Schedule loaded with big games should cure AP poll gridlock, sort out contenders

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Breaking down the ballots for the AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football's fourth weekend.

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SORT 'EM OUT SATURDAY

The cure for poll gridlock is next Saturday's schedule.

Six games will match ranked teams, including three Southeastern Conference showdowns involving six West division rivals.

Here's the lineup:

— No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Mississippi

— No. 4 Oklahoma at No. 25 TCU

— No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn

— No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State

— No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame

— No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State

Note: No. 2 Oregon hosts unbeaten Arizona on Thursday night.

The last two weeks have been highlighted by close calls involving some of the nation's best teams, with Florida State pulling two great escapes. The latest Seminoles rally resulted in a 56-41 victory at North Carolina State on Saturday. The Seminoles fell behind 24-7 in the first quarter before storming back behind Jameis Winston, who returned from his one-game suspension.

Florida State held the top spot in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday, though support for the Seminoles continues to wane. Florida State is down to 27 first-place votes, after starting the season with 57, and its lead on No. 2 Oregon is 11 points. Oregon received 13. No. 3 Alabama got 13, too, and Oklahoma had seven first-place votes.

The margin between Nos. 1 and 2 is the smallest in the AP poll since the final regular-season poll of 2010, when Auburn was 11 points ahead of Oregon heading into the BCS title game.

As for the current rankings, the top seven teams in the poll were unchanged for a second straight week, and there was little movement throughout.

Florida State did drop to No. 2 behind Alabama in the USA Today coaches.

The Seminoles have looked nothing like the dominant team that routed its way to the BCS championship game in 2013. A rebuilt defense, limited by injuries, has been porous. And an experienced offensive line has been spotty. But it should be noted that Florida State's early season schedule has been as good — or better — than any highly ranked team. The three FBS opponents Florida State has played (No. 21 Oklahoma State, Clemson and N.C. State) are a combined 9-1 in games not against FSU.

As Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday after the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish beat Syracuse 31-15 in a performance that was good in many ways but sloppy in many others (five turnovers): "Winning is hard in college football, especially against power five teams."

The Seminoles will have a chance to slip into the background next week, playing Wake Forest at home while the other top-ranked teams have spotlight games.

By next Sunday, we'll get to sort out many of these contenders into two piles: Those still in control of their playoff hopes and those who'll need some help to get back into the national championship chase.


WAY OUT

Poor Minnesota. The Gophers beat Michigan for the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005, pounding the Wolverines 30-14 in the Big House, and didn't even get a vote in the AP poll.

That's how far Michigan (2-3) has fallen under coach Brady Hoke. The Wolverines have lost three games in September for the first time in the 135-year history of one of college football's most famous programs.

Hoke is also receiving heat for putting Shane Morris back in the game after the quarterback took a hit that knocked him wobbly.

And fans seem to be just as aggravated with athletic director Dave Brandon, who hired Hoke.

Fans are angry, and growing apathetic about coming to the Big House and staying for the entire game.

"We know their frustrations and we share their frustrations," Hoke said after the loss to Minnesota. "I would also tell them as a team we all take accountability for it and we also are all going to work together to rectify it."

The atmosphere has been bad enough that the possibility of Hoke being fired during his fourth season doesn't seem far-fetched. There will probably be more talk about whether the Wolverines can lure former Michigan quarterback and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor this week than about the game Saturday at Rutgers.

Kansas became the first FBS program to fire its head coach, cutting Charlie Weis loose four games into his third season on Sunday. How many more ugly losses can Michigan endure before a similar situation plays out in Ann Arbor?


IN AND OUT

A week after falling out of the rankings, No. 24 Missouri moved back in. No. 25 TCU made its season debut in the Top 25.

Missouri rallied to win 21-20 at South Carolina. That dropped the Gamecocks out of the rankings for the first time this season and signaled that the SEC East race could get messy. Missouri, which lost at home to Indiana last week, is the only team in the division without a conference loss.

Also falling out was Arizona State, which was blown out 62-27 at home by No. 8 UCLA. The Sun Devils will likely face another ranked team, No. 16 Southern California, this week with Mike Bercovici subbing for starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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