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July 30, 2021

Josh Furlong's AP Top 25: Can anyone stop Alabama, or is the SEC set to repeat as champs?

SALT LAKE CITY — As the selection committee prepares to release its first rankings of the 2020 season Tuesday, the top teams in the nation have started to separate themselves from the pretenders of college football.

And without any doubt, Alabama is the real deal this season and is unabashedly my No. 1 team in the country — yeah, I’m not breaking any new ground here. There’s few teams this season that can match the star power and overall talent of the Crimson Tide. Even against a formidable opponent in Kentucky — certainly not Alabama’s toughest to date — the Crimson Tide made it look easy en route to a 63-3 victory.

Alabama currently has wins over two Top 25 teams, but few, if any, in the country appear to be a viable threat to dethrone the Nick Saban-led team. Auburn is the only remaining ranked team to stand in its way, but Alabama is just too good to stop now.

‘Bama is the team to beat in 2020, and for that reason they remain my No. 1 team, and likely will barring some major and unpredictable change.

Here’s a look at how some of the rest of my ballot changed this week — my Top 10 remains relatively the same as last week’s ballot.

Indiana proved Ohio State is human

Let’s make one thing clear: There was never really a doubt Ohio State would beat Indiana. Even ESPN’s in-game win-probability gave the Buckeye’s no less than an 81.4% chance of winning, but that doesn’t mean Indiana didn’t make the game interesting in a 7-point loss (and it totally beat Vegas’ 21-point spread, but who’s counting).

Ohio State remains a solid team and has one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the country. Justin Fields is going places and there’s little that can be done to derail his talent; however, Indiana’s defense is the closest anyone has gotten (at least this season) to making Fields look a little more human. Fields had three interceptions and had a 60% completion percentage.

The Buckeyes remain one of the best programs in the country, but they are beatable. I still believe they have the best shot out of any other team to challenge Alabama, which is why I have them ranked No. 2, but they still have a ways to go to be a complete team.

Indiana is not just a lucky team riding a favorable spot in the rankings in an unprovable once-undefeated season. The schedule remains tough for the Hoosiers, but Tom Allen has the team in a good spot. For that reason, they stay at No. 10 in my rankings despite dropping a game to Ohio State.

Cincy sweats

Before I really get into Cincinnati’s win over UCF, I have to question its decision late in the game to not score and take a two-possession lead with just over a minute left to play. Sure, wearing out the clock is certainly a strategy, but it was fraught with potential nightmare. Even on Cincinnati’s last down, a play in which Cincinnati fumbled, the game could have flipped to UCF had the Knights scooped up the fumble and scored.

Next time, just score and let the defense sort it out on the field. I’m no coach, but that seems like the easier path, but I digress.

Cincinnati got a real challenge from UCF and has a target on its back as the leading Group of Five program in the rankings. But it’s not enough to just get comfortable inside the Top 10. I still believe Cincinnati has the talent to remain as a top team, but a date with Tulsa looms. For now, the Bearcats stay — but will it remain?

BYU’s unfortunate wait

There’s no question BYU has been one of the hottest teams in the country, despite a relatively weak schedule. Still, the Cougars can play and have been one of the most consistent teams in the country. With potentially one game left to its regular season — a looming Dec. 12 game against a San Diego State team that’s proven vulnerable — BYU is stuck in the waiting game.

Fortunately for the Cougars, a 9-0 record and a drubbing over an FCS opponent will still be fresh soon the committee’s mind when the first CFP rankings drop Tuesday, but a three-week dead period has the potential for trouble (maybe). It’s not looking like it will happen, but if a Power Five program(s) below them start reeling off big wins, could that drop the Cougars?

Recent wins matter, especially against other Power Five programs. BYU is clearly a great team, but to what extent when compared to teams around it. I still believe they’ll be fine and ultimately stay put, but it’s a nagging question that leaves some uneasiness heading into the final stretch.

Dropping Out: Liberty (8-1)

Checking In: Washington (2-0)

In Consideration: Boise State (3-1), Colorado (2-0), Liberty (8-1), Maryland (2-1), North Carolina (6-3), San Jose State (4-0), SMU (7-2), Tulsa (5-1)

If you have a question about any of the teams I ranked (or missed), hit me up on Twitter @JFurKSL and I’ll do my best to explain my reasoning. If you can’t see the ballot below, click here.

Josh Furlong

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