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My final AP top 25 ranking: Florida in the top 10, UCF rejoins the mix

LSU, of course, finished No. 1. But where did Matt Baker put the Florida Gators and UCF Knights?
LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss celebrates after scoring during the first half of Monday night's national championship game against Clemson in New Orleans. [DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP]
LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss celebrates after scoring during the first half of Monday night's national championship game against Clemson in New Orleans. [DAVID J. PHILLIP | AP]

Now that the college football season has finally, sadly come to an end, here’s my final AP Top 25 ballot:

LSU, obviously, was No. 1 once Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game finally ended. Clemson was an easy No. 2 ahead of Ohio State, Georgia and Oregon.

Florida stayed at seventh after the Orange Bowl win over Virginia. The game wasn’t as close as the final score (36-28) suggested, but beating a good-but-not-great opponent didn’t help the Gators climb any.

In fact, competition level is one reason why Alabama jumped UF to take sixth on my ballot. The Crimson Tide ran it up on Michigan in Orlando, which gave ’Bama another quality win. I held back a little on Alabama because the team was obviously different without Tua Tagovailoa, but the Citrus Bowl performance showed me how impressive Nick Saban’s team was, anyway. Add in advanced metrics’ love of Alabama, and that’s why the Tide passed the Gators.

Related: It’s time for the Florida Gators to start challenging for championships

UF did, however, move ahead of Oklahoma (No. 8). I had been higher on the Sooners than most, but the LSU blowout in the Peach Bowl was bad. UF, at least, was competitive with the Tigers, so that data point was the deciding factor on my ballot.

Farther down, Minnesota’s Outback Bowl 31-24 win over Auburn further validated the Gophers and put them in my final top 10. Although I was slow to come around on Minnesota, I got there eventually. P.J. Fleck’s team was the real deal.

Related: Four things I learned from Memphis about new FSU coach Mike Norvell

Penn State rose to No. 11 with its Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis. I didn’t punish the Tigers too much, though (a one-spot drop to 16th), because Penn State is a quality team and Memphis was without its offensive and defensive play callers after head coach Mike Norvell and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller left for Florida State.

UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. (8) runs the ball for a large gain during the fourth quarter of the Gasparilla Bowl. The Knights defeated Marshall Thundering 48-25. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

UCF joined my rankings at No. 22 between Navy and Boise State. The Knights earned their spot in part because advanced analytics like them. A 48-25 triumph over Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl obviously helped, too. Air Force and Texas took the final two spots on my ballot. Yes, Texas and all five of its losses. But two of those losses were close games to LSU and Oklahoma, and the Longhorns ended the season with a 28-point shellacking of Utah. The resume was enough to give Texas the final spot on my ballot ahead of Florida Atlantic, Texas A&M, Washington, Hawaii and Virginia.

Here’s the final AP top 25 I submitted early Tuesday morning:

1. LSU

2. Clemson

3. Ohio State

4. Georgia

5. Oregon

6. Alabama

7. Florida

8. Oklahoma

9. Wisconsin

10. Minnesota

11. Penn State

12. Notre Dame

13. Iowa

14. Auburn

15. Baylor

16. Memphis

17. Utah

18. Michigan

19. Appalachian State

20. Cincinnati

21. Navy

22. UCF

23. Boise State

24. Air Force

25. Texas

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