By: Mike Loveall, LastWordOnCollegeFootball.com
Last Word on College Football Top 25 Final 2016 Rankings
The 2016 College Football Season is over, and for the first time since 1981 Clemson stands alone at the top. This marks only Clemson’s second national title, but Dabo Swinney has built a program that looks to be a contender for many years to come. The Tigers have won 10 or more games for six straight seasons and have played in the National Championship Game two years in a row.
The conclusion of the season not only affords us the opportunity to crown a champion, it also allows us to rank the best 25 teams one last time.
Even after a dismal bowl season, the Big Ten is well represented at the top of the poll. Four Big Ten teams are in our top ten: Penn State (6th), Ohio State (7th), Michigan (9th), and Wisconsin (10th). While the Big Ten only has four teams in the poll, they own the highest average ranking (8th) amongst all conferences.
The ACC, SEC, and Pac-12 all have five teams represented. In addition to Clemson, the ACC list includes Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Miami. The ACC’s average rank was 14th. In addition to Alabama, the SEC placed LSU, Florida (poll’s highest mover), Tennessee, and Auburn (poll’s biggest drop) in the poll. The SEC is the most balanced conference in the poll, with the top team and the 25th team, with an average ranking of 15th. The Pac-12’s five teams include USC and Stanford, both moving up five spots, and Washington, Colorado, and Utah.
The Big 12 rounds out the Power 5 conferences with three teams. Oklahoma finishes third after a disastrous start to the season. Oklahoma State and West Virginia are the other Big 12 representatives.
After a close Cotton Bowl game against Wisconsin, Western Michigan finishes as the highest Group of 5 team at 14th. USF (AAC), at 18th, and Air Force (MWC), at 24th, are the only other G5 conference teams that finish in the final poll.
It’s been an incredible season, with early marquee out-of-conference matchups, a shift in conference strengths during the conference slates, and another exciting bowl season. Here’s how it all panned out, according to our sixteen pollsters.
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LAST WORD ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL TOP 25
FINAL 2016 RANKINGS
CLEMSON (16) (14-1)
Clemson dethrones the reigning champions for their first national title in 35 years and second overall. Is this the beginning of a new dynasty in college football? Mike Loveall
Down goes Bama. Alabama led for 59:59 seconds in their quest to go back-to-back. It wasn’t so for Nick Saban’s team, as Jalen Hurts’ passing game was lacking and the Tide defense was worn down after over 90 plays in the game. Mike Loveall
Coming into the game as one of the nation’s hottest team, the Sooners stayed hot in a 35-18 defeat of Auburn. Baker Mayfield secured the best single season passing efficiency rating in NCAA history. Joe Mixon lead the way in rushing and receiving yards with 180 total yards and 2 TDs. Samaje Perine became the all time leading rusher in Oklahoma history. Jason Rhea
USC had a September to forget, but were one of the best teams in the country after switching to Sam Darnold at quarterback. The hype will be more than legitimate coming into 2017. Yesh Ginsburg
Chris Petersen‘s Huskies were outmatched against Alabama, losing the National Semifinal in decisive fashion. UDub figures to be tough again next season and should be in the hunt to repeat as Pac-12 champs. Donald King
PENN STATE (11-3)
The Nittany Lions came up short against USC in an epic Rose Bowl game. However, James Franklin claimed his first Big Ten title in a year during which Penn State was often an afterthought to Michigan and Ohio State. This should help bolster a top-15 recruiting class and help the Nittany Lions keep up in the Big Ten arms race. Zach Jones
OHIO STATE (11-2)
Ohio State was embarrassed by Clemson on both sides of the ball in a 31-0 shutout. J.T. Barrett couldn’t get much going while Deshaun Watson was able to score 3 touchdowns. Overall, it was still a great season for Ohio State with the amount of underclassmen on the team. Rob Gritzer
FLORIDA STATE (10-3)
The Seminoles escaped with a narrow 33-32 win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Florida State has now reached 10 or more wins in each of the last five seasons. Jonathan Bailey
After Playoff hype continued into early November, Michigan limped across the finish line with a 1-3 finish. Jim Harbaugh is still beloved in Ann Arbor, but eventually the fans and administration will want more than just 10-win seasons for $9 Million per year. Yesh Ginsburg
The Badgers were able to win the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan but fell in the standings, likely due to losses by Michigan and Penn State. Wisconsin is going into 2017 as the favorite to win the B1G West, but P.J. Fleck may give them some trouble in Minnesota. Rob Gritzer
OKLAHOMA STATE (10-3)
It wasn’t the New Years Six game they were hoping for but the Cowboys finished the season in impressive fashion. Oklahoma State dismantled Colorado 38-8 in the Alamo Bowl to cap a 10-win season. The off-season will provide optimism as Rudolph & Washington elected to return for their senior season. Jason Rhea
David Shaw‘s team gave him his fifth season with 10+ wins in his six seasons with a narrow win over a game North Carolina squad in the sloppily-played Sun Bowl. The Cardinal lose Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas early to the NFL, but returns most of a stout defense for the 2017 season. Donald King
