This unforgettable college football season full of COVID-19 outbreaks, scheduling nightmares and on-field surprises is almost over. The regular season — which saw some teams play 11 games and others play about half that many — is over, and we know which four teams will be fighting for a chance at the national championship in the playoffs. We also know which teams will be meeting each other in the bowl games that will cap off this bizarre year in a traditional way.
Here’s a look at the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for the 2020 regular season.
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
The Ducks were knocked out of the rankings a few weeks ago after their bitter loss to Oregon State, but a surprise invite to the Pac-12 Championship gave them a chance to salvage a disappointing year. The program filled in for Washington after that program had a COVID-19 outbreak, and they ended USC’s undefeated season to win their second consecutive conference title. The win shot Oregon back into the AP rankings and landed them a date with Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.
24. North Carolina State
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 24
The Wolfpack finished their season on a four-game winning streak and finished the regular season in the AP Top 25 for just the third time since 2010. At the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, they’ll meet a Kentucky team that underperformed for much of the season but finished the year with a 41-18 win over South Carolina. If NC State can top the Wildcats, it’ll be the program’s first bowl win since 2017.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 22
Speaking of teams that finished the season strong, the Flames crushed UMass 45-0 to close out a year that was historic for the program. Their only loss this season was by a single point against NC State, but they’re going to face arguably their toughest test of the year in the Cure Bowl on Dec. 26. That game will pit Liberty against the undefeated Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in what will be the best matchup between teams that aren’t in a Power Five conference this postseason.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 20
Tulsa put together a great season, despite constant scheduling battles because of COVID-19 issues. The Golden Hurricane came within a single score of winning their first American Athletic Conference championship but fell to Cincinnati in the title game. The loss dropped them slightly in the rankings, but they’ll get a great chance to finish on a positive note in the Armed Forces Bowl against a Mississippi State team that lost three of their final four games.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 13
No team took a bigger tumble in the poll this week than Southern California, who produced a box-office bomb in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Trying to cap off an undefeated season full of brilliant offensive performances, the Trojans scored their fewest points of 2020 in losing 31-24 to Oregon. While the loss knocked USC out of the playoff conversation, they likely still would’ve had a shot at a premiere bowl game. Instead, the program decided to sit out the postseason completely, citing COVID-19 concerns.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 21
When Texas suits up for the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29, it will have been nearly a month since they last played a game. The Longhorns have been off since Dec. 5, but they looked great in that game, scoring a season-high 69 points in dominating Kansas State on the road. They’ll meet one of the Pac-12’s best all-around teams in Colorado in that postseason match, trying to win their fourth consecutive bowl game as a program.
19. San Jose State
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 25
Nobody climbed higher in this week’s poll than San Jose State. The Spartans jumped six spots after easily handling Boise State in the Mountain West Conference Championship. It was the program’s first conference title in football since 1991, which was long before any of their current players were born. The win also earned them an invite to the Arizona Bowl, where they’ll face a red-hot Ball State team that has won six in a row. If the Spartans win, they’ll finish their first undefeated season since 1939.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 19
Miami was off last weekend but still managed to slide up a notch in this week’s AP poll. The Hurricanes finished the regular season on Dec. 12 with a lopsided loss to North Carolina that sent them tumbling out of the top 10 and out of the running for a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game. Still, they’ll meet Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29 in what could be star quarterback D’Eriq King’s final game with the “U” on his helmet.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 18
Iowa had to sit at home last weekend as well, after their season-ending game with Michigan was canceled due to COVID-19 issues at that program. The Hawkeyes were one of the best teams in the Big Ten this year, going 6-0 down the stretch to finish the season. They’ll try to keep that streak — and a streak of three consecutive bowl wins — alive when they meet 5-5 Missouri in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 17
College football fans got cheated last week when the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game between Louisiana and Coastal Carolina got canceled. A positive COVID-19 test in Coastal’s locker room was the culprit, and it cost us all a rematch of one of 2020’s best regular-season games, which gave Louisiana their only loss. After being named co-champions of the conference, the Ragin’ Cajuns will try to win at least 10 games for the second consecutive year when they meet a surging UTSA team in the First Responder Bowl on Dec. 26.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 15
Despite losing their second game of the year last weekend, Northwestern held steady in the rankings. The Wildcats had many chances to win in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State but couldn’t get anything going on offense in the second half, giving them a 22-10 defeat. Still, the 2020 season was a great return to form for Northwestern after a rough 2019 and they’ve got a chance to win their fourth bowl game since 2016. On Jan. 1, they’ll meet 6-4 Auburn in what should be a great Citrus Bowl.
14. North Carolina
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 16
After some woes in the early part of the season, the Tar Heels won four of their last five games and climbed into the top 15 heading into bowl season. Quarterback Sam Howell and the rest of UNC’s offense put up stellar numbers down the stretch, putting up at least 40 points in all but one of their last six games. They’ll need all the power they can summon when they meet Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2. It will mark the first time this program has played in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games since 2001, when Howell was just 1 year old.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 14
While BYU’s quest for an undefeated season fell short in their penultimate game, it was still a remarkable year for the Cougars. They dominated nearly all of their opponents and had one of the best combinations of an overpowering offense and a stifling defense that any team had in 2020. The Cougars will head to the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22 to meet a UCF team that won four of their last five games to finish the season.
