NCAA Football Rankings: Hits and Misses from Final AP Top 25 Poll

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

NCAA Football Rankings: Hits and Misses from Final AP Top 25 Poll

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    The final Associated Press Poll of the season was released on Tuesday morning, mere hours after Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 in one of the greatest college football games ever played.

    The Seminoles were the only undefeated team in the country, and they predictably checked in as the unanimous No. 1 team. Behind them, Auburn, Michigan State, South Carolina and Missouri filled out the rest of the final top five.

    Click through for some winners and losers from the poll, and check out the complete final rankings below:

    1. Florida State (60)
    2. Auburn
    3. Michigan State
    4. South Carolina
    5. Missouri
    6. Oklahoma
    7. Alabama
    8. Clemson
    9. Oregon
    10. Central Florida
    11. Stanford
    12. Ohio State
    13. Baylor
    14. LSU
    15. Louisville
    16. UCLA
    17. Oklahoma State
    18. Texas A&M
    19. USC
    20. Notre Dame
    21. Arizona State
    22. Wisconsin
    23. Duke
    24. Vanderbilt
    25. Washington

Hit: UCF in the Top 10

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Central Florida had gone criminally under-ranked for most of the season, despite having beaten Louisville and having lost only to South Carolina. But beating Baylor appears to finally have done the trick.

    UCF jumped five spots in the final poll, finishing at No. 10, ahead of Stanford, Ohio State and (of course) Baylor. The Knights probably should have finished ahead of No. 9 Oregon, but at this point, that is fighting a moot cause.

    George O'Leary's team can say it finished in the top 10 of the AP Poll. For this program, that should be (and is) more than enough.

Miss: Auburn over Michigan State

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    I'm not going to win any fans arguing against Auburn, which I admit played a superb game in the BCS National Championship on Monday. If you want to rank them No. 2, by all means, that's your prerogative.

    But eventually, though at this point it's just semantics, Michigan State has to stop getting slighted—right? Sparty lost just once this season, compared with Auburn's twice, and that one loss was the result of some phantom pass interference calls at Notre Dame.

    Again, both teams would have been deserving of the spot behind Florida State, so this is far from a major travesty. It just seems a bit unfair—especially after showering so much praise on MSU during the Rose Bowl.

Hit: Texas A&M Atop the Four-Loss Teams

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    The top 17 teams in the poll all had three or fewer losses, and the bottom eight teams all had exactly four. So the order of that bottom octet was of particular interest.

    This might be a matter of preference, but I think they got it right ranking Texas A&M ahead of USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Duke, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin. Though you could make a case for almost all of those teams at No. 18, only one has Johnny Manziel.

    In a perfect hypothetical—which team would beat the other in a game on a neutral field?—who among us would take any of those teams against Johnny Football? After seeing what he did on New Year's Eve, and despite his paper mache defense, how could you pick against him?

Miss: Alabama and Stanford Too High

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    Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

    Alabama was ranked No. 7 in the final AP Poll, five spots ahead of Ohio State and six spots ahead of Baylor. But why?

    All three of those teams made a BCS bowl, all three of those teams lost a BCS bowl, and all three of those teams finished the year with two losses. If you want to talk about the strength of those losses, at least in Ohio State's case, Clemson and Michigan State are just as strong (if not stronger) than Auburn and Oklahoma.

    Alabama should rank higher than those teams, sure. But not by a magnitude of five.

    The same could be said of Stanford, which finished at No. 11 despite losing three games. What part of the Cardinal's profile makes them six spots better than Oklahoma State? From where I'm sitting, their resumes are more or less even—down to the fluky losses against West Virginia and Utah.

    That's just lazy voting.

Hit: Fresno State and Northern Illinois Unranked

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Fresno State and Northern Illinois spent much of the year jockeying with one another. When both were undefeated, it appeared the one with the higher BCS ranking would crash a signature bowl.

    Fortunately, for all of our sakes, Fresno State lost to San Jose State and Northern Illinois lost to Bowling Green, sparing us having to see one of them in a BCS game. Both teams promptly lost in the postseason—the Bulldogs to USC, and the Huskies to Utah State.

    Despite having just two losses apiece, neither team cracked the AP's final Top 25, finishing at Nos. 27 and 28, respectively. Without their presence, we were treated to one of the best, most competitive slates of BCS games ever played.

    Amen.

Miss: USC over Notre Dame

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    USC and Notre Dame checked in back-to-back at Nos. 19 and 20, so this might seem like a petty thing to complain about. But still: Why are the Trojans higher?

    Both teams finished with four losses, though Notre Dame's all came by 14 points or less, while USC lost two games by 20-plus points. Both teams also had a signature win, though Notre Dame's came over Michigan State—which beat USC's signature win, Stanford, in the Rose Bowl.

    What's more, the two teams met head-to-head in South Bend this season, and Notre Dame beat the Trojans 14-10. If their profiles before that were relatively equal, shouldn't the game against each other have been a tiebreaker?

    Or does that make too much sense?

Hit: North Dakota State at No. 29

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    This is awesome.

    North Dakota State—the three-time defending champions of the FCS—got 17 points in the final AP Poll, finishing just behind Northern Illinois at No. 29. That put it ahead of established FBS programs like Texas Tech, Georgia, Iowa and Ole Miss.

    The Bison routed Towson, 35-7, in the FCS Championship Game, and they also beat Kansas State on the road in Week 1 this season. Especially after seeing Kansas State handle Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, that victory holds some serious weight.

    Head coach Craig Bohl, who built the NDSU dynasty, was hired to be the next head coach at Wyoming, which is a job well-earned. It shouldn't be long before the Cowboys are in a similar position.

Miss: LSU over Louisville

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    Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

    This one comes full circle. I wrote a similar piece at the start of the season, after the release of the preseason AP poll, and I remember chastising voters for not putting LSU ahead of Louisville.

    "Would you really take Louisville over [the Tigers] on a neutral field?," I wrote with confidence. "Seems like the Cardinals would be giving (at least) a touchdown in that game."

    But I'm man enough to admit my mistakes—and I did roughly halfway through this season. Louisville was a very, very, very good team in 2013, losing just one game to the eventual Fiesta Bowl champions. LSU, by contrast, was merely just decent.

    And yes, I know Les Miles' team beat Auburn, but that was a different Auburn team than the one that ended the season. I am less impressed by that than I am disappointed by the three total losses, the near-loss to Arkansas or the near-choke against Iowa.

    Conversely, I was thoroughly impressed with the smackdown Louisville laid on Miami in Teddy Bridgewater's final game. Even if Zach Mettenberger was healthy, I think the Cardinals would beat LSU on a neutral field.