TAMPA — Technically, the first ballot of the 2017 season. I submitted this to the AP early Tuesday, after covering one of the best national title games in history (my column is here).
- Clemson (where I had ’em previously: 2 – 14-1, 7-1 ACC). The new kings. The ACC is the best conference in the country now, too.
- Alabama (1 – 14-1, 8-0 SEC). A ridiculously stacked team that lost a heartbreaker. Losing Bo Scarbrough in the title game hurt.
- Washington (4 – 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12). Gave Alabama’s offense a hard time until the Tide went power in the second half. A worthy playoff opponent.
- USC (10 – 10-3, 7-2 Pac-12). A completely different team with future star Sam Darnold at quarterback. Went on a nine-game streak to end the year, and beat Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
- Ohio State (3 – 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten). Despite a 31-0 loss in a playoff semifinal to the eventual national champions, Ohio State, this was a playoff semifinalist. It was just impossible to ignore the Trojans.
- Penn State (5 – 11-3, 8-1 Big Ten). A close call for the Big Ten champs, but losing in a thrilling Rose Bowl to USC drops them to sixth.
- Oklahoma (8– 11-2, 9-0 Big 12). De-facto Big 12 champs cruised past Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
- Florida State (13 – 10-3, 5-3 ACC). Closed with five wins in a row, including a one-point win over Michigan in an excellent Orange Bowl.
- Michigan (6 – 10-3, 7-2 Big Ten). No shame in losing to FSU and Dalvin Cook.
- Wisconsin (7 – 11-3, 7-2 Big Ten). Handed Western Michigan its first L in a Cotton Bowl win.
- Western Michigan (9 – 13-1, 8-0 MAC). Loses P.J. Fleck to Minnesota, but quite a season.
- Oklahoma State (12 – 10-3, 7-2 Big 12). Trounced Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Clearly the second-best Big 12 team.
- Stanford (23 – 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12). Closed with six wins and beat UNC in the Sun Bowl without Christian McCaffrey (and quarterback Keller Chryst, who left the game in the second quarter with an injury). Bryce Love: 164 yards and a touchdown.
- Florida (19 — 9-4, 6-2 SEC). Ravaged by injuries? No offense? Didn’t matter. Gators’ defense whipped Iowa in the Outback Bowl, but they won’t be a legitimate SEC contender until they get something going on the other side of the ball.
- LSU (20 — 8-4, 5-3 SEC). How about the Tigers? Holding the Heisman winner under 200 total yards in a 20-point win, in which they overwhelmed Louisville’s beleaguered offensive line, had to make Ed Orgeron happy.
- Virginia Tech (18 — 9-4, 6-2 ACC). Probably deserved better than the Belk Bowl, but oh well. ACC Coastal champ scored 35 unanswered to beat Arkansas.
- Miami (NR — 9-4, 5-3 ACC). Made easy work of 10-win West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and closed with five wins in a row (including a dismantling of Pittsburgh, which beat Clemson and Penn State).
- South Florida (25 — 11-2, 7-1 American). Lost to Temple during the season, but outlasted South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl (a team which beat Tennessee). Oh, and Willie Taggart left Charlie Strong with some really nice pieces.
- San Diego State (NR – 11-3, 6-2 Mountain West). Won the Mountain West and whipped nine-win Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl.
- Tennessee (NR – 9-4, 4-4 SEC) . Beat nine-win Nebraska by two touchdowns in the Music City bowl, and wins over Florida and Virginia Tech were quality.
- Colorado (11 – 10-3, 8-1 Pac-12). Lost by 30, and while Oklahoma State’s good, that’s too much.
- West Virginia (14 — 10-3, 7-2 Big 12). Lost to unranked – but good – Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
- Louisville (17 – 9-4, 7-1 ACC). Ended with three losses, and sputtered against LSU in the Citrus Bowl. The main problem: a shaky offensive line. Credit for losing only to Clemson in conference play.
- Western Kentucky (NR – 11-3, 7-1). Conference USA winner ended with eight wins in a row. Scored 10 on Alabama, too.
- Georgia Tech (NR – 9-4, 4-4 ACC). Beat six of last seven opponents, including Virginia Tech and for once, Georgia.
No. 15 Auburn (8-5, 5-3 SEC). Couldn’t hang with Oklahoma. No shame in losing to Alabama and Clemson, but Georgia and Texas A&M didn’t look good by the end of the year, and the middle of the SEC pack wasn’t all that great.
No. 16 Nebraska (9-4, 6-3 Big Ten). It was a pick between two four-loss Power Fives, and Georgia Tech closed better.
No. 21 Boise State (10-3, 6-2 Mountain West). A miserable end to the season, losing to Baylor – losers of six in a row, and a touchdown underdog – by 19 points in the Cactus Bowl.
No. 22 Iowa (8-5, 6-3 Big Ten). Beat Michigan and Nebraska in the final three weeks, and the losses to Northwestern and Penn State didn’t look as bad, but Hawkeyes did nothing against Florida in the Outback Bowl. And for a team that was close to the playoffs in 2015, finishing 8-5 is a disappointment.
No. 24 Temple (10-4, 7-1 American). Some tight losses (Penn State, Memphis) and a good win over Navy in the AAC title game, but came out flat against Wake Forest in a Military Bowl loss.