AP Top 25 Reality Check: Gap between elite and rest grows

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Clemson players Nolan Turner and Lyn-J Dixon celebrate a touchdown against Syracuse during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Syracuse, N.Y. (AP Photo/Steve Jacobs)

Before the season there was talk of a clear dividing line in college football between the elite programs, true national championship and perennial playoff contenders, and everybody else.

Through three weeks of the college football season, not much has changed. No. 1 Clemson, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 6 Ohio State have been dominant and look like the class of the country.

LSU has crept into the middle of that bunch, sitting at No. 4 in the latest AP Top 25 college football poll presented by Regions Bank. The Tigers moved in on the strength of a wildly entertaining win at No. 12 Texas. Their victory in Austin rates as the season’s most impressive accomplishment so far. We’ll see how that stands up, but there hasn’t been all that many marquee matchups from which to choose.

Fans of No. 7 Notre Dame, a team coming off a playoff appearance, and No. 8 Auburn, which claims a neutral-field victory against No. 16 Oregon, could argue they belong in that group, too. Reality Check is more skeptical. The Fighting Irish and Tigers have a chance to stick it to the doubters next weekend, with Notre Dame heading to Georgia and Auburn to No. 17 Texas A&M.

The call here is Notre Dame and Auburn are closer to No.15 UCF than Clemson, and the AP voters should be showing the Knights a little more love in a world where the difference between No. 7 and No. 17 (or higher) seems marginal.

No. 1 Clemson (3-0)

Next: vs. Charlotte

Reality check: The Tigers almost look a little bored offensively.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 2 Alabama (3-0)

Next: vs. Southern Miss

Reality check: In two games against Power Five opponents, the Tide is averaging 3.30 yards per rush and allowing 3.95 per rush. Even this early, that’s unusual.

Ranked: Just right, though the ‘Bama benefit of the doubt is getting stretched.

No. 3 Georgia (3-0)

Next: vs. No. 7 Notre Dame

Reality check: The Bulldogs have barely broken sweat and seem to have discovered some young playmakers on the outside in freshmen George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock.

Ranked: Just a touch too high, based on solely on competition.

No. 4 LSU (3-0)

Next: at Vanderbilt

Reality check: Joe Burrow is completing 83 percent of his passes, best in the nation.

Ranked: A touch too low.

No.5 Oklahoma (3-0)

Next: vs. Texas Tech, Sept. 28.

Reality check: Jalen Hurts’ first three starts this year: 80% completions, 880 yards passing, nine touchdown passes, no interceptions, 373 yards rushing, four touchdowns.

Kyler Murray’s first three starts last year: 67.3% completions, 863 yards passing, eight touchdowns, one interception, 169 yards rushing, two touchdowns.

Baker Mayfield’s first three starts in 2017: 76.8 completions, 1,046 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, no interceptions, no yards rushing or touchdowns.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 6 Ohio State (3-0)

Next: vs. Miami (Ohio).

Reality check: The defense, ranked ninth in the nation at 3.85 yards per play, is what makes it tempting to put Ohio State in the conversation with Alabama and Clemson. But we’ll tap the brakes for a little longer.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0)

Next: at No. 3 Georgia.

Reality check: Hard to know what to take seriously in a 50-point blowout, but the Irish gave up a couple of long runs against New Mexico and currently rank 120th in the nation at 4.96 per carry against.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 8 Auburn (3-0)

Next: at No. 17 Texas A&M.

Reality check: Will coach Gus Malzahn work in QB Joey Gatewood as a runner to go with Bo Nix?

Ranked: Too low.

No. 9 Florida (3-0)

Next: vs. Tennessee.

Reality check: QB Feleipe Franks (leg) has his limitations, but things probably won’t get easier for the Gators without him.

Ranked: About right.

No. 10 Utah (3-0)

Next: at Southern California.

Reality check: Winning at BYU looks better every week.

Ranked: About right.

No. 11 Michigan (2-0)

Next: at No. 13 Wisconsin.

Reality: Time for that new offense to start producing.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 12 Texas (3-0)

Next: vs. Oklahoma State.

Reality check: A defense leaning on lots of inexperienced players hopes it won’t be without sophomore LB Joseph Ossai (shoulder) now that Big 12 play is starting.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 13 (tie) Wisconsin (2-0)

Next: vs. No. 11 Michigan.

Reality check: The Badgers will probably give up some points this week.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 13 (tie) Penn State (3-0)

Next: at Maryland, Sept. 27.

Reality check: The Nittany Lions look more like a collection of talented players than a cohesive team so far.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 15 UCF (3-0)

Next: at Pittsburgh

Reality check: The competition questions will never cease, but the Knights certainly look capable of running with any team outside of that top tier of elites.

Ranked: Too low.

No. 16 Oregon (3-0)

Next: at Stanford.

Reality check: The Ducks have gone off on overmatched competition since botching the Auburn game.

Ranked: Little too low.

No. 17 Texas A&M (3-0)

Next: vs. No. 8 Auburn.

Reality check: The Aggies have dominated two patsies and were smothered by the best team in the country. They’ll be punching at their level this week.

Ranked: About right.

No. 18 Iowa (2-0)

Next:vs. Middle Tennessee, Sept. 28.

Reality check: Is anything more Iowa than a game-sealing punt?

Ranked: About right.

No. 19 Washington State (3-0)

Next: vs. UCLA.

Reality check: Mike Leach’s magic is fielding pretty much the same team every season while mostly recruiting in the two/three-star bin.

Ranked: About right

No. 20 Boise State (3-0)

Next: vs. Air Force.

Reality check: The Broncos will have their hands full in their division with Air Force, Utah State and Wyoming all looking pretty good.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 21 Virginia (3-0)

Next: vs. Old Dominion

Reality check: The second-best team in the ACC. For whatever that’s worth right now.

Ranked: Just right.

No. 22 Washington (2-1)

Next: at BYU.

Reality check: The next three games (at BYU, vs. USC and at Stanford) will determine whether the Cal game was just a blip.

Ranked: Too high.

No. 23 California (3-0)

Next: at Mississippi.

Reality check: Congratulations on the ranking, Bears, but this offense is still really sketchy, 99th in the nation at 5.13 per play.

Ranked: If Washington is ranked, guess Cal should be, too.

No. 24 Arizona State (3-0)

Next: vs. Colorado.

Reality check: The Sun Devils are 5-1 under coach HermEdwards in games decided by three points. Not sure how much of this is a sustainable skill and how much is good fortune.

Ranked: Road wins will get you in the bottom of the rankings three weeks into the season. Just right.

No. 25 TCU (2-0)

Next: vs. SMU.

Reality check: Could this be another TCU team that comes off the radar to contend in the Big 12?

Ranked: See Arizona State. Just right.

Instead of Washington what about Oklahoma State or Kansas State?

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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More on Regions Bank: www.regions.com

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