Greg Cox's 2011 College Football Rankings. Greg was a senior writer at TheFootballExpert.com and appeared as a guest on the NFL Network's Path to the Draft.
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Updated Jan. 13, 2011
Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)
BCS Championship Game: Won 21-0 Vs. LSU.
Is it fair to say now that the first LSU result was a fluke? This was the game I expected the first time around and, luckily for their fans, the Tide got a second chance to roll in. Had its conference affiliation been different, maybe Alabama would have ended up in a different bowl game and been frustrated. The best team probably won the crystal, but that doesn't mean other teams had no chance of beating them in a playoff.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 1/1
Oklahoma State Cowboys (12-1)
Fiesta Bowl: Won 41-38 OT Vs. Stanford.
First of all, this team got a huge break winning the bowl game when a first-year head coach acted like one, melting under the pressure of a crucial decision. Since when did field goals in college (or the pros for that matter) become automatic from any distance? To the Cowboys' credit, they took advantage of the misses and won the game. This offense would have been interesting to watch against either Alabama or LSU, but that's why college football needs reform. I have them ranked ahead of the Tigers because they showed up prepared for their bowl and did what it takes to win against a quality team. Plus, I'm not convinced their offense wouldn't have touched up LSU a little.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 3/3.
LSU Tigers (13-1)
BCS Championship Game: Lost 21-0 Vs. Alabama.
Ultimately I was right, they failed to finish their brutal schedule unscathed. The way they finally fell was quite surprising and disappointing. College football bowl games are unique because of the layoff, but the first matchup featured both teams coming off an open week and the Tigers were able to get it done. With all the crystal on the line, they looked so bad it was more interesting to read the jokes about them on Twitter than see the offense flail around the field. Playing so poorly doesn't wash away all of their other victories. It does leave a sour taste at the end and make me question if I was also right about a quality quarterback being able to beat their defense.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 2/2.
Oregon Ducks (12-2)
Rose Bowl: Won 45-38 Vs. Wisconsin.
Too few bowl games are worth watching, but the Rose lived up to the hype. For as much grief as the Big Ten received, a few of the teams actually played well in the exhibitions. Chip Kelly finally got a bowl win and his offense finally cut loose. Would the Ducks have won a playoff? I don't think so with their defense, but it's always fun to watch them do their thing. The helmets I can do without to be honest.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 4/4.
Stanford Cardinal (11-2)
Fiesta Bowl: Lost 41-38 OT Vs. Oklahoma State.
The "idiot kicker" jokes were too easy after this one. Andrew Luck is off to join the Indianapolis Colts and his college career ended with a blemish he had nothing to do with because his coach's brain froze in a crucial situation. It happens, and it was too bad for this team that overcame a lot of injuries only to watch its chance to beat a really good team evaporate. I love college football, but it's like a burger joint capable of creating 100 great varieties of hamburgers that only makes 10. It doesn't mean the restaurant isn't worth visiting, it just means it could be a lot better. Everyone would have watched Luck against an SEC defense to see how it turned out.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 7/7.
Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2)
Cotton Bowl: Won 29-16 Vs. Kansas State.
If I had my way, a playoff system would leave out Alabama, so I probably shouldn't even comment on how this team would have fared in a wild 16-team format. I will anyway because I actually saw someone say they would rank this team third. I about fell out of my chair. If not for a choke job by Texas A&M, this team would be outside the top 10 and deservedly so. It was a good, not great, win over a similarly overachieving Wildcats team in the Cotton. Let's not lose our minds, but the SEC West can rejoice over their third-place team finishing this high. It will never happen again.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 5/5.
USC Trojans (10-2)
No Bowl: Did Not Play.
Before the bowls, I thought the Trojans ranking was way too high. I have come around to it being just about right. Clearly, they peaked at the end of the season and had the talent to deal with just about any team in the country. They basically won the Pac-12, although I have them third because I can't ignore the disaster at Arizona State. Had USC gotten the Sun Devils later in the season when they had fallen apart at the seams, it likely would have been a different result. At 11-1, having only lost in multiple overtimes at Stanford, I wonder if the Trojans might have finished third in the AP. Matt Barkley's return puts them in position to battle for a BCS title, and his "bored/boring" tweets will be bulletin-board material if they make the final game because everyone knows an SEC team is going to be waiting on the opposite sideline.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: NA/6.
Boise State Broncos (12-1)
Las Vegas Bowl: Won 56-24 Vs. Arizona State.
