My final AP Top 25 ballot: Intrigue over UCF, Miami, USF and FAU

No, I did not put UCF No. 1 on my ballot.
Published Jan. 9, 2018

By now you know who won the national championship, and who else claimed one. Here's where other teams fell on my final AP Top 25 ballot.

UCF, obviously, was tricky. I'm honored to be an AP voter, and I take the job seriously; that means I refused to put UCF No. 1 as a protest vote. As I wrote recently, the Knights could have gone anywhere from fourth through seventh in my mind. I put them sixth. Clemson was fourth (thanks in part to a more impressive win over Auburn, because the transitive property works other ways). Advanced metrics still love Ohio State, so I respected their top-10 offense and defense, plus the Cotton Bowl win over USC.

That means Wisconsin ended up falling a spot to No. 7 on my ballot – even though I felt better about the Badgers as a very good/great team after watching them beat Miami in person. Sorry, Bucky. Speaking of the Hurricanes…

They were tough to evaluate. Which Miami is the real Miami – the one that started 10-0, or the one that struggled mightily in the final three games? I put the 'Canes 14th, between 10-win teams Oklahoma State and Washington. I broke one of my rules by putting them four spots below a Notre Dame team that lost to UM, but the Irish had a much better resume, and Miami was not the same after that game.

The final two state teams: USF and Lane Kiffin's Florida Atlantic Owls. I've been lower on the Bulls than many of my fellow voters, and a last-second win over Texas Tech didn't do much to improve my image of them. But USF was pretty good – No. 15 in the S&P+ rankings. That persuaded me enough to put the Bulls back in my rankings, one notch below fellow AAC team Memphis (which was more impressive against almost ever common opponent).

Then there were the Owls, who rank 11th (!!!) in the S&P+ rankings. The schedule was awful (No. 112), and so was a loss to Buffalo. But FAU ended the year as one of the hottest teams in the country and won 11 games. That's impressive. I ranked FAU 25th ahead of fellow Group of Five team, Troy. The deciding factor was the common opponent, North Texas, which FAU dominated more.

With USF and FAU entering my rankings, Washington State and Virginia Tech dropped out. Troy, Fresno State, Iowa and Iowa State were also in the mix.

My final AP Top 25 ballot:

1.       Alabama 13-1

2.       Georgia 13-2

3.       Oklahoma 12-2

4.       Clemson 12-2

5.       Ohio State 12-2

6.       UCF 13-0

7.       Wisconsin 13-1

8.       Penn State 11-2

9.       Auburn 10-4

10.   Notre Dame 10-3

11.   TCU 11-3

12.   USC 11-3

13.   Oklahoma State 10-3

14.   Miami 10-3

15.   Washington 10-3

16.   Michigan State 10-3

17.   Mississippi State 9-4

18.   Stanford 9-5

19.   LSU 9-4

20.   Northwestern 10-3

21.   Boise State 11-3

22.   North Carolina State 9-4

23.   Memphis 10-3

24.   USF 10-2

25.   FAU 11-3