AP Top 25 College Football Poll: Plenty of ranked teams make great escapes

Georgia tailback Brian Herrien made a diving catch against Florida in the Bulldogs 24-17 win in the rivalry matchup in Jacksonville, Fla. / Photo by Curtis Compton, Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Associated Press

When teams wins close games — especially with big plays with the game clock running down — does it mean they’re lucky, or they’re clutch?

Or maybe they’re just so superior to their opponents they can play on cruise control until they need to shift gears and pull out the victory; that’s a dangerous way of doing business that can blow up in your face, and we’ve all seen it work and not work in others of life’s endeavors, right?

These are some of the questions following what on its surface was a ho-hum week of college football (partly a by-product of the top five teams all on Halloween break — and yes, we’re counting Wofford as a bye for No. 4 Clemson).

When the big upsets are SMU and Appalachian State being knocked out of the unbeaten ranks you’d think we’re talking major meh.
But if you like exciting finishes, this was your kind of weekend. Even at Aloha Stadium — where both teams showed why they’re nowhere near the Top 25 — Hawaii and Fresno State battled to the end.

Around the rest of the country, it was also “Oh, but what could have been” for many, including quite a few games involving ranked squads.

That top five remained unchanged in the AP Top 25 … LSU, Bama, Ohio State, Clemson and Penn State. And the rest of it didn’t change much, either — only because of some major escape acts that would’ve had Houdini himself gasping for breath.

>> No. 8 Georgia more or less traded places with No. 6 Florida after Jake Fromm — the best Gator killer since Happy Gilmore — led UGA to a 24-17 rivalry win. It put the Bulldogs back into the College Football Playoff picture despite that inexplicable loss to South Carolina. Georgia led most of the way and in recent years has usually won what they call the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, but we include it here since it’s a one-score difference.

>> No. 9 Utah, on the road at Washington, trailed the Huskies by 11 at halftime but rallied to win 33-28 against three-loss but dangerous Washington.

>> No. 12 Baylor made it 8-0 by holding on to edge West Virginia 17-14 on Thursday. The Bears blocked a field-goal attempt by Casey Legg (best kicker name, ever) that would’ve tied it, and that came after Legg’s first try was successful, but replayed because of a West Virginia penalty. Also, Baylor was sacked eight times. The Bears can talk about their studly defense, but this is still one that goes in the “lucky” column.

>> No. 16 Notre Dame pulled one out of its okole against Virginia Tech, 21-20. Someone please verify this: Do some teams take almost the whole game to realize they’re playing the legendary Fighting Irish, and that means they’re supposed to stop even thinking about winning?

The Hokies had led most of the way, but Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book led a late drive culminating with his 7-yard touchdown run.

A loss — which would have been the third of the season for ND — to unranked VaTech might have knocked the Irish out of the Top 25.

>> No. 17 Cincinnati is one of those are-they-lucky-or-are-they-good teams. Its only loss is to Ohio State (excusable, even though it was 42-0, because it was like a million years ago) and two of the wins were over UCF 27-24, and now East Carolina 46-43 (questionable: is the American Conference a bunch of good teams, or a bunch of mediocre ones?)

>> No. 21 Boise State got into a shootout with San Jose State, and fortunately for the Broncos, had a couple more bullets left at the end to win 52-42 and avoid a second loss. Still, the Spartans are no longer the joke of the Mountain West.

So, the only real upset (regardless of rankings and point spreads, Florida-Georgia is almost always pick-em in reality) was No. 24 Memphis over No. 15 SMU … and even that is suspect because the Mustangs are a great example of what we were talking about at the beginning of this not so quick Quick Read.

Is (or was) SMU good, until it got un-good against Memphis and lost 54-48, or was it just lucky in all those one-score wins against the not-so murderous row of TCU, Tulsa, Arkansas State, and Houston by an average of 4.75 points?

There was a lot of love for the SMU story, like there was for those of Hawaii in ’07 and Notre Dame in ’13. Teams of destiny, finding ways to win, all that good stuff. And then we saw what happened to those teams that went undefeated by barely beating some weak opponents. Unhappy New Year!

The bottom line now is that with no more Group of Five undefeateds we have a wide-open race of who can be a conference hero and bring home that big New Year’s Day bowl payday.

This week it is back to varsity action: The poll that really matters, the committee that picks the four playoff teams, releases its first rankings on Tuesday. Then on Saturday it’s LSU at Tuscaloosa … A one and a two, as Lawrence Welk used to say. Sorry if you’re not of AARP age, Google it.

Here’s the entire AP poll, with last week’s ranking in parentheses:
1. LSU (1)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Clemson (4)
5. Penn State (5)
6. Georgia (8)
7. Oregon (7)
8. Utah (9)
9. Oklahoma (10)
10. Florida (6)
11. Baylor (12)
12. Auburn (11)
13. Minnesota (13)
14. Michigan (14)
15. Notre Dame (16)
16. Wisconsin (18)
17. Cincinnati (17)
18. Iowa (19)
19. Memphis (24)
20. Kansas State (22)
21. Boise State (21)
22. Wake Forest (23)
23. SMU (15)
24. San Diego State (25)
25. Navy (NR)
Dropped out: Appalachian State (20)
Others receiving votes: UCF, Texas, Indiana, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Louisiana Tech, Appalachian State, Pitt, Washington, Iowa State, North Dakota State, Virginia

Here’s the ballot I submitted:
1. LSU (1)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Clemson (4)
5. Penn State (5)
6. Georgia (7)
7. Oregon (10)
8. Baylor (8)
9. Oklahoma (11)
10. Florida (6)
11. Utah (9)
12. Minnesota (12)
13. Wisconsin (14)
14. Michigan (15)
15. Auburn (13)
16. Kansas State (20)
17. Memphis (21)
18. Cincinnati (18)
19. Notre Dame (19)
20. SMU (16)
21. Boise State (22)
22. Navy (23)
23. Wake Forest (NR)
24. LaTech (24)
25. San Diego State (25)
Dropped out: Appalachian State (17)