College Football Rankings 2015-16: B/R's Final Official Top 25
Now that was worth the wait.
More than four months ago, we started the journey of the 2015 college football season. The hope was we would be rewarded after the experience of navigating a regular season full of non-stop excitement and weekly thrills. We got what we thought would be a pair of great playoff games, only to be handed duds.
But Monday's national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, did not disappoint. Alabama and Clemson played their hearts out, but only one team could come out on top.
And only one can finish atop the final Bleacher Report Top 25.
Twenty-one members of our college football staff voted in this week's Top 25: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Ed Feng, Justin Ferguson, Bryan Fischer, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus; and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates.
First-place votes were worth 25 points, with each subsequent rank worth one fewer point, all the way down to one for 25th place. The 25 highest vote-getters made our list, with the rest falling into the "others receiving votes" category.
See where each team landed after the completion of the 2015 season and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Others Receiving Votes
The SEC set a record by winning eight bowl games this season, topping the previous mark of seven that it tied in 2015. That success is reflected in both the final Bleacher Report Top 25 as well as by the teams that made it onto ballots but did not record enough points to get ranked.
All told, nine of the league's 14 programs received votes in our final poll. Here are the teams that received at least one vote but not enough points to land in the Top 25:
- Arkansas (42)
- Georgia (33)
- Mississippi State (27)
- Toledo (11)
- UCLA (11)
- Auburn (10)
- San Diego State (8)
- Washington State (7)
- Temple (4)
- USC (4)
- Appalachian State (2)
- West Virginia (1)
No. 25 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Voting points: 50
Final regular-season ranking: Not ranked
Postseason result: Won 45-35 against South Florida in Miami Beach Bowl
Western Kentucky (12-2, 8-0 Conference USA) completed its best season since moving to the FBS level, paced by the nation's most prolific quarterback in senior Brandon Doughty.
Doughty led the FBS in touchdowns for the second year in a row, throwing 48, while also leading the country with 5,055 passing yards.
No. 24 Florida Gators
Voting points: 62
Final regular-season ranking: 20th
Postseason result: Lost 41-7 to Michigan in Citrus Bowl
Florida (10-4, 7-1 SEC) made its first trip to the conference title game since 2009, which few could have expected when the program hired Jim McElwain last winter. He managed to do wonders with limited offensive weapons, something exacerbated by the midseason loss of quarterback Will Grier to a drug suspension.
The Gators lost their final three games, scoring only 24 total points in the process, but the stage is set for future success.
"This wasn't supposed to be the year that Florida got back into the national conversation, but it was there for two whole months," Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote. "McElwain laid the foundation, the team earned a taste of success and brought the program back to relevance."
No. 23 Northwestern Wildcats
Voting points: 69
Final regular-season ranking: 14th
Postseason result: Lost 45-6 to Tennessee in Outback Bowl
Northwestern (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten) managed to post its second 10-win season in the past four years despite almost being outscored by its opponents—the result of three blowout losses.
The Wildcats allowed only 18.6 points per game overall, but that total ballooned to 41 per game in their defeats. Those losses came against teams that were a combined 31-9 in 2015.
No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers
Voting points: 82
Final regular-season ranking: 23rd
Postseason result: Won 23-21 against USC in Holiday Bowl
Wisconsin (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten) recorded double digits in victories for the seventh time in 11 seasons, its first under head coach Paul Chryst. However, the Badgers' only win against a team with a .500-or-better record came in the Holiday Bowl.
No. 21 Utah Utes
Voting points: 125
Final regular-season ranking: 21st (tie)
Postseason result: Won 35-28 against BYU in Las Vegas Bowl
Utah (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12) put together its best season since moving from the Mountain West Conference in 2011, opening the year with six straight wins, including a high-profile victory over Michigan in head coach Jim Harbaugh's debut.
The Utes then capped the season with a win over rival BYU in the first meeting in the series played outside of the state of Utah.
No. 20 Tennessee Volunteers
Voting points: 127
Final regular-season ranking: 25th
Postseason result: Won 45-6 against Northwestern in Outback Bowl
Tennessee (9-4, 5-3 SEC) put together a second-half surge for the second straight year, winning its last six games to post its best record since 2007.
The Volunteers allowed only 14.5 points per game during that win streak but still opted to part ways with defensive coordinator John Jancek, replacing him with Penn State's Bob Shoop.
No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Voting points: 138
Final regular-season ranking: 15th
Postseason result: Lost 48-20 to Ole Miss in Sugar Bowl
Oklahoma State (10-3, 7-2 Big 12) won its first 10 games thanks to a two-quarterback approach, but the Cowboys couldn't keep that up all season and finished with three consecutive losses by a combined 73 points.
Sophomore Mason Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns while senior J.W. Walsh threw 13 TD passes on 85 attempts and added 13 rushing scores on 77 carries.
