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Ballot Type: human

Overall Rationale:

Rank Team Reason
1 Georgia Bulldogs I had this team at #5 just outside my CFP 4 because I stand steady by my belief you need to win your conference to get into the current iteration of the playoff, but Georgia returns to the top as a national champion.  Their defensive front that got stifled against Bama in the SEC Championship game came back and dominated.  Bennett silenced the doubters and led UGA in the 4th quarter.  Congrats to the Dawgs
2 Alabama Crimson Tide Alabama wasn't able to win the LOS on both sides the way they did in the SECCG against Georgia and that's what killed them the most.  The thinner depth at WR behind Metchie and Williams also hurt, and Bryce Young missed a lot of throws that he hit en route to winning Heisman.  The secondary's injury issues also showed up.  Maybe Alabama wins at full strength, but injuries are a part of the game and Saban is still trotting out 4/5 star players almost everywhere.  Alabama will look to strengthen their secondary and receiving corps by next season.
3 Cincinnati Bearcats Cincinnati did what I thought would be impossible and made the CFP.  It helped that a ton of circumstances went their way like Notre Dame having just one loss to UC and 3 of the P5 champions being 2-loss teams,  so we'll probably have to wait until expansion to see a G5 team in the playoff again.  Regardless, despite a really tough matchup Cincinnati held their own for much of the semi-final against Alabama, but they just didn't have the skill in the WR group and the physicality in the trenches to match with Bama.
4 Michigan Wolverines After a dream season that led to a B1G title and a CFP berth, Michigan fell back to earth and looked more like the Wolverines we got used to seeing when Georgia clobbered them in the Orange Bowl.  Their defense was shredded and the offense didn't have the firepower against Georgia's defense to stay within striking distance.  The big storyline heading into next season is if Harbaugh is still HC in Ann Arbor or if he returns to the NFL.
5 Baylor Bears An early injury to Matt Corrall helped out, but Baylor rode a stellar defensive performance to a Sugar Bowl victory.  Dave Aranda guided Baylor from a 2-win 2020 season to a 2021 season that ended with a Big 12 title and Sugar Bowl victory.  Aranda will be a desired HC for bigger schools as long as he's having success with Baylor.  Depending on who stays and who leaves, Baylor could be in the early 2022 CFP talks.
6 Oklahoma State Cowboys Oklahoma State came out of nowhere to become a top 10 team that was an inch away from a Big 12 title and CFP berth.  Despite the heartbreak, OSU came back from down 21 against Notre Dame to win the Fiesta Bowl.  There's a lot of talent on the Cowboys and they'll be a dark horse for next season.  However, we won't know how different the defense will look without Knowles coordinating the unit.
7 Ohio State Buckeyes Ohio State took advantage of Utah's depleted secondary, fought off their own roster absence issues, and won a thrilling Rose Bowl with Jaxon Smth-Njigba becoming an overnight sensation.  Ohio State will return next season with a ton of talent, a Heisman candidate QB, a new exciting DC, and with expectations to return to the CFP.
8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Notre Dame did Notre Dame things to open up the Marcus Freeman era by blowing a 21 point lead and losing the Fiesta Bowl to OK State.  This makes ND 0-8 in BCS/NY6 games and 0-10 in major bowl games since 1994.  Freeman will have a tall and tough task with continuing to keep Notre Dame a staple in the Top 25 next season with a tougher schedule than what the Irish had this season.
9 Michigan State Spartans MSU came back and beat Pitt in a Peach Bowl where the Spartans' last-ranked pass defense in the country was spared from facing Kenny Pickett.  However, MSU was without their Heisman caliber RB so it evened things out.  2021 was a surprise season for MSU, but 2022 will be all about if MSU can fix their pass defense, replacing Kenneth Walker, and if Mel Tucker can do it again in 2022.
10 Oklahoma Sooners It's been a rough month for the Sooners.  Riley unexpectedly bailed for USC, a bunch of recruits decommitted and some followed Riley to LA, and a lot of current players are transferring out.  However, with Bob Stoops returning on a one-game basis the Sooners beat an also-roster-ravaged Oregon team to end a disappointing 2021 season on a high note.  Brent Venable will take over Oklahoma leading a depleted roster and with expectations still high in Norman.
11 Ole Miss Rebels Ole Miss was hit with an early injury to Matt Corrall in the Sugar Bowl where it looked like they were entirely unprepared to play their backup QB.  Despite a strong defensive effort, Ole Miss ended their season on a sour note and lost.  Ole Miss will be losing a lot this offseason, including their star QB, but they should still be dangerous next season with Lane Kiffin staying in Oxford.
12 Pittsburgh Panthers 2021 was the best season Pitt's had in decades.  Kenny Pickett blew up to become a Heisman finalist, the Panthers won the ACC, and Pitt made a major NY6 bowl.  There's a lot of uncertainty heading into 2022 for Pitt as Pickett goes pro and other players and coaches leave.
