With chaos reigning supreme during the regular season, conference championship week treated college football fans to a taste of the familiar.
The Alabama Crimson Tide marched into the College Football Playoff in commanding fashion, something fans should be used to by now. What did come as a surprise, however, is how thoroughly Nick Saban's squad outplayed a previously undefeated Georgia team that had looked unstoppable. A 41-24 of Georgia rout in the SEC title game moved Alabama back to the top spot in the Power Rankings for the first time since an early season loss to Texas A&M.
But while Alabama was reminding fans its still one of college football's most fearsome forces, Cincinnati and Michigan both proved the CFP field is ready for new, fresh faces. The Bearcats likely locked up a spot in the playoff and in doing so became the first Group of 5 team to make an appearance in the top four at the end of the season. In similar fashion, Michigan won its first Big Ten title since 2004, which almost assuredly lands the Wolverines in the playoff field.
And while teams were punching their ticket to the playoff, other program-defining wins were taking place. Baylor won the Big 12, Pittsburgh won the ACC and Utah won the Pac-12. Exactly how everyone drew it up in the preseason.
Now, with the playoff picture in clear sight and the conference championships in the rearview, it's time to look at the final Power Rankings ahead of bowl season.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)
Not much has changed with Alabama. The Crimson Tide are SEC champions and back in the College Football Playoff after a dominant 41-24 victory over Georgia on Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young was sensational with three touchdown passes and a touchdown run, a performance that likely locked up the Heisman Trophy for him. Alabama's offensive line was vastly improved from a week ago and gave Young plenty of time to throw against a Georgia defense that had been feasting on everyone this season. It was easily Alabama's most complete performance of the season and will probably earn the Tide the No. 1 seed in the playoff. -- Chris Low
2. Michigan Wolverines (12-1)
The Wolverines accomplished a lot of firsts so far this season. First time beating Ohio State under Jim Harbaugh, first time making it to the Big Ten championship game under Harbaugh and now first time winning a Big Ten championship under Harbaugh. Michigan was able to stifle Iowa's offense to take home the championship, its first since 2004. Michigan has had an incredible turnaround from winning only two games last season to now winning the conference and gaining a berth in the College Football Playoff. -- Tom VanHaaren
3. Cincinnati Bearcats (13-0)
If the Bearcats needed one more statement on their perfect resume, they delivered it with a 35-20 win over Houston to take home their second straight American Athletic Conference championship. They did it with a relentless third quarter, in which they turned a 14-13 halftime lead into a 35-13 blowout and held on from there. The win means Cincinnati is now the only undefeated team remaining, putting them in position to make history as the first Group of 5 team to make the playoffs. Though this team gets grief from critics for its schedule, Cincinnati has only lost once over the last two seasons -- and that was to Georgia in the Peach Bowl. -- Andrea Adelson
4. Georgia Bulldogs (12-1)
The Dawgs had destroyed opponents all season on defense. Nobody had scored more than 17 points against them or moved the ball consistently, but that all changed in a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game on Saturday. Alabama rolled up 536 yards of total offense against Georgia, which led 10-0 early. But it was all Alabama after that. The Dawgs hurt themselves in the red zone against the Tide, and Stetson Bennett also threw two interceptions. The good news is that they will still be in the College Football Playoff, although not likely as the No. 1 seed. -- Chris Low
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-1)
The Irish were off this week from games, but were hardly quiet during the time off. Head coach Brian Kelly left the team to fill the LSU opening, and was replaced by their 35-year-old defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. The move by Kelly was a stunner, but the reception to Freeman's hire has seemingly been glowing, turning what could have been something of a disaster for the program into fresh energy in South Bend. We will likely see that energy carry over for the Irish wherever they end up this postseason. -- Harry Lyles Jr.
6. Baylor Bears (11-2)
The Bears completed a stunning turnaround, from 2-7 last year to 11-2 this year, becoming just the second team in Big 12 history to win the conference title game a year after having a losing record. They did it with a backup quarterback Blake Shapen filling in for starter Gerry Bohanon, by picking off Spencer Sanders four times, and with Jairon McVea, a sixth-year player who arrived in Waco as a walk-on making the game-saving fourth-down goal-line stop with 24 seconds left. Dave Aranda reshaped his staff after one season, won a conference title despite 50-1 odds in the preseason and has pointed the Bears to a promising future in a new-look Big 12 for future seasons. -- Dave Wilson
7. Ole Miss Rebels (10-2)
Matt Corral has opted to play in the Rebels' bowl game, which will make whatever New Year's Six bowl they end up in that much better as they go for an 11th win this season. Despite the college football coaching carousel spinning wildly, Lane Kiffin has remained steady (in both his job, and in trolling) as his name gets mentioned for potential openings. College football fans can be happy to get one more game of an offense led by Corral and Kiffin together. -- Harry Lyles Jr.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2)
With Michigan winning the Big Ten title and reaching the College Football Playoff, Ohio State is headed to the Rose Bowl to play Utah. But we'll have to wait a little while to see what that Buckeye team looks like. There will almost certainly be opt-outs and young, recent star recruits will likely play larger roles. Whoever plays better be ready for a bare-knuckle brawl: Utah has a chip on its shoulder the size of the Great Salt Lake and will try to be every bit as physical as Michigan was a week ago in the Wolverines' 42-27 victory. Ohio State must be ready for a fight. -- Bill Connelly
9. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-2)
Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen completed 17 straight passes to start the game, but despite his torrid start, the Cowboys' defense stiffened up and did its part, holding Baylor to 242 total yards, including just 36 yards and three first downs in the second half. But the OSU offense struggled mightily behind Spencer Sanders' four interceptions. Missing leading rusher Jaylen Warren, the Cowboys averaged 1.8 yards per rush and scored just 16 points on five red-zone trips, including coming up just inches short on fourth down on the goal line with 24 seconds left with a chance to win the game. It was a heartbreaking end to a remarkable regular season for OSU, which made its first Big 12 title game under Mike Gundy, as he led a completely new-look Cowboys team to the brink of College Football Playoff consideration. -- Dave Wilson
10. Pittsburgh Panthers (11-2)
For all of Pitt's rich football history, Saturday's win over Wake Forest represented some impressive new frontiers. For one, QB Kenny Pickett broke Dan Marino's school record for touchdown throws. In doing so, he led Pitt to its first outright conference championship. That win was Pitt's 11th of the season, and the Panthers have only had 12 once -- when they won the 1976 national championship. Pickett said after the game Saturday that he planned to stick around for Pitt's bowl game, an opportunity to add one last line on an increasingly impressive resume. -- David Hale
11. Michigan State Spartans (10-2)
At 11th in the last College Football Playoff rankings, the Spartans remain well-positioned to play in a New Year's Six bowl, a worthy reward for a stirring rebound season. Now they just need to get healthy. Star receiver Jalen Nailor missed the last four games of the regular season, and both running back Kenneth Walker III and receiver Jayden Reed battled nagging issues as well. The depth chart was missing quite a few pieces, but they still managed to beat Penn State and finish 10-2. Will we see a full-strength squad one last time in 2021? -- Bill Connelly
12. Utah Utes (10-3)
No team in the country has faced as much adversity as Utah over the past year. The death of two players was an unimaginable tragedy, and for Utah to cope while marching to its first Pac-12 title is quite the story. Kyle Whittingham has long been one of the best coaches in college football, but his masterful performance guiding this group should earn him serious consideration for national coach of the year. The Utes are a good case for why playoff expansion makes sense. They got better as the season went along and will be an excellent representative in their first-ever Rose Bowl appearance. -- Kyle Bonagura
13. BYU Cougars (10-2)
The Cougars' 5-0 record against the Pac-12 will forever be how their 2021 season is defined, especially since they won the Holy War in the same year Utah won its first Pac-12 title. Assuming they win their bowl game, the Cougars will likely finish in the top-10 of the final AP poll, which would mark the fourth time the Cougars have accomplished that -- and first since 1996. Midseason losses to Boise State and Big 12 champion Baylor marred what could have been an even more special season. -- Kyle Bonagura
14. Oklahoma Sooners (10-2)
The Sooners were off, missing a shot to play for the Big 12 title with a loss to Oklahoma State in Bedlam last week, which ended a streak of six straight conference championships for OU. Unfortunately for the Sooners, that didn't even come close to the worst news this week. With Lincoln Riley bolting for USC, Spencer Rattler entering the transfer portal along with several other players, and a coaching search going on, there's no telling what OU will look like next time we see them with Bob Stoops back on the sideline as interim coach. -- Dave Wilson
15. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-3)
Sam Hartman's last two trips to Charlotte -- his hometown -- have included two losses and eight interceptions. Saturday's ACC championship game defeat at the hands of Pitt was particularly painful, as Hartman led the Deacons to touchdowns on each of their first three drives, then didn't score again. The 10-3 campaign was still a magical season for Wake, but Saturday's loss marked another moment of late-season frustrations for Dave Clawson's team. Finishing strong was a big part of Clawson's mantra for this season, but the Deacons dropped three of their last five games after an 8-0 start. Since 2016 -- the first bowl season under Clawson -- Wake is 32-13 before Nov. 1, but just 12-18 afterward. -- David Hale
16. Oregon Ducks (10-3)
