As an ACC scribe, the most difficult decision on my final Associated Press football ballot was Virginia Tech versus Clemson.
The national champ? That was easy. Alabama dominated LSU, 21-0, in the Big Easy on Monday night.
Clemson dominated Tech twice this season, by 18 in Blacksburg and 28 in the ACC title game. But the Tigers (10-4) lost one more game than the Hokies (11-3), and, most memorably, allowed the most points in postseason history during a 70-33 Orange Bowl no-show against West Virginia.
How to resolve? Body of work says Clemson based on two head-to-head meetings. How you finish says Tech, which played credibly in an overtime Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan.
I went body of work and voted Clemson 19th, Tech 20th.
The consensus was different. The Hokies are 21st in the final poll, the Tigers 22nd and Florida State 23rd. Each of the 25 teams ranked appeared on my ballot as well, so no disagreement there.
This marks Tech’s eighth consecutive top-25 finish, the second-longest streak in ACC history. Florida State had a 19-year run from 1987-2005, the first 14 of which were top-five seasons.
Moreover, this is the seventh time in eight years of membership that the Hokies finish as the ACC's top-ranked team. The exception was 2006, when conference champ Wake Forest was 18th, one spot ahead of Tech.
This is the first time since 1971 that no ACC team is among the final AP top 20.
The Hokies are 17th in the coaches' poll, a head-scratching five spots ahead of Clemson.
Here’s my ballot, and a link to the final AP poll.
1. Alabama (12-1): Yes, LSU’s offense was inept. But mercy, that Tide defense.
2. LSU (13-1): Stunning regular season, but really, was that Jordan Jefferson or Weezy Jefferson at quarterback?
3. Oklahoma State (12-1): T Boone Pickens’ investments pay off with best season in Cowboys’ history, capped by OT Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford.
4. Oregon (12-2): Another program with a mega benefactor, Nike ayatollah Phil Knight. Ducks survived Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
5. Stanford (11-2): What becomes of the Cardinal after Andrew Luck?
6. Southern California (10-2): Trojans’ biggest victory was Matt Barkley’s decision to return for senior year in 2012.
7. Arkansas (11-2): Cotton Bowl champs should be preseason top 10 with quarterback Tyler Wilson returning.
8. Boise State (12-1): Kellen Moore’s 50-3 record as Broncos’ starter unlikely to be matched. Ever. Anywhere.
9. South Carolina (11-2): The Gamecocks went 6-1, including a bowl rout of Nebraska, after losing tailback Marcus Lattimore to a knee injury.
10. Wisconsin (11-3): Consecutive Rose Bowl losses sting the Big Ten champs.
11. Michigan State (11-3): Spartans ended a five-game postseason losing streak with OT bowl victory over Georgia.
12. Michigan (11-2): Beat Ohio State and win the Sugar Bowl? Nice first season for coach Brady Hoke.
13. Kansas State (10-3): Cotton Bowl loss notwithstanding, serious upgrade from 7-6 in 2010.
14. Baylor (10-3): A Heisman for RGIII and an insane 67-56 bowl victory over Washington. Can’t get any better in Waco. Can it?
15. TCU (11-2): Lose quarterback Andy Dalton to the NFL after an undefeated season and still go 11-2 with a Mountain West title? Gary Patterson is a great coach.
16. Houston (13-1): The Cougars lose quarterback Case Keenum and coach Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) after bowl crunching of Penn State concluded an historic season.
17. Oklahoma (10-3): A bowl spanking of Iowa doesn’t mask disappointment for preseason No. 1.
18. West Virginia (10-3): Geno Smith and friends will learn Big 12 isn’t the Big East.
19. Clemson (10-4): Too bad Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington don’t play defense.
20. Virginia Tech (11-3): The Hokies lost their final two games for the first time since 2003.
21. Georgia (10-4): Most SEC mavens pick the Dawgs to reach the conference title game in 2012.
22. Southern Miss (12-2): After concluding best season ever with a Hawaii Bowl win over Nevada, Golden Eagles said aloha to coach Larry Fedora, who headed to North Carolina.
23. Nebraska (9-4): The Cornhuskers lost three of their last five
24. Florida State (9-4): Closing wins over Florida and Notre Dame assure Seminoles will be overhyped again in 2012.
25. Cincinnati (10-3): The Bearcats improved from 4-8, beat Vandy in their bowl and play Hokies next season in Landover.
In: Florida State, Cincinnati.
Out: Penn State, Notre Dame.
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