Final National Top 25 for 2011 College Football Season
Following Week 2 of the 2011 college football season, the LSU Tigers took over the No. 1 spot in my National Top 25 rankings. From that point on, the Tigers held the top spot in the rankings for 13 straight weeks.
Their brilliant run lasted for almost the entire season but came to an end in the season’s final game, with a 21-0 shutout loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
Not only did the top spot in the rankings change hands, but the rest of the rankings were shaken up considerably by bowl game results as well.
Read through to see the concluding Top 25 rankings for the 2011 college football season.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)
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Win vs. LSU, 21-0 in BCS National Championship Game—Up 1
For all the well-deserved attention that LSU’s defense received this year, the Alabama Crimson Tide had the best defense in the nation, and they proved it by shutting out LSU in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game.
Against a team that had clearly established itself as the premier team in the nation, Alabama’s defense was completely dominant, holding LSU to zero points and 92 total yards of offense, never once letting them past the 50-yard line.
This was representative of Alabama’s entire season: it held opponents to 14 points or less in 12 of its 13 games and ranked first nationally in total offense, passing offense, rushing offense and scoring offense.
While the Crimson Tide did lose at home to LSU in the regular season, they lost that game in overtime due to missed field goals and proved with their dominant performance in the national championship game that they are the best team in college football this season.
2. LSU Tigers (13-1)
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Loss vs. Alabama, 0-21 in BCS National Championship Game—Down 1
The LSU Tigers’ season is reminiscent of that of the 2007 New England Patriots.
The Tigers were dominant through a perfect regular season, but in a rematch against the team that gave them the most trouble in the regular season, which in LSU’s case was Alabama, they came up with a dud of a game and lost the game that mattered most.
It should not be forgotten that LSU still had a tremendous season. It won games against the No. 1, No. 4, No. 6, No. 14 and No. 20 teams in these final rankings, and aside from the two games against Alabama, the Tigers otherwise gave every other team no chance to stay in the game for four quarters.
The LSU Tigers had a tremendous regular season, which could have given them an argument for the top spot in a close BCS National Championship Game loss, but the shutout dropped them definitively to the second spot.
That said, they are still a big step ahead of the next team in the rankings, given their tremendous body of work from this season that no other team could match.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys (12-1)
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Win vs. Stanford, 41-38 (OT) in Fiesta Bowl—Same
Many people argued that Oklahoma State deserved to play in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game instead of Alabama, since Alabama had already lost to LSU. With their shutout victory, Alabama certainly proved that it was the team that belonged in that game.
That said, Oklahoma State fans had a legitimate case and will continue to argue that Oklahoma State deserves a piece of the championship pie after finishing its season with a Fiesta Bowl victory.
The Cowboys had a terrific season, with wins over four teams included in the final rankings, but a devastating double-overtime loss to Iowa State knocked them out of the championship game.
Oklahoma State certainly squeaked its way to victory in the Fiesta Bowl, a beneficiary of two missed field goals by its opponent, Stanford. That said, a win over a top-five team is still very impressive and solidified the Cowboys' status in the top three of the final rankings.
4. Oregon Ducks (12-2)
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Win vs. Wisconsin, 45-38 in Rose Bowl—Same
The Oregon Ducks did not make a national championship run as they did the season before, but they ended up in the top four of the national rankings for the second consecutive year.
The Ducks lost two games in the regular season, but both of them came against teams ranked in the Top 10, LSU and USC. Meanwhile, the Ducks also won two games against teams ranked in the Top 10, including their Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
The Ducks were an offensive juggernaut this season, ranking third in scoring offense and fourth in total offense. This led them to another tremendous season, a Pac-12 title and the fourth spot in the final rankings.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2)
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Win vs. Kansas State, 29-16 in Cotton Bowl—Up 1
Alabama and LSU both played in the national championship game, but they are certainly not the only top teams from the SEC, and not even in the SEC West. Another SEC West team, Arkansas, ranks in the Top Five, with the team's only losses coming against LSU and Alabama.
