RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The teams that started the season Nos. 1 and 2 finished as the top two of 2016.
Just not in that order.
Clemson was No. 1 in the final AP college football poll , knocking preseason No. 1 Alabama from the top spot when it counted the most. The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 35-31 Monday night. There was no doubt that the best two teams in college football had played the last game of the season.
The rest of the Top 25 included a big jump by Southern California to No. 3 and four Big Tens in the top 10, just not quite as highly ranked as it seemed like they would be when the bowl season started.
A look at the final AP Top 25 of the 2016 season, with an eye toward how the teams will stack up heading into the 2017. (Note: Early NFL entry could cause additional losses not noted here).
No. 1 Clemson (14-1)
Key losses: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, RB Wayne Gallman, CB Cordrea Tankersley.
Key returnees: DL Dexter Lawrence, DL Christian Wilkins, OT Mitch Hyatt, WR Deon Cain.
Christian Wilkins is the man with the moves.
Heat check 2017: The Tigers’ reload will come with tempered expectations and lower preseason rankings, but Dabo Swinney’s team deserves some benefit of the doubt.
No. 2 Alabama (14-1)
Key losses: DL Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, OT Cam Robinson, TE O.J. Howard.
Key returnees: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough, OT Jonah Williams, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Heat check for 2017: Until further notice, Alabama is No. 1.
No. 3 Southern California (10-3)
Key losses: OTs Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, WR Darreus Rogers, DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.
Key returnees: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, DE Rasheem Green, CB Iman Marshall.
Heat check 2017: The Trojans also could lose underclassmen WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and CB Adoree’ Jackson, but they look loaded. Get ready for the USC hype.
No. 4 Washington (12-2)
Key losses: WR John Ross, S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones, DT Elijah Qualls.
Key returnees: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskins, NT Greg Gaines, LB DJ Beavers.
Heat check 2017: The Huskies entered national title contention earlier than expected, but should be here to stay awhile.
No. 5 Oklahoma (11-2)
Key losses: RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, WR Dede Westbrook, CB Jordan Thomas.
Key returnees: QB Baker Mayfield, OT Orlando Brown, LB Caleb Kelly, TE/WR Mark Andrews.
Heat check 2017: The favorite in the Big 12 and a preseason top-10 team — again.
No. 6 Ohio State (11-2)
Key losses: LB Raekwon McMillan, S Malik Hooker, H-back Curtis Samuel, CB Gareon Conley.
Key returnees: QB J.T. Barrett, DE Nick Bosa, DE Tyquan Lewis, RB Mike Weber.
Heat check 2017: The Buckeyes’ awful last impression is likely to pull down that preseason ranking. Could still slip into top five.
No. 7 Penn State (11-3)
Key losses: DE Garrett Sickels, LB Brandon Bell, WR Chris Godwin, Brian Gaia.
Key returnees: QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley, CB John Reid, TE Mike Gesicki.
Heat check 2017: Even if the Nittany Lions lose a few underclassmen to the NFL, few teams will return more production and experience. Could edge Ohio State for highest ranked Big Ten team.
No. 8 Florida State (10-3)
Key losses: RB Dalvin Cook, DE DeMarcus Walker, WR Kermit Whitfield, OG Are Kareem.
Key returnees: S Derwin James, QB Deondre Francois, DE Josh Sweat, WR Nyqwan Murray.
Heat check 2017: The Seminoles open the season against Alabama in Atlanta and it could very well be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.
No. 9 Wisconsin (11-3)
Key losses: LB TJ Watt, RB Corey Clement, LB Vince Beigel, CB Sojourn Shelton.
Key returnees: D D’Cota Dixon, TE Troy Fumagalli, LB T.J. Edwards, Dare Ogunbowale.
Heat check 2017: The Badgers often get overlooked or undersold in the preseason. Not this time. The only big question is quarterback. Maybe top 10?
No. 10 Michigan (11-3)
Key losses: 17 senior starters, including TE Jake Butt, WR Amara Darboh, DE Taco Charlton, CB Joudan Lewis.
Key returnees: QB Wilton Speight, RB Chris Evans, LB Devin Bush, DT Rashan Gary.
Heat check 2017: The departure of a massive class of senior contributors means Michigan will have to rebuild with fruits of Jim Harbaugh’s highly rated recruiting classes — and start outside the top 10.
No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-3)
Key losses: DT Vincent Taylor, S Jordan Sterns, OT Victor Salako, LB Devante Averette.
Key returnees: QB Mason Rudolph, WR James Washington, RB Justice Hill, LB Chad Whitener.
Heat check 2017: No team gets a bigger bump from the return of a couple players who could have jumped to the NFL as the Cowboys. With Rudolph and Washington, they could be preseason top 10.
No. 12 Stanford (10-3)
Key losses: RB Christian McCaffrey, DT Solomon Thomas, S Dallas Lloyd, OG Johnny Caspers.
Key returnees: DL Harrison Phillips, RB Bryce Love, QB Keller Chryst, CB Quenton Meeks.
Heat check 2017: Even in an “off year” the Cardinal won 10 games. A knee injury to Chryst means uncertainty at quarterback, but pencil Stanford in for another top-15 preseason ranking.