Even Houston's choke couldn't get them in the BCS again, but who would have wanted to play this team? At the same time, let's not pretend that the Broncos were anywhere close to the 2010 team that could have taken the field with anyone. This final version of Kellen Moore's giant killers was not able to finish in style by knocking off a top team, but he'll take a lot of records with him. Let the Joe Southwick era begin right?
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 6/8.
South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2)
Capital One Bowl: Won 30-13 Vs. Nebraska.
It was a good bowl win, but, let's face it, this team dodged the two heavyweights and still wound up with a couple losses. The Gamecocks definitely deserve this finish, but I don't know if I would pick them to beat too many teams finishing in the top 12.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 8/9.
Wisconsin Badgers (11-3)
Rose Bowl: Lost 45-38 Vs. Oregon.
In defeat, they actually proved their worthiness. A tragic fumble undid them, which had to be tough on fans already scarred for life by two Hail-Mary losses. When I hear people try to explain away losses like that, however, I cringe a little. The Badgers put themselves in position to lose those games. Had they been up by 10 points, those passes wouldn't have mattered. Still, it was a great season for the Badgers, and they showed well in the bowl game.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 11/10.
Michigan State Spartans (11-3)
Outback Bowl: Won 33-30 3OT Vs. Georgia.
For much of the season, they were disrespected, and even after a dramatic bowl win over the SEC East champs, the Spartans were served one last slam by being ranked behind their "big brothers" Michigan in both polls. Seriously, why even play games if the results don't matter? We get so few results spread across the many teams across the country and, still, brain-dead voters ignore what happens on the field. If you can't tell, this really annoys me.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 10/11.
Michigan Wolverines (11-2)
Sugar Bowl: Won 23-20 OT Vs. Virginia Tech.
Luckily for the Wolverines, college football is big business, and they got the BCS bid over Michigan State. Speaking of business, Michigan took care of it and won the game. It feels like the softest 11-2 finish in recent memory for an AQ team. I could probably rank the Wolverines lower than this and still justify it.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 9/12.
Georgia Bulldogs (10-4)
Outback Bowl: Lost 33-30 3OT Vs. Michigan State.
I'm not sure what the voters had against this team in their final ballots. Were the voters just tired of writing down SEC teams? All of the Bulldogs losses came against Top 10 teams in the final coaches poll, so why are they so much worse than, for example, Michigan? I know Georgia lost all its big games, but the team was competive in two (and a half) of them and managed to win ten times while competing in the SEC. I just think the Bulldogs deserved a little better, and I'm reflecting that here.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 20/19.
Kansas State Wildcats (10-3)
Cotton Bowl: Lost 29-16 Vs. Arkansas.
I really don't know what to make of this team. The Wildcats won a lot of games, but lacked any sort of "wow" factor in doing it. Their goal was to hang around all game and win in the end, sort of like "Tebowing" their opposition. This ranking is based on Kansas State's conference finish because in the Big XII everyone plays everyone, but I almost flipped them with Oklahoma because of their lopsided loss in Norman. I wanted to see the Wildcats do more in the Cotton Bowl.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 16/15.
Baylor Bears (10-3)
Alamo Bowl: Won 67-56 Vs. Washington.
I have been a fan of Robert Griffin III since his days running the long hurdles in high school chasing the national record. It's sad to see him leave the college ranks and, while I understand the decision from a financial standpoint, he definitely could use another season of work. Unfortunately, football is physical and he has already suffered a major injury playing for free. It makes no sense for him to put an NFL contract in jeopardy by playing another 13 times. Griffin carried this team beyond where they should have gone, and I think the first half of the Alamo Bowl showed some of what I mean by that.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 12/13.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-3)
Insight Bowl: Won 21-14 Vs. Iowa.
Winning 10 games is thrilling for most programs. In Norman this year, it felt like a colossal disappointment. At least quarterback Landry Jones is coming back, making the Sooners the clear favorites to win a conference losing some quality signal-callers. After the Bedlam disaster, it was a good thing they drew a soft bowl opponent, because otherwise, I'm not so sure Oklahoma would have gotten that tenth win.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 15/16.
West Virginia Mountaineers (10-3)
Orange Bowl: Won 70-33 Vs. Clemson.
The mercy rule was not in effect for this bowl game. Watching the Mountaineers mutilate the Tigers made me wonder why this team couldn't run the table in the Big East like I expected them to. Consistency is the key to any great team, and West Virginia was merely pretty good based on all the results.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 18/17.