For much of the season, Oregon was a relevant school in the College Football Playoff race. It seems absurd now, but the Ducks' early-season win against Ohio State built up a lot of good will. A string of unconvincing wins (and a bad loss against Stanford) followed until a trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium two weeks ago. Utah exposed the Ducks for what they are: a soft, limited team that had no business being grouped among the best teams in the country. If anyone thought the regular-season beating from Utah was an anomaly, the Utes ran it back with a similarly dominant 38-10 win in the Pac-12 title game. -- Kyle Bonagura
17. Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns (12-1)
Billy Napier had to pull double duty this week, recruiting and squeezing in time for Florida in the early morning and late at night, all the while preparing to coach his last game at Louisiana in the hours between. It didn't leave much time for sleep, but it paid off as Napier won his first Sun Belt championship by beating App State at home on Saturday night. Redshirt senior quarterback Levi Lewis threw for 210 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. In his final game at Cajun Field, Lewis ran for a career-long 56-yard touchdown in the second quarter. -- Alex Scarborough
18. Clemson Tigers (9-3)
You can't help but wonder how Dabo Swinney felt on Saturday night, watching the ACC championship game on television after the Tigers failed to advance to Charlotte for the first time in seven years. Though they did not play their best football at times, and the offense struggled early on, Clemson still has a chance to win 10 games for the 11th straight season. Whatever its bowl destination, look for a renewed rushing attack led by Will Shipley, Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah to go along with what has been yet another stellar defense featuring four All-ACC first-team selections. -- Andrea Adelson
19. NC State Wolfpack (9-3)
A close loss to Wake Forest cost the Wolfpack a spot in the ACC championship game, but there's still much on the line for Dave Doeren's squad. A bowl win would mark just the second 10-win campaign in program history. QB Devin Leary has already passed Philip Rivers for the most TD passes in a season at NC State, but with four more, he could claim a spot in the top four in ACC history. And for a program often saddled with the conference afterthought tag, a strong finish to the year -- to go with a head-to-head win over Clemson in September --could cement the Wolfpack as the prohibitive favorite entering 2022. -- David Hale
20. UTSA Roadrunners (12-1)
It may not be an undefeated season, North Texas ruined that in the last week of the regular season, but it was the next closest thing for the Roadrunners. UTSA closed out the most memorable season in program history by beating Western Kentucky, 49-41, to claim the Conference USA title on Friday. Sincere McCormick had another standout performance, this time to the tune of 204 yards and three touchdowns against the Hilltoppers. The Roadrunners did lead 42-13 at one point in the conference title game but Bailey Zappe led WKU storming back, cutting the UTSA lead to eight in the fourth quarter. The Roadrunners held when it mattered most in the final minute of the game, however. The win served as a reminder to college football that "Meep, Meep," might be a phrase to remember for years to come. -- Shea Carlson
21. Utah State (10-3)
If there was a glaring sign on Saturday that Utah State was the best team on the field in every facet of the Mountain West title game against San Diego State, it was the fact that the Aggies' special teams unit actually blocked one of Matt Araiza's punt. Turning the punt god into a human was only one of the ways in which Utah State dominated the Aztecs to the tune of a 46-13 final. In what was supposed to be a battle of offense vs. defense, it was Utah State's dominance on both sides of the field that stood out in what became a surprisingly lopsided affair. The Aggies converted 50% of their third-down opportunities while converting all of their fourth-down opportunities. They locked San Diego State down, allowing them to only convert one of their 14 third-down tries. Blake Anderson's team completed a remarkable turnaround. After going 8-11 over the last two seasons and 1-5 last year, they're 10-3 Mountain West champs. -- Paolo Uggetti
22. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-3)
The Hawkeyes could not get anything started offensively against Michigan in the Big Ten championship game. Iowa had three drives end at or inside the Michigan 15 and only came away with three total points off of all three drives. The Iowa defense held up well against Michigan's run game, but was eventually worn down little by little, and the deficit became too much to overcome. The Hawkeyes finish the season 10-3 after the loss. -- Tom VanHaaren
23. Houston Cougars (11-2)
The Cougars played Cincinnati tough in the first half, preventing explosive plays from the Bearcats offense while getting the best from quarterback Clayton Tune. But two mistakes in the third quarter ended up costing them in the 35-20 AAC championship game loss. On fourth-down, cornerback Marcus Jones was called for pass interference, and Cincinnati scored a touchdown one play later to build on its one-point lead. Then, Tune threw an interception that Cincinnati also converted to a touchdown, and it snowballed from there. Still, this was an impressive season for Houston, which won 11 games for the first time since 2015. -- Andrea Adelson
24. Kentucky Wildcats (9-3)
A loss to No. 1 Georgia in mid October turned into a three-game slide, but coach Mark Stoops and the staff righted the ship to end the regular season with three straight wins over Vanderbilt, New Mexico State and Louisville. Most promising was the resurgence of the offense, which bounced back to the tune of 47.3 points per game during that time. Complicating things is the impending departure of co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jon Sumrall, who was named the next head coach at Troy last week and will be pulling double-duty. -- Alex Scarborough
25. Wisconsin Badgers (8-4)
Will we remember this as the best bad season in recent Wisconsin history? The worst good one? The Badgers started 1-3 with huge losses to Notre Dame and Michigan, but stormed back to win seven games in a row behind great defense and the emergence of running back Braelon Allen. They put themselves on the doorstep of another Big Ten West title ... then lost it with a meek, 10-point defeat at Minnesota. The up-and-down campaign will likely come to an end in a January 1 bowl; maybe the result will help us determine the label. -- Bill Connelly