Sean Pendergast

College Football AP Top 25: Biggest Surprises, Early Season Surprises

Dare we say that Texas is back, after their win in Tuscaloosa this past weekend?
Dare we say that Texas is back, after their win in Tuscaloosa this past weekend? Photo by Jack Gorman
The old guard among college football bigwigs and administrators have spent the better part of the last two years, wringing their hands, telling us how the game is committing business suicide. With the explosive growth in NIL money (stands for "Name, Image, Likeness," in other words, endorsement money) for players, along with the seismic conference realignment shifts, the doom-and-gloomers have been pointing at the sky and telling us how it is indeed falling.

Don't believe them. Sports are as profitable as ever, and Saturdays are as high energy and riveting as ever. Now, to be clear, there WILL be things that are forever changed with the sport, especially when the 12 team playoff becomes a thing next year, but the avalanche of money generated by the sport, and the eyeballs on televisions each weekend, are not two of them.

After two full weeks of games, here are the AP Top 25 rankings for college football, with thoughts below:
1. Georgia (55) 2-0, 1,540 points
2. Michigan (2) 2-0, 1,458 points
3. Florida State (3) 2-0, 1,413 points
4. Texas (2) 2-0, 1,338 points
5. USC 3-0, 1,269 points
6. Ohio State 2-0, 1,265 points
7. Penn State 2-0, 1,204 points
8. Washington 2-0, 1,102 points
9. Notre Dame 3-0, 1,015 points
10. Alabama 1-1, 953 points
11. Tennessee 2-0, 929 points
12. Utah 2-0, 847 points
13. Oregon 2-0, 827 points
14. LSU 1-1, 667 points
15. Kansas State 2-0, 636 points
16. Oregon State 2-0, 605 points
17. Ole Miss 2-0, 505 points
18. Colorado 2-0, 481 points
19. Oklahoma 2-0, 453 points
20. North Carolina 2-0, 444 points
21. Duke 2-0, 421 points
22. Miami 2-0, 230 points
23. Washington State 2-0, 129 points
24. UCLA 2-0, 107 points
25. Iowa 2-0, 106 points

Others receiving votes: Clemson 86, Arkansas 33, TCU 19, Kansas 19, Tulane 17, Wisconsin 10, Mississippi State 5, Kentucky 5, Cincinnati 3, Minnesota 3, Fresno State 2, Wyoming 1, James Madison 1, Oklahoma State 1, Maryland 1

Dropped from rankings: Wisconsin 19, Clemson 21, Tulane 22, Texas A&M 23
Man, there is some wild stuff going on here. Let's dive deeper. Here are some of the biggest surprises and trends:

It appears as though Deion Sanders' version of Colorado is for real
If you don't realize what a big deal this is for me to admit, then you don't follow me on social media (which is fine, but if you want to, the links are below). I made an ill fated prediction for TCU to thrash Colorado in Week 1, and my Twitter (now known as X, thanks Elon) timeline has been ablaze ever since:
The Buffs followed up their opening week win over TCU with a home thrashing of rival Nebraska, 36-14. Keep in mind, the Vegas win total for Colorado before the season was 3.5. They might surpass that before the end of the month. At this point, all roads lead to Boulder for USC and Colorado on September 30. THAT should be something.

Okay, I'll say it — University of Texas? You're baaaack!
We've been down this road, most famously after the Sugar Bowl in the 2018 season, when Sam Ehlinger famously dropped this bomb after a Texas upset of Georgia:
I don't want to jinx this thing, but it feels like you may very well be back, Longhorn Nation. Keep in mind, the head coach of the above version of Longhorns was the mercurial and unstable Tom Herman. It feels weird to say this about a head coach in Steve Sarkisian who was literally fired from USC for drinking too much eight years ago, but this feels like it's got a much stronger foundation, including phenom Arch Manning sitting all the way at third string on the depth chart. No need to rush young players before it's time, Sark has it under control.

For 2023, the SEC and Big Ten appear mortal
Right now, the Top 25 has just five SEC teams, in an era where it routinely has seven or eight. Also, the Big Ten, the other perceived monster in the new tapestry of college football has just four teams in the Top 25, and that includes Iowa barely sneaking in at 25th overall. The ACC has four teams in the Top 25, the Big XII has three teams, and Notre Dame is an independent. That adds up 17 teams. So where are the other EIGHT teams coming from? Why, the Pac-12, of course, the conference that is set to detonate sometime in the summer of 2024 as 10 of the 12 teams go scrambling for better TV deals in other conferences. Absolute insanity!

One thing realignment might be killing? The Group of Five conferences
Aside from the Pac-12, whose demise sounds even more absurd now after rereading that last paragraph, the other entity that may be dying on the vine is the cachet of the Group of Five conferences. That strata of college football already lost four of its best teams to the Big XII, when Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, and UCF moved there this season, but it may very well be that the NIL money available at the big schools is creating a deeper chasm between the haves and have-nots. Whereas most seasons there are at least two or three G5 schools dotting the bottom half of the Top 25, the highest ranked G5 school after two weeks is Tulane at 30th overall, and only three other G5 schools are even getting votes for the Top 25 — Fresno State (2 votes), Wyoming (1 vote), and James Madison (1 vote).  It's a bad time for the little guy.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at, on Instagram at, and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast