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Josh Furlong's AP Top 25: In unexpected twist, Alabama resumes reign at top

Alabama head coach Nick Saban waves to fans after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Alabama won 41-24.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban waves to fans after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game between Georgia and Alabama, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. Alabama won 41-24. (Brynn Anderson, Associated Press)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Championship weekend never disappoints — and, well, there were a lot of unexpected results to change the makeup of the playoff and the last rankings of the season before the bowls conclude.

The biggest upset of the weekend was, obviously, Alabama restoring order to the college football pecking order — at least in the eyes of the Crimson Tide faithful — and taking it to a Georgia team that had looked unbeatable all season. Nick Saban's team wasn't about to miss out on a playoff opportunity when it was there for the taking.

Imagine if Auburn would have actually beat Alabama a week ago, but I digress.

As a result, we're likely to see two SEC teams in the playoff this season, with the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 likely on the outside looking in as Cincinnati is expected to claim the last remaining spot. Crazier things have happened, but there's little doubt championship weekend cleared up the uncertainty for the selection committee.

Everyone will be paying attention to the official playoff rankings today, but here's my rankings ahead of the chaos of bowl season. I'll be back on the night of the NCAA championship game with my final ballot for the Associated Press Top 25.

I try not to penalize a team too much for having an extra game in the season while others stay idle. The reality is they qualified for a championship game and the other teams didn't — for whatever reason. A close win or loss likely won't move the needle too much, but a convincing win speaks more.

Here's just a few thoughts on my rankings this week:

  • I really, really wanted to rank Michigan No. 1 this week after a dominant win over Iowa, but I settled at No. 2 for the Wolverines. And though I don't like it, Alabama's throttling of Georgia in the biggest game of the year for the SEC speaks volumes. The Crimson Tide made a very talented Georgia team subservient to a rebuilding Alabama team. I'm not going to like it but here I am.
  • Georgia drops to No. 3 in my ballot. It moves Cincinnati down a spot to No. 4 from where I had them last week, but it's more about who the Bearcats are surrounded by and less on how they performed this week in another strong win. But Georgia, in my opinion, is a better team than Cincinnati and deserves to stay above them. I still love Cincinnati and I'm looking forward to see what type of damage they unfold on whoever is paired to take them on in the playoff — likely Alabama.
  • Baylor upset Oklahoma State in a literal game of inches, ending the Cowboys' hopes of a playoff dream — though Alabama formally made it nonexistent with a win. The Bears have been a solid team and move up to No. 7 in my ballot, with Oklahoma State one spot behind them at No. 8.
  • Oregon and Utah trade spaces in my ballot. The Utes outscored the Ducks 76-17 in the two contests this year and have been playing great football as of late — 9-1 in their last 10 games. Yes, this means Utah jumps BYU; and yes, I know it won't be a popular opinion in the state of Utah. But in the case of the Utes, it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately situation. The Utes are trending up and have been one of the hottest teams in the country as of late — that matters.
  • I have Pittsburgh jumping in at No. 11 in this week's ballot after a big win over a high-scoring Wake Forest team. The Panthers have two losses that are bit of head scratchers — Western Michigan and Miami — but have been otherwise solid all season. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is a dynamic ball player and has led Pittsburgh to its best record and first double-digit win season since 2009. It's only the second time since 1981 that Pittsburgh has won 11 games in a season.
  • The remainder of my ballot is essentially the same teams shuffled a bit — most were idle during championship weekend. I did, however, drop Wake Forest out of the rankings. The Demon Deacons started out hot and were the darlings of the sports in the early part of the season, but they have since been on a slide.
  • Nobody expected Utah State to compete for a conference championship, but head coach Blake Anderson has done wonders in Logan and got his Aggies to believe in his plan forward. It all culminated in a dominant win over a home San Diego State team that was easily one of the best programs out west this season. The Aggies deserve to be ranked for a multitude of reasons, so I have them at No. 24. The Aztecs stay in at No. 25, though they could have and maybe should have fallen out. But with two losses on the season, a championship game loss does little to persuade me to kick them out, even if it was close decision.

Checking in: Utah State

Dropping out: Wake Forest

In consideration: UTSA

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