What a season it was. The SEC’s reign of BCS terror ended, as did the atrocity of the BCS itself. We had a second consecutive freshman win the Heisman Trophy, we had a 2,000 yard rusher, and we had a neat, tidy, undefeated National Champion. In the final version of the BCS, we had almost everything wrap up in a perfect, uncontroversial manner. We had the usual drama: inexplicable losses, statistically improbable victories, superstars being superstars, and everything in between. So, as we kiss a long-overdue goodbye to the BCS, and brace for a year in which D1 College Football will have playoffs(!), let’s look back at the stories that mattered this season.
The Champs: Florida State
What a ride for the Seminoles. The boys from Tallahassee opened the season as distant 22/1 favorites to hoist the crystal football this year, but alas, hoist it they did. Thanks to an explosive offense guided by Heisman winner Jameis Winston, and a suffocating defense that held opponents to less than two touchdowns per game, the Seminoles dominated everyone all year long…until Auburn. In their one true test of the year last night, the Seminoles found themselves down 21-3 to Auburn. They hadn’t been in a remotely comparable situation all year. Everyone was asking the same question: could Jameis Winston and Co. respond? That answer was provided in emphatic fashion, with a wild comeback victory for all the marbles. It was a dream of a season for Jimbo Fisher and his team, as they breezed through their conference schedule, and played tough, gritty football when they finally got smacked in the mouth against the SEC’s finest. There shouldn’t be any doubters this year: the nation’s best team won the National Championship.
Almost, But Not Quite: Auburn
If you’re an Auburn fan, that championship game loss has gotta sting. The Tigers played well enough to win for about 59 minutes. It was a brutal loss, to be certain. But looking at the bigger picture, Tiger fans have got to hold their heads high; if you had offered them a 12-2 season and an SEC Championship back in August (when they were 150/1 favorites to win the national championship, and 75/1 to win their own conference), they surely would have taken it. It was an incredible job by coach Gus Malzahn to take an abysmal 2012 Auburn team and get them to within fifteen seconds of a national championship in just one year. Yeah, Auburn is gonna lose some big time players in the offseason (most notably, breakout star Tre Mason), but there is no reason to think this year was a fluke. The Tigers will be competitors for the foreseeable future with Malzahn at the helm.
Trending Up: The ACC, The
Big East American Athletic Conference
Other than the Seminoles themselves, nobody was happier about Florida State’s National Championship victory than ACC Commissioner John Swofford. Having been an also-ran conference for most of the last decade, the ACC needed this season to give them some legitimacy. After routinely having their conference champions get stomped by other AQ champions in BCS games (Florida State over Northern Illinois doesn’t really count) the last few years, the ACC needed to show that its premier teams can compete on the national stage. Needless to say, Florida State gave them that legitimacy, but so did a Clemson team that many had written off as typical Clemson underachievers. Instead, Clemson made a statement of their own in the Orange Bowl, beating an Ohio State team that had come incredibly close to playing in the National Championship game themselves. While the ACC still went a paltry 5-6 in bowl games overall, the conference should feel good about having eleven bowl eligible teams, and the 2-0 record in BCS bowls is the stat that matters. The ACC is back in business.
Another winner this year, the newly formed American Athletic Conference looked pretty lackluster after then-eighth ranked Louisville lost at home to UCF. Most assumed that with Louisville’s loss, the AAC wouldn’t be winning a bowl game this year. However, those same UCF Knights pulled what might have been THE shocker of bowl season, blasting a heavily favored Baylor team in the Fiesta Bowl. All told, the AAC went 2-3 in bowl play, but their premier teams – UCF and Louisville – had big, statement victories against powerhouse programs. The AAC has plenty to build on going into 2014.
Trending Down: The SEC, Non-AQ Conferences
For the first time in recent memory, the mighty SEC looked mediocre on the national stage. While Auburn impressed, the perennial powerhouse that is the Alabama Crimson Tide faltered. Losing in miraculous fashion at Auburn is one thing, but getting burned by an exceedingly mediocre Oklahoma team in the Sugar Bowl is a different thing entirely. Nick Saban coached teams don’t usually lay eggs like that, especially against teams whose coaches have dared to criticize the BCS god. Although Alabama’s major stumble was the most notable SEC failure, other teams disappointed, too. Georgia suffered an embarrassing loss to Nebraska, LSU struggled to get by a middle-of-the-road Big 10 team in Iowa, and Johnny Football and the Aggies had to fight for their lives to sneak by the perpetual powerhouse of…Duke. Not great. But those teams all made bowls, at least. Florida trudged through its embarrassment of a season – its worst season since the 1970’s – that included a HOME LOSS TO GEORGIA SOUTHERN. Yikes. Meanwhile, Tennessee and Arkansas continued their relative freefalls into utter obscurity. Not good for a conference that is usually solid top-to-bottom (except for Kentucky and Vandy, but you know what I mean).
