A season unlike any other is in the books, and while it provided unexpected and unprecedented circumstances at nearly every turn, it finished on a note that is all too familiar in the modern era with Nick Saban and Alabama hoisting yet another national championship trophy. Picking Alabama over Ohio State was among the most boring and least bold predictions someone could make back in January 2020, but the obstacles overcome by both teams, and the sport as a whole, have made celebrating the successes even more meaningful.
Saban pointed that out when asked to compare this team to other championship squads from Alabama, noting the many changes — from no spring practice to a full SEC-only schedule and more — that made the season more difficult and bring into focus how impressive what the 2020 team accomplished was when it’s all taken into consideration.
“I think especially in this year, with all the disruptions, no spring practice, really no summer ball at all of any sort to develop players, no games where you could play other players and develop players on the team. I think this, based on the circumstances, this team has really accomplished a lot, to be able to do what they did,” Saban said on Monday night after winning his sixth national title in a 12-year run with the Crimson Tide.
So it comes as no surprise that Alabama finishes as the No. 1 team in our CBS Sports 127, the comprehensive ranking of all FBS teams that played this season, with Ohio State checking in at No. 2, Clemson at No. 3 and Notre Dame at No. 4. With all the bowls in the books as a final data point for many teams, there was consistent support for Oklahoma’s strong finish with a two-spot bump up to No. 5 and a late boost for Georgia to No. 7 thanks to handing Cincinnati, now at No. 8, its first loss of the season in the Peach Bowl.
Teams outside the Power Five saw some of the biggest boosts in the final balloting of the year, likely a reflection of impressive performances in the postseason. Liberty jumped up eight spots to No. 18 after taking out Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl, Ball State moved up nearly two dozen spots after winning the Arizona Bowl against San Jose State, and Buffalo — after falling in the rankings following its MAC title game loss to Ball State — popped back up in the top 25 after winning the Camelia Bowl against Marshall. For the biggest adjustments not just at the top of the rankings but throughout the CBS Sports 127, check out the Mover’s Report below.
The final standing among conferences shows how the unique season opened the door for more teams to shine on a national level. The top 25 spots of the CBS Sports 127 have been known to be dominated but one conference but the dispersion is as even as its been in recent years with exactly four teams each from the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 — and two teams each from the Sun Belt, MAC and independents. The AAC and Mountain West are represented as well, and the only outlier is having just one Pac-12 team in the top 25 and that team — USC and No. 19 — did not even play in a bowl game.
College football experts from CBS Sports and 247Sports contribute ballots each week, which are averaged together for our rankings. You can see the top 25 below and 26-127 on our rankings page.
- No. 24 Ball State (+21): Mike Neu has this team going in the right direction, and 2020 is always going to be a year that is remembered fondly in the history of that program. The Cardinals notched their first-ever bowl win and claimed their first outright conference championship in decades, making Neu, a former Ball State great himself, one of the top coaches on the rise in the MAC.
- No. 25 Buffalo (+9): There was such a sharp adjustment from our voters after Buffalo lost to a good Ball State team in the MAC title game. It’s nice to see the Bulls entire body of work rewarded, even if it probably took Ball State winning the bowl game to make the conference title game loss appear more like a “quality loss.”
- No. 18 Liberty (+8): The thrilling Cure Bowl win against Coastal Carolina has the Flames finishing in the top 20 of our rankings after a year that had only one loss, on the road by a point to NC State, and plenty of reasons to look at Hugh Freeze as a legitimate candidate for other jobs should he choose to make a move.
- No. 16 Indiana (-8): The Hoosiers brought a banged-up team to the finish line and not even 18 receptions from Whop Philyor could give the offense enough juice to get by Ole Miss in a low-scoring grinder of an Outback Bowl.
- No. 31 Oregon (-9): Losing to Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl knocked the Ducks from the top 30 and left the Pac-12 with few representatives at the top of the rankings. Oregon still gets to celebrate its Pac-12 Championship but missed an opportunity to add a second-straight New Year’s Six bowl win to Mario Cristobal’s efforts to build a national title contender.
- No. 35 Tulsa (-15): Nasty weather and a sloppy game against Mississippi State will be remembered less for the four quarters of play than the fight at its conclusion. But the players no doubt remember every snap because of how close the team came to stealing a win for the second game in a row. The Golden Hurricane’s final two losses came by a combined five points with both games decided in the final minutes, and if those results are flipped this team is likely 20 spots higher than it finished in our rankings.
Check out the rest of the CBS Sports 127: Teams ranked 26-127