Jan 8, 2014

Last and 10: The best moments of the college football season


January 8, 2014

Turn out the lights, the parity's over. The Bowl Championship Series era of equal access and catering to college football's "little guys" ended Monday night at the Rose Bowl when Florida State ended the Southeastern Conference's winning streak. The new playoff format will weed out the weak, make the big conferences richer and the small conferences poorer. Why do you think Chris Petersen finally left Boise State for Washington? There are exciting times ahead for everyone except the Sun Belt Conference and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Death to the BCS was finally achieved, and along with it some of the fun that made this sport so fantastically flawed.

Before we move on to the logic and order of a four-team playoff (that will be eight teams within 10 years), let's reflect on the top moments of the last BCS season we'll ever love to hate:

10. He was game-clocked going 110

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, one of the most hyped players in years, finished this season with nearly as many speeding tickets as Heisman Trophy votes. Clowney may own history's earliest exit from Heisman contention.

He was effectively eliminated Aug. 29, three days before Labor Day, with his missing-in-action performance against North Carolina. Clowney was later clocked in his car for speeding at 84 and 110 mph, but pro scouts are much more interested in his 40-yard-dash times. Clowney is still considered a top-five pick in this year's NFL draft.

9. Big comebacks by Mora and Hundley

After a second building-block season, UCLA Coach Jim Mora had more leverage than a sumo wrestler and used it to improve facilities and secure more money for his assistant coaches. UCLA fans can thank job openings at USC, Washington and Texas for allowing Mora to pretend he might actually leave in order to get everything he wanted to make UCLA a national contender. The return of quarterback Brett Hundley, who actually was a threat to leave for the NFL, makes UCLA a preseason top-10 pick with a chance to be the first Pac-12 representative to participate in the new four-team playoff.

8. Oh, the shark bites, with his teeth, babe

Mack Brown got knifed. He was chased out as Texas' coach in the same season he passed Woody Hayes on the career victories list. Brown, in 16 years, led Texas to the 2005 BCS title and the 2009 title game, both at the Rose Bowl. He was replaced this week by Louisville Coach Charlie Strong, a curious fit to some longtime Texas followers. Booster Red McCombs, on a San Antonio radio show, called the hire "a kick in the face" and suggested Strong would make a "fine position coach." This, mind you, was Steve Patterson's first big hire as Texas' new athletic director.

7. Breaking the Cardinal rule

"Third and two at the Utah six" is a down and distance that should haunt Stanford fans for years. The Cardinal was trailing the unranked Utes by six points in Salt Lake on Oct. 12 but had a chance to escape with victory. Instead of sticking to its power mantra of "run, run, run," Stanford opted for two last-minute passes that fell incomplete. Tyler Gaffney, who would carry 45 times in a Nov. 7 win over Oregon, carried only 16 times against Utah. As it turned out, that defeat cost Stanford a spot in the national title game against Florida State.

6. Sweet (Left) Home Alabama

Jameis Winston, a second-year freshman from Alabama, was a relative unknown last August when he beat out sophomore Jacob Coker for the starting quarterback job at Florida State. In four months, he became the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and the first freshman quarterback to win a BCS title. Off the field, Winston was named in a sexual assault complaint filed by a Florida State student. Winston's late-season playing status was in doubt until two days before the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, when a state attorney announced there was not enough evidence to file charges.

5. "Sparty" beats Smarty

Michigan State earned back some "street cred" for the Big Ten Conference with a 24-20 win over Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl game. In a predictably close game pitting Stanford's bullheaded offense against the nation's top-ranked defense, the game came down to a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter. Stanford lined up in its "Elephant" formation and tried to stampede forward, but fullback Ryan Hewitt was stopped short by middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, who anticipated the play perfectly. Michigan State (12-1) won its first Rose Bowl since 1988 and finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press media poll.

4. Loading and unloading zone

It was one of the most memorable airport scenes since "Casablanca." On the morning of Sept. 29, only hours after USC's 62-41 loss at Arizona State, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden fired Lane Kiffin at LAX shortly after the team arrived back from Tempe. It set off a bizarre few months in which USC ended up going 10-4 with, technically, four head coaches. Interim coach Ed Orgeron quit after Haden named Steve Sarkisian as the new coach. Sarkisian then watched assistant coach Clay Helton lead USC to an inspired Las Vegas Bowl win over Fresno State.

3. That was a big tip

If not for Chris Davis' return for the ages, Auburn's Hail Mary win over Georgia two weeks earlier would earn best-play honors. There was actually skill involved in Davis' field-goal return. Auburn's 43-38 win over Georgia was pure luck. Faced with fourth and 18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall heaved an underthrown pass that should have been knocked down by two Georgia defenders. Instead, the ball deflected to Ricardo Louis, who raced untouched for the game-winning, 73-yard score.

2. Saban is nicked

The last play of this year's Iron Bowl was the best final second in the history of college football. The amazing intricacies of Davis' 109-yard return of a missed Alabama field-goal attempt were unreal. Auburn's miracle 34-28 win was possible only because Alabama was awarded one second on the clock after an extensive replay review of T.J. Yeldon stepping out of bounds. Why did by-the-book Alabama Coach Nick Saban risk trying a 57-yard field goal? This play will be talked about for as long as Roy Riegels' wrong-way run.

1. BCS goes out with bang

The last national title game of the BCS era turned out to be an epic when Florida State scored the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left to defeat Auburn, 34-31. Florida State clinched a perfect season and ended the SEC's streak of seven titles. In one last, gasping wheeze, the flawed BCS system delivered. The remodeled Rose Bowl looked spectacular and will be remembered for hosting two of the best title games in the 16-year BCS era. Next season, the Rose gets one of two semifinal games, but it might never host another championship. If this is progress, well, what a shame.

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