NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Breaking down the final Associated Press college football poll of the 2013 season.
STATE OF FLORIDA STATE
We better get used to Florida State hanging around the near the top of these rankings.
Coach Jimbo Fisher's national championship program is built to last — at least for a few years. It's more difficult than ever to sustain a high level of success in college football, to be a national championship contender season after season.
Remember when Bobby Bowden's Seminoles went 14 straight seasons finishing in the top five from the late 1980s to the early 2000s? That's not happening anymore.
Only three teams have finished the last three seasons ranked in the AP top 10: Alabama, South Carolina and Oregon. The Crimson Tide has done it six straight seasons. Oregon's streak of top-10 finishes is four.
Florida State, which finished 10th in 2012, is lined up to be preseason No. 1 in 2013.
The Seminoles will send plenty of talent to the NFL, including some non-seniors — receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan are candidates to leave early. But Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will be back, along with most of his offensive line. Four senior starters on defense will be gone, including All-America cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, but three of four defensive line starters are sophomores, as is cornerback P.J. Williams. Safety Jalen Ramsey was a freshman All-American.
"So I think this (2014) team will look very, very similar to the one you just saw," Fisher said Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Seminoles rallied from 18 points down to beat Auburn in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl. Florida State was also voted a unanimous No. 1 in the final AP Top 25 of the 2013 season.
Fisher has the recruiting machine humming Nick Saban-style now. About a month before signing day, Florida State's current class of commitments is ranked fourth by Rivals.com.
At the end of Bowden's Hall of Fame tenure at Florida State, the Seminoles lost their way.
Maybe it was all the negative recruiting against the aging Bowden? Maybe the program's structure had become antiquated? Fisher, using the Saban blueprint he picked up during several years working for the Master, has in four seasons as Florida State's head coach made the Seminoles elite again.
Alabama's streak of top-five rankings ended at 47 straight polls when the Crimson Tide finished seventh in the final AP Top 25.
The Crimson Tide finished as only the fourth-best ranked Southeastern Conference team, behind No. 2 Auburn, No. 4 South Carolina and No. 5 Missouri. Overall the SEC had seven ranked teams (No. 14 LSU, No. 18 Texas A&M and No. 24 Vanderbilt).
The Pac-12 was second with six ranked teams, though Oregon was the only one in the top 10, thanks in part to the conference's nine-game league schedule.
Yes, the SEC's national championship streak ended at seven games, but the conference is still fierce. The SEC went 6-3 this bowl season, a better winning percentage than any other BCS automatic qualifying conference.
Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina and LSU are all strong candidates to start 2014 ranked in the top 10. Missouri and Texas A&M should be good again. Georgia is primed for a bounce back. Maybe even Florida. And before you laugh at the prospects of a Gators' turnaround, what was Auburn's record in 2012? How about Missouri's?
The road to the national championship still goes through the SEC.
Oklahoma's victory against Alabama will produce a buzz around the Sooners that is likely to push them up a few extra spots in the 2014 preseason rankings.
Let's proceed with caution on two levels. First of all, the Sooners aren't back, because they have never gone away. Since an 8-5 hiccup in 2009, the Sooners are 43-7.
On the other hand, bowl momentum can be overrated. Will beating Alabama really reboot Bob Stoops' program?
Washington finished the season ranked No. 25, marking the first time since 2001 the Huskies finished the season in the Top 25.
Steve Sarkisian left new coach Chris Petersen a talented team in Seattle. The Huskies might finally be ready to become Top 25 regulars again.
START TO FINISH
Of the 25 teams to begin the season ranked, 16 finished that way.
The highest ranked teams in the preseason to finish unranked were Georgia (No. 5) and Florida (No. 10). Three preseason ranked teams finished with losing records (Florida, TCU and Northwestern).
Of the nine teams that began the season unranked and finished it ranked, four finished in the top 10, including No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 5 Missouri. No. 10 UCF also started outside the Top 25, along with No. 13 Baylor, No. 20 Arizona State, No. 23 Duke, No. 24 Vanderbilt and No. 25 Washington.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP