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AP Top 25 Takeaways: Alabama is a national title contender again; Michigan may have its next man

Remember when Alabama benched quarterback Jalen Milroe against South Florida in September and it looked as if Nick Saban’s dynasty was maybe not dead, but definitely trending in the wrong direction?

Ha! Fooled ya.

The Crimson Tide have won eight straight since losing to Texas at home in Week 2, including that wonky win at USF, and Milroe is now playing well enough to seriously ask the question: Is this guy a Heisman Trophy candidate?

After sharing the marquee with LSU’s Jayden Daniels last week, Milroe was the star of the show as No. 8 Alabama routed Kentucky on Saturday. Milroe accounted for six touchdowns, three through the air and three on the ground. That had never been done by an Alabama player.

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North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Duke during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)No. 24 UNC survives 2OT thriller to beat rival Duke 47-45 in home finaleLSU quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) smiles after a touchdown against Florida during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)Daniels’ record-breaking day leads No. 18 LSU to 52-35 win over FloridaTexas running back Jonathon Brooks, right, dives into the end zone in front of TCU safety Millard Bradford while scoring on a touchdown run during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)QB Ewers back for No. 7 Texas, who also get big games from Brooks and Worthy in 29-26 win at TCU

The Tide have clinched the SEC West with two regular-season games left. No. 1 Georgia has done the same in the East after crushing No. 10 Mississippi and welcoming back star tight end Brock Bowers from an ankle surgery.

The Tide and Bulldogs will meet in the conference title game for the fourth time, with Alabama most definitely a threat to keep Georgia from winning an unprecedented third straight national title.

“This team has come a long way,” said Saban, who has won six national championships with Alabama. “A lot of guys have made significant improvement and have listened to the coaches.”

None more than Milroe, who seemed like a potential liability early in the season; talented as a deep passer and explosive as a runner, but lacking a mid-range game and mistake-prone.

The offense has jelled around Milroe’s strengths. He came into the day eighth in the country in passer efficiency rating. After scorching the Wildcats, Milroe has 16 touchdown passes and 12 TD runs.

No, he’s not quite top-of-the-ballot Heisman material. The numbers and overall consistency doesn’t stack up to other star quarterbacks such as Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Florida State’s Jordan Travis, Oregon’s Bo Nix or LSU’s Daniels, who became the first FBS player to pass for at least 350 yards and run for at least 200 in a game as the Tigers beat Florida.

Daniels is making a strong case for being the rare Heisman winner during the BCS/CFP-era not playing for a national title contender.

“He’s the best playmaker in the country. I’ve watched them all. We’re 7-3. That doesn’t mean anything. It matters who the best player is and he’s the best player,” LSU coach Brian Kelly told reporters.

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As for Milroe, if Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy can be in the Heisman conversation — Michigan fans certainly believe he is — then why not ‘Bama’s third-year QB?

The bottom line: If you wrote off Alabama in September, shame on you.

MICHIGAN’S NEXT MAN?

As angry as Michigan is about the Big Ten and Commissioner Tony Petitti sidelining coach Jim Harbaugh as punishment for a sign-stealing and scouting scheme the NCAA is still investigating, it might be more about principle than practicality.

The Wolverines’ improved to 4-0 without Harbaugh this season, grinding No. 9 Penn State with 227 yards rushing and suffocating defense.

Offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore filled in for Harbaugh as gameday head coach.

“Love that man with all my heart,” said Moore, who took a turn earlier this season as acting head coach when Harbaugh was serving his first suspension of the season.

A judge in Michigan will likely decide whether Harbaugh will coach either of the Wolverines’ final two regular-season games, next week at Maryland and the Thanksgiving weekend finale against No. 3 Ohio State.

One of the arguments Michigan made in asking a court for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed Harbaugh to coach Saturday was, essentially, it unfairly hurts the team to have to play without him.

Not to diminish what Harbaugh has done in turning Michigan into an elite program again, but his impact might be least felt on game day thanks to Moore and a top-flight staff that includes defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and running backs coach Mike Hart.

“It was very cohesive. The whole staff did such a great job,” the 37-year-old Moore said.

Moore is not a Michigan man at the roots. He is from Kansas, played at Oklahoma and broke into coaching at Louisville. At Michigan, he has become a rising star. He is considered one of the best offensive line coaches in the country and is now the team’s primary play caller.

Harbaugh has flirted with the NFL after the past two Michigan seasons ended in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Still, Michigan isn’t looking to breakup a good thing. Even with all the drama, the school would like to keep Harbaugh.

In fact, the current feud with the Big Ten seems to have made Michigan embrace Harbaugh more than ever.

“You may have removed him from our sidelines today, but Jim Harbaugh is our head football coach,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a scalding statement Saturday.

If an NFL team finally does make Harbaugh an offer he can’t refuse, there is a chance Michigan already has his replacement in Moore.

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AROUND THE COUNTRY: No. 5 Washington (10-0) has been the most entertaining team in the country for the last month and half. The Huskies beat No. 13 Utah on Saturday for their sixth straight victory by 10 points or fewer. … With No. 4 Florida State holding off Miami and No. 3 Ohio State cruising past Michigan State, there are five 10-0 teams from Power Five conferences for the first time in the 10 years of the College Football Playoff. … No. 7 Texas is challenging the Huskies for that title. For the third time in the last four games, the Longhorns couldn’t put away an opponent in the second half, this time hanging on to beat TCU. Texas did get QB Quinn Ewers back from a shoulder injury. … Auburn (6-4) became bowl eligible by routing Arkansas on the road. With New Mexico State next week and then Alabama, it’s already a rousingly successful Year 1 for coach Hugh Freeze … Bowl eligibility is now a long shot for Coach Deion Sanders and Colorado. The Buffs (4-6) have lost four straight and six of seven. Other than getting crushed by Oregon, CU has been generally competitive in the skid, but Saturday’s last-second home loss against No. 23 Arizona means the Buffaloes need to sweep road games at Washington State and Utah to reach six victories … No. 15 Oklahoma State might have set a new standard for letdown games. A week after beating Oklahoma in the final Big 12 version of Bedlam, the Cowboys were trounced by conference newcomer UCF. Oklahoma State’s victories against OU and Kansas State still puts the Cowboys in solid shape to reach the Big 12 title game if they win out. … No. 21 James Madison improved to 10-0 against UConn and found out ESPN’s “College GameDay” will be in town next week when the Dukes host Appalachian State. … Northwestern moved to 5-5 by beating Wisconsin. David Braun, the Wildcats’ first-year defensive coordinator who was thrust into the interim head coach role after Pat Fitzgerald was fired during the summer, now has to be considered a serious candidate to keep that job. … Missouri RB Cody Schrader, who has gone from Division II star to SEC walk-on to SEC star, became the first player in the history of the conference with 200 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a game. The 16th-ranked Tigers buried No. 14 Tennessee.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here. AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll