AP Top 25: Georgia back at No. 1, Alabama slips to 3 behind Ohio State

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia took back the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press college football poll from Alabama after being bumped out last week by the Crimson Tide, who slid to No. 3.

The Bulldogs received 32 first-place votes and 1,535 points in the Top 25, presented by Regions Bank, to easily reclaim No. 1. They were just two points behind Alabama at No. 2 last week.

Georgia thumped Auburn 42-10 on Saturday. The Tide, whose Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young was sidelined by injury, escaped an upset bid at home by Texas A&M.

Ohio State moved up a spot to No. 2, receiving 20 first-place votes and 1,507 points.

No. 3 is a season-low for Alabama, which was preseason No. 1 but fell to No. 2 after Week 2. The Tide received 11 first-place votes.

There were two notable season debuts in the Top 25: No. 24 Illinois is ranked for the first time since 2011 and James Madison is in the AP Top 25 for the first time in its program history. The Dukes are playing their first season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference in Division I college football’s highest level.

Clemson overtook Michigan and moved up to No. 4 and the Wolverines fell one spot to No. 5.

Tennessee moved up to No. 6, which is the best ranking for the currently undefeated Volunteers since No. 5 early in the 2005 season. Tennessee stumbled to a 5-6 and unranked finish that year.

Southern California fell one spot to No. 7, and Oklahoma State, Mississippi and Penn State held their places to round out the top 10.

POLL POINTS

The shuffle that Georgia’s made from No. 1 to 2 and back No. 1 over three polls hadn’t happened in more than a decade.

Florida went back and forth between Nos. 1 and 2 in 2009, flip-flopping with Alabama as both teams won in late October.

The Tide is the first team to drop from No. 1 to No. 3 off a victory in 25 years, when Nebraska beat Missouri in overtime on the famous “Flea Kicker.” Michigan jumped from No. 4 to No. 1 on Nov. 10, 1997, after it won 34-8 at No. 2 Penn State.

IN

The week after Kansas handed the ignominious title of Power Five conference team with the longest streak of being unranked to Illinois, the Illini are now off the schneid in their second year under coach Bret Bielema.

Illinois improved to 5-1 by beating Iowa and landed in the poll for the first time since Oct. 16, 2011 – 178 polls.

Next up on the list of longest ranking droughts for Power Five schools are: Rutgers (2012), Oregon State (preseason 2013) and Vanderbilt (final 2013), Georgia Tech (2015), Arizona (2017).

– James Madison has been a powerhouse in the the Football Championship Subdivision for years, winning a national title in 2016 and losing to North Dakota State in the NCAA championship game in 2017 and ’19. The Dukes have had no issue moving up so far, going 5-0 and averaging 44 points per game.

JMU’s transition has been different than others, who take a year or two to acclimate before playing a full FBS-type schedule as they build up from 63 scholarship players to 85.

Aided by temporary changes to eligibility rules due to the pandemic, plus loosened transfer rules, the Dukes were able to dive right in with a more FBS-ready roster, coach Curt Cignetti told AP.

“There were a lot of unknows coming into the season,” Cignetti said. “The one thing about our program is we’ve had such great success from 2016 on … there’s a culture here, a standard, an expectation. And our guys expect to win every time we go out.”

Since Division I football split into subdivisions in 1978, JMU is the first team to be ranked in a season when it was transitioning up.

“All the national publicity that we have had is extremely positive for the university, the program, the athletic department and our boosters and supporters,” said Cignetti, the son of Hall of Fame coach Frank Cignetti, who died in September. “Making the Top 25, that’s just another step.”

– No. 22 Texas is ranked again after blowing out rival Oklahoma and tied with Kentucky in the Top 25.

OUT

– BYU is unranked for the first time this season after losing to Notre Dame.

– Washington dropped out of the rankings after a second straight loss.

– LSU’s return to the Top 25 was brief after getting thumped at home by Tennessee.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Sun Belt went from its inception in 2001 to 2015 without having a ranked team. The conference has now had at least one team ranked for at least one week each of the last five seasons and six of the last seven.

James Madison is the second Sun Belt team to reach the Top 25 this season, along with Appalachian State.

SEC – 6 (Nos. 1, 3, 6, 9, 16, 22).

Big 12 – 5 (8, 13, 17, 19, 22).

ACC – 4 (Nos. 4, 14, 15, 18).

Big Ten – 4 (Nos. 2, 5, 10, 24).

Pac-12 – 4 (Nos. 7, 11, 12, 20).

American – 1 (No. 21).

Sun Belt – 1 (No. 25).

RANKED vs. RANKED

A season-high six games matching ranked teams:

No. 10 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan. Third top-10 matchup in the series and first since 1997.

No. 3 Alabama at No. 6 Tennessee. The second top-10 matchup since 2000.

No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 13 TCU. Horned Frogs have their best rankings since being No. 9 in 2017.

No. 15 North Carolina State at No. 18 Syracuse. First matchup of ranked teams at home for Syracuse since 2001.

No. 16 Mississippi State at No. 22 Kentucky. First time the teams will meet as ranked teams in 49 games.

No. 7 USC at No. 20 Utah. Second straight game against a ranked Los Angeles team for the Utes.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.