AP Top 25 Heat Check: Balancing resume, quality in rankings

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Some teams get better as the season goes along. Others get worse.

Rankings, though, are based on an entire season. Hence, Oregon is still paying for its losses in September with a hurt quarterback while a team such as LSU is still reaping the benefits of some good early season play.

Oregon re-entered the rankings this week at No. 23. LSU slipped to No. 17 after losing for the second straight week. The real difference between the two, however, is probably not so stark. If anything, the Ducks might be the better team. And unranked Arkansas, winners of two straight road games but losers to Texas Tech and Toledo in September, might be better than both.

The biggest misconception about polls and rankings is that if Team A is ranked higher than Team B, it is a declaration that Team A must be the better of the two. Not necessarily. Team A may simply be more accomplished. Or luckier.

Most who rank teams, whether they are sports writers, coaches or members of the College Football Playoff selection committee, are essentially doing two things: Judging a team's quality and its resume. The former is more forward looking. The latter more backward.

It's a difficult balancing act, especially when little separates a top-10 team from one that has been tossed into the others receiving votes paragraph.

The difference between No. 6 Iowa and unranked Pittsburgh was a 57-yard field goal. The difference between Tennessee, which received not one vote in the latest AP poll, and Alabama when the two played in Tuscaloosa last month was five points.

Heat checking the AP Top 25 after yet another week when we were reminded that winning is hard:

No. 1 Clemson (10-0)

The Heat Checker tends to be forgiving of somewhat lackluster road victories, such as the one Clemson had at Syracuse. Now if the Tigers struggle at home against Wake Forest, it could be time to rethink things.

Next: Wake Forest.

Heat check: Just right.

No. 2 Ohio State (10-0)

The Buckeyes can silence all the worry warts and nitpickers over the next three weeks. Or prove them right.

Next: No. 9 Michigan State.

Heat check: Count the Heat Checker among the nitpickers. Too hot.

No. 3 Alabama (9-1)

Quality: Yet again there is no better collection of talent in the country. Resume: Memphis beat Ole Miss. Alabama did not.

Next: Charleston Southern.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 4 Oklahoma State (10-0)

Resume: No team in the country has pulled more victories from the clutches of defeat than the Cowboys. Quality: Why do they continue to need to do that?

Next: No. 10 Baylor

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 5 Notre Dame (9-1)

The Fighting Irish have had two running backs break off 90-plus-yard runs this season and neither was No. 1 on the depth chart in August.

Next: Boston College at Fenway Park in Boston.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 6 Iowa (10-0)

Floyd of Rosedale is back in Iowa City.

Next: Purdue.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 7 Oklahoma (9-1)

The Heat Checker was high on the Sooners early in the season, then came that loss to Texas and confidence was shaken. Valuable lesson: Stick with your first instinct.

Next: No. 11 TCU

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 8 Florida (9-1)

There are plenty of reasons to believe Jim McElwain's tenure at Florida will turn out very different from that of Will Muschamp. But the 2015 Gators feel a lot like the 2012 Gators that went 11-2.

Next: Florida Atlantic.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 9 Michigan State (9-1)

So maybe beating Oregon was a big deal after all. Yes, we are still talking about that.

Next: at No. 2 Ohio State.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 10 Baylor (8-1)

The Bears only had a few chances to prove doubters wrong, and they missed on the most important one.

Next: at No. 4 Oklahoma State.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 11 TCU (9-1)

The Horned Frogs' season has hit a crossroads. Whether they can salvage it probably comes down to whether Trevone Boykin (ankle) can play the next two weeks.

Next: at No. 7 Oklahoma.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 12 North Carolina (9-1)

Everybody would like to see Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer go out a winner in his Blacksburg, Virginia, finale - except the Tar Heels.

Next: at Virginia Tech.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 13 Houston (10-0)

Coach Tom Herman's business card should read: Wins big games with backup quarterbacks.

Next: at UConn.

Heat check: The Cougars aced their first real test of the season, but still they are too hot.

No. 14 Michigan (8-2)

If Jim Harbaugh does not win another game this season, it should still be considered a success for the first-year coach. Michigan fans might not agree.

Next: at Penn State.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 15 Stanford (8-2)

Two fumbled snaps in the fourth quarter doomed the Cardinal against Oregon. Winning is hard.

Next: at California.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 16 Florida State (8-2)

If you could run like TB Dalvin Cook, you would probably think you should win the Heisman, too.

Next: Chattanooga.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 17 LSU (7-2)

Tigers could go from thinking playoffs to playing in the Liberty Bowl.

Next: at No. 25 Mississippi.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 18 Utah (8-2)

The difference between most of these Pac-12 teams is essentially randomness and health.

Next: UCLA.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 19 Navy (8-1)

When it comes to Navy quarterbacks, only Roger Staubach rates ahead of Keenan Reynolds.

Next: at Tulsa.

Heat check: A tad too hot.

No. 20 Northwestern (8-2)

Resume: Still, riding that body clock victory against Stanford. Quality: Northwestern could be anywhere from the 15th to 50th best team in the country.

Next: at No. 21 Wisconsin.

Heat check: Just right?

No. 21 Wisconsin (8-2)

Here's something weird: The Badgers are 89th in the country in rushing offense. Who are these guys?

Next: No. 20 Northwestern.

Heat check: Too hot.

No. 22 Southern California (7-3)

Resume: Beat Utah. Quality: All kinds of NFL talent. Problem: Home loss to Washington. Now: Pretty banged up.

Next: at No. 23 Oregon.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 23 Oregon (7-3)

The Ducks are averaging 8.2 yards per play in their last three games. With QB Vernon Adams healthy they have one of the best offenses in the country.

Next: No. 22 USC

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 24 Washington State (7-3)

The Cougars lost to FCS Portland State in September and we talked about how coach Mike Leach might get fired. And now they are ranked for the first time since 2006.

Next: Colorado.

Heat check: Too cold.

No. 25 Mississippi (7-3)

Resume: Squeezing every last drop out of beating Alabama.

Next: No. 17 LSU.

Heat check: Too hot. Hello, the Rebels lost to Memphis.

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