Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor celebrates a touchdown against Michigan during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor celebrates a touchdown against Michigan during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
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As any artist who has ever produced a hit record will attest, the follow-up can be a real challenge.

Last week, Wisconsin, Auburn and Southern California were at the top of the charts in college football, registering big wins and looking like teams that could seriously contend for conference titles. Now come the follow-ups, with varying degrees of difficulty.

No. 7 Auburn returns home after knocking off Texas A&M to face Mississippi State in a series the Tigers dominated for a long time but has recently played about even.

No. 8 Wisconsin would seem to have the easiest task with struggling Northwestern coming to Madison, a week after the Badgers bullied Michigan. Then again, the Wildcats have been a real nuisance for Wisconsin recently. The Wildcats have won three of the last five meetings.

No. 21 USC popped back into the rankings after beating Utah at the Los Angeles Coliseum and now heads to No. 17 Washington for what could turn be a pivotal game for both Pac-12 divisions. Not to mention the status of Trojans coach Clay Helton. A second Pac-12 loss could all but doom the Huskies before September ends while USC could go to 3-0 in the South Division.

No. 10 Notre Dame faces a different type of follow-up, coming of a rugged loss at Georgia. The Irish most refocus quickly with No. 18 Virginia coming to town or all that credibility they built up by hanging with the Bulldogs will be burned.

The picks:


No. 12 Penn State (minus 6) at Maryland

First road trip of the season for the Nittany Lions, who are still kind of a mystery team ... PENN STATE 28-21.

Arizona State (plus 4) at No. 15 California

Can it truly be #Pac12AfterDark if neither team breaks 21? ... ARIZONA STATE 15-12, UPSET SPECIAL.


No. 1 Clemson (minus 26½) at North Carolina

Did you know: Tar Heels freshman quarterback Sam Howell currently has a better passer rating (159.9) than Clemson star Trevor Lawrence (147.9) ... CLEMSON 42-14.

Mississippi (plus 35½) at No. 2 Alabama

Crimson Tide has won 28 straight at home, the last loss coming to Ole Miss in 2015 that was the second of consecutive wins by the Rebels in the series. That seems like a very long time ago ... ALABAMA 52-13.

No. 5 Ohio State (minus 17) at Nebraska

Measuring stick game for the 'Cornhuskers, who hung with the Buckeyes last year ... OHIO STATE 48-24, BEST BET.

Texas Tech (plus 27) at No. 6 Oklahoma

Red Raiders will try to keep up with QB Jalen Hurts and the Sooners without injured QB Alan Bowman ... OKLAHOMA 52-28.

Mississippi State (plus 11) at No. 7 Auburn

Could be an SEC battle of freshman quarterbacks with Bo Nix for Auburn and Mississippi State still starting Garrett Shrader in place of Tommy Stevens (shoulder) ... AUBURN 24-17.

Northwestern (plus 24) at No. 8 Wisconsin

Nothing about the way these teams have played suggests this should he close ... WISCONSIN 35-7.

No. 18 Virginia (plus 11½) at No. 10 Notre Dame

Player you should know: Virginia LB Charles Snowden, who had 15 tackles and two sacks last week in a win over Old Dominion ... NOTRE DAME 24-16.

Middle Tennessee (plus 24) at No. 14 Iowa

Last tuneup before the Hawkeyes get serious in the Big Ten ... IOWA 42-14.

No. 21 Southern California (plus 10) at No. 17 Washington

Likely another chance for Trojans third-string QB Matt Fink with Kedon Slovis (concussion) uncertain ... WASHINGTON 31-23.

Washington State (plus 5) at No. 19 Utah

Utes could be without star RB Zack Moss, and QB Tyler Huntley's status is up in the air ... WASHINGTON STATE 28-27.

Rutgers (plus 27½) at No. 20 Michigan

Ahhh, Rutgers week. Just what the doctor ordered for Michigan ... MICHIGAN 42-13.

UConn (plus 44) at No. 22 UCF

There's no good time for the Huskies to face the Knights, but following a UCF loss is particularly problematic ... UCF 56-14.

Arkansas (plus 23) at No. 23 Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas

Aggies have won seven straight against the Razorbacks since moving to the SEC, but four of the last five have been seven-point games ... TEXAS A&M 35-17.

No. 24 Kansas State (plus 4½) at Oklahoma State

Cowboys RB Chuba Hubbard leads the nation in rushing at 160.5 yards per game ... OKLAHOMA STATE 34-28.

Indiana (plus 14) at No. 25 Michigan State

Hoosiers QB Michael Penix (undisclosed injury) will be a game-time decision; Indiana will need him against a nasty Spartans defense ... MICHIGAN STATE 27-20.


Iowa State (minus 2½) at Baylor — @SUSIEALLRED1

Bears are paying some salty defense, albeit against the softest of nonconference schedules ... IOWA STATE 23-18.

UCLA (plus 7½) at Arizona — @IrishHoodlum

Bruins scored more points (50) in the second half of their comeback against Washington State than they did in their first three games ... ARIZONA 35-29.

Kentucky (plus 3) at South Carolina — @johnboyette

Wildcats have won five straight in the series and if they make it six, the Gamecocks are in serious danger of not getting bowl eligible ... KENTUCKY 23-21.

North Carolina State (plus 6) at Florida State — @BricksnColumns

With a trip to Clemson looming, Seminoles try to string together consecutive victories for the first time since September 2018 ... FLORIDA STATE 31-23.

BYU (minus 2½) at Toledo — @LoqueBSU

After opening the season with four straight Power Five opponents, the Cougars face a tricky visit to the MAC ... TOLEDO 31-28.


Last week: 15-8 straight; 16-7 against the spread.

Season: 69-25 straight; 52-39-2 against the spread.

Upset specials: 0-4 (straight up).

Best bets: 1-3 (against the spread).


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast


More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25