AP Top 25 Reality Check: No. 1 Georgia’s margin on No. 2 Michigan shrinks, but ‘Dawgs set for bounce

The margin between No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Michigan in The Associated Press college football poll is the smallest it has been all season.

Can the Wolverines break the Southeastern Conference’s three-year stranglehold on No. 1 — all Georgia and Alabama — and become the first team from outside the Deep South to hold the top spot in the rankings since Ohio State in 2015?

Sure, if Georgia loses and Michigan keeps rolling along — obviously — but the window of opportunity for the Wolverines to snatch No. 1 away from the Bulldogs while they are winning has probably closed.

Georgia ran its streak of appearances at No. 1 to 19 straight polls Sunday, third-longest in the history of the AP poll, which dates back to 1936.

A nice milestone for a week off, though while out of sight the Bulldogs’ lead over Michigan shrank to a season-low 32 points.

Neither of the teams that have held the top two spots in the AP Top 25 since the preseason have faced daunting schedules so far.

Georgia’s only opponent with a winning record has been Kentucky (5-2). Michigan’s eight opponents include four winning teams in Rutgers (6-2), UNLV (6-1), Minnesota (4-3) and Nebraska (4-3), but none that have spent any time ranked.

The competition picks up for both down the stretch, starting next week for Georgia when it faces Florida (5-2). Then comes No. 16 Missouri, No. 12 Mississippi and No. 21 Tennessee.

After Michigan takes next weekend off, the Wolverines’ closing stretch includes No. 10 Penn State, Maryland (5-2) and No. 3 Ohio State.

When the competition is good, voters tend to throw style points out the window.

If Georgia stays unbeaten, it is more likely to build its dwindling lead — or at least stabilize it — than relinquish the top spot.

The Bulldogs need three more weeks at No. 1 to have the second-longest streak of all-time, passing Miami’s streak of 21 weeks from 2001-02. Southern California’s 33 in a row from 2003-05 is safe this season.

Reality Check realizes that finishing No. 1 is what matters most and there is still a chance Georgia and Michigan will settle it on the field.

No. 1 Georgia (7-0)

Next: vs. Florida, Saturday.

Reality check: With star tight end Brock Bowers out for a while, Oscar Delp, a four-star recruit from the 2022 class who has 13 catches and two touchdowns, should get increased opportunities. Also, look out for freshman Luckie Lawson, whose development was slowed by preseason ankle injury.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 2 Michigan (8-0)

Next: vs. Purdue, Nov. 4.

Reality check: The Wolverines believe the world is against them. The way they are playing they’d probably be favored by two touchdowns against the world.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 3 Ohio State (7-0)

Next: at Rutgers, Saturday.

Reality check: When Alabama’s DeVonta Smith won the Heisman in 2020, he had 65 catches for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns after seven games. Marvin Harrison Jr. (42 for 766 and six) is behind that pace, but his last three games have been his best.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 4 Florida State (7-0)

Next: at Wake Forest, Saturday.

Reality check: Run defense is an underlying issue. Take away the sack yardage that gets counted toward running stats and the Seminoles are allowing 5.1 yards per carry.

Ranked: Could there be a three-way tie for fourth?

No. 5 Washington (7-0)

Next: at Stanford, Saturday.

Reality check: The Huskies’ potent offense threw out a dud against Arizona State and maybe raised some questions about how well QB Michael Penix Jr. and company will react going forward to teams committed to taking away the deep shots.

Ranked: About right.

No. 6 Oklahoma (7-0)

Next: at Kansas, Saturday.

Reality check: The Sooners’ defense has been taking on water lately, allowing 6.0 yards per play the last three weeks.

Ranked: About right.

No. 7 Texas (6-1)

Next: vs. BYU, Saturday.

Reality check: QB Quinn Ewers was knocked out of the game against Houston with an apparent right shoulder injury. Maalik Murphy is talented, but unproven if the Longhorns need him.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 8 Oregon (6-1)

Next: at No. 13 Utah, Saturday.

Reality check: The combo of Bucky Irving and Jordan James is one of the best in the country and you’d be hard-pressed to find two sub 210-pound running backs who run tougher.