No. 18 LSU Tigers
Voting points: 157
Final regular-season ranking: 19th
Postseason result: Won 56-27 against Texas Tech in Texas Bowl
LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC) won its first seven games and sat No. 2 in the initial playoff rankings, only to lose three straight and put longtime coach Les Miles' job at risk. Miles survived, and the Tigers won their final two games, including a dominant performance in the Texas Bowl behind Leonard Fournette and Brandon Harris.
Fournette's 212 yards and four touchdowns weren't surprising, as they helped the sophomore finish the year with 23 scores and an FBS-best 162.75 rushing yards per game. The effort by Harris, though, brought hope for the future after LSU struggled to establish a pass attack for the second straight season.
Miles, who has won 112 games in 11 seasons with LSU, is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC.
No. 17 Oregon Ducks
Voting points: 158
Final regular-season ranking: 13th
Postseason result: Lost 47-41 (in 3 OT) against TCU in Alamo Bowl
Oregon (9-4, 7-2 Pac-12) slid back a bit following its trip to the national championship game a year ago, feeling the loss of Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota early on. But once graduate transfer Vernon Adams became healthy, the Ducks played as well as any team in the country.
That was most evident in the Alamo Bowl when, after building a 31-0 halftime lead, a head injury to Adams knocked him out and replacement Jeff Lockie failed to move the offense. Oregon ended up being on the losing end of one of the biggest comebacks in bowl history.
Oregon may again be turning to a transfer at quarterback in 2016, as Montana State's Dakota Prukop has signed to play for the Ducks.
No. 16 Navy Midshipmen
Voting points: 159
Final regular-season ranking: 21st (tie)
Postseason result: Won 44-28 against Pittsburgh in Military Bowl
Navy (11-2, 7-1 American) had a tremendously successful first year as a member of a conference, leaving football independence behind to win its first seven league games and contend for a title. And as the Midshipmen have done for so long, it was the product of one of the best rushing offenses in the country.
The Midshipmen ran for 326.7 yards per game out of the triple option, tying with Baylor for second-best in the FBS. The pilot for that attack was senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who set the all-time records for career rushing and total touchdowns scored along the way.
Reynolds, who has been invited to attend Tuesday's State of the Union Address, according to Navy Athletics, scored 88 TDs in his Navy career.
No. 15 North Carolina Tar Heels
Voting points: 196
Final regular-season ranking: 11th
Postseason result: Lost 49-38 to Baylor in Russell Athletic Bowl
North Carolina (11-3, 8-0 ACC) won 11 straight games after a season-opening loss to claim the Coastal Division title and its first trip to the league championship. But down the stretch, the defense that had shown so much improvement for the Tar Heels fell apart in consecutive losses to end the year.
A 45-37 setback to Clemson in the ACC title game was followed by an embarrassing performance in UNC's bowl game, when it allowed a record 645 rushing yards to Baylor.
UNC's offense remained strong all season, ranking first in FBS in yards per play at 7.28.
No. 14 Florida State Seminoles
Voting points: 243
Final regular-season ranking: 9th
Postseason result: Lost 34-28 to Houston in Peach Bowl
Florida State (10-3, 6-2 ACC) did not win another conference title, but it still reached a major bowl game for the fourth straight year, despite having to replace most of its top players from the 2013-14 run that included a national championship and a College Football Playoff semifinal bid, respectively.
The Seminoles leaned heavily on sophomore running back Dalvin Cook, who ran for a program-record 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns, despite missing all or part of several games because of injury. Cook became the first FSU rusher to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Warrick Dunn did so from 1994-96.
Florida State's losses won't be as significant this offseason as after the 2014 campaign, though it is losing standout defensive back Jalen Ramsey and record-setting kicker Roberto Aguayo to the NFL draft.
No. 13 Baylor Bears
Voting points: 274
Final regular-season ranking: 18th
Postseason result: Won 49-38 against North Carolina in Russell Athletic Bowl
Baylor (10-3, 6-3 Big 12) looked unstoppable for the first two months of the season, even after losing quarterback Seth Russell to a neck injury. But when heralded backup Jarrett Stidham also got hurt, the wheels came off the nation's most explosive offense and derailed the Bears' hopes to win a share of a third straight conference title and make the playoff.
Even with the injuries, Baylor finished the year ranked first in the FBS in scoring (48.1 points per game) and total offense (616.2 yards per game). The attrition at quarterback caused Baylor to become an old-fashioned run team at the end of the season, resulting in a bowl-record 645 rushing yards in the victory over North Carolina.
Baylor will be loaded with talent again next season, though one standout it's losing is top wide receiver Corey Coleman, who had 20 touchdown catches as a junior, but intends to enter the NFL draft.
