Some of them sped up at the end, some were in cruise control the whole way and some got left in the dust.
Another year of ranking the state’s best college football teams has reached the finish line, and Wake Forest, mostly due to its lengthy unbeaten run to open the season, won the race. It wasn’t perfect, and N.C. State’s surprise late stunner against UNC kept the Wolfpack a season-long close second.
Appalachian State ran its own race, sprinting toward this weekend’s Sun Belt championship game as a solid No. 3 in these rankings. Both ECU and UNC suffered losses, but the Pirates held their ground at 4 at least partly because of the Tar Heels’ collapse.
All five of this year’s final top five will play in bowl games.
Here is the final top five:
1. Wake Forest (10-2)
Saturday’s game: vs. Pitt, ACC championship, 8 p.m., ABC.
Why No. 1? The Demon Deacons reached double digits in victories against Boston College last weekend and seek to rocket into the bowl postseason with an ACC title under their belts. Wake’s ACC finale was not close, a 41-10 drubbing of the Eagles in Boston. The Panthers boast an identical 10-2 overall and 7-1 ACC record, so the title game won’t be easy.
2. N.C. State (9-3)
Last game: Won 34-30 at UNC.
Why No. 2? The Wolfpack finished an improbable comeback in the fourth quarter in its Black Friday rivalry game. State QB Devin Leary tossed for 247 yards and four touchdowns, and he led the fourth-quarter surge for the bowl-bound ‘Pack. Emeka Emezie was on the receiving end of five passes for 112 yards and two scores. State is waiting on its bowl bid.
3. Appalachian State (10-2)
Saturday’s game: vs. Louisiana, Sun Belt Championship, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Why No. 3? App State has been arguably the most consistent team in this year’s rankings en route to a 10-2 regular season. The Mountaineers get a shot to avenge their lone league loss of the season in Saturday’s Sun Belt title game against the Ragin Cajuns. App State finished the regular season with a 27-3 win over Georgia Southern.
4. East Carolina (7-5)
Last game: Lost 35-13 to Cincinnati.
Why No. 4? The Pirates held their ground despite never being able to truly threaten the No. 4 Bearcats on Black Friday. East Carolina had an otherwise strong finish to the season, winning four of their last five games. ECU is headed to the Military Bowl for its first bowl appearance since 2014, and head coach Mike Houston signed a contract extension on Thursday.
5. North Carolina (6-6)
Last game: Lost 34-30 to N.C. State.
Why No. 5? The Tar Heels’ roller-coaster season took a big final dip over the weekend after they outscored N.C. State 24-7 through the second and third quarters but then frittered their lead away in the fourth. UNC clinched bowl eligibility thanks to a late-season, non-conference win against Wofford. The Heels will, however, round out a top five of all bowl eligible teams.