Aside from losing to the top two teams in the nation, the Razorbacks won every other game they played, including two other top-15 ranked teams in South Carolina and Kansas State, the latter coming in the Cotton Bowl.
With a successful record against a tough schedule, along with a victory in one of the biggest bowl games, the Razorbacks moved into the Top Five in the final rankings.
6. Stanford Cardinal (11-2)
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Loss vs. Oklahoma State, 38-41 (OT) in Fiesta Bowl—Down 1
The Stanford Cardinal were a 35-yard field goal away from winning the Fiesta Bowl, but under the pressure of making a game-winning kick, Jordan Williamson missed wide left. Then in overtime, Williamson missed again, this time from 43 yards.
Oklahoma State answered with a field goal to win the game, and that cost Stanford a one-loss season, a signature victory and a win that would have earned it the third spot in the final rankings.
In Andrew Luck’s final season at quarterback leading the Stanford offense, it was a good season, but not a great season, with Stanford's only win over a team ranked in the final Top 25 coming over USC.
That keeps the Cardinal out of the Top Five in the rankings, but their two losses came against teams ranked in the top four, and they were very successful against the rest of their schedule.
7. USC Trojans (10-2)
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No bowl game—Same
The Trojans were ineligible to play in a bowl game this season, the second year of a two-year bowl ban, but that did not stop them from having a fantastic season under the guidance of star junior quarterback Matt Barkley.
The Trojans came out of the gates poorly, barely beating Minnesota and Utah in their first two games and losing against Arizona State in a disappointing September defeat. After that, though, the Trojans really turned things around.
Their only loss came against Stanford in triple overtime, and they upset Oregon on the road to knock the Ducks out of the national championship picture.
Not playing in a bowl game cost USC the chance to move up in the rankings, but the Trojans did not drop at all in the rankings, earning a top-seven spot.
8. Boise State Broncos (12-1)
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Win vs. Arizona State, 56-24 in Las Vegas Bowl—Same
For the second straight year, the Boise State Broncos lost their chance to win a national championship on a missed field goal, this time by Dan Goodale as time expired against TCU.
This was a major disappointment once again for the Broncos, but they had an otherwise successful season. The Broncos opened their season with a big win over Georgia and then won the rest of the games without any real trouble, aside from the TCU loss.
They finished the season strong with a big 56-24 victory over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl, a dominant performance over a Pac-12 team, which solidified their eighth national ranking.
9. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2)
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Win vs. Nebraska, 30-13 in CapitalOne Bowl—Up 1
The South Carolina Gamecocks got the lucky fortune of not having to play either LSU or Alabama in their SEC conference schedule this season, but they still made a big statement against a challenging schedule this season.
Although the Gamecocks did lose to two of their toughest SEC opponents in Arkansas and Auburn, they got a big win early in the season over eventual SEC East champion Georgia and finished the season strong with victories over Clemson and a CapitalOne Bowl victory over Nebraska.
The Gamecocks’ strong finish came even following the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia and a season-ending injury suffered by star running back Marcus Lattimore. Although those losses caused some serious damage to their offense, the Gamecocks found ways to win, and because of that, rightfully earned a spot in the Top 10 of the final rankings.
10. Wisconsin Badgers (11-3)
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Loss vs. Oregon, 38-45 in Rose Bowl—Down 1
The Wisconsin Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game and put up a very good fight against a top-five ranked Oregon squad in the Rose Bowl.
The Badgers dropped one spot in the rankings after picking up their third loss of the season in the Rose Bowl, and they only beat two ranked teams, one of which was Michigan State, who beat the Badgers in their first matchup.
That said, winning the Big Ten title and 11 games was enough for the Badgers to earn a Top 10 spot in the rankings, even with the disappointing two-game midseason lapse against Michigan State and Ohio State.
The Badgers were one of the most well-rounded, complete teams in college football this year.