No. 12 Michigan Wolverines
Voting points: 315
Final regular-season ranking: 17th
Postseason result: Won 41-7 against Florida in Citrus Bowl
Michigan (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten) ushered in the Jim Harbaugh era in far better fashion than most had projected, challenging for the East Division title, thanks to a swarming defense and an unexpected hero at quarterback.
The Wolverines posted three consecutive shutouts at one point in 2015, helping them tie for sixth nationally in scoring defense at 16.4 points allowed per game. Their offense was a work in progress at the outset, but the game-by-game improvement of Iowa transfer Jake Rudock led to great production down the stretch.
Rudock set a program record by throwing for 250 or more yards in five consecutive games. No Michigan player had ever done in more than two straight contests before him.
No. 11 Iowa Hawkeyes
Voting points: 316
Final regular-season ranking: 7th
Postseason result: Lost 45-16 to Stanford in Rose Bowl
Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten) recorded its first perfect regular season en route to a division title, then came within seconds of claiming its first outright conference title since 1985. The Hawkeyes still earned their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1991, though that didn't turn out so well.
The two-game skid to end the season dampened an otherwise stellar effort by Iowa, which finished with double-digit victories for the first time since 2009.
The Hawkeyes finished the season with six wins over bowl teams.
No. 10 Houston Cougars
Voting points: 326
Final regular-season ranking: 16th
Postseason result: Won 38-24 against Florida State in Peach Bowl
Houston (13-1, 7-1 American) put together its most successful season ever, with first-year coach Tom Herman turning the Cougars into an offensive juggernaut that knocked off three power-conference teams along the way.
Wins over Louisville, Vanderbilt and then Florida State solidified Houston as the best Group of Five team in the country, a distinction it will have a strong chance to claim again in 2016. Electric receiver DeMarcus Ayers intends to turn pro, but dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward Jr. will be back for another year.
Ward had 3,941 yards of total offense and accounted for 38 touchdowns, 21 of those coming as a rusher.
No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Voting points: 347
Final regular-season ranking: 8th
Postseason result: Lost 44-28 to Ohio State in Fiesta Bowl
Notre Dame (10-3) felt the impact of significant injuries more than any other team in the country in 2015, yet had itself in contention for a playoff bid until late November. The losses to Stanford and Ohio State to end the season don't change what was a tremendous year, though now the Fighting Irish must rebuild following the early NFL departure of five underclassmen.
That includes linebacker Jaylon Smith, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and running back C.J. Prosise, all of whom suffered injuries along the way.
Notre Dame also must deal with the convenient problem of having two great quarterback options for next season, as Malik Zaire is expected to return from injury, but will have to contend with DeShone Kizer after his breakout freshman year.
No. 8 TCU Horned Frogs
Voting points: 354
Final regular-season ranking: 10th
Postseason result: Won 47-41 in 3 OT against Oregon in Alamo Bowl
Injuries knocked TCU (11-2, 7-2 Big 12) out of contention for the conference title and the playoff, but they didn't prevent the Horned Frogs from finishing the season with one of the greatest comebacks in college football history.
Trailing 31-0 at halftime of the Alamo Bowl, TCU rallied to force overtime and then completed the rally behind backup quarterback Bram Kohlhausen and a patchwork defense. The 31-point comeback tied the largest in bowl history.
The Horned Frogs need to replace most of their top offensive weapons, as quarterback Trevone Boykin, running back Aaron Green and receiver Josh Doctson were all seniors.
No. 7 Ole Miss Rebels
Voting points: 357
Final regular-season ranking: 12th
Postseason result: Won 48-20 against Oklahoma State in Sugar Bowl
Ole Miss (10-3, 6-2 SEC) reached the 10-win mark for the first time since 2003, continuing its steady climb under head coach Hugh Freeze. He's increased his victory total each season, prompting the school to give him a contract extension and a raise to $4.925 million per year.
The Rebels had the top offense in the SEC in 2015 thanks to the play of quarterback Chad Kelly, who set or tied numerous program records, including passing yards (4,042), touchdown passes (31) and total touchdowns (41) in a season. He's set to return for his senior year, but several of Ole Miss' stellar juniors are moving on.
Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche have all declared for the NFL draft. Each is in Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller's top 13 players on his big board.
No. 6 Michigan State Spartans
Voting points: 418
Final regular-season ranking: 4th
Postseason result: Lost 38-0 to Alabama in Cotton Bowl
Michigan State (12-2, 7-1 Big Ten) claimed its second conference title in the last three seasons, earning a trip to the College Football Playoff semifinals in the process. But that's where the good times ended, as the Spartans were shut out for the first time since 2000.
That loss signaled the end for a Spartans senior class that won 36 games over the past three seasons and was led by quarterback Connor Cook, the program's all-time passing leader. He's one of 12 senior starters Michigan State will need to replace, though it does have a promising young group of running backs to build around.
