The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 21, 2021 9:20 pm

Sinn's AP Poll: Week 4

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Week 3 was a week of scares and near-upsets in college football. Alabama had to survive a 2-point conversion to top Florida, while Clemson needed a goal-line stand to beat – gulp – Georgia Tech in a slog. Nebraska nearly toppled Oklahoma in the latest indication that many wrote off the Cornhuskers too quickly after an awful loss to Illinois in Week 0 (watch out for them in the Big Ten West race). Cincinnati meanwhile, had to come back from 14 points down (and get a gift targeting call that ejected the opponent's best defensive player) to beat Indiana and Ohio State trailed Tulsa well into the second quarter.

After all that, however, the only real "upset" of the week came in one of the last games on Saturday, when Fresno State topped previously-unbeaten UCLA in a 40-37 masterpiece. I was one of two voters to rank the Bulldogs prior to their victory over the Bruins and I'm here to say: this was no fluke. Fresno State under former Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer is for real and could well run through the rest of its scheduled undefeated on the way to a New Year's Six bowl. Watch out for a matchup Oct. 30 between the Bulldogs and San Diego State, which could be joining the top 25 sooner rather than later, as well.

After all of that excitement, my poll at the top looks much the same as it did a week ago, but there are significant changes after the top 10. Here it is.

1. Alabama (3-0)

2. Georgia (3-0)

3. Oklahoma (3-0)

4. Oregon (3-0)

5. Penn State (3-0)

6. Clemson (2-1)

7. Florida (2-1)

8. Iowa (2-1)

9. Cincinnati (3-0)

10. Notre Dame (3-0)

11. Ohio State (2-1)

12. Coastal Carolina (3-0)

13. Texas A&M (3-0)

14. Mississippi (3-0)

15. Iowa State (2-1)

16. Kansas State (3-0)

17. Auburn (2-1)

18. Arkansas (3-0)

19. BYU (3-0)

20. Wisconsin (1-1)

21. Fresno State (3-1)

22. Michigan State (3-0)

23. UCLA (2-1)

24. Michigan (3-0)

25. Wake Forest (3-0)

To start out with the team I cover, I gave Notre Dame some benefit of the doubt after the first two weeks, dropping it from 8 to 10 while the Irish slipped to 12 in the overall poll. I reasoned that they were breaking in a new defensive coordinator and thus the big plays they were giving up would eventually subside. That seemed to pay off in Week 3 as they held a halfway decent Purdue offense scoreless for the final 22 minutes and won 27-13. They even made some progress in protecting quarterback Jack Coan in the second half. Have the Irish looked particularly impressive so far? Not really, but their top-end talent remains as good as almost anyone (Georgia and Alabama maybe excepted) and their problems appear fixable. I flip-flopped in Week 2 about whether to put Notre Dame or Ohio State at 10 and I feel vindicated in my decision after the Buckeyes struggled to beat the Golden Hurricane this week. 

The team most similar to the Irish in terms of resume vis a vis preseason expectation right now is the team that was most similar to them in resume at the end of the 2020 season: Texas A&M. Like Notre Dame, the Aggies are 3-0, but have looked somewhat unimpressive in reaching that mark. Their 10-7 win over Colorado in Week 2, in which they needed a touchdown in the final minutes to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat, looks much worse after the Buffaloes went out and lost 30-0 to a Minnesota team that is missing its best player in running back Mohamed Ibrahim. The Aggies are playing with their backup quarterback, who had thrown a total of 24 college passes prior to this season and they got outrushed by Colorado 171-97. Count me a significant skeptic on TAMU; I believed before the season and I continue to believe the Irish have a higher ceiling. Fortunately for those who think I'm wrong, both teams play ranked opponents this week (Notre Dame takes on Wisconsin and the Aggies meet rising Arkansas), so we'll know pretty quickly how good they are.

Bold Pick of the Week: Ohio 21, Northwestern 16

That's not Ohio State, that's Ohio. After surprise runs to the Big Ten Championship Game in two of the last three seasons, the Wildcats just don't have much of anything going on this season. The Bobcats aren't one of the top teams in the MAC and they already have a loss to an FCS school (Duquesne), but they get their first big win of the post-Frank Solich Era.

Last week: Michigan State 23, No. 24 Miami 20

Actual: Michigan State 38, No. 24 Miami 17

It turned out I undersold how much better the Spartans would be in this game. This is the second week in a row I've correctly predicted a fairly significant upset after I called Arkansas to beat Texas in Week 2. Get these takes while they're hot, folks!

Season record: 3-0

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