After winning a mighty entertaining national championship game on Monday night, it was no surprise that Alabama earned the country's No. 1 ranking when the final AP poll was released on Tuesday.
Despite having what many viewed as an ugly bowl season, though, it was the Big Ten leading all conferences with six teams in the final set of rankings, adding something to the argument that it was the nation's top conference this season.
No, the Big Ten didn't have a representative in Monday night's title bout, in which SEC champion Alabama defeated ACC champion Clemson, 45-40. But the conference finished with three teams in the top 10 with No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan State and No. 9 Iowa. Three others teams were ranked throughout the top 25: No. 12 Michigan, No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 24 Northwestern.
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Ohio State had many thinking it was the Big Ten team that should have been playing in the College Football Playoff after a terrific performance in a 44-28 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. That win capped a 12-1 season for the team that was the first-ever unanimous preseason No. 1 and sent Urban Meyer to 50-4 in four seasons as the Buckeyes head coach.
Michigan State got to the Playoff fair and square and deserved its spot, winning the Big Ten Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. Despite never leading until after the clock ran out in two of its signature wins against Ohio State and Michigan, the Spartans found a way to win and perhaps boasted a group of victories — with the aforementioned wins added to ones over Oregon and Iowa — better than that of any team in the country heading into the Playoff. Of course, Michigan State's postseason did not go well, as the Spartans were routed 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl by the eventual national champions.
Iowa experienced its all-time winningest season in program history with a spectacular 12-0 regular season, one of just two teams in college football to do that this season, the other being national runner-up Clemson. The dream season ended with a thud, losses to Michigan State and Stanford, the latter being a 45-16 shellacking in the Rose Bowl. But the Hawkeyes still got their due for a terrific campaign, and Kirk Ferentz won multiple national coach of the year awards.
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Michigan played just one bad game all season, a 41-7 loss to Ohio State, and ended up with double-digit victories in the first season under Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh turned the team around in a flash, taking it to a 10th win in the Citrus Bowl with a 41-7 pounding of Florida a season after the Wolverines won just five games and missed a bowl.
Wisconsin was another one of the Big Ten's bowl-season bright spots, defeating USC by a 23-21 score in the Holiday Bowl to earn its 10th victory of the year. The Badgers had one of the nation's top defenses all season and should be on to even better things with a healthy Corey Clement next season.
And despite a lopsided 45-6 loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, it was a remarkable season for Northwestern, which won 10 games for just the fourth time in program history. The Cats also had one of the country's best defenses from wire to wire and boasted a big win over Stanford in the season opener. The Cardinal finished as the No. 3 team in the country.
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Here's a look at the entire final AP top-25 rankings:
4. Ohio State
6. Michigan State
10. Ole Miss
11. Notre Dame
14. Florida State
15. North Carolina
20. Oklahoma State
24. Western Kentucky