Ranked: Maybe a touch high.

No. 9 Alabama (7-1)

Next: vs. No. 15 LSU, Nov. 3.

Reality check: Crimson Tide head into the last month of the season as a playoff contender again, which seemed like a long shot after a shaky September.

Ranked: Maybe a touch low.

No. 10 Penn State (6-1)

Next: vs. Indiana, Saturday.

Reality check: Concerns about the lack of top-tier receivers have been hanging over this team since the summer and they finally undid the Nittany Lions against Ohio State.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 11 Oregon State (6-1)

Next: at Arizona, Saturday.

Reality check: With tackle Taliese Fuaga on the first team and guard Tanner Miller on the second team, Oregon State was the only team in the country to have two offensive linemen earn AP midseason All-America honors.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 12 Mississippi (6-1)

Next: at Vanderbilt, Saturday.

Reality check: Rebels are the sneaky SEC West contender having already split with Alabama and LSU, though drawing Georgia on the schedule for the first time since 2016 is either bad luck or a great opportunity.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 13 Utah (6-1)

Next: vs. No. 8 Oregon, Saturday.

Reality check: With the will-he-or-won’t-he-play drama around QB Cam Rising (ankle) now resolved — he won’t this season — the Utes appear to have found some answers on offense with QB Bryson Barnes.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 14 Notre Dame (6-2)

Next: vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday.

Reality check: Remaining opponents for the Fighting Irish, most notably Clemson, are a combined 12-16.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 15 LSU (6-2)

Next: at No. 9 Alabama, Saturday.

Reality check: Even after allowing 42 yards passing on 15 attempts while blanking Army, the Tigers’ pass defense ranks 88th in the country in yards per attempt (7.6) and efficiency rating against (137.09).

Ranked: Even with the defensive issues, this feels low.

No. 16 Missouri (7-1)

Next: at No. 1 Georgia,

Reality check: Tigers are second in the SEC at turning red-zone trips into touchdowns, converting on almost 69%.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 17 North Carolina (6-1)

Next: at Georgia Tech, Saturday.

Reality check: The Tar Heels’ run defense has collapsed the last three weeks and it finally caught up to them — surprisingly — against Virginia.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 18 Louisville (6-1)

Next: vs. No. 20 Duke, Saturday.

Reality check: That loss at Pitt doesn’t look so bad compared to what happened to North Carolina. Saturday’s game is a monster for the Cardinals.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 19 Air Force (7-0)

Next: vs. Colorado State, Saturday.

Reality check: Before Navy’s final drive of 15 plays and 78 yards with the game in hand, the Falcons had allowed 46 yards on 36 plays.

Ranked: Little high.

No. 20 Duke (5-2)

Next: at No. 18 Louisville, Saturday.

Reality check: The Blue Devils again acquitted themselves well against a historical powerhouse, this time Florida State, but yet again the health of QB Riley Leonard is the biggest concern coming out of the game.

Ranked: Little low.

No. 21 Tennessee (5-2)

Next: at Kentucky, Saturday.

Reality check: Georgia and Missouri still to come, slipping back to 8-4 is very real possibility after last season’s 11-win breakthrough. This team still feels like a tough out.

Ranked: About right.

No. 22 Tulane (6-1)

Next: at Rice, Saturday.

Reality check: Opponents have almost given up on trying to run on the Green Wave. Only one has broken 90 yards on the ground this season.

Ranked: Touch high.

No. 23 UCLA (5-2)

Next: vs. Colorado, Saturday.

Reality check: Bruins switched back to Ethan Garbers as the starting QB and he played well against Stanford, which might not mean the position is settled.

Ranked: Touch low.

No. 24 Southern California (5-2)

Next: at California, Saturday.

Reality check: The Trojans have allowed 48 plays of at least 20 yards, most among Power Five teams, and seven more than the next worse, Vanderbilt with 41.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 25 James Madison (7-0)

Next: vs. Old Dominion, Saturday.

Reality check: The Dukes leads the nation in sacks at 4.86 per game, led by DL Jalen Green with 13.

Ranked: Just right.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com.

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