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Our eyes are drifting toward the College Football Playoff National Championship, but the conclusion of bowl season offers one last moment to reassess the rankings before Alabama and Clemson battle for the title.
And it sure was an exciting finish. Florida crushed Michigan, while Texas steamrolled Georgia and UCF showed its merit by taking LSU to the wire despite playing with a backup quarterback.
As always, if your favorite team won a non-CFP bowl, it’s proof they were underrated. And if your favorite team lost, don’t worry—they didn’t care because this game doesn’t matter.
Debate no more; we’ll sort out these arguments.
Five members of Bleacher Report’s CFB crew—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Ian Wharton—submitted a ballot. A first-place vote was worth 25 points, followed by 24 for second, 23 for third and so on.
B/R’s Pre-Championship Top 25
1. Alabama (last poll: 1)
2. Clemson (2)
3. Ohio State (T-6)
4. Oklahoma (4)
5. Notre Dame (3)
6. Florida (T-12)
7. Washington State (9)
T-8. Georgia (5)
T-8. LSU (T-15)
10. UCF (T-6)
11. Kentucky (T-17)
12. Texas (T-12)
13. Michigan (8)
14. Fresno State (14)
15. Syracuse (T-17)
16. Washington (11)
17. Texas A&M (22)
T-18. Army (19)
T-18. Utah State (20)
20. Penn State (10)
21. Northwestern (NR)
22. Boise State (24)
23. Cincinnati (NR)
24. Iowa State (25)
25. West Virginia (T-15)
Others receiving votes: Iowa, UAB, Appalachian State, Auburn, Oregon, Utah, North Dakota State
Who’s Hot: Florida Gators
You could hardly say Dan Mullen should’ve accomplished more in his first season as Florida’s head coach.
The Gators posted 10 wins, capping their year with a 41-15 dismantling of Michigan in the Peach Bowl. Yes, the Wolverines were short-handed without four key players, but Florida put a thorough beatdown on the once-championship contenders.
Scott Carter @GatorsScott
“We wanted to peak today.” — #Gators head coach Dan Mullnen. “I would call this season a success.”
After not averaging more than 24 points in three years of Jim McElwain’s tenure, the Gators soared to 35 in Mullen’s debut.
The program hopes this is merely a starting point. Ten victories won’t result in SEC or national titles. Considering UF trudged to 4-7 last year, a six-win increase is a terrific first step.
Now, the challenge is sustaining it.
Who’s Not: Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State had a fine season, but it lacked a signature win.
The Nittany Lions notched a decent 9-4 overall record but were 1-3 against ranked teams, only defeating Iowa, and were upset at home against Michigan State. Their season ended with a 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.
Unfortunately for Penn State, it also marked the end of an era. Star runner Saquon Barkley departed following the 2017 season, and quarterback Trace McSorley has now used up his eligibility.
James Franklin and his staff have consistently recruited well, so the program is built to continue competing in the Big Ten.
But as confident as the Nittany Lions are about their future, McSorley won’t be seamlessly replaced.
Welcome to the Show: Cincinnati
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Cincinnati’s lone major appearance on the national radar ended with a blowout loss to UCF in a prime-time slot.
Did you know the Bearcats still finished 11-2?
In only his second year, Luke Fickell guided Cincinnati to its third season of 11-plus wins. The previous two happened when Brian Kelly, now at Notre Dame, was in charge. The Bearcats wrapped up 2018 with a 35-31 Military Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
“It means a lot,” running back Michael Warren II said of the win, per Scott Springer of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Especially last year being 4-8 and being home and watching other people play. It left a chip on our shoulder. It just felt great to get this win.”
Whenever a more enticing opportunity comes Fickell’s way, he’s likely leaving Cincinnati in a far better place than he found it.
What to Watch for: Round IV of Saban vs. Swinney
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Is this a repetitive matchup? Yes. Is it good for college football? Yes.
Alabama and Clemson were clearly, undeniably, a tier above the rest in 2018. Why would we want anything less?
“It’s the two best teams, and I think that’s the objective,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said on ESPN.
Nick Saban and Alabama hold a 2-1 advantage in the previous CFP matchups, including a 24-6 victory in the semifinals last year. The programs split the championship clashes in 2015 and 2016, and the Jan. 7 showdown will be the rubber match in that regard.
The 2018 title clash will feature a pair of lethally efficient offenses—Alabama is second nationally in yards per play, and Clemson is third—with defenses both ranked in the top five in points allowed per game. There is no overwhelming weakness on either side.
You might call it boring, and that’s OK. We think it’s perfect.