The first season of a new era in college football has come to and end, culminating with Ohio State’s eighth national championship on Monday night, as they became the first champion in the new playoff format. While their entry into the playoff was somewhat controversial, they left no doubt they were the best team, at least at the end of the season, with convincing wins over Alabama and Oregon, who had come in as the top 2. The rest of the bowl season saw some interesting matchups as well, and the final rankings see a big shakeup, as they always do, as so many ranked teams played each other and 12 of my previous top 25 losing in the postseason.
1. Ohio State (14-1, Last Week: 5th)
On their way to the title, beat the top two seeds in Alabama and Oregon, after beating Wisconsin by 59 to make the playoff, all with a third-string quarterback. Enough said. The Buckeyes made one of the great late-season surges in history, and became the first playoff champion. Considering all of this came after a loss to Virginia Tech on September 6, the future standards for teams to be considered to still be in playoff contention may have just gotten broader.
2. Oregon (13-2, 2nd)
The Ducks remain the best program without a national title, after falling one game short against the Buckeyes. They were responsible for ending the nation’s longest winning streak by obliterating Florida State in the Rose Bowl. However, losing that good a shot at a title hurts, as they are losing many players to graduation or the NFL, including Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota, and they enter next year with some questions as they play in the nation’s second best conference.
3. TCU (12-1, 4th)
Many people, including me, thought TCU should’ve been in the playoff as the fourth seed. After they were left out, they made a very loud statement in a 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. With most of their starters returning next year, the Horned Frogs should be favored for a Big 12 title and a CFP berth next season.
4. Alabama (12-2, 1st)
The Crimson Tide entered the playoff as the top seed, before a disappointing loss in the Sugar Bowl to eventual champion Ohio State. This wasn’t necessarily Nick Saban’s most talented team, yet they were still the favorites going into the playoff, which says a lot about how good this program is. Even with some talent leaving, the Tide will likely still be SEC favorites in the fall.
5. Michigan State (11-2, 7th)
The Spartans had an interesting perspective while watching the national title game, as they were the only team to play (and lose to) both Ohio State and Oregon. The fact that their two losses were to the top two in these final rankings, and the fact that the Spartans overcame a 20-point deficit to win the Cotton Bowl over Baylor, makes this top five final ranking wholly deserved.
6. Florida State (13-1, 3rd)
The Seminoles went into the inaugural playoff with the nation’s longest winning streak, but the 29-game streak was snapped by an embarrassing 39-point loss in the Rose Bowl to Oregon. The ‘Noles had found ways to win close games all year in the ACC, but when playing a team as good as Oregon, they couldn’t even get the game to the fourth quarter. Many key players, including QB Jameis Winston, will be gone next year, but this team is so deep they will still be ACC and CFP contenders.
7. Georgia Tech (11-3, 10th)
The best recovery of the year may just belong to the Yellow Jackets (although Ohio State had a pretty good one), as they had late-season wins over Clemson and Georgia, a near-upset of Florida State, and an Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State, all after early-season losses to North Carolina and Duke. QB Justin Thomas leads the option as good as any option QB I’ve seen, and his return next season could lead Georgia Tech to a full season among the nation’s best.
8. Baylor (11-2, 6th)
Like TCU, the Bears were disappointed to not be invited to the playoff, and according to the committee’s rankings, they were the first team left out, as the fifth seed. Unlike TCU, who the Bears beat head-to-head for their season’s signature win, Baylor did not make a statement in their bowl game, blowing a 20-point lead in a 42-41 loss to Michigan State. Unfortunately for the Bears, this was their year to peak, as QB Bryce Petty and others won’t be back next year.
9. Georgia (10-3, 14th)
Very few teams had a season with as many radical ups and downs as the Bulldogs. The same team who had dominant wins over Clemson, Auburn, Missouri, and Louisville, in the Belk Bowl, had losses to South Carolina and Florida, in addition to a rivalry loss to Georgia Tech for just the second time since 2000. All of this was overshadowed by the suspension and later injury of RB Todd Gurley, one of the nation’s best players. Nick Chubb, who had a sensational season by starting only when Gurley did not, may be the way-too-early Heisman frontrunner for next year, after rushing for 266 yards in the Bulldogs bowl win.
10. UCLA (10-3, 15th)
Another team with ups and downs is UCLA, who started and now end the season in the top ten of these rankings, but had some bumps in the middle. The Bruins lost close games to Utah and expectedly lost to Oregon, also adding an embarrassing defeat by Stanford. Yet, the Bruins beat four ranked teams, including Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl, and were able to grab a top 10 finish in both major polls, as well as here. An otherwise young team loses QB Brett Hundley to the NFL, but should be competitive next year.
11. Mississippi State (10-3, 8th)
12. Missouri (11-3, 13th)
13. Wisconsin (11-3, 16th)
14. Clemson (10-3, 18th)
15. Boise State (11-2, 21st)
16. Arizona State (10-3, 17th)
17. Ole Miss (9-4, 9th)
18. Arizona (10-4, 11th)
19. Kansas State (9-4, 12th)
20. USC (9-4, 23rd)
21. Utah (9-4, 25th)
22. Marshall (13-1, unranked)
23. Auburn (8-5, 19th)
24. Louisville (9-4, 20th)
25. Memphis (10-3, unranked)
Fell from rankings: Nebraska (9-4, 22nd), LSU (8-5, 24th)