Josh Furlong's AP Top 25: Even in unprecedented season, Alabama still claims the top prize

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SALT LAKE CITY — What a season.

It was unprecedented and yet oddly the same at the same time as Alabama claimed the top spot, snapping a two-year break since the last time the Crimson Tide won it all and the third time in the playoff era.

Even with a global pandemic and a season of uncertainty, DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and Mac Jones (and a whole host of other NFL-caliber players) couldn't be contained against a good Ohio State team. Congrats to an incredible season — certainly nobody truly wanted 'Bama this season.

Beyond those two teams that claimed the top two spots in my final Associated Press ballot, here's a brief look at where I put some of the other teams in the country. It's a lot of change to what we're "used" to seeing in the final AP poll, but it was also a different season.

Could Texas A&M have given Alabama a better shot in the College Football Playoff semifinals? Aggies fans would have liked a shot, but we'll never truly know — though a Week 2 loss to Alabama probably is a good indicator Texas A&M wouldn't have put up any more of a fight than Notre Dame did. When the two programs played, Alabama beat Texas A&M 52-24 — the exact score Alabama beat Ohio State by in the National Championship. Still, a 9-1 season is nothing to scoff at and deserves to be my No. 4 pick, just behind Clemson.

Early on in the season, I counted Oklahoma out of the playoff race, and for good reason. But the Sooners have only gotten better and more consistent as the season has progressed. Lincoln Riley's Sooners will undoubtedly be back in the playoff discussion next season and will again be leading the world in explosive offensive schemes — but don't count Georgia out just yet. I considered moving Oklahoma above Notre Dame at No. 5, but ultimately put the Sooners at No. 6 since Notre Dame made the playoff and had a more consistent season.

Northwestern and Iowa State were pleasant surprises this year. They both ended the season against good-but-not-great teams in Auburn and Oregon, respectively. But they still handled their business and earned a top 10 honor despite a combined five losses between the two programs — I'm not sure that will hold up during a "regular" season, though.

BYU ended the season strong with a blowout win over UCF to earn an 11-win season. There's no question the Cougars had the talent to compete and it would have been fun to see them compete in their real schedule. Either way, it was a remarkable season and one the Cougars will have a tough time replicating next season with several NFL-caliber players heading to the draft and two key offensive coaches leaving the fold. And at No. 11 in my ballot, the Cougars get one last win over Coastal Carolina, who I slated at No. 13.

There's plenty of talent in the middle of my ballot, with teams like Florida (No. 14), Texas (No. 17), USC (No. 19), Oklahoma State (No. 20) and Miami (No. 21). But for one reason or another, there wasn't consistency throughout the season with each of these teams. USC opted out of a bowl game, but its loss in the Pac-12 Championship game was inexcusable, for example, but one loss does not define an entire season.

And then there's a welcome party for Liberty (No. 22), Buffalo (No. 23), Nevada (No. 24) and Ball State (No. 25). These programs aren't traditionally mentioned in the conversation of Top 25 teams in the country, but each team had a special season and deserves credit for what they accomplished. Other than Nevada, each of the other teams finished with only one loss — a tough task regardless of the season or circumstances.

Liberty dethroned the untouchable Coastal Carolina, Buffalo took down a once ranked Marshall, and Ball State unseated San Jose State, who was perfect on the season until the Arizona Bowl.

It was a difficult season to evaluate teams, but here's hoping for a more normal and consistent 2021 season. And now that many in the country have been introduced to more Group of Five programs, there's potential for "unknowns" finding their way to a top 25 ranking.

Dropping Out: Army, Oregon, San Jose State, Tulsa

Checking In: Ball State, Buffalo, Liberty, Nevada

If you have a question about any of the teams I ranked (or missed), hit me up on Twitter @JFurKSL. If you can't see the ballot below, click here.

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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