Sophomore Gerald Holmes and freshmen Madre London and LJ Scott combined for 1,739 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground.
No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners
Voting points: 447
Final regular-season ranking: 3rd
Postseason result: Lost 37-17 to Clemson in Orange Bowl
Oklahoma (11-2, 8-1 Big 12) shook off a midseason loss to rival Texas to reach the College Football Playoff semifinals, providing its conference with its first playoff bid in the new system thanks to a strong run through the league's toughest competition in November. But all that momentum was squashed on New Year's Eve, when the Sooners lost to Clemson in a bowl game for the second consecutive season.
A switch back to the Air Raid proved successful for Oklahoma, as Texas Tech transfer quarterback Baker Mayfield thrived in the wide-open system that allowed him to throw and run at will. The junior had more than 4,100 yards of total offense and accounted for 43 touchdowns, providing plenty of highlight-reel plays.
The Sooners should be considered a major contender for the playoff in 2016, but much will depend on how they navigate an arduous early schedule that includes games against Houston and Ohio State.
No. 4 Stanford Cardinal
Voting points: 455
Final regular-season ranking: 6th
Postseason result: Won 45-16 against Iowa in Rose Bowl
Stanford (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12) was the lone power-conference champion to be left out of the playoff, its losses to Northwestern and Oregon too much for the selection committee to overlook. But despite those setbacks, the Cardinal still made their third Rose Bowl in the last four years—and won it in impressive fashion.
The graduation of three-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan is significant, but less so with the return of all-around superstar Christian McCaffrey. The sophomore obliterated Barry Sanders' longstanding FBS record for all-purpose yards, finishing with 3,864 yards, including 2,019 as a rusher.
Stanford has averaged 11 wins per season since 2010.
No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes
Voting points: 462
Final regular-season ranking: 5th
Postseason result: Won 44-28 against Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl
Ohio State (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten) was unable to fully defend its national championship, as a home loss to Michigan State in November was all it look to keep the Buckeyes out of the playoff. They responded by dominating rival Michigan and then soundly beating Notre Dame in what proved to be the final game for a slew of underclassmen.
A total of nine juniors and redshirt sophomores have declared for the NFL draft, most notably defensive end Joey Bosa, running back Ezekiel Elliott and backup quarterback Cardale Jones. Those losses will be difficult for coach Urban Meyer to replace, but not impossible, as Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted.
"So long as quarterback J.T. Barrett remains healthy, Meyer knows what he'll be replacing, and he has a plan," Axelrod wrote.
A healthy, fully utilized Barrett will be key. He didn't take over the starting quarterback position until the second half of the year, yet still accounted for 22 total touchdowns.
No. 2 Clemson Tigers
Voting points: 503
Final regular-season ranking: 1st
Postseason results: Won 37-17 against Oklahoma in Orange Bowl; Lost 45-40 to Alabama in College Football Playoff National Championship Game
Clemson (14-1, 8-0 ACC) fell short of completing arguably the best season in college football history. It held a fourth-quarter lead on Alabama before falling apart in the final 13 minutes. Big plays did in the Tigers, who allowed four touchdowns of 50 or more yards, including two in the fourth quarter.
Clemson was vying for its first national title since 1981 and looked to be on its way behind the play of sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns against one interception and added 73 rushing yards, accounting for all but 72 of the Tigers' yards.
Watson became the first player in FBS history to finish a season with 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards, per Aaron Brenner of the Post and Courier.
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Voting points: 525 (21 first-place votes)
Final regular-season ranking: 2nd
Postseason results: Won 38-0 against Michigan State in Cotton Bowl; Won 45-40 against Clemson in College Football Playoff National Championship Game
Alabama (14-1, 7-1 SEC) won its third national title in the past five seasons and fourth since 2009 under head coach Nick Saban by rallying from a 24-21 deficit early in the fourth quarter. It was the Crimson Tide's 12th consecutive victory, and they did it with help from a most-unlikely hero: junior tight end O.J. Howard.
Howard, who had not caught a touchdown pass since 2013, had 208 yards and two scores on five catches. Three of his receptions went for 51 or more yards, including a 63-yard grab with less than four minutes left that set up Alabama's final touchdown.
"O.J. Howard picked a perfect time to have a coming-out party," NFL.com's Bucky Brooks tweeted.
Derrick Henry's one-yard scoring run helped give the Tide a 45-33 lead with 1:07 left. The Heisman Trophy winner had 158 rushing yards and three touchdowns and finished the season with an SEC-record 2,219 yards. He also now holds a program mark with 3,591 yards in his career.
Jake Coker threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, while Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score in the fourth quarter—when Alabama tallied 24 points.
All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com.
All slides written by Brian J. Pedersen. Follow the author on Twitter @realBJP.