Non-AQ Conferences also took a step back this year. Boise State, the perennial non-AQ darlings, stumbled through their worst season of this millennium. Preseason contenders Fresno State and Northern Illinois (last year’s non-AQ BCS buster), started off strong, only to finish with two losses apiece. Utah State was on a roll until they lost their star QB Chuckie Keeton. Marshall disappointed in the C-USA. All around, it was a forgettable year for small-conference teams.
Same Old, Same Old: The Big 10, The Pac 12, The Big 12
All three conferences here reek of mediocrity and blown opportunities.
Let’s start with the Big 10, and let it be no secret: I have strong feelings about the Big 10 and their perceived competence as a power conference. Not since Ohio State beat Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl has the Big 10 come close to competing at a championship level. Their champions are perpetually overrated and are perpetually exposed against superior, non-conference competition. This season was no different, save one team…who was picked to finish fourth in their DIVISION, not even their CONFERENCE, mind you. In the preseason AP Poll, Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes were in prime position, ranked second overall. And even though they kept winning in the regular season, they kept sliding in the rankings. Why? BECAUSE THE BIG 10 IS WEAK. The computers know it, and so should you. But I digress. Other preseason Top-25 teams from the Big 10 included Michigan (ha), Nebraska (haha), Northwestern (hahahahaha), and Wisconsin (meh), IN THAT ORDER. Lolz. How did those teams respond? Well, Ohio State crushed their middling competition until they lost to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship, and then blew their chance at redemption, losing to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The others? Michigan nearly lost at home to the mighty Akron Zips, before escaping against a UConn team that got smoked by a FCS team. Then, they finished the season 1-5, including a bowl thrashing against a K-State team that…also lost to an FCS team on the season (the FCS champs, but still). Nebraska, meanwhile, nearly lost to (gulp) Wyoming in Week 1, before embarking on an up-and-down season that included Bo Pelini making far too many headlines…and not good ones. And then there is Northwestern. Yikes. Thought to be on the verge of the best season in program history, the Wildcats led Ohio State going into the fourth quarter, before falling short in heartbreaking fashion. They responded to that adversity in traditional Northwestern fashion: the Wildcats dropped their next SIX CONSECUTIVE GAMES, falling into obscurity. Wisconsin was respectable at least, finishing ranked 22nd, after a hard-fought bowl loss to South Carolina. The Big 10’s winners? Minnesota, who came out of nowhere to be competitive, and of course, Michigan State, who saved face for the Big 10 nationally with an incredibly impressive win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. And that brings us to…
The Pac 12. This was supposed to be the Pac 12’s year. The conference opened the 2013 season with five teams in the Top 25, and two (Oregon and Stanford) in the top four. Both the Ducks and the Cardinal were trendy picks to win the whole shabang. But we all know now how that played out. Oregon looked like the team to beat for much of the season, until they lost to Stanford in Palo Alto, which was, of course, understandable. But the Ducks also had a slightly less-understandable loss: getting THROTTLED by a middle-of-the-pack (12) Arizona team. Stanford was the team to beat then, right? Well, not so much. The Cardinal had a pretty questionable loss themselves, losing to a Utah team that finished 5-7 on the season. Stanford still managed to win the Pac 12 and get to the Rose Bowl…where they promptly lost to Michigan State. The conference’s pleasant surprise, Arizona State, managed to finish on an embarrassing note too, suffering arguably the biggest upset of bowl season, losing to Texas Tech in convincing fashion. Throw in Oregon State’s mediocrity, USC’s awful start that cost Lane Kiffin his job (rightfully so), and UCLA and Washington teams that failed to meet expectations, and it was a pretty weak year for a conference that could have claimed to be the nation’s strongest. Not happening now.
