I had to submit my final ballot on Monday night after the championship game. Here's a look at the ballot I turned in, with my previous (pre-bowl) ranking, as well as my preseason ranking for each of these teams:
1. Alabama (14-1; Previous: 2; Preseason: 4) - Three weeks into this season, I really didn't think the Tide would wind up here, but they were extremely impressive after losing to Ole Miss in Week 3. Alabama won its last 11 games, finished 8-1 against Top 25 teams and 12-1 against bowl teams.
2. Clemson (14-1; Previous 1; Preseason 14) - What a fun team to watch this season. In the end, the Tigers came up 5 points short of the national title, but they were entertaining all year long.
3. Stanford (12-2; Previous: 5; Preseason: 10) - By the end of the season, there were not very many teams in the country playing better than the Cardinal.
4. Ohio State (12-1; Previous: 7; Preseason: 1) - The Buckeyes were the team everybody thought they'd be during the last two games of the year. Had they played like that all year, they likely would have been on the field Monday night.
5. Oklahoma (11-2; Previous: 3; Preseason: 18) - Not a good performance in the semifinals against Clemson, but the Sooners deserve to finish in the top five.
6. Michigan State (12-2; Previous: 4; Preseason: 6) - Same thing with the Spartans. They were bad against Alabama in the semifinals, but they had a fantastic season.
7. Houston (13-1; Previous: 10; Preseason: Unranked) - I'm sure I'll have the Cougars higher than most voters, but they were one of just three teams (along with Clemson and Alabama) to win 13 games, they were 7-1 against bowl teams and finished with an impressive win against Florida State.
8. TCU (11-2; Previous: 12; Preseason: 2) - What a weird season for TCU, culminating in one of the most remarkable bowl wins ever. To do what they did with QB issues late in the year was impressive.
9. Mississippi (10-3; Previous: 14; Preseason: 19) - A couple of head-scratching losses, but this team was so good when it wanted to be. Rebels were dominant against Oklahoma State in their bowl game.
10. Notre Dame (10-3; Previous: 8; Preseason: 12) - In the end, their three losses all came to teams I have in my top four (Clemson, Stanford, Ohio State). Despite injury issues, the Irish had a really nice season.
11. Iowa (12-2; Previous: 6; Preseason: Unranked) - Some said their Rose Bowl blowout loss to Stanford exposed the Hawkeyes as a fraud. I think that discredits Stanford too much. Iowa had a really good year and came within a couple plays of taking a 13-0 mark into the semifinals.
12. Baylor (10-3; Previous: 16; Preseason: 7) - Like TCU, Baylor did a remarkable job despite QB issues late in the year. The Bears' bowl game win against North Carolina was impressive.
13. Florida State (10-3; Previous: 9; Preseason: 9) - Seminoles ended the year on a sour note with the loss to Houston. All-in-all, a solid season for them, though.
14. Michigan (10-3; Previous: 18; Preseason: Unranked) - Jim Harbaugh's first season in Ann Arbor ended in brilliant fashion with a blowout win over Florida. Wolverines are on their way back in a hurry.
15. LSU (9-3; Previous: 19; Preseason: 13) - Crazy to think LSU nearly fired Les Miles. He caps another good season with the Tigers with a rout of Texas Tech.
16. North Carolina (11-3; Previous: 11; Preseason: Unranked) - The last two games, against Clemson and Baylor, proved they were not an elite team, but to win 11 games was a great feat for the Tar Heels.
17. Navy (11-2; Previous: 23; Preseason: Unranked) - The Midshipmen had a great performance in routing Pitt in the bowl game to cap a fantastic season.
18. Wisconsin (10-3; Previous: 21; Preseason: Unranked) - A very quiet 10-win season for the Badgers, who never really beat anybody of note this year. Their 23-21 win against a decent USC team in the bowl game was their best win.
19. Utah (10-3; Previous: 24; Preseason: 25) - The first-half of the season Utes were much better than the second half Utes. They finished off a good season, though, by beating rival BYU.
20. Oregon (9-4; Previous: 15; Preseason: 11) - Amazing how much difference one player makes. With Vernon Adams at QB, this was a top-10 team and had a 31-0 lead against TCU in the bowl game. Without him, the Ducks weren't very good, and turned that 31-0 lead into an OT loss.
21. Western Kentucky (12-2; Previous: 25; Preseason: Unranked) - Hilltoppers don't come from a great conference, and didn't beat a single ranked team. But, winning 12 games, regardless of conference, earns a spot in the rankings.
22. Oklahoma State (10-3; Previous: 17; Preseason: Unranked) - Cowboys faltered down the stretch. After that great 10-0 start, they were whipped by Baylor, Oklahoma and Mississippi in the last three.
23. Florida (10-4; Previous: 20; Preseason: Unranked) - Another team that nose-dived into the finish. Jim McElwain started 10-1 in Year 1 with the Gators, but lost his last three, including a dismal 41-7 decision to Michigan in the bowl game.
24. Tennessee (9-4; Previous: Unranked; Preseason: 22) - Very impressive finish for the Volunteers, who routed Northwestern 45-6 in the bowl game. The four losses - including to Oklahoma and Alabama - came by a combined 17 points and they won their last six.
25. Northwestern (10-3; Previous: 13; Preseason: Unranked) - Wildcats had a very good regular season, beating Stanford and losing only to Michigan and Iowa. The loss to Tennessee was a disappointing way to finish.
Temple (10-4) - I had the Owls at No. 22 before the bowls, but they got whipped by Toledo, opening the door for Tennessee to jump into my final ballot.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.