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Today’s U Top 25: Final Rankings Before Bowl Season

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

Members of the Today’s U college football staff have compiled their votes for the final Top 25 rankings heading into the 2015-16 bowl season, and it’s about as clear-cut as you can imagine.

Like the College Football Playoff committee, we believe that Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma are the four best teams in the country, and line them up in the same exact order. Iowa (5) is our team on the outside looking in after its three-point loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship, and Stanford (6) is the next out after its impressive win over USC in the Pac-12 title game.

With 40 bowls and a national championship to be played within the next month, these rankings are sure to change by the end of the season. However, it’d be difficult to argue with the way things currently stand. (But go ahead and give it your best shot.)

The Big Ten and the SEC lead the nation with five teams apiece in our Top 25, though its the former that has three inside the top 10; after Alabama, the SEC doesn’t have another team ranked until Ole Miss at No. 17. The Big 12 comes in with four members, the ACC and the Pac-12 both have three, and the American claims all four of the Group of Five representatives. Notre Dame is the only Independent ranked.

Bowl games will begin on December 19. How much will the rankings change from then until the CFP National Championship on January 11?

What do you think of the rankings? Let us know in the comment section below, or follow @TodaysUSports to tell us how you really feel.

*A point system was assigned, giving 25 points for a team with a No. 1 vote, 24 points for a No. 2 vote, 23 points for a No. 3 vote, and so on.

 

Clemson logo1. Clemson Tigers (13-0, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 1)
NEXT UP: vs. Oklahoma, Thursday, Dec. 31

WHY: Clemson has been our No. 1 — along with the committee’s — for several weeks now, but that doesn’t help it enter as a favorite in the Capital One Orange Bowl semifinal versus Oklahoma. Despite a resume that includes wins against Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina, the Tigers are a 3.5-point underdog to a team they demolished in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl, 40-6. Can Dabo Swinney and company use this as motivation against their Big 12 counterpart to advance to the program’s first national championship since 1981?

Alabama2. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: No. 2)
NEXT UP: vs. Michigan State, Thursday, Dec. 31

WHY: Aside from top Heisman candidate/running back Derrick Henry and true freshman wide receiver Calvin Ridley, Alabama leaves a bit to be desired on the offensive side of the ball. However, it possesses a defense that not only could be argued as the best unit in the country, but college football’s greatest since the 2011 Crimson Tide defense that saw three players taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Alabama’s defense ranks 2nd nationally in total yards (258.2) and 3rd nationally in scoring (14.4 points per game allowed), surrendering an average of 11.0 points during its 10-game winning streak. It also held Florida to three total yards between the second and third quarter of the SEC Championship Game. There’s a reason the Tide are favored by nine against Michigan State, and it’s because of the ridiculous talent on the defensive side of the ball.

MSU3. Michigan State Spartans (12-1, 7-1 Big Ten; LW: No. 4)
NEXT UP: vs. Alabama, Thursday, Dec. 31

WHY: Michigan State has four wins against Top 12 teams this season (at the time), and all of them came by four points or less. You have to give Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff a ton of credit for finding ways to win games, despite a number of key injuries and inconsistency with the running game throughout the entire season. The Spartans are in a familiar spot as they prepare to face No. 2 Alabama in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl semifinal: they’re an underdog. And that’s perfectly fine with them.

Oklahoma logo4. Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12; LW: No. 3)
NEXT UP: vs. Clemson, Thursday, Dec. 31

WHY: With no Big 12 Championship Game, Oklahoma got an extra week off to heal up and await the announcement of its opponent. Now that the team knows it’s playing Clemson — a team that it lost to during last year’s bowl season, 40-6 — it can begin to prepare accordingly. Bob Stoops has an 8-8 record in the postseason since taking over the program in 1999; that includes a 4-5 record in BCS games during the previous era. I’m sure that he wouldn’t mind increasing that win-loss column to his favor, and that the players that were involved in that blowout loss to the Tigers last season are looking forward to seeking revenge after being embarrassed the last time around.

Iowa logo5. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten; LW: No. 4)
NEXT UP: vs. Stanford, Friday, Jan. 1

WHY: You can’t take anything away from this 2015 Iowa football team — over and over again, it proved its doubters wrong and continued to defy odds all the way to a 12-0 record and an unprecedented run to the Big Ten title game. They won’t get a shot in the College Football Playoff, but the Hawkeyes proved that they are undoubtedly one of the nation’s top teams with their inspiring performance in the 16-13 last-second loss to Michigan State. Kirk Ferentz was one of the biggest names on the coaching hot seat before the season started, and now he’s a candidate to win National Coach of the Year later this month. It’s been a magical run, and it continues on in the Rose Bowl.

