AP Top 25 Heat Check: Georgia gives SEC the power its lacked

By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The Southeastern Conference is not the behemoth it was when the league dominated college football for almost a decade, but for the first time in a few years, it has a team other than Alabama that could threaten to win a national championship.
Georgia crept up to No. 3 in the AP college football poll on Sunday, and a case can be made the Bulldogs are still being undersold. The top-ranked Crimson Tide are now a unanimous No. 1 for the first time this season and, after four ranked teams lost last weekend, Penn State is No. 2. The Nittany Lions have not been ranked this high since 1999.
As for the SEC, overall depth is lacking, but Georgia is providing strength at the top that has been missing.
From 2006-12, four SEC schools combined to win seven straight national titles, and there was almost always another SEC team or two near the top of the final rankings. But in 2015, the SEC was down to two top 10 teams in the final poll: No. 1 Alabama and No. 10 Mississippi. Last year, Alabama finished No. 2 and next best in the SEC was LSU at 13.
Last week the SEC had only three ranked teams, the fewest for the league in any week since 2009, when the conference’s depth was so-so but Alabama and Florida finished first and third, respectively.
This season is starting to feel like that one, when the Crimson Tide and Gators were undefeated headed into the SEC championship game.
Is the SEC back? Heat check is unconcerned. It’s about teams not conferences, but right now no conference has two teams better than Georgia and Alabama.
No. 1 Alabama (7-0)
The Crimson Tide is the only team in the nation ranked in the top 10 in yards per play (7.01, 10th) and yards per play allowed (4.09, fifth).
Next: vs. Tennessee.
Heat check: Just right.
No. 2 Penn State (6-0)
Nittany Lions have been dominant. The competition has been OK. Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State over the next three weeks will change at least one of those.
Next: vs. No. 19 Michigan.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 3 Georgia (7-0)
Roquan Smith might be the best linebacker in the country.
Next: Florida at Jacksonville, Florida, Oct. 28.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 4 TCU (6-0)
After watching several good teams lose or barely get on the road, there is even more to appreciate about the Horned Frogs. TCU has won three away from home against Power Five teams by an average of 18 points.
Next: vs. Kansas.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 5 Wisconsin (6-0)
Yes, the Badgers have played no ranked teams and won’t play more than one before the Big Ten championship game. But Clemson, Washington, Washington State and Auburn just lost to unranked teams. Simply taking care of business every week is not easy.
Next: vs. Maryland.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 6 Ohio State (6-1)
The Buckeyes have looked scary good but when Nebraska is your best win you might be over-ranked.
Next: vs No. 2 Penn State, Oct. 28.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 7 Clemson (6-1)
The Tigers’ resume really took two hits last weekend. The loss to Syracuse was the most serious. But that “impressive” victory against Louisville is looking a lot less so. Still, Clemson’s schedule has been tougher than most of the teams in front of it.
Next: vs. Georgia Tech, Oct. 28.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 8 Miami (5-0)
Fortunate? Sure, but plenty of teams have ridden the wave of confidence gained from early close victories to special seasons.
Next: vs. Syracuse.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 9 Oklahoma (5-1)
After this past weekend, losing to Iowa State doesn’t seem quite so bad.
Next: at Kansas State.
Heat check: Too cold. At least ahead of Ohio State.
No. 10 Oklahoma State (5-1)
The Cowboys enter a three-game stretch (at Texas, at No. 23 West Virginia and vs. No. 9 Oklahoma) that will either end their Big 12 hopes or put them right back into the playoff mix.
Next: at Texas.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 11 Southern California (6-1)
The Trojans keep winning close games against solid teams and getting criticized for it.
Next: at No. 13 Notre Dame.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 12 Washington (6-1)
The Huskies were held to seven points by Arizona State and did not commit a turnover. Maybe in the next few weeks Washington will be revealed to have been a fraud, but for now it is an absolutely confounding result.
Next: vs. UCLA, Oct. 28.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1)
It certainly looks as if the Fighting Irish are not getting enough love, but the next few weeks should settle things.
Next: vs. No. 11 Southern California.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 14 Virginia Tech (5-1)
The Hokies seem like the quintessential middle of the rankings team.
Next: vs. North Carolina.
Heat check: Just right.
No. 15 Washington State (6-1)
It wasn’t particularly surprising for the Cougars to have a short stay in the top-10. But good grief that performance at Cal was awful.
Next: vs. Colorado.
Heat check: Just right.
No. 16 South Florida (6-0)
The Bulls, known for their offense, are sixth in the nation in yards per play allowed (4.12) and 64th in yards per play (5.72).
Next: at Tulane.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 16 (tie) NC State (6-1)
Currently, the second best team in the ACC.
Next: at No. 13 Notre Dame, Saturday, Oct. 28.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 18 Michigan State (5-1)
The Spartans have played good defense without creating many negative plays (76th in the nation in tackles for loss at 5.83 per game) or causing a lot of turnovers (40th in the nation with 11). That could be hard to sustain.
Next: vs. Indiana.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 19 Michigan (5-1)
Enough about the ugly offense. Watching DT Maurice Hurst throw offensive linemen around can be as a fun as a touchdown — and it happens far more frequently for the Wolverines.
Next: at No. 2 Penn State.
Heat check: Just right. Behind Michigan State.
No. 20 UCF (5-0)
For those who like to make a case against having preseason rankings, here’s your team. UCF has been better against better competition than USF, but still four places behind.
Next: at Navy.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 21 Auburn (5-2)
The Tigers dropped 11 spots for losing a close game to a team that is now ranked. Harsh.
Next: at Arkansas.
Heat check: Too cold.
No. 22 Stanford (5-2)
Nine straight games in which Bryce Love has at least one run 50 yards or longer. Thirty-nine FBS teams, including TCU, have zero 50-plus runs this season.
Next: at Oregon State, Thursday, Oct. 26.
Heat check: Just right.
No. 23 West Virginia (4-2)
Could see the Mountaineers continue to yo-yo in and out of the bottom of the Top 25 all season.
Next: at Baylor.
Heat check: Just right.
No. 24 LSU (5-2)
The Tigers have become the when-in-doubt team for voters. No doubt they have Top-25 talent.
Next: at Mississippi.
Heat check: Too hot.
No. 25 Memphis (5-1)
That UCLA win is not aging well.
Next: at Houston, Thursday.
Heat check: Too hot.
INSTEAD OF … LSU and Memphis how about Texas A&M and San Diego State.
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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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