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AP top 25: Where Florida, Miami fell on Matt Baker’s final ballot

The Gators and Hurricanes both stumbled in the final few weeks. So where is their final ranking?
The Gators ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including an embarrassing performance in the Cotton Bowl.
The Gators ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including an embarrassing performance in the Cotton Bowl. [ MICHAEL AINSWORTH | AP ]
Published Jan. 12

My final Associated Press top 25 ballot of the season left me trying to answer two key questions: What do I do with the Gators? And what do I make of Miami?

Florida was a challenge because its season had such highs and lows. When the Gators played at their potential (the win over Georgia, the SEC championship loss to Alabama), they’re one of the top five teams in the country. When they play poorly (the LS-Shoe loss, the Cotton Bowl fiasco), they don’t belong in the top 10.

Related: College football has a problem. Blame Florida.

The lasting impression of the 2020 team, no matter what coach Dan Mullen thinks, was the awful loss to Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas. I did, however, take all of the departures into consideration, just as I do with injuries during a normal year.

In my attempt to balance the two, I settled with dropping UF one spot in my rankings, to ninth. Advanced metrics remain high on the Gators — SP+ has them sixth, for instance — but the three-game losing streak is a stain that can’t be ignored.

One of the teams that jumped ahead of Florida is Georgia. Normally, I put a premium on head-to-head results, and the Gators triumphed in Jacksonville. But Georgia played much better in the final part of the season after JT Daniels took over at quarterback. Florida stumbled down the stretch. The Bulldogs also added a top-10 win over Cincinnati in bowl season, which was a big factor, too.

Related: If Cotton Bowl loss was ‘kick-start’ for future, what does that say about ’21 Gators?

As for the other big question in the state, Miami hung in my top 25. I had the Hurricanes 22nd after conference championship weekend. Like UF, they struggled in the final games (a 62-26 loss to North Carolina and a bowl loss to Oklahoma State in Orlando). The ‘Canes did better than I expected at Camping World Stadium when D’Eriq King left with a knee injury, and the Cowboys are a top-20 team (in my view). Accordingly, I kept Miami on my ballot but dropped them one spot.

Liberty and Ball State entered my final rankings after San Jose State and North Carolina State dropped out. I also considered Appalachian State, Buffalo and Wisconsin.

Here’s the AP Top 25 ballot I submitted Monday:

Related: This Alabama team was Nick Saban’s masterpiece. And maybe the best ever.

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Clemson

4. Oklahoma

5. Notre Dame

6. Texas A&M

7. Georgia

8. Cincinnati

9. Florida

10. BYU

11. Iowa State

12. Coastal Carolina

13. Louisiana Lafayette

14. Northwestern

15. North Carolina

16. Indiana

17. Iowa

18. Texas

19. Oklahoma State

20. Oregon

21. USC

22. Liberty

23. Miami

24. Tulsa

25. Ball State