“LSU has been starved for a good quarterback so much that it thinks 11-for-24 for 140 yards and no interceptions means Joe Burrow is Joe Montana.” — an aggressively average reporter in a column from Sept. 4, 2018.
Well, he ain’t Joe Montana. He did just have the best season for a college quarterback ever.
Ever. (for affect)
I mean, this was just a ridiculous performance to cap a ridiculous season. As much as I thought I’d be coming here to write a victory column, I can appreciate the growth of Burrow from being de-cleted against UCF — honorary national championship for him, I think — in the Fiesta Bowl to him setting the college football world on fire all season.
Here’s the ballot I filed after the national championship:
1. LSU (15-0)
How it ended: beat Clemson 42-25 in national championship; beat Oklahoma 63-28 in semifinal
2. Clemson (14-1)
How it ended: lost to LSU 42-25 in national championship; beat Ohio State 29-23 in semifinal
Next: Bringing back a ridiculous amount of talent against a mostly overmatched ACC (again).
3. Ohio State (13-1)
How it ended: lost to Clemson 29-23 in CFP semifinal
Next: Probably whining some more about bad calls and not figuring out how to score in the red zone.
4. Georgia (12-2)
How it ended: beat Baylor 26-14 in Sugar Bowl
Next: Hello, Newman.
5. Oklahoma (12-2)
How it ended: lost to LSU 63-28 in CFP semifinal
Next: Figuring out who the next (transfer?) QB star will be.
My take: I don’t know how controversial it is to bump Georgia ahead of Oklahoma, but it seemed like a pretty easy move to me. Both teams got throttled by LSU, both beat Baylor (granted, Oklahoma beat Baylor twice).
The stark difference to me, though, is the strength of Georgia’s wins. Notre Dame and Florida are down here in my next few teams, Auburn also in the top 20. The best team Oklahoma beat other than Baylor was … Texas, which went 8-5? Or was it the Oklahoma State team that went 8-5?
Yeah, losing to South Carolina is a lot worse than losing to Kansas State. But the strength of Georgia’s wins outweighs losing at home to a bad South Carolina team.
6. Oregon (12-2)
How it ended: beat Wisconsin 28-27 in Rose Bowl
Next: Firing up the Penei Sewell For Heisman campaign.
7. Florida (11-2)
How it ended: beat Virginia 36-28 in Orange Bowl
Next: Getting ahead in the SEC East’s two-horse race.
8. Penn State (11-2)
How it ended: beat Memphis 53-39 in Cotton Bowl
Next: Riding a star-studded defense and Journey Brown into next season.
9. Notre Dame (11-2)
How it ended: beat Iowa State 33-9 in Camping World Bowl
Next: A trip to Ireland to play Navy in a Week Zero game, which sounds incredible.
10. Alabama (11-2)
How it ended: beat Michigan 35-16 in Citrus Bowl
Next: The Mac Jones Era is underway.
My take: I bumped up Oregon for being a conference champ in dominant fashion and then winning the Rose Bowl.
The great part of the final-season ranking is that I had more than a month to sort these out. The tough part of the final-season ranking is that with more than a month, some of these teams like Oregon played twice and in the Ducks’ case, won twice. It makes for some interesting evaluations and choices.
Florida wasn’t all that impressive against Virginia. And with Penn State, yes, good shootout win against Memphis. But that was a Memphis team with half of its coaching staff — I’m confident in saying if Mike Norvell had not already left for Florida State, the Tigers would have won that game.
I’ve been higher than most on Notre Dame all season, that doesn’t stop here.
I haven’t been that high on Alabama if you’ve followed along. Their strength of wins against such powers as Duke, Southern Miss and Western Carolina hasn’t changed, but beating Michigan bumps them up to 10.
11. Minnesota (11-2)
How it ended: beat Auburn 31-24 in Outback Bowl
Next: Rowing to the top of the Big Ten West standings.
(Was that the Legends Division? What ever happened to those? That was the best thing in sports.)
12. Wisconsin (10-4)
How it ended: lost to Oregon 28-27 in Rose Bowl
Next: Producing another 1,500-yard running back who might even average 5.0 yards per carry.
13. Auburn (9-4)
How it ended: lost to Minnesota 31-24 in Outback Bowl
Next: Taking the next step with Bo Nix?
14. Iowa (10-3)
How it ended: beat USC 49-24 in Holiday Bowl
Next: Figuring out how you scored more points against USC than against Middle Tennessee State.
15. Memphis (12-2)
How it ended: lost to Penn State 53-39 in Cotton Bowl
Next: The Ryan Silverfield era.
My take: Iowa takes a jump and I can honestly say I went through the entire season not sure what to make of the Hawkeyes. The exclamation point of that is blowing out USC in the bowl game.
