There’s no uncertainty over which team will land at No. 1 in this week’s USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll.
Georgia removed all doubt with a 27-13 win against Tennessee in one of the biggest matchups of the regular season. With the victory, the Bulldogs take an insurmountable lead in the SEC East and put a major dent in the Volunteers’ odds of reaching the College Football Playoff.
The only question is whether the Bulldogs will be a unanimous No. 1. There’s a chance based on the 14-point win and the way Ohio State struggled amid sloppy weather conditions to beat Northwestern.
Tennessee shouldn’t fall too far. Boosted by last month’s win against Alabama, the Volunteers should come in no lower than No. 6 and remain in the hunt for the playoff.
Where Clemson falls in the new Top 25 is worthy of debate after the Tigers were blasted by Notre Dame in a 35-14 loss. Previously No. 5 in the Coaches Poll and No. 4 in the first playoff rankings, the Tigers could fall out of the top 10 based on several factors: a series of middling performances in September and October, the declining value placed on wins against Wake Forest and Syracuse, and the general belief that the ACC ranks no better than fourth among the Power Five leagues.
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There’s also the question of where Alabama lands after a second loss, this time to LSU. The 32-31 defeat in overtime ends the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes and might signal a new hierarchy in the SEC West.
With Clemson, Alabama and Tennessee losing, TCU has a real shot at vaulting from No. 7 to No. 4 after beating Texas Tech.
1. Georgia (9-0)
Not all 14-point wins are the same. For Georgia, the 27-13 final belied a dominant performance on both sides of the ball against the No. 1 team in playoff rankings. Moving forward, it’s hard to find a team with enough balance on both sides of the ball and enough of a physical presence to stop the Bulldogs from repeating as national champs.
2. Ohio State (9-0)
Ohio State won’t fall from No. 2, though there may be a few voters tempted to shake things up near the top of the poll given how the Buckeyes looked very mortal in a 21-7 win against Northwestern. Huge favorites heading into Saturday, OSU couldn’t get into a rhythm in the rain and wind and failed to put up at least 300 yards for the first time in Big Ten play since losing to Michigan State in 2015.
3. Michigan (9-0)
There was a very brief moment Saturday when Michigan seemed wobbled by Rutgers, which took a 17-14 lead into halftime. Then came the deluge: Michigan scored 28 points in the third quarter and rolled to a 52-17 win. The Wolverines aren’t flashy, and there is a question of how the offense would fare if forced to play from behind in the second half against a high-quality opponent. Still, this team pushes opponents around.
4. TCU (9-0)
For the fifth game in a row, the Horned Frogs were in a tight spot deep into the second half but eventually pulled away to remain unbeaten. Texas Tech had the ball in TCU territory in the fourth quarter, down 20-17, before failing to convert on fourth down. The Horned Frogs quickly scored via a Max Duggan touchdown pass to regain control of the game and stick in the playoff chase. Texas, Baylor and Iowa State are the last three opponents of the regular season.
5. Tennessee (8-1)
In addition to dropping Tennessee behind in the SEC and playoff race, Saturday’s loss reopens the Heisman Trophy debate after Hendon Hooker had moved to the front of the pack with a brilliant first two months to the regular season. After tossing an interception and finishing with 195 yards against the Bulldogs, Hooker may still be in the Heisman lead but is no longer the overwhelming favorite to become the first winner in program history.
6. Oregon (8-1)
As expected, Oregon had no issue putting Colorado into an early hole and cruised to a 49-10 win. Up next, the Ducks embark on a three-game stretch that will determine the makeup of the Pac-12 championship game and whether the conference sends a team into the playoff. First comes Washington, then Utah, then rival Oregon State.
7. Southern California (8-1)
The Trojans benefit from Saturday’s wackiness and could see a two-spot bump after hanging on to beat California 40-35. That makes two wins in a row for USC, helping to remove some of the sour taste stemming from last month’s 43-42 loss to Utah. What could’ve been? With a late defensive stop against the Utes, the Trojans might be No. 4 in this week’s poll.
8. LSU (7-2)
There’s no doubt that LSU will be the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country and a good chance the Tigers will land somewhere in the back end of the top 10 — even though that would be a big jump from last week’s No. 17 ranking. This seems like a good landing spot even if LSU would have to jump four one-loss teams in Clemson, Mississippi, UCLA and North Carolina.
9. Clemson (8-1)
Clemson might fall to No. 10 or out of the top 10 entirely after getting lambasted by the Fighting Irish. The Tigers could also fall only to No. 8, bumping LSU down a spot. But there have been concerns around and questions about the Tigers all season and plenty of doubters, so Saturday’s loss could give a chunk of voters the excuse to really send Clemson plummeting down the Top 25.
10. Mississippi (8-1)
How to rank Ole Miss and LSU could frustrate some voters: the Tigers won easily when the two met last month but do have two losses to the Rebels’ one. Beating Alabama means the difference, even if wins against the Crimson Tide don’t carry the same weight as they used to. The Rebels get the next crack at Alabama next weekend in a game that will determine second place in the SEC West and a New Year’s Six berth.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coaches poll prediction: Tennessee, Clemson, Alabama losses open door