Stanford logo6. Stanford Cardinal (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12; LW: No. 8)
NEXT UP: vs. Iowa, Friday, Jan. 1

WHY: There’s no doubt that Stanford is, by far, the best two-loss team in the nation. Losing to Northwestern in Week 1 was considered the end of the world at the time, but that was until the Wildcats went on to finish 10-2. Falling to Oregon by two points was disappointing, but little did we know that the Ducks were in the middle of a six-game winning streak and a major turnaround. Beating Notre Dame in the regular season finale and stomping USC in the Pac-12 Championship wasn’t enough to jump into the playoffs — though it probably would have been if either Clemson or Alabama lost — but it’s a strong way to go as the Cardinal prepare for Iowa.

Ohio State logo7. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten; LW: No. 6)
NEXT UP: vs. Notre Dame, Friday, Jan. 1

WHY: It’s a disappointing result for a team that was the consensus No. 1 for the first time in AP history, but Ohio State couldn’t have asked for a better consolation prize: it gets to play Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. This is the first time since 2006 that the two teams have met, when Troy Smith combined for over 400 yards of offense and A.J. Hawk sacked Brady Quinn twice in a 34-20 Buckeyes win. Ohio State’s one loss came by three points to Michigan State, a CFB Playoff team. Notre Dame’s two losses came by a combined four points to No. 1 Clemson and Pac-12 winner Stanford. This is an intriguing matchup that is sure to garner some big-time television ratings.

Notre Dame logo8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2; LW: No. 10)
NEXT UP: vs. Ohio State, Friday, Jan. 1

WHY: If it weren’t for a failed two-point conversion in a 24-22 Week 5 loss to Clemson, maybe it’s Notre Dame that sneaks into the College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed. The same could be said for its 38-26 loss to Stanford in the regular season finale, when it allowed the Cardinal to drive down the field and kick a game-winning field goal after taking a one-point lead with :30 remaining. It’s a season of “what-if’s” for the Fighting Irish, who were decimated with injuries and fell victim to unfortunate ways to lose two games against very good competition. But to lose your starting quarterback in the second game of the season and to go on to win 10 games is extraordinary.

FSU logo9. Florida State Seminoles (10-2, 6-2 ACC; LW: No. 9)
NEXT UP: vs. Houston, Thursday, Dec. 31

WHY: For the second time in the last four seasons, Florida State has drawn a Group of Five opponent for its bowl game. Last time, FSU beat Jordan Lynch and a 12-0 Northern Illinois team, 31-10. This time, the Seminoles get a 12-1 Houston team that is led by a first-year head coach in Tom Herman. However, this feels a little different; the Cougars aren’t your typical small-school, wide-eyed team. They’ve proven they can beat good teams, taking out ACC counterpart Louisville, shutting out Vanderbilt by a score of 34-0, and ending the season with three wins against Top 25 teams: Memphis (21), Navy (15), and Temple (22). Florida State will take Houston seriously, and a win would give it plenty of momentum as it heads into the offseason to gear up for a promising 2016 campaign.

UNClogo10. North Carolina Tar Heels (11-2, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 7)
NEXT UP: vs. Baylor, Tuesday, Dec. 29

WHY: If it weren’t for a handful of a missed calls, we might be talking about a top-five North Carolina team with an appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Instead, the Tar Heels find themselves in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Baylor — that has the makings of a very fun, high-scoring game — and are probably feeling a bit screwed. Still, winning 11 games for the first time since 1997 is an outstanding accomplishment, and the opportunity to win 12 for the first time in program history is realistic.

Northwestern logo11. Northwestern Wildcats (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten; LW: No. 13)
NEXT UP: vs. Tennessee, Friday, Jan. 1

WHY: Doubling its win total from the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined: check. Now Pat Fitzgerald will be looking to lead Northwestern to its second bowl win in program history (2012), after the Wildcats went from 1892-2011 without winning a single postseason game. He’ll have close to a month to get quarterback Clayton Thorson and an offense that ranks 112th (20.7) in points per game together, while hoping his 7th-ranked defense (16.4) continues to be stifling against Tennessee. The Wildcats have never won 11 games before. Ever.

