squad continue to climb. However, beating the now 5–4 Hawkeyes at home clearly wasn’t the biggest factor in the Nittany Lions’ eight-spot leap.

Now toward the top of the rankings, AP voters appear to have stayed true to prior assessments. Ohio State remains No. 6, behind No. 5 Louisville, despite the Buckeyes ranking ahead of the Cardinals in the playoff top 25. Additionally, Michigan stays No. 2 ahead of No. 3 Clemson, while the playoff swapped those two teams.

It would have been interesting to see how AP voters would have handled the playoff committee’s decision to rank Texas A&M at No. 4 ahead of undefeated Washington. However, the Aggies’ stunning defeat to Mississippi State rendered that argument moot, so Washington holds at No. 4 in the AP poll. We’ll find out Tuesday if the playoff agrees or if it will have Ohio State leapfrog the Huskies on the strength of the Buckeyes’ 62–3 beatdown on Nebraska, which fell from No. 9 to No. 21 in the AP poll.

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2. If you want to accuse the AP poll of SEC bias, Texas A&M is a pretty good case

Speaking of Texas A&M, the Aggies fell just three spots in this week’s AP poll, dropping from No. 7 in last week’s rankings to No. 10 this week. Perhaps this was due to the conflicting momentum of their surprising No. 4 spot in the playoff rankings and their loss to Mississippi State, but nonetheless, it will certainly amplify the voices of those who believe AP voters (as well as the playoff and other key figures in college football) overestimate the quality of SEC teams.

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Conspiracy theories aside, Texas A&M’s No. 10 ranking is a bit peculiar. The Aggies now have two defeats, a 19-point loss to Alabama and Saturday’s seven-point loss to the Bulldogs. Losing to Alabama is hardly surprising, but Mississippi State will struggle to make a bowl game even after Saturday’s upset win. The Bulldogs began the season by losing to South Alabama, and their best win prior to Saturday was a home victory over South Carolina.

The quality of Texas A&M’s victories is hardly robust either. The Aggies’ victory over Auburn remains a high point as the Tigers continue to climb, but after that, Texas A&M’s win over Tennessee has not aged well. The Auburn win is the Aggie’s lone victory over a currently ranked team.

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3. The AP appears to buy a path to the playoff for two-loss Oklahoma. Will the playoff committee agree?

Oklahoma debuted in the playoff rankings at No. 14, one spot higher than the Sooners’ initial playoff ranking in 2015 despite their pair of losses to Houston and Ohio State this season. That No. 14 ranking made Oklahoma the highest ranked team from the Big 12, ahead of Baylor and West Virginia, making the Sooners the conference’s best shot at sending a team to the playoff.

Based on Sunday’s AP poll, voters appear to believe Oklahoma will deserve to be in the playoff conversation if it can win out. The Sooners climbed three spots in this week’s AP poll up to No. 9. While that’s still a long way from the top four, Oklahoma will be helped by the fact that at least three of the teams ahead of it are guaranteed losses (No. 1 Alabama and No.  8 Auburn meet in the Iron Bowl, No. 2 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State play in The Game and the winner of that matchup would play No. 7 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game).

So even if no other upsets happen, Oklahoma could move to as high as No. 6 in the AP poll just by winning its remaining games. From there, the Sooners could leapfrog some other teams on the basis of winning their conference title.

It’s unclear whether the playoff selection committee will agree with AP voters’ assessment of Oklahoma. The playoff already had the Sooners slightly lower in its top 25 than the AP last week (No. 14 vs. No. 12 respectively), so coach Bob Stoops’s team may not crack the top 10 in this week’s playoff rankings.  Still, if the Sooners win out, other teams’ losses will eventually push them into the top 10. They will definitely be a part of the playoff discussion down the stretch.

You can see the full rankings here.