Minnesota and P.J. Fleck were for real and, even though Wisconsin beat the Badgers, I put the two-loss team that won its bowl in front of the four-loss team that didn’t. That shouldn’t be surprising.
I’m guessing the lightning-rod placement here is Memphis over App State. It was hard to devalue Memphis for a two-touchdown loss to a team I’ve got ahead of them after losing half of its coaching staff before the bowl. I waffled on this one a bit, but this is where I wound up.
16. Appalachian State (13-1)
How it ended: beat UAB 31-17 in New Orleans Bowl
Next: Chasing perfection (because that’s the only chance at a Group of 5 championship).
17. Michigan (9-4)
How it ended: lost to Alabama 35-16 in Citrus Bowl
Next: Convincing themselves they’re not tired of Jim Harbaugh (yet).
18. Baylor (11-3)
How it ended: lost to Georgia 26-14 in Sugar Bowl
Next: Replacing the coach who rebuilt the program.
19. Utah (11-3)
How it ended: lost to Texas 38-10 in Alamo Bowl
Next: Picking up the pieces of two losses to end the season that soured the whole thing.
20. Boise State (12-2)
How it ended: lost to Washington 38-7 in Las Vegas Bowl
Next: Riding Brian Harsin and QB Hank Bachmeier to the top of the G-5 ranks to start next season.
My take: I swear I didn’t realize I had App State and Michigan together until right now (Monday morning).
The Mountaineers had an incredible season that only had a speed bump in a crazy-weather game against a nemesis. Not sure a 50-point blowout of Georgia Southern next season would be enough to soften the disappointment of that game costing App State a Cotton Bowl berth this season.
The rest of this five-team batch became a landing spot for disappointing bowl performances. Well … maybe not for Michigan. But certainly for the other three.
Utah tumbled further because it lost twice since the last ranking, and neither time was competitive. What an anticlimactic ending.
Boise State ran into the Chris Petersen retirement buzz saw — not much shame in that.
Baylor lost to a Georgia team that was missing several of its best players, who sat out to protect NFL draft status. Yikes.
21. Navy (11-2)
How it ended: beat Kansas State 20-17 in Liberty Bowl
Next: Anchors away, my boys.
22. Cincinnati (11-3)
How it ended: beat Boston College 38-6 in Birmingham Bowl
Next: Stilling hanging on to Luke Fickell and trying to figure out how to beat Memphis.
23. San Diego State (10-3)
How it ended: beat Central Michigan 48-11 in New Mexico Bowl
Next: Welcoming back Fred Flintstone as coach.
24. Air Force (11-2)
How it ended: beat Washington State 31-21 in Cheez-It Bowl
Next: Solving the ultra-competitive Mountain West.
25. Virginia (9-5)
How it ended: lost to Florida 36-28 in Orange Bowl
Next: Replacing Bryce Perkins.
My take: Navy won a couple of impressive games and gets a bump, blowing out Army and then edging a decent Kansas State team in the bowl.
Cincinnati was one of the major winners of the coaching carousel, hanging on to Fickell and having Mike Norvell leave Memphis for Florida State.
San Diego State gets Brady Hoke back as coach … that’s really all I’ve got. He inherits a team that’s consistently one of the best G-5 defenses every season. It obviously translates to success — the Aztecs have had double-digit win seasons in four of the last five years.
Air Force ended the season on the longest winning streak in the country (other than whatever team won the national championship).
And ya know, maybe this is an ACC homer pick, but I couldn’t drop Virginia from the Top 25 for getting blown out by Clemson and betting beat by Florida, but hanging with the Gators. The Cavaliers accounted for themselves well in the Orange Bowl.
On the cusp (in no particular order):
How it ended: beat Utah 38-10 in Alamo Bowl
Next: Maybe don’t tell people you’re back until you’re actually back.
Texas A&M (8-5)
How it ended: beat Oklahoma State 24-21 in Texas Bowl
Next: I don’t know … maybe spend even more money to not finish fourth in the SEC West?
How it ended: beat Marshall 48-25 in the Gasparilla Bad Boys Mowers Bowl
Next: Is Dillon Gabriel capable of doing McKenzie Milton things? (probably) … Also figuring out how to not lose to Tulsa, which finished last in the AAC’s West Division.
Florida Atlantic (11-3)
How it ended: beat SMU 52-28 in the Boca Raton Bowl
Next: Giving Willie Taggart some time to use his Florida recruiting ties to build a C-USA powerhouse.
22. USC (8-5)
How it ended: lost to Iowa 49-24 in Holiday Bowl
Next: Living (another season) with Clay Helton as coach.
23. Kansas State (8-5)
How it ended: lost to Navy 20-17 in Liberty Bowl
Next: The Chris Klieman tenure is going to be fine, I think.
24. SMU (10-3)
How it ended: lost to FAU 52-28 in Boca Raton Bowl
Next: Good luck replacing WR James Proche.