11. Michigan State Spartans (11-3)
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Win vs. Georgia, 33-30 (3OT) in Outback Bowl—Up 6
Although the Michigan State Spartans lost the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, the Spartans had a very strong season in-conference, with wins over conference champion Wisconsin as well as Michigan during the season.
The Spartans fell to Wisconsin in the conference championship game and had letdown losses to Notre Dame and Arkansas, but they put an impressive cap on their season in the Outback Bowl. Down 16-0 at the half, the Spartans rallied in the second half to send the game into overtime, then fought into the third overtime, where they got the key stop they needed against SEC power Georgia to win the game.
Winning one of the biggest bowl games of the season against one of the SEC’s best teams propelled the Spartans with a big surge up the final rankings, all the way up to the 11th spot.
12. Michigan Wolverines (11-2)
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Win vs. Virginia Tech, 23-20 (OT) in Sugar Bowl—Up 2
In the Wolverines’ first season under head coach Brady Hoke, Michigan’s football program made drastic improvements, returning much closer to the national powerhouse form that they are known for historically.
The Wolverines lost only two games this season, with an 11th win coming in a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
The Wolverines did not have the most impressive winning performances this season, including that overtime Sugar Bowl victory in which they only managed 184 yards of offense. Their only win against a team ranked in the final rankings was Nebraska, while they lost to an non-ranked team in Iowa.
That said, the Wolverines made huge strides this season.
13. Houston Cougars (13-1)
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Win vs. Penn State, 30-14 in TicketCity Bowl—Up 2
The Houston Cougars rolled through their regular-season schedule and appeared set to play in the first BCS bowl in school history. With the most prolific offense in the nation, the Cougars had scored at least 35 points in every game they played, and won all of them.
Then came a devastating loss in the Conference USA Championship, a very poor performance by the Cougars in which they lost to Southern Miss by three touchdowns. This sent the Cougars down to the TicketCity Bowl.
But even though they also lost their head coach, Kevin Sumlin, to Texas A&M prior to the TicketCity Bowl, the Cougars were undeterred and came up with a big victory over a ranked team at the time, Penn State.
That victory was the Cougars’ biggest win of the season, and as a one-loss team, the Cougars had to climb back up in the rankings as other teams lost their bowl games.
The Cougars receive a well-earned 13th spot in the final rankings.
14. Kansas State Wildcats (10-3)
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Loss vs. Arkansas, 16-29 in Cotton Bowl—Down 1
Of all the teams ranked in the Top 25, the Kansas State Wildcats were the team I would have least expected prior to the season. The Wildcats do not have a roster loaded with talent, but they found ways to win big games, with wins over every team in the Big 12 except for Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
The Wildcats won against one ranked team, Baylor, as well as having strong wins over Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M. The Wildcats never made it easy on themselves at the end—only two of their wins were by more than seven points—but their knack for winning close games went a long way for them, and in the end, victories are all that matter.
The Wildcats dropped slightly in the rankings as a result of their Cotton Bowl defeat, but given that their loss came against a Top Five team in Arkansas, they cannot feel shame in that defeat.
15. Georgia Bulldogs (10-4)
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Loss vs. Michigan State, 30-33 (3OT) in Outback Bowl—Down 4
While it is very rare for a four-loss team to have a spot in the Top 15 of the final rankings, the Georgia Bulldogs are a rare example of a team that deserves a spot that high. While the Bulldogs did lose four games, all four of them came against teams ranked in the Top 11: No. 8 Boise State, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 2 LSU in the SEC Championship and finally No. 11 Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
The Outback Bowl loss, a game in which they relinquished a 16-point halftime lead, was a big disappointment and dropped them a few spots in the final rankings, but given the difficulty of the schedule they played, they still earned a top-15 spot.
The Bulldogs cannot be penalized for their loss to LSU in the SEC Championship, a game in which they earned a berth and as a result, earned a game against a far superior opponent.
While the Bulldogs did not record any victories over teams ranked in the final Top 25, they do have their share of strong wins over Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. Playing in a tough SEC, the Bulldogs managed to win 10 consecutive games, bookended by two losses at the start and end of the season, against the four toughest teams they played.