The Tigers capped off an 8-4 season with a 29-9 routing of Louisville in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The Tigers defense mauled Heisman Winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson amassed only 186 total yards and was sacked 8 times. They head into the off-season riding the momentum of a new coach and rising stars. Kate Pearson-Halyburton
WESTERN MICHIGAN (13-1)
The Broncos gave Wisconsin all they could handle in the Cotton Bowl in a narrow 24-16 loss, their only defeat of the season. Moving forward, this team’s likely headed back down to Earth with key playmakers on offense graduating and head coach P.J. Fleck leaving for Minnesota. John Bava III
The Gators got decent quarterback play from Austin Appleby in the Outback Bowl and their stingy defense came to play as they rolled Iowa 30-3. Florida will send six defensive players to the NFL this year after saying farewell to six more NFL-bound players the year before. The Gators will benefit from a favorable 2017 home schedule but Jim McElwain must find a quarterback and prove his offensive prowess and pick things up on the recruiting trail. Zach Jones
After having a historic regular season and winning their division, Colorado goes out in a whimper. The Buffaloes lost to both Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. Despite that, Colorado looks to be a force in the Pac-12 for years going forward. Sean Garmer
VIRGINIA TECH (10-4)
The Hokes may have been one of the biggest surprises this season. In his first year Justin Fuente got Virginia Tech to their first ACC Championship game appearance since 2010 before ending the season with a 35-24 win over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. With one successful season of the post-Beamer era down, the Hokies are going to challenge for the ACC crown for years to come. Justin Gordon
The Bulls set a school record for wins in a seaon with 11 after beating South Carolina 46-39 in the Birmingham Bowl. Playing for interim coach T.J. Weist, USF saw the Gamecocks rally to force an extra period, but recovered a fumble to seal the win. In 2017 Charlie Strong takes over for Willie Taggart who left for the Oregon job. Kevin McGuffey
The Utes finished the season at 9-4 after a 26-24 win over Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl. Utah finished 3rd in the Pac-12 South at 5-4, but did have a signature win over USC in Salt Lake City. After being in the hunt for the division title much for the season, they lost three of four conference games to end the regular season. In 2017 they will have to replace their leading rusher for the second consecutive season. Tony Siracusa
Tennessee had a cathartic season. The Vols beat Florida and Georgia and finished well against Nebraska. But they squandered talent they’ll lose in Joshua Dobbs, Derek Barnett, Josh Malone, Alvin Kamara, Cam Sutton, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin in losses to Vandy and South Carolina. The East Championship still eludes Butch Jones. Mike Loveall
The Heisman Trophy wasn’t enough to help Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals in a 29-9 Citrus Bowl loss to LSU. Louisville, who was in the playoff discussion for much of the season, ended on a three game losing streak. Jonathan Bailey
Expectations may have been too high for the Hurricanes after the hiring of Mark Richt. 2016 may have been a disappointment after a 4-0 start. However, Miami finished the season strong concluding with a 31-14 win in the Russell Athletic Bowl over West Virginia. With more time to recruit his players, Richt has the Canes poised for a breakout 2017. Justin Gordon
WEST VIRGINIA (10-3)
Despite limping to the finish line, West Virginia had an overall successful year in Dana Holgersen’s sixth season. Next season, Florida transfer Will Grier will add another powerful element to the Mountaineer offense. Brendan Dzwierzynski
AIR FORCE (10-3)
The Falcons battled a slow start to the Arizona Bowl against South Alabama before recovering to win 45-21. They relied on over 200 yards of passing from Arion Worthman as their usually reliable run game struggled. This is the second 10-win season in the past three years for Air Force who will enter 2017 as one of the best teams in the Mountain West Conference. Matthew Atkinson
Entering the 2016 season, Auburn had the talent to compete, but seemed to lack the depth to win big games. Auburn entered the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma with hopes of a strong finish. The bowl game ended in a loss and a quarterback with a fractured arm. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham is eager to jump into the QB competition heading into the 2017 season. Lauren Beasley
Others Receiving Votes: San Diego State (26), Kansas State (21), Georgia Tech (10), Pittsburgh (5), Western Kentucky (4), Temple (3), Tulsa (3), Houston (2).
The long, cold off-season now begins. But fret not, college football fans. We have National Signing Day in just four weeks time. Then there will be assistant coaches shuffling, then we’ll have spring ball. After that, media days and then summer camps.
Before you know it, ladies will be donning face paint and grown men will wear jerseys again. As the pain of the off-season sets in, let’s enjoy this season for a few more hours.
Previous LWOS Polls:
Preseason Top 25
Week 1 Top 25
Week 2 Top 25
Week 3 Top 25
Week 4 Top 25
Week 5 Top 25
Week 6 Top 25
Week 7 Top 25
Week 8 Top 25
Week 9 Top 25
Week 10 Top 25
Week 11 Top 25
Week 12 Top 25
Week 13 Top 25
Week 14 Top 25
About the poll: Sixteen Last Word on College Football writers submit ballots and points are awarded on a inverse-scale (a first place vote receives 25 points, a 25th-place vote receives 1 point).
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