TCU logo12. TCU Horned Frogs (10-2, 7-2 Big 12; LW: No. 11)
NEXT UP: vs. Oregon, Friday, Jan. 2

WHY: It’s been reported that quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Docston will be 100 percent healthy for the Alamo Bowl, and that’d be huge news for a TCU program looking for its ninth 11-win season since head coach Gary Patterson took over in 2001. And with a defense that ranks 59th in scoring (26.1 points allowed per game), it’s absolutely vital that the two are ready to perform at a high level; they’ll be prepping for a potential shootout against an Oregon opponent that has scored an average of 48.6 points over its last five games.

Houston logo13. Houston Cougars (12-1, 7-1 AAC; LW: No. 17)
NEXT UP: vs. Florida State, Thursday, Dec. 31

WHY: Even if quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. was healthy enough to play during Houston’s loss to UConn, it’s likely that the Cougars — at 13-0 — would have still ended up here in the Peach Bowl vs. Florida State. Houston is 5-0 against teams with winning records in 2015 (and 3-0 against ranked competition) with an average win margin of 7.8 points. Tom Herman might be known for his offensive mind — his team does average a 12th-ranked 40.6 points per game — but holding Temple to 13 points and 3.6 yards per rush is promising as it enters a matchup with a Seminoles offense that is run heavy.

Oklahoma State logo14. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, 7-2 Big 12; LW: No. 14)
NEXT UP: vs. Ole Miss, Friday, Jan. 1

WHY: Despite losing its last two games by double digits, Oklahoma State is headed to the Sugar Bowl because Baylor fell to Texas on Saturday. The Pokes outscored competition by 19.1 points during their 10-game winning streak to open the season, but lost to Baylor and Oklahoma by a combined 45. Defense is the area of focus as Mike Gundy’s crew prepares to battle with an Ole Miss offense that ranks 14th nationally in scoring (40.3 per game).

Oregon logo15. Oregon Ducks (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12; LW: No. 15)
NEXT UP: vs. TCU, Saturday, Jan. 2

WHY: While the goal was to return to the College Football Playoff, Oregon still has an opportunity to win eight games for the 10th consecutive season — something that would be a remarkable achievement for a program that lost its big-name head coach (Chip Kelly) following the 2012 campaign. Few quarterbacks have had the same success as Vernon Adams, Jr. over the last six games, who has 21 touchdown passes and only four interceptions in that time. He’ll be looking to rack up more inflated statistics against a TCU defense that ranks 66th in the country, allowing 396.7 yards per game.

Michigan16. Michigan Wolverines (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten; LW: No. 19)
NEXT UP: vs. Florida, Friday, Jan. 1

 

Ole Miss logo17. Ole Miss Rebels (9-3, 6-2 SEC; LW: No. 18)
NEXT UP: vs. TCU, Saturday, Jan. 2

 

Utah18. Utah Utes (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12; LW: No. 20)
NEXT UP: vs. BYU, Saturday, Dec. 19

 

Baylor logo19. Baylor Bears (9-3, 6-3 Big 12; LW: No. 12)
NEXT UP: vs. North Carolina, Tuesday, Dec. 29

 

UF logo20. Florida Gators (10-3, 6-2 SEC; LW: No. 16)
NEXT UP: vs. Michigan, Friday, Jan. 1

 

Navy logo 221. Navy Midshipmen (9-2, 7-1 AAC; LW: No. 23)
NEXT UP: vs. Army, Saturday, Dec. 12 (*vs. Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 28)

 

LSU22. LSU Tigers (8-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: No. 24)
NEXT UP: vs. Texas Tech, Tuesday, Dec. 29

 

Temple logo23. Temple Owls (10-3, 7-1 AAC; LW: No. 21)
NEXT UP: vs. Toledo, Tuesday, Dec. 22

 

Memphis logo24. Memphis Tigers (9-3, 5-3 AAC; LW: No. 25)
NEXT UP: vs. Auburn, Wednesday, Dec. 30

 

Tennessee25. Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: unranked)
NEXT UP: vs. Northwestern, Friday, Jan. 1

 

Dropped from rankings: USC (22).

Other receiving votes (in order): USC, Wisconsin, Georgia, Western Kentucky, BYU.

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