The College Football Playoff picture could not be more difficult to predict as we enter the final week of the regular season with five teams from Power Five conferences currently undefeated with 11-0 records. Luckily, projecting the new AP Top 25 poll is a bit easier as those rankings are not limited to just four spots, but the Week 12 results are shaping up to provide a shake up in the order of those undefeated teams.
Washington got put outside its comfort zone on a big stage Saturday night, playing against a tough Oregon State opponent in the driving rain in Corvallis, Oregon. Michael Penix Jr. did not have his usual production in terms of yards or completion percentage, but the Huskies made enough plays — and got some strong defensive resilience — to remain unbeaten in a 22-20 win.
That is the kind of win that answers questions for voters who were downgrading Washington even as it racked up ranked wins, and we’re projecting that the quality victory against the Beavers is enough to overcome the slight margin that Florida State held over Washington for No. 4.
Outside of the top 10, we’re projecting some major shake ups in terms of teams moving in and out of the top 25. That’s expected at this time of year as late-season conference play proves a second, third or even fourth loss for plenty of teams that have been hanging on at the edge of the poll rankings. It opens the door for teams like Iowa and UNLV, who are both 9-2 heading into the final week of the regular season, to take over some of those spots in the 20s on AP voters ballots.
Here’s how we think the new AP Top 25 will look on Sunday after Week 12 results:
1. Georgia (Last week — 1): Like many teams in 2023, Tennessee got an early score to inspire confidence and perhaps project the idea of a potential upset against the two-time reigning champion Bulldogs. But again, Georgia was able to emerge victorious, this time by a comfortable 38-10 margin. Georgia is the first team to ever finish with an 8-0 record in SEC play in three consecutive seasons, and it’s 28-game winning streak matches an SEC record.
2. Michigan (2): Whether the Wolverines were ever really in danger of being upset at Maryland in a 31-24 win will be the debate for voters who might reconsider Michigan’s position in their own top three. In the consensus, there might not be much movement with both Georgia and Ohio State mostly meeting expectations.
3. Ohio State (3): TreVeyon Henderson rolled up 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns as the defense totally stuffed out any hope Minnesota had of competing in a 37-3 win.
4. Washington (5): The Huskies faced difficult conditions in a downpour and won in gritty fashion, defeating Oregon State 22-20 on the road. Any voters who have been doubting Washington’s defense or standing among the top five teams in the country got an obvious message that this is a title contender that can win in different ways.
5. Florida State (4): The biggest issue for Florida State is not where it stands in the rankings but how the team moves forward in the wake of Jordan Travis’ devastating injury. If the Seminoles can still patch together two more wins (Florida in the regular-season finale, Louisville in the ACC Championship Game), they’re going to have a strong argument for the College Football Playoff. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about Florida State’s future, and combined with an impressive Washington win, we could see a shake up in the top five.
6. Oregon (6): Bo Nix threw for 404 yards and six touchdowns in a 49-13 win at Arizona State, tying the program’s single-game passing touchdowns record as the Ducks now sit 10-1 heading into a rivalry week with Oregon State on deck.
7. Texas (7): Everyone asks when Texas is going to be back, but one major barrier of “back-ness” was crossed on Saturday as Steve Sarkisian has led the Longhorns to their first 10-win regular season since being the national runner-up in 2009. That effort was completed with a 26-16 win at Iowa State.
8. Alabama (8): No opinions were changed regarding Alabama after a 66-10 win against FCS Chattanooga. Touchdowns were scored, seniors were honored, and the Crimson Tide stayed the course. Up next is the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium, followed by yet another chapter in the modern Alabama-Georgia rivalry for the SEC title.
9. Louisville (9): Miami had a ton of chances to knock off Louisville and prevent the Cardinals from claiming a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time, but the defense came up with just enough plays to keep this dream debut season for Jeff Brohm on track. Louisville is 10-1 overall after going 7-1 in ACC play and will play Kentucky next week before facing Florida State in Charlotte on Dec. 2.
10. Missouri (11): An epic finish at home against Florida keeps Missouri from what would have been a damning drop in the rankings. Harrison Mevis came up with another game-winning kick to help the Tigers improve to 9-2 overall.