No. 13 LSU (8-4)
Key losses: RB Leonard Fournette, CB Tre’Davious White, S Jamal Adams, DE Davon Godchaux.
Key returnees: RB Derrius Guice, LB Arden Key, OG William Clapp, S Donte Jackson.
Heat check 2017: The Tigers will have to replace another haul of NFL talent and find a quarterback. There will be far less hype for LSU heading into 2017 than there was in 2016.
No. 14 Florida (9-4)
Key losses: CBs Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, LB Jarad Davis, DT Caleb Brantley.
Key returnees: RB Jordan Scarlett, WR Antonio Callaway, OG Martez Ivey, DE CeCe Jefferson.
Heat check 2017: The Gators will probably squeeze into the preseason rankings, but skepticism about the offense will remain high.
No. 15 Western Michigan (13-1)
Key losses: QR Corey Davis, QB Zach Terrell, OT Taylor Moton, coach P.J. Fleck.
Key returnees: QB Jarvion Franklin, WR Carrington Thompson, LB Robert Spillane, S Justin Tranquill.
Heat check 2017: The Broncos will be MAC favorites, but they will probably start life after Rowing the Boat outside the top 25.
No. 16 Virginia Tech (10-4)
Key losses: QB Jerod Evans, WR Isaiah Ford, TE/WR Bucky Hodges, DE Ken Ekanem.
Key returnees: RB Travon McMillan, WR Cam Phillips, S Terrell Edmunds, LB Mook Reynolds.
Heat check 2017: Evans being one-and-done hurts, but year one under Justin Fuente should bring much confidence and a preseason ranking to start year two.
No. 17 Colorado (10-4)
Key losses: QB Sefo Liufau DBs Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson and LB Jimmie Gilbert.
Key returnees: RB Phillip Lindsay, WR Shay Fields, OT Aaron Haigler, LB Rick Gamboa.
Heat check 2017: The Buffaloes renaissance was built on an experienced defense. With lots of that gone, along with Liufau, Colorado will probably start the season in back half of top 25— at best.
No. 18 West Virginia (10-3)
Key losses: QB Skyler Howard, CB Rasul Douglas, C Tyler Orlosky; DT Darien Howard.
Key returnees: WR Shelton Gibson, RB Justin Crawford, LB Al-Rasheed Benton, LB David Long.
Heat check 2017: The Mountaineers are losing a load of upperclassmen. West Virginia is likely to start next season out of Top 25.
No. 19 South Florida (11-2)
Key losses: RB Marlon Mack, WR Rodney Adams, LB Nigel Harris, coach Willie Taggart.
Key returnees: QB Quinton Flowers, RB D’Ernest Johnson, LB Auggie Sanchez, WR Marquez Valdes-Scanting.
Heat check 2017: With new coach Charlie Strong, USF will be next season’s Houston, a talented and trendy Group of Five team. And probably ranked to start.
No. 20 Miami (9-4)
Key losses: QB Brad Kaaya, CB Corn Elder, TE David Njoku, S Rayshawn Jenkins.
Key returnees: LBs Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, WR Ahmmon Richards, RB Mark Walton.
Heat check 2017: QB questions will relegate an otherwise good-looking Miami to a double-digit ranking to start next season.
No. 21 Louisville (9-4)
Key losses: OLB Devonte Fields, TE Cole Hikutini, DT DeAngelo Brown, S Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Key returnees: QB Lamar Jackson, CB Jaire Alexander, RB Jeremy Smith, LB James Hearns.
Heat check 2017: Another team losing a lot of key upperclassmen. Jackson’s presence will get the Cardinals a preseason ranking, maybe in the high teens.
No. 22 Tennessee (9-4)
Key losses: QB Josh Dobbs, DE Derek Barnett, WR Josh Malone, CB Cameron Sutton.
Key returnees: RB Alvin Kamara, LD Darrin Kirkland Jr., DT Jonathan Kongbo, OT Drew Richmond.
Heat check 2017: The Vols were one of those trendy picks to take a big step forward this season. They won’t be next season. But they could still be preseason ranked.
No. 23 Utah (9-4)
Key losses: RB Joe Williams, OT Garett Bolles, DE Hunter Dimick, S Marcus Williams.
Key returnees: QB Troy Williams, DT Lowell Lotulelei, RB Zack Moss, WR Raelon Singleton.
Heat check 2017: As usual, the Utes will probably have to prove themselves to get ranked. They lose a lot of experience along their stout lines.
No. 24 Auburn (8-5)
Key losses: DT Montravius Adams, DE Carl Lawson, OT Robert Leff, CB Joshua Holsey.
Key returnees: QB Jarrett Stidham, RBs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, CB Carlton Davis.
Heat check: Stidham, the Baylor transfer, could fix Auburn’s biggest issue. The Tigers are likely to start the season ranked, but not too highly.
No. 25 San Diego State (11-3)
Key losses: Donnel Pumphrey, OG Nico Siragusa, DE Alex Barnett, CB Damontae Kazee.
Key returnees: QB Christian Champman, RB Rashaad Penny, LB Ronley Lakalaka, DB Baldwin Parker.
Heat check: Coach Rocky Long loses a star in Pumphrey, but it might be time to recognize San Diego State has at least caught up to — if not past — Boise State as the best program in the Mountain West.
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