The Big 12, meanwhile, was an enigma. The conference’s best teams, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, were about as consistent as Miley’s hair styles. Baylor looked like a bona fide contender…until they got crushed by an Oklahoma State team…who got crushed by Oklahoma…who got crushed by Baylor. Messy. Baylor and Oklahoma State floundered in the postseason, both losing in big-time bowl games. Oklahoma saved the Big 12 by pulling off the absolute shocker and beating the heavily-favored Crimson Tide. K-State, West Virginia, and TCU all took a few steps back, although Kansas State seems to be poised to compete next year. Texas Tech had an uneven season in their first year under the most panty-dropping coach in America, Kliff Kingsbury. And lets not even get started on the rollercoaster of a Longhorns season that cost Mack Brown his job. All told, it was a Big 12 season where the good and bad balanced each other out, but several teams showed promise heading into next year. Stay tuned.
Most Surprising Team: The Missouri Tigers
I could have EASILY picked Auburn here, but at least Auburn has been a contender recently. Nobody saw the Missouri Tigers going 12-2 in their second year in the SEC, especially when they played much of the year without injured starting QB James Franklin. The Tigers finished the year ranked 5th in the country, only one year removed from a 2012 campaign that saw them go 2-6 in SEC play and 5-7 overall. This year was much different, as the Tigers fought their way through a tough SEC schedule before beating Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. Having established freshman QB Maty Mauk as a legitimate threat, Missouri will be a team to watch in 2014.
Most Disappointing Team: The Oregon Ducks
It would make sense to pile on Northwestern or Michigan here, but I never saw either of those teams as a legitimate contender for the crystal football this season. However, like the rest of America, I thought the Oregon Ducks had an excellent chance to end the SEC’s championship stranglehold. For most of the season, Oregon seemed to fit the bill. They ran all over each and every opponent they faced, crushing ranked and unranked foes alike, until they met Stanford. While the Stanford loss essentially ended the Ducks’ championship hopes, they still could have put together a respectable season, and still had a chance at the Rose Bowl, no matter how unpleasant that might have been. Instead, the Ducks put forth a half-assed effort against a vastly inferior Arizona team, and got rolled by the Wildcats, ending any shot at a BCS bowl. There’s nothing too embarrassing about an 11-2 record and a end-of-season #9 ranking, but for a team LOADED with NFL talent, in an underachieving conference, the Ducks failed to reach their potential and seize their golden chance.
Most Surprising Player: Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State
Ok, I’m from Colorado and I might be a little biased. But I’m a Buffs fan (embarrassing, I know), not a Rams fan. Nonetheless, few players had a greater breakout season than Kapri Bibbs. Playing for a mediocre team in a weak conference, Bibbs hasn’t received the press he deserves. Entering the season with ZERO career carries, Bibbs was used sparingly in the Rams’ first four games. Then, on September 28th against UTEP, Bibbs went off, rushing for 147 yards and three touchdowns…on just 13 carries. Needless to say, the Rams began to utilize him more, and he responded in a major way, posting ABSURD back-to-back games with 312 and 291 rushing yards. That is not a typo. If it wasn’t for Andre Williams of Boston College breaking the 2,000 yard barrier, Bibbs would have easily been the most impressive back in college ball this year. Who knows what the dude could have done if he had as many carries? We’ll never know, as Mr. Bibbs has declared for the NFL Draft.
Most Disappointing Player: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
This isn’t to say Mr. Clowney had an awful year. However, after he was hyped to death all summer long by every member of the media, Clowney’s 2013 campaign was exceedingly bland. Three sacks. Forty tackles. One forced fumble. Not exactly the kind of stats that college QB’s pee themselves over. Yeah, he was double-teamed a ton. Yeah, he missed two games. But still, the transcendent players overcome that kinda stuff. Clowney looked incredibly bland this year, but he’ll still almost-certainly be a top five NFL Draft pick, due to his freakish measureables. NFL scouts are hoping this year was an aberration.
Best Coach: David Cutcliffe, Duke
Gus Malzahn did an incredible job. So did Mizzou’s Frank Haith. But nobody was more impressive than Cutcliffe leading Duke football to relevance than the first time in FOREVER. What kind of black magic Cutcliffe had to use to get the Blue Devils to ten wins should probably stay a secret.
Worst Coach: Lane Kiffin, Unemployed (Formerly USC)
You coach at USC. You can’t lose to Washington State. You REALLY can’t lose to Washington State at home. Lane Kiffin is a terrible football coach. The Trojans record after his firing proves that point succinctly.
Best Player: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Hard to make an argument for anyone else. The gaudy stats, the Heisman winner, the National Champion. Jameis was king in 2013.
Best Game: Iron Bowl 78
The National Championship was fantastic…but seriously, was there any choice other than this?
Goodbye BCS. We won’t miss you.
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