As I watched Florida State’s Orange Bowl debacle against Georgia, I wasn’t initially sure how that would affect the Seminoles’ spot on my final Associated Press Top 25 ballot.
The answer, it turned out, was clear. Putting FSU at No. 6 seemed like an easy, appropriate way to acknowledge the Seminoles’ short-handed roster without ignoring the 60-point loss I saw firsthand at Hard Rock Stadium.
I put the ‘Noles third on my ballot after conference championship weekend and still feel good about that decision. We’ll never know how FSU would have fared in the playoff with a complete roster (minus star quarterback Jordan Travis), but I don’t think the Seminoles would have been embarrassed by any of the four semifinalists. We also don’t know how FSU would have stacked up against Georgia had the Seminoles not been without more than a dozen contributors.
The point is, to some degree, moot. The game happened. FSU lost badly. I can’t and shouldn’t justify the Seminoles ahead of a Georgia team that crushed them. By that logic, I also can’t and shouldn’t justify putting FSU ahead of Alabama (which beat Georgia for the SEC championship) or Texas (which beat Alabama on the road). The close semifinal losses by the Crimson Tide and Longhorns didn’t damage my opinions of either team. That means 3-6 lined up easily on my ballot, with FSU landing at the back of that tier.
The Florida State dilemma — how to measure a team whose bowl roster looked nothing like the one from the regular season — applied elsewhere in my rankings. I generally tried to apply the same thought process of acknowledging the context without ignoring the result. That’s why Ohio State (without quarterback Kyle McCord and star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. ) only fell two spots to ninth with its Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri. It’s also why James Madison stayed on my ballot at No. 24; I didn’t penalize the interim coach-led Dukes too much for a 10-point loss to Air Force.
Other AP Top 25 thoughts
• I finally moved Mississippi ahead of LSU. I had stubbornly been ranking the Tigers ahead, despite a head-to-head loss, on the merits of LSU’s better resume and win over Missouri. But the Rebels’ 13-point win over Penn State convinced me to switch them, with Mississippi finishing 10th and LSU 11th.
• A head-to-head win wasn’t enough to keep Louisville ahead of Notre Dame, however. The Irish crushed a good Oregon State team while the Cardinals’ season-ending three-game losing streak included a clunker against depleted USC. Notre Dame is 14th and three spots ahead of Louisville.
• Kansas State rose four spots to No. 16 after a Pop-Tarts Bowl victory over North Carolina State. The Wolfpack stayed at 19th because of a head-to-head win over the next team, Clemson.
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• Tennessee was the biggest mover, rising from just outside my top 25 to 18th after a 35-0 shellacking of a solid Iowa team.
• Oregon State, Tulane and Troy were all hurt by roster/coaching turnover — factors I considered before ultimately deciding to drop them off my ballot. They were replaced by the Volunteers, Oklahoma State and Kansas. Liberty and SMU both stayed in my rankings despite ugly bowl performances, edging a group that included Air Force, West Virginia, Memphis, Fresno State and Wyoming, among others.
Our final AP Top 25
6. Florida State
9. Ohio State
12. Penn State
14. Notre Dame
16. Kansas State
19. North Carolina State
21. Oklahoma State
24. James Madison
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