Taking into consideration the strength of their schedule, the Bulldogs earned the 14th spot in the final rankings.
16. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3)
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Loss vs. Michigan, 20-23 (OT) in Sugar Bowl—Down 4
Of Virginia Tech’s three losses this season, two of them came against the same team: Clemson.
In the regular season, the Hokies went 11-1, with their only loss coming against Clemson, but they lost to the Tigers once again in the ACC Championship Game and lost in a Sugar Bowl overtime thriller to Michigan.
The Hokies had a very successful season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but losing twice, and badly both times, to the same Clemson team hurts their ranking, as does the fact that they did not win against one team ranked in the final top 25.
Even still, with only one regular-season loss, the Hokies are worthy of the 16th spot in the rankings.
17. Baylor Bears (10-3)
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Win vs. Washington, 67-56 in Alamo Bowl—Up 2
While Baylor’s Alamo Bowl victory was certainly fun to watch, it was not exactly an impressive showing.
While the offense, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, displayed how the Bears rank second nationally in total offense, the defense performed horribly, displaying how they rank 116th nationally out of 120 teams in total defense.
That was no different from the Bears’ entire season. Their whole game was outscoring opponents; fortunately, they were successful in doing this more times than not, and as a result, had the best season in program history.
With wins over TCU and Oklahoma, Baylor had two wins over ranked opponents and ranks ahead of each of those teams as a result. Its only bad loss came against Texas A&M, with its other losses coming against Top 15 teams in Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
Baylor was ranked even higher in the major polls, but this was a result of RG3 hype. The Bears had a great season and belong in the 17th spot.
18. TCU Horned Frogs (11-2)
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Win vs. Louisiana Tech, 31-24 in Poinsettia Bowl—Same
TCU’s season got off to a very rough start, with a loss to Baylor in its season opener and a loss to Southern Methodist four games later.
Everything turned around for the Horned Frogs from there. TCU won its final eight games of the season, a stretch that include Boise State’s only defeat of the season.
Although they have one more win and one less loss, the Horned Frogs rank behind Baylor, mostly due to their head-to-head loss. The win over Boise State was TCU’s only win over a ranked opponent this season, but its strong finish to the season, with just two losses on the year, earns the Horned Frogs the 18th spot in the final rankings.
19. Oklahoma Sooners (10-3)
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Win vs. Iowa, 31-14 in Insight Bowl—Up 1
While many schools would be happy to have a 10-win season that ranks them within the Top 20, this season was a drastic disappointment for the Oklahoma Sooners.
Considered a major national championship contender, the Sooners lost three games, with their first loss coming at home against Texas Tech, a team that went on to lose every remaining game and not even gain bowl eligibility.
The Sooners do have wins over two ranked teams in Kansas State and Florida State and had wins over other strong opponents in Texas, Missouri and Texas A&M, but this was a team with too much talent to lose three games.
The Sooners finished fourth in the Big 12 standings this year, and as a result, rank behind the conference’s top three teams in the final national rankings.
The Sooners did win the Insight Bowl, but their victory in a non-premier bowl only moved them up one spot in the rankings.
20. West Virginia Mountaineers (10-3)
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Win vs. Clemson, 70-33 in Orange Bowl—Into Top 25
Sick of being criticized for an unimpressive season in a weak Big East Conference, the West Virginia Mountaineers were clearly poised to make a big statement in the Orange Bowl, and that is exactly what they did.
Not only did the Mountaineers get a BCS bowl win, they set a record for the most points ever scored in a bowl game in a 70-33 embarrassment of Clemson.
With losses against Syracuse and Louisville, the Mountaineers were previously unworthy of being ranked and really had no place being in a BCS bowl. That said, the Mountaineers got their opportunity, and they showed up and ran with it.