12. Iowa State
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 8
While Iowa State won the Big 12 regular-season title, they couldn’t get it done in the conference championship game against Oklahoma last weekend. That 27-21 loss knocked the Cyclones out of the top 10, but they will still get a chance to give their fans a historic finish. On Jan. 2, Iowa State will meet Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. It marks the first time the program has played in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games since 1977, when they lost in the Peach Bowl.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 10
It had to be frustrating for Georgia’s final game of the regular season against Vanderbilt to be canceled, because it robbed them of one more chance to prove their prowess before the bowl assignments were announced. While they fell out of the AP top 10, the Bulldogs still landed a spot in a New Year’s Six game that should be a fun one to watch. On Jan. 1, they’ll meet Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, which will basically be a home game for them.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 11
The Gators finished the season on two consecutive losses but still climbed into the top 10 after an impressive performance last weekend. They gave Alabama all they could handle in the SEC Championship Game but ultimately fell 52-46 in a game that obviously still impressed the AP voters. The program has a three-year bowl winning streak on the line when they meet Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 30 for what should be one of the highest-scoring games of the season.
9. Coastal Carolina
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 9
The College Football Playoff committee didn’t give Coastal Carolina much of a chance to join the elites this season, but the AP voters kept them in the top 10 after a year of historic firsts for the program. The Chanticleers finished the regular season as one of only two teams in the nation to go undefeated after playing at least 10 games, and it earned them an invitation to their first bowl game ever. On Dec. 26, they’ll take on a one-loss Liberty team in a Cure Bowl that should be a thriller for anyone who roots for the little guys.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 12
Oklahoma climbed four spots this week, which was the biggest jump of any team in the top 10. The team’s 7-0 run to end the season after some early struggles proved their resiliency when nobody was giving them much of a chance in 2020. Last weekend, they won their sixth straight Big 12 championship by exacting revenge on an Iowa State team that had handed them one of their two losses this year. The Sooners will take on Florida at the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 30 in a matchup between two of the nation’s top-11 scoring offenses.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 7
The Hoosiers held steady despite being off since Dec. 5, due to their scheduled game with Purdue being canceled twice for COVID-19 issues. This team has to be salivating to hit the field again, especially after the Big Ten bent the rules on who was eligible to play in the conference title game in favor of Ohio State. The decision kept Indiana out of a New Year’s Six bowl game, which would’ve been a historic accomplishment for them. They’ll get a chance to take their frustrations out on a 4-5 Ole Miss team at the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 6
It wasn’t easy, but the Bearcats knocked off Tulsa 27-24 in the AAC Championship Game last weekend to cap off a great season. It’s the first time the program has been undefeated heading into a bowl game since 2009, which was also the last time they played in one of the New Year’s Six games. They’ll have a chance to prove they were worthy of a playoff berth when they take on Georgia in the Peach Bowl on Jan. 1. If the Bearcats can win that game, it would mark the first time Cincinnati has finished a season undefeated, including a bowl game.
5. Texas A&M
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 5
Texas A&M did everything they needed to do to earn a shot at the playoffs in 2020, but the committee passed them over. The Aggies won seven games down the stretch, including tough ones against Florida and Auburn, and their only loss came to top-ranked Alabama. Their invitation to the Orange Bowl, where they’ll take on North Carolina on Jan. 2, marks the programs first appearance in one of the New Year’s Six bowls since the 2012 season.
4. Notre Dame
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 2
It took until late December, but the Irish finally lost a game in 2020. Their rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game was easily their least inspiring performance of what has been a remarkable season. Still, Notre Dame did enough to land the final spot in the College Football Playoff, where they’ll be long shots for their first national title since 1988. In the Rose Bowl semifinal game, the ACC’s second best defense will meet an Alabama offense that scored more points than anyone in the nation this year.
3. Ohio State
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 3
Many people are viewing Ohio State as the undeserving villains of the 2020 College Football Playoff, but it’s hard to argue with their abilities. The team’s short and largely easy schedule has drawn the ire of teams that played more games and got more wins, like Texas A&M and Cincinnati. Regardless of what the haters say, the Buckeyes will be playing for their first national title since the 2014 season as they enter the four-team bracket. They’ll meet Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semifinal game on Jan. 1 in a matchup of two of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 4
Clemson climbed back into the top two after getting sweet revenge on Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game in one of their more impressive victories of the season. The Tigers have been invited to the College Football Playoff for the sixth consecutive year, and they’ll meet an opponent that they’ve had great success against. Clemson is 4-0 all-time against Ohio State as a program, including playoff wins during the 2016 and 2019 seasons. The program will be trying to win their third national championship in five seasons if they can get past the Buckeyes again.
Last Week’s Ranking: No. 1
Alabama met its toughest match of the season in the SEC Championship Game last weekend but they ultimately knocked off Florida to secure the top overall seed in the playoffs. The Crimson Tide and their unstoppable offense will meet Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl semifinal game on Jan. 1, where they are already heavy betting favorites. The last time these two historic programs met was the 2013 national championship game, when Alabama dominated the Irish 42-14.