Clemson Tigers (10-4)
Orange Bowl: Lost 70-33 Vs. West Virginia.
Remember when this team was 8-0? That was fun. The Tigers probably wish they could have played Virginia Tech a few more times, or that Louisville somehow won the Big East. Teams get blown out, it happens but ten wins loses a lot of luster when a team puts up 70 on you in the last game.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 22/22.
Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3)
Sugar Bowl: Won 23-20 OT Vs. Michigan.
They are the first of three teams listed here that the AP writers had four slots lower than the coaches. I actually split it right down the middle. Even though rankings are based on the current season, there is something to be said for the Hokies consistency from year to year. They had the easiest ride to perfection of any AQ team and couldn't figure out Clemson given two shots, then lost to a marginal Michigan team. The most memorable wins were over Virginia and Georgia Tech, which both finished 8-5.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 17/21.
TCU Horned Frogs (11-2)
Poinsettia Bowl: Won 31-24 Vs. Louisiana Tech.
Obviously, I think both polls are out of their minds when it comes to this team. The Horned Frogs scored an epic road win over Boise State. Terrific, I applaud TCU for pulling out all the stops and eking out that victory. The team also lost to an SMU team that finished third in the West division of Conference USA, and don't the Horned Frogs have a list of victories to compensate for that setback. The best thing I can say about them is they beat the top four MWC teams in their stadiums. This is high enough for me.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 13/14.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4)
Capital One Bowl: Lost 30-13 Vs. South Carolina.
They really laid some eggs, so I can see why the polls had Cornhuskers a little lower than I do, but they played a lot of decent teams along the way. That sounds weird, but eight of Nebraska's opponents finished with winning records, and after the first two weeks of warmup, they played only one team (Minnesota) that failed to win 6 games. I have to give the Cornhuskers credit for that.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 24/24.
Cincinnati Bearcats (10-3)
Liberty Bowl: Won 31-24 Vs. Vanderbilt.
They refused to be swept by the Volunteer State! I applaud the Bearcats for getting to double-digit wins without quarterback Zach Collaros down the stretch, but Cincinnati being ranked proves just how few quality teams there are in college football. To be honest, I think the polls should stop at 20. Heck, maybe even 15. This is another team the polls disagreed a bit on, and I leaned towards the coaches again.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 21/25.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (12-2)
Hawaii Bowl: Won 24-17 Vs. Nevada.
When they took apart Houston in the CUSA title game, it was one of those games where you keep thinking the undefeated team is going to rally but it never happened. Based on how Southern Miss played on that afternoon, I have no explanation for this team's loss just a few weeks earlier at UAB, which finished 3-9, or even the early-season defeat at Marshall. The Golden Eagles get ranked almost by default here because the Cougars needed to make it by them, but instead this team whipped them.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 19/20.
Houston Cougars (13-1)
TicketCity Bowl: Won 30-14 Vs. Penn State.
The coaches lost all sense of reality when assigning their final rank to this team. It was fine to give the Cougars a lofty ranking due to a spotless record when no one was really sure how they would perform in a big game. After Houston got smeared by a marginal Southern Miss team, it's a different story. The Cougars very much deserve a final ranking, but both polls are too high. They ran up the score on a bunch of hapless teams and choked with a BCS bid on the line. Bookend wins over UCLA and Penn State are not exactly top-15 ranking material.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 14/18.
Florida State Seminoles (9-4)
Champs Sports Bowl: Won 18-14 Vs. Notre Dame.
High expectations swallowed this team up early, but few teams in the country matched the Seminoles 7-1 finish to the year. Obviously, most of that was against ACC competition, and they didn't even play Coastal champ Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech. Like I said, it was tough to find teams to fill up this top 25. The only other AQ teams I had to choose from were Penn State, which was a mess down the stretch, and Rutgers, which finished fourth in a soft Big East.
Final Coaches/AP ranks: 23/23.
A few parting words about the college football season. There needs to be a playoff. Everyone knows it. I don't care if it's perfect. Nothing is. Anything would be better than having to wonder if a great defense beats a great quarterback or if a team that stumbled early and got hot at the end might have won it all. I enjoy the unpredictable nature of the college game, but with almost four times as many teams in the NFL while playing fewer games, it is too reliant on polls filled out by people who have no idea what they are doing.
Didn't Oklahoma State deserve a shot at LSU? Would Oregon have won a rematch with the Tigers like Alabama did? How many upsets would have occurred in a playoff bracket featuring eight or sixteen teams? Every year, I am left with questions that will never be answered.