Their dominant performance brought credibility to the Big East Conference (which they will soon be leaving for the Big 12 Conference). By making a ranked team in Clemson look like an FCS school (this really is not an exaggeration), the Mountaineers earned their place in the Top 20 of the final rankings.
21. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (12-2)
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Win vs. Nevada, 24-17 in Hawaii Bowl—Up 2
In an ultimate underdog moment, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles put their name on the map with an upset victory over Houston in the Conference USA Championship Game. That victory spoiled the Cinderella story that was for Houston, but it created a new success story in Southern Miss.
With its victory in the conference championship game and a win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, Southern Miss finished the season with 12 wins.
Beating Houston was its only ranked win, while it suffered two very bad losses to Marshall and UAB. Nonetheless, 12-2 is a very good record for any team, and it earned the Golden Eagles the 21st spot in the final rankings.
22. Clemson Tigers (10-4)
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Loss vs. West Virginia, 33-70 in Orange Bowl—Down 6
Most teams do not drastically drop in the rankings as the result of a bowl loss, but the Clemson Tigers lost more than a game in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers, and head coach Dabo Swinney, suffered serious damage to their pride and reputation in an absolutely embarrassing showing, as they gave up the most points ever in a bowl game to a previously-unranked West Virginia team.
The Clemson Tigers won their first eight games of the season but fell apart completely down the stretch.
The Tigers lost three of their final regular-season games but bounced back with a big win over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. At that point, the Tigers seemed to be back in form and ready for a big win in the Orange Bowl. Instead, the Tigers were dominated in every aspect of the Orange Bowl, and they looked like a team that should not even be sniffing the rankings.
Given their body of work, which includes three victories over ranked teams, two against Virginia Tech and one over Florida State, as well as a victory over Auburn, the Tigers remained a ranked team.
That said, this was a team that once looked likely to end the season ranked in the Top 10 but dropped all the way back to 22nd.
23. Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4)
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Loss vs. South Carolina, 13-30 in CapitalOne Bowl—Down 4
Nebraska’s adjustment to the Big Ten Conference in its first season as a conference member turned out to be more difficult than many, including I, had expected.
While Nebraska did manage a big win over Michigan State, it was very inconsistent in Big Ten play and suffered a loss in its bowl game as well.
Nebraska is actually only one of two teams to make it onto the final rankings with single-digit victories, but three of its losses came against teams ranked in the Top 12: No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 12 Michigan and No. 9 South Carolina.
Nebraska's other loss, to Northwestern, was a bad loss. All things considered, the Cornhuskers did face a tough schedule this year, and although their final record is a disappointment, they were certainly worthy of being included in the final rankings.
24. Florida State Seminoles (9-4)
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Win vs. Notre Dame, 18-14 in Champs Sports Bowl—Into Top 25
Florida State came into the season expecting to be a major contender, but a three-game losing streak early in the season quickly turned its season into a disappointment.
Granted, two of those losses came against ranked teams in Oklahoma and Clemson, but the third loss came against Wake Forest, and they also lost to another non-ranked team later in the season in Virginia.
The Seminoles only played two ranked teams this season and lost four games, but winning seven of their final eight games, including a victory over previously-ranked Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, finally got them back into the Top 25 for the final rankings.
It was a tough season for Florida State, but it earned a spot in the rankings in the end.
25. Cincinnati Bearcats (10-3)
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Win vs. Vanderbilt, 31-24 in Liberty Bowl—Into Top 25
For as much criticism as I pushed upon the Big East Conference throughout the season, it came up fairly strong in the bowl season, with one of its victorious teams being Cincinnati over Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl.
The Bearcats did nothing special this season, with no wins over ranked teams, but they did finish in a tie for the Big East Conference title and ended up with a 10-win season with their bowl victory.
As a few teams fell out of the final rankings, this was enough to push Cincinnati in at the back end.
Out of Top 25: Penn State, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame
Thanks for reading!
With the conclusion of college football season, my focus will now be primarily upon the 2012 NFL draft. Check out Bleacher Report's NFL draft section, and follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.