13 Utah Utes Utah put up a hell of a fight in their first ever Rose Bowl appearance.  However, their secondary was too depleted and their offense just didn't have enough firepower to keep up with Ohio State.  Regardless, Utah put together a strong season in light of multiple team tragedies and won the PAC-12 for the first time.  Kyle Wittingham normally has Utah playing Top 25 football so I wouldn't be shocked to see the Utes back in Rose Bowl contention next season.
14 NC State Wolfpack NC State's season ended bitterly as their bowl opponent UCLA cancelled on them last second.  NC State was ready to go, but the season ends hollowly.  The Wolfpack still put together a good season though.  They beat Clemson early in the season, beat rival UNC, and were just a few points away from playing for an ACC title.  Dave Doeren had maybe his best season yet but can he build upon it in 2022?
15 Clemson Tigers By Clemson standards, 2021 was a disappointing season.  For the first time since 2014, the Tigers lost 3 games, failed to win the ACC, and failed to win their division.  Yet, the Tigers ended the season hot with 6 straight wins.  Expectations will be high for Clemson as they'll look to return to the CFP in 2022,  but the Tigers lose star DC Brent Venables and had to replace their OC so we'll see if continuity will be a problem.
16 Arkansas Razorbacks Arkansas football is back after their 2021 season.  Without star WR Treylon Burks, the Razorbacks ended 2021 as one of the biggest surprises of the season at 9-4 and Sam Pittman has the program trending in the right direction.  While they'll have an uphill battle in the SEC West, Arkansas will at least try to get to 10 wins and make a NY6 bowl.
17 Minnesota Golden Gophers Minnesota flew under the radar as a 9-4 team thanks to a loss to Bowling Green early in the season.  However PJ Fleck has Minnesota in the best state the program has been in decades.  Key players are returning next season and the B1G West should be wide open, giving Minnesota a shot at the B1G title next season.
18 Kentucky Wildcats Kentucky football is turning into a regularly solid program under Mark Stoops.  The Wildcats beat Iowa on a late score to secure their 2nd 10 win season in 4 years, which doubled the amount of 10 win seasons they have in program history.  Kentucky should again be a menace in the SEC East next season.
19 Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns Louisiana flew under the radar this season.  After a loss in Week 1 to Texas, Louisiana won 13 straight to claim the Sun Belt title and another bowl win.   Only Georgia, Alabama, and Cincinnati won 13 games and thanks to Cincinnati losing, Louisiana now owns the longest winning streak in the country.
20 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Wake Forest had themselves a great season by their normal standards.  The Demon Deacons won 11 games for the first time since 2006 and played for an ACC championship.  They ended up playing and beating up Rutgers in their bowl game instead of Texas A&M, but it's still a strong end to the season and Sam Hartman returning for 2022 will be a big boost.
21 Wisconsin Badgers Wisconsin won a defensive slugfest game against Arizona State to finish the season 9-4.  It's a bit disappointing by their standards, but the Badgers were still fighting to play the B1G championship until the last week of the regular season and the Badgers got better as the season progressed.
22 Houston Cougars Houston really tried their best to lose their bowl game against a heavily-depleted Auburn side.  Yet, the Cougars end the season at 12-2 with a AAC championship game appearance in Dana Holgerson's 2nd season after his seat was already getting warm after one season.  With Cincinnati losing a lot this offseason, Houston will look to take advantage and finish the job in the AAC, and maybe even make the NY6.
23 Oregon Ducks After what started off looking like a promising season, it ended terribly for Oregon.  The Ducks got clobbered twice by Utah in a few weeks, lost their HC to Miami, and then saw a significant chunk of their roster sit out their bowl loss to Oklahoma.  Dan Lanning arrives after leading Georgia's defense to a natty and Bo Nix comes to town from Auburn.  Oregon should still be a player in the PAC-12 next season.
24 BYU Cougars Note to fans and teams: If you're going to complain about the bowl game your team got, at least win the one you got.  Losing to UAB after the couple weeks spend complaining about the bowl BYU got is just a bad look.  The Cougars are a talented team but prone to letdowns as they showed against UAB and Boise State.  Heading into 2022, Sitake returns but can he keep BYU as a 10 win, top 25 team like he has the last couple seasons?
25 Utah State Aggies Utah State flew under the radar for most of the season.  The Aggies started anew from a disastrous 2020 season, brought in Blake Anderson from Arkansas State who in turn brought in Logan Bonner from Arkansas State and a slew of other transfers.  All this turned into was an out of nowhere 11-3 season culminating in wins in a bowl game over Oregon State and the program's first MW championship.  Anderson and Bonner return for next season along with a number of new transfer players so Utah State could be looking at a big 2022 season.

Submitted: Tue 11 Jan 2022 18:47