Can Ohio State hold off Tennessee at No. 2? Our college football coaches’ poll prediction

There may be a new No. 2 in the latest USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll as voters look at Tennessee’s larger body of work heading into next weekend’s crucial SEC matchup against Georgia.

After topping Kentucky 44-6, the Volunteers have five wins against teams that were then ranked in the Top 25, including the 52-49 shootout victory against Alabama earlier this month. Ohio State remained unblemished by topping Penn State 44-31 for a third win against teams currently with a winning record, joining Notre Dame and Toledo.

Tennessee has to make up a big chunk of ground to reach No. 2 in this week’s poll, which will be released Sunday.

In last week’s Top 25, Ohio State was ranked second with 1,516 points and 17 first-place votes. Tennessee came in third with 1,424 points and two first-place votes. A week ago, at least, the Buckeyes were closer to top-ranked Georgia than to the Volunteers.

That gap should narrow in the new Coaches Poll, though it’s not likely that Tennessee leaps ahead to make next Saturday a rare matchup of the nation’s top two teams. Instead, look for the Volunteers to close the gap and then take over at No. 1 with room to spare should they beat the Bulldogs.

  1. Georgia (8-0)
    Florida was able to pull within a possession for a brief stretch in the third quarter before Georgia scored twice to seal a fourth win in five years against the Gators. While slowed by three turnovers, the Bulldogs cracked 500 yards of offense for the sixth time this season.
  2. Ohio State (7-0)
    The Buckeyes are scary in spurts, as during a ferocious scoring explosion to blow open the win against the Nittany Lions. As during an earlier win against Iowa, however, OSU has a tendency to play flat for a quarter or more. This hasn’t been a fatal issue so far but could become something to watch as the Buckeyes get ready for Michigan and another run at the national championship.
  3. Tennessee (8-0)
    Kentucky had a few chances to stay close to Tennessee in the first half but was eventually bulldozed by the Volunteers’ unbelievable offensive pace and stingy defense. On both sides of the ball, the 38-point win might be the finest performance of the year — a strong statement given how October included that win against Alabama and a 27-point win against LSU.
  4. Michigan (8-0)
    One week after destroying Penn State with more than 400 rushing yards, the Wolverines pushed around Michigan State in a 29-7 rivalry win. The final score might not tell the full story: Michigan outgained the Spartans by nearly 200 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry while allowing just 37 rushing yards on 23 carries.

UGLY SCENE: Michigan, Michigan State players have an altercation in the tunnel

  1. Clemson (8-0)
    Clemson’s home stretch of the regular season won’t be easy. Notre Dame has improved under coach Marcus Freeman. Louisville exploded for a 48-21 win against Wake Forest, knocking the Demon Deacons down the Top 25. South Carolina has managed to outlast more talented opponents to nearly reach bowl eligibility.
  2. Alabama (6-1)
    This weekend’s trip to LSU is suddenly the game of the year in the SEC West, with the winner in prime position to reach the conference championship game and land in a New Year’s Six bowl. There’s more on the line for the Tide, who can still get back into the national semifinals with one loss.

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