By Brian Howell
As the we turn the calendar to December, the national title picture is becoming a little clearer. Of course, that could all get mixed up this weekend.
For now, however, I think we have a good idea of who the top few teams are.
With that, here’s the Top 25 ballot I submitted to the Associated Press this week:
1. Clemson (12-0; Last week: 1) – The Tigers squeaked past a bad South Carolina team, but it was still a big win in a rivalry game and it keeps Clemson in the top spot.
2. Alabama (11-1; LW: 2) – Tide rolled past Auburn in the Iron Bowl and continue playing great football down the stretch.
3. Oklahoma (11-1; LW: 5) – Sooners routed Oklahoma State in their final test of the regular season. This team is now 5-0 against ranked opponents and 8-0 against bowl eligible opponents (could be 9-0 if K-State becomes bowl eligible this week). OU is playing as well as anyone in the country.
4. Iowa (12-0; LW: 3) – The Hawkeyes deserve to be here because they are undefeated. It’s tough to tell if they’re as good as the other contenders because of their schedule, but beating Michigan State in the Big Ten title game will give them legitimacy.
5. Michigan State (11-1; LW: 6) – Spartans are one terrible call vs. Nebraska away from being in top four already, but they’ll get there if they beat Iowa this week.
6. Ohio State (11-1; LW: 7) – Buckeyes played their best game of the year last week against Michigan. Had they shown up like that a week early against Michigan State, they’d still be in position for a championship.
7. Stanford (10-2; LW: 11) – Cardinal knocked another contender (Notre Dame) out last week. Might be too late to make a run at the playoff, but they get a chance at another good win this week against USC.
8. North Carolina (11-1; LW: 10) – It’s been a great 11-game ride for the Tar Heels, but their schedule will hurt them. They’re the only team in the Top 25 that hasn’t played a single opponent that sits in this week’s College Football Playoff Top 25. Beat Clemson this week, though, and the conversation changes.
9. Notre Dame (10-2; LW: 4) – Irish played a great game at Stanford, but fell short. They are probably one of the four best teams in the country, but two two-point losses against Top-7 teams – both on the road – will keep them out of the playoff.
10. Florida State (10-2; LW: 14) – Seminoles are playing good football down the stretch and rolled past Florida last week.
11. Houston (11-1; LW: 17) – Impressive win against Navy last week has the Cougars in position for a great bowl slot.
12. TCU (10-2; LW: 18) – A good, but not great, team. TCU has had a nice season and will land in a good bowl game.
13. Baylor (9-2; LW: 8) – It would have been interesting to see what this team could have done with healthy quarterbacks.
14. Northwestern (10-2; LW: 16) – Wildcats started the year with a five-game winning streak and ended the regular season with a five-game winning streak.
15. Mississippi (9-3; LW: 21) – Two impressive wins – against LSU and Mississippi State – to close the regular season.
16. Oregon (9-3; LW: 20) – Like Baylor, it would have been very interesting to see where the Ducks would be had QB Vernon Adams been healthy all year. I think they’d be in the discussion for the playoff.
17. Oklahoma State (10-2; LW: 9) – The games got tougher at the end, and the Cowboys couldn’t handle it. Still, it’s always a great year to win 10 games.
18. Florida (10-2; LW: 12) – Gators looked bad against Florida State. Now, they’ve got to somehow get up to play Alabama.
19. Michigan (9-3; LW: 13) – Wolverines ran into Ohio State at the wrong time. Quite a year in Jim Harbaugh’s first season, though.
20. LSU (8-3; LW: 24) – Tigers got back on track with a win against Texas A&M, and then did the right thing by keeping Les Miles as coach.
21. Temple (10-2; LW: unranked) – A couple of big wins in a row have vaulted the Owls into the American Athletic Conference title game this week against Houston.
22. Southern Cal (8-4; LW: unranked) – Roller-coaster season, but the Trojans landed exactly where I thought they would back in August: in the Pac-12 title game. They will not be an easy opponent for Stanford this week.
23. Wisconsin (9-3; LW: unranked) – The Badgers have a nice record, but they’re living off of reputation a little bit. Every team in the Top 25, except Wisconsin, has at least three wins against bowl-eligible opponents. The Badgers are 0-3 against bowl teams.
24. Navy (9-2; LW: 15) – Midshipmen had a disappointing loss to Houston last week, but still have a shot at a 10-win season as they face Army (2-9) this week.
25. Utah (9-3; LW: 25) – Utes didn’t look very good in a 20-14 win against Colorado last week, which is why I vaulted three unranked teams ahead of them. They just aren’t the same team they were a few weeks ago, but it’s been a nice season for them.
Washington State (8-4; LW: 19) – Cougars started and ended their regular season with their two worst games. The middle 10 games were pretty good, though.
UCLA (8-4; LW: 22) – Bruins had a Pac-12 title in their sights with three weeks to play, but late losses to Washington State and USC ended that.
Toledo (9-2; LW: 23) – Rockets were one win away from playing for a MAC title, but got upset at home by Western Michigan.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.