11. Penn State (12): On a day notable for quarterback injuries, Penn State saw its star signal-caller knocked out of the game with Drew Allar not returning after a hit to the upper body on a scramble in the third quarter. Backup Beau Pribula replaced him, and the Nittany Lions’ defense led the way in a 27-6 win, but still a notable development for one of the top-ranked two-loss teams in the country.
12. Ole Miss (13): A sleepy first half might have generated some upset alert intrigue, but Jaxson Dart and the Rebels put those concerns away quickly after halftime in a 35-3 win against ULM.
13. Oklahoma (14): An injury to Dillon Gabriel remains the most significant fallout from a 31-24 upset scare at BYU, but for rankings purposes, there shouldn’t be any major adjustments for simply improving to 9-2 overall.
14. Oregon State (10): Though the Beavers are now a three-loss team, we’re projecting they will be the highest-ranked such program team in the new AP Top 25 as there’s little to criticize for their effort in an upset bid against Washington.
15. LSU (15): Jayden Daniels’ Heisman Trophy campaign may have gotten a boost from from a eight-touchdown performance (six passing, two rushing), but don’t expect the Tigers to make any moves sitting just behind the Beavers as the next-best three-loss team.
16. Arizona (19): One underrated storyline of Arizona’s impressive 2023 season has been how well its defense has played, particularly against the best opponents on the schedule. There have been plenty of “Desert Swarm” references for a group that on Saturday logged two interceptions and forced a turnover on downs to stifle Utah in a 42-18 win against the two-time reigning Pac-12 champions. It’s Arizona’s first eight-win season since 2014 when the Wildcats finished 10-4 and ranked No. 19 in the final AP Top 25.
17. Tulane (17): A 24-8 win at FAU isn’t going to resonate with voters in a way to lead to any major jumps, but a 10-1 record in late November is going to keep you from losing any ground as other teams in the rankings take losses.
18. Notre Dame (20): Sam Hartman’s first meeting against the team where he set ACC records lacked for drama as after halftime as the former Wake Forest quarterback had four touchdowns in a 45-7 win.
19. Oklahoma State (24): There was a decent voting points gap between Oklahoma State and Kansas State last week with the Wildcats holding a 62-point edge (240-178) on the No. 23 spot. But as voters reshuffle their rankings in the wake of both teams picking up tough road wins, we should see the head-to-head result honored and the Cowboys jump ahead in the wake of a 43-30 win at Houston.
20. Kansas State (23): The Wildcats did an excellent job closing strong after third-string quarterback Cole Ballard had Kansas holding a double-digit third quarter lead in the Sunflower State Showdown. Two unanswered touchdowns in the final 22 minutes of game play helped the reigning Big 12 champions stay in the title race for 2023 and remain in the top 25 of the rankings.
21. Liberty (25): Beating UMass was expected, and it’s not the 49-25 result that will lead to a move up in the rankings as much as it will be more voter attention as the last undefeated team in the country that isn’t already ranked in the top five.
22. Iowa (NR): The Hawkeyes clinched the Big Ten West with a 15-13 win against Illinois, improving to 9-2 overall and booking the program’s Big Ten title game appearance in a three-year span.
23. UNLV (NR): The Runnin’ Rebels had arguably the most impressive win in the Mountain West across Week 12, going to Air Force and overcoming an early deficit to win 31-27. Rankings-wise, UNLV was behind Fresno State last week and does have a head-to-head loss, but in the conference standings, its Barry Odom’s squad standing alone in first place with a 6-1 record.
24. SMU (NR): A 38-34 win at Memphis has the Mustangs one win away from completing an undefeated season in conference play, improving to 9-2 overall with a home date against Navy coming up next week.
25. NC State (NR): There wasn’t a ton of voter support last week for the Wolfpack, but there will be a second look after a 35-28 road win against Virginia Tech. NC State is now 8-3 and riding a four-game winning streak that includes victories against Clemson and Miami. With two of its losses coming to top-20 teams (Louisville, Notre Dame), the profile stacks up as one of the better three-loss resumes in the country.
Projected to drop out: No. 16 Utah, No. 18 James Madison, No. 21 Tennessee, No. 22 North Carolina