1. Clemson (14-1; My pre-bowl ranking: 4; Final AP rank: 1) - The Tigers were my preseason No. 1, dropped to No. 2 after Week 1 and spent the rest of the year climbing back. They were awesome in an epic championship game win against Alabama.
2. Alabama (14-1; Pre-bowl: 1; Final AP rank: 2) - The Tide sat at No. 1 on my ballot for the previous 14 weeks. Until coming up short against Clemson, it was clear all season Alabama was the best team.
3. Ohio State (11-2; Pre-bowl: 2; Final AP rank: 6) - Buckeyes looked awful in a 31-0 semifinal loss to Clemson, but spent the rest of the season playing like a top team.
4. Oklahoma (11-2; Pre-bowl: 7; Final AP rank: 5) - After getting routed by Ohio State, 45-24, on Sept. 17, the Sooners won their last 10 and will take the country's longest win streak into next year.
5. Southern California (10-3; Pre-bowl: 9; Final AP rank: 3) - The Trojans will go into next year with the nation's second-longest win streak, at nine. After September, USC may have been the third-best team in the country.
6. Washington (12-2; Pre-bowl: 3; Final AP rank: 4) - The Pac-12 champs were handled by Alabama in the national semifinals, but had a remarkable season.
8. Michigan (10-3; Pre-bowl: 5; Final AP rank: 10) - Wolverines wound up losing three of their last four games, but those losses came by a total of five points, including a 3-point loss to Ohio State in double overtime.
9. Penn State (11-3; Pre-bowl: 6; Final AP rank: 7) - The Nittany Lions nearly pulled off a win in the Rose Bowl. Big Ten champions had a great season.
10. Wisconsin (11-3; Pre-bowl: 8; Final AP rank: 9) - I had a hard time dropping the Badgers after winning the Cotton Bowl, but really felt that USC and Florida State were better. And, while Michigan and Penn State both lost their bowls, they both beat Wisconsin.
11. Oklahoma State (10-3, Pre-bowl: 11; Final AP rank: 11) - A bit odd to not move a team that won its bowl game by 30 points over a top-10 team (Colorado), but frankly, I had nowhere to move the Cowboys. I think all the teams above them are more deserving of the top 10.
12. Western Michigan (13-1, Pre-bowl: 12; Final AP rank: 15) - Despite the loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, I didn't move the Broncos because enough teams right below them lost, as well.
13. Colorado (10-4, Pre-bowl: 10; Final AP rank: 17) - The Buffs' Alamo Bowl performance was miserable, and not worthy of this spot. Their body of work is deserving, however.
14. Stanford (10-3, Pre-bowl: 16; Final AP rank: 12) - The Cardinal very quietly finished the year really well, winning their last six.
15. Virginia Tech (10-4; Pre-bowl: 18; Final AP rank: 16) - The Hokies had a remarkable comeback to beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl and secure a 10-win season.
16. Florida (9-4; Pre-bowl: 19; Final AP rank: 14) - Gators were unimpressive to me all season - until a dominating 30-3 victory against Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
17. LSU (8-4; Pre-bowl: 21; Final AP rank: 13) - Like Florida, I thought LSU was rather unimpressive all season, until a strong postseason performance, beating Louisville 29-9 in the Citrus Bowl.
18. South Florida (11-2; Pre-bowl: 20; Final AP rank: 19) - The Bulls didn't play top-notch competition, but getting to 11 wins is a great feat. Only losses came to Florida State and Temple - a pair of 10-win teams.
19. Tennessee (9-4; Pre-bowl: unranked; Final AP rank: 22) - All year, the Vols were hard to figure out, but they finished strong, going 4-1 in the last five and rolling past Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
20. Miami (9-4; Pre-bowl: unranked; Final AP rank: 20) - It was an odd year for the Hurricanes, who started 4-0, then lost four in a row, and then won their last five.
21. West Virginia (10-3; Pre-bowl: 14; Final AP rank: 18) - Getting to 10 wins is great, but every time the Mountaineers played a solid team, the result was ugly. They lost by 17 to Oklahoma State, by 28 to Oklahoma and by 17 to Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
22. Auburn (8-5; Pre-bowl: 15; Final AP rank: 24) - Yeah, the Tigers lost five times, but included in that was losses to Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma.
23. Louisville (9-4; Pre-bowl: 17; Final AP rank: 21) - Remember in mid-November when the Cardinals were in the hunt for the national title? They lost their last three and looked really bad doing it.
24. Utah (9-4; Pre-bowl: unranked; Final AP rank: 23) - The Utes lost three of four to close the regular season, but picked up a nice win over Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl.
25. Georgia Tech (9-4: Pre-bowl: unranked; Final AP rank: None) - Yellow Jackets won their last four and got a convincing 33-18 win against Kentucky in the Taxslayer Bowl.
Iowa (8-5; Pre-bowl: 22) - Up and down year ended with a 30-3 loss to Florida.
Houston (9-4; Pre-bowl: 23) - At one point, the Cougars were a top-10 team. They got crushed, 34-10, by San Diego State in the bowl game, and lost their last two.
Pittsburgh (8-5; Pre-bowl: 24) - How does a team beat Clemson and lose to Northwestern?
Temple (10-4; Pre-bowl: 25) - Owls lost to a motivated Wake Forest squad in the bowl game, snapping a seven-game win streak.
Next best: The 5 teams I had just outside of my top 25
26. Kansas State (9-4) - The Wildcats didn't beat any ranked teams this year, but closed on a four-game win streak and knocked off a solid Texas A&M team in the Texas Bowl.
27. Western Kentucky (11-3) - Hilltoppers closed the year on an eight-game winning streak (only Oklahoma and USC have longer streaks), and looked impressive against Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl.
28. San Diego State (11-3; ; Final AP rank: 25) - The 34-10 win against Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl was impressive, but this is still a team that got rolled by South Alabama and Colorado State this year.
29. Minnesota (9-4) - It was a solid regular season for the Gophers, who then had one of the most surprising performances in the bowl season, shutting down Washington State in a 17-12 win in the Holiday Bowl.
30. Air Force (10-3) - Falcons finished really strong, winning their last six, including a 45-21 rout of South Alabama in the Arizona Bowl.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.