Playoff Championship Georgia Alabama Football

Alabama's DeVonta Smith catches the game-winning touchdown pass during overtime of Tide's 26-23 win over Georgia on Monday in the NCAA College Football Playoff championship game.

Associated Press

My last Associated Press college football poll of the season begins with where I started in August - with Alabama on top.

Two other top-five teams on that initial poll - Oklahoma and Ohio State - ended up in the top five on the final ballot as well, with the Sooners' win at the horseshoe in Columbus in September still holding some weight as they settled in third and fourth spots behind a Georgia team that let one get away tonight.

The Tide did what they've done five times since 2009 - proven that they are the best in college football when it matters most. That's experience in action, the poise to make a play after getting knocked down, be it a botched field goal or an ugly loss on first down in overtime.

From the way it controlled Clemson in the semis to the way it rallied against the Bulldogs, Alabama earned this title.

I settled on Wisconsin in fifth, Clemson in sixth, unbeaten UCF in seventh, Penn State in eighth, Oklahoma State in ninth and Notre Dame in 10th.

The Badgers, Tigers and Nittany Lions were also among the six teams from my preseason top-10 teams to hold down spots in the final ballot.

As for the early misfits?

This wasn't the year anybody thought it would be in the state of Florida where UCF and USF joined Miami in emerging as the best teams in the state. I also swung and missed on USC and Washington, although they did end up in the top 15 on my final ballot.

I heard from a handful of UCF folks over the past few days, presenting arguments for why I should vote them at the top of my ballot tonight. I get your reasoning. Undefeated seasons are difficult to come by and every moment should be savored.

Scott Frost did a terrific job of leading that team through the games it had on its schedule and in its bowl win over Auburn, the third-best team in a top-heavy SEC that lacked the depth it has had in many years.

I did move UCF up on my ballot from ninth to seventh this week, just behind Clemson and in front of Penn State, but schedule strength is a factor and beyond the Auburn win, there just wasn't much there.

Iowa State's win over Memphis in the Liberty Bowl provided a gauge of sorts as to where the Tigers fit in, leaving only a victory over a four-win Maryland as much of an eye catcher.

There are three newcomers on my final ballot, with South Florida and Mississippi State returning to my list and Troy joining it for the first time.

Memphis, Washington State and Toledo dropped out.

Here is my ballot for the final AP poll of the 2017 season:

1. Alabama

2. Georgia

3. Oklahoma

4. Ohio State

5. Wisconsin

6. Clemson

7. UCF

8. Penn State

9. Oklahoma State

10. Notre Dame

11. Auburn

12. USC

13. Michigan State

14. TCU

15. Washington

16. Northwestern

17. Miami (Fla.)

18. North Carolina State

19. Stanford

20. Boise State

21. South Florida

22. Troy

23. Mississippi State

24. LSU

25. Virginia Tech