The final year of the four-team College Football Playoff has presented the sport with its most challenging rankings exercise in its decade-long existence. The debate of "best" against "most deserving" is in full swing, as well as the value of a head-to-head result when it comes to stacking teams up against each other. And with all of this drama coming in the 11th hour of the four-team format, it's fair to say we are putting an emphatic end to an era of college football.
But another sign of a new era, or at least the end of an old one, can be found in the new AP Top 25 poll when the rankings update on Sunday afternoon.
That's because we'll have a new No. 1 following Georgia's 27-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. We're projecting that new No. 1 will be Michigan, and it will mark the first time since November 2015 that the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll is not Georgia, Alabama, Clemson or LSU. In other words, for most of the CFP's existence, the claim to being the "best team in the land" has only been held by four teams. Now, as the four-team format is coming to a close, we have some new blood in the top spot.
Of course, it comes with the caveat of Michigan being more blue blood than new blood when it comes to college football's history, and the fact that the Wolverines are three-time Big Ten champions set to make their third straight College Football Playoff appearance. But Alabama bouncing Georgia from the top spot (and possibly the playoff) opens the door to a world of new possibilities as the sport prepares to enter a new world with many more possibilities in the form a 12-team playoff.
So, as we all anxiously wait for the final word from the CFP Selection Committee, here's how we think the AP voters will handle the Week 14 results:
1. Michigan (Last week -- 2): Jim Harbaugh's return to the sideline allowed him to be on the podium as Michigan won a third consecutive Big Ten title for the first time since the early 1990s.
2. Washington (3): A strong statement from Washington on Friday night to win the Pac-12 and finish 13-0 was a reminder of why we value the games.
3. Florida State (4): The AP voters are traditionalists and will respect the "0" in FSU's loss column despite its offense being marginally effective in an ACC championship win over Louisville.
4. Texas (7): The AP voters have respected the head-to-head result between Texas and Alabama, and while the Crimson Tide had a more impressive win in terms of opponent Saturday, the Longhorns were more dominant with a 49-21 victory against Oklahoma State.
5. Alabama (8): Beating Georgia is worth a jump ahead of Ohio State, which was idle over the weekend, but the Crimson Tide were 80 voting points behind Texas last week (1205-1125), and we're projecting they'll be right behind the Longhorns again, though likely with a much closer margin.
6. Georgia (1): We don't expect any first-place votes to remain, but the fact that so many AP voters have been conditioned to put Kirby Smart's team at the top of their ballot could lead to more favorable treatment than what we're projecting. Still, there's a head-to-head loss to Alabama to consider and the absence of that undefeated status that bolstered their position at the top of the rankings throughout the regular season.
7. Ohio State (6): The Buckeyes were rooting for chaos scenarios that could open a door to the playoff but didn't get enough favorable results to back door their way in for the second-straight season.
8. Oregon (5): There will likely be a stumble in the rankings for the Ducks after losing to Washington, but we should see Oregon as the top-ranked two-loss team given the margin of defeat and quality of opponent.
9. Missouri (9): The Tigers were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
10. Penn State (10): The Nittany Lions were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
11. Ole Miss (11): The Rebels were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
12. Oklahoma (12): The Sooners were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
13. LSU (13): The Tigers were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
14. Arizona (14): The Wildcats were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
15. Louisville (15): The head-to-head over the Fighting Irish keeps the Cardinals here in our prediction, but it is possible AP voters could react harshly and drop Louisville given its atrocious performance in the ACC title game and consecutive losses to end the regular season.
16. Notre Dame (16): The Fighting Irish were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
17. Liberty (20): Jamey Chadwell's first season with Liberty has been a roaring success as the Flames took down New Mexico State on Friday night in front of their home crowd to claim the Conference USA title in their first year as a member of the league. Though 13-0, AP voters aren't going to make any major adjustments, but we're projecting a slight bump up after finishing the job on an unbeaten campaign.
18. SMU (25): Down a starting quarterback and playing on the road, SMU was the better team for much of the game and finished its AAC era with a two-score win against Tulane to claim the conference title. The debate between SMU and Liberty will be fierce, but we're projecting the Mustangs check in one spot behind the Flames in the AP TOP 25 given the difference in voting points last week.
19. Tulane (17): Falling short to SMU was a disappointing finish to an 11-win campaign and a two-year run that saw Tulane elevate its national status. Now, the Green Wave might lose their coach (Willie Fritz) to Houston.
20. Iowa (18): It's hard to punish the Hawkeyes too much considering the uphill battle they faced against Michigan in the Big Ten title game, but a third loss combined with the AAC results will have Iowa giving up a few spots in the rankings.
21. NC State (21): The Wolfpack were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
22. Oregon State (21): The Beavers were off in Week 14 and await their bowl future on Sunday.
23. James Madison (24): The Dukes had a record worthy of contending for the Sun Belt title in Week 14, but FBS transition bylaws had James Madison watching the action from home. While coach Curt Cignetti is off to Indiana, JMU will get picked up for a bowl and find out their destination on Sunday.
24. Oklahoma State (19): There might have been less of a drop in the rankings had the loss to Texas not been so lopsided, but as it stands, the 28-point defeat will leave the Cowboys as a fringe top 25 team heading into the postseason.
25. Troy (NR): Checking in at 30th in voting points in last week's balloting, Troy is set to make an arrival in the new AP Top 25 after securing a Sun Belt title with a win against Appalachian State to improve to 11-2 on the year.
Projected to drop out: No. 23 Toledo