Well, Alabama made it easy.
Unlike the coaches poll, which has to award its national title to the team that wins the BCS title game, voters in the AP poll can vote for whoever they want at the end of the year. So if, say, Alabama had won 3-2 in the worst-looking game ever, voters could have maybe found a reason to cast their No. 1 vote for someone else.
But after what Alabama did tonight to Notre Dame, the choice is clear.
Murkier is whether Alabama beat the second-best team in the nation. I don’t really think so — hard to imagine Oregon wouldn’t have put up a lot more of a fight (Alabama obviously really struggled with Texas A&M’s version of the spread offense). But it’s also hard to argue Notre Dame’s selection. Oregon didn’t even win its division, let alone its conference, and every other conceivable choice also had a stumble or two along the way.
The good news is that in a few years — while far from perfect — the system will be tweaked just enough to make the title game feel that much more legitimate.
While No. 1 was an easy choice — and remember that the AP poll has no part in the BCS, which doesn’t matter now but is worth a reminder — the rest of the poll was a little less clear. Oregon had one loss and Ohio State (eligible in the AP poll though not in the coaches) was undefeated. But Oregon’s overall resume is better and its bowl win proved its worth, so I moved the Ducks to No. 2.
Georgia had two losses and Notre Dame one. But those are also the last two teams that played Alabama and we saw how those two games went. And while some can rightly quibble about Georgia’s overall resume, it did beat Florida, it did come close against Alabama and it did have a nice bowl win against Nebraska. So the Bulldogs get the nod over Notre Dame.
Then came Stanford — and simply put, Notre Dame beat the Cardinal (controversial ending aside, the score was what it was) and also had a better record. So not a real hard call there despite how bad the Irish looked tonight.
Then, though, came a tough section filled with a lot of teams that beat each other — South Carolina, LSU, Florida, Florida State, Clemson. Florida, despite its faceplant at the end, beat LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Florida State. So that gave the Gators the nod over A&M and the rest.
Kansas State fell quite a bit, and maybe that’s a little unfair. But the Wildcats lost two of their last three and some of their early marquee wins (West Virginia, Oklahoma) didn’t look as good when the season ended.
It might have been nice to make a case for more Pac-12 teams. But the conference didn’t help itself in the bowl season. I ultimately had four — Oregon, Stanford and then Oregon State at 19 and UCLA at 21, slotting each behind the teams it lost to in the post-season.
I’m imagining I might get quibbles both ways for putting Boise State at 24. As an 11-2 team that won a conference (at least a share) of a conference, I thought the Broncos deserved mention. Conversely, BSU didn’t beat a ranked team all year and the MWC didn’t exactly blaze a trail of glory in the bowl season.
I saved my last spot for Utah State, which finished 11-2 and lost by a combined five points at BYU and Wisconsin.
Here’s my complete poll:
3, Ohio State
5, Notre Dame
8, Texas A&M
9, Kansas State
10, South Carolina
11, Florida State
19, Oregon State
24, Boise State
25, Utah State