College football award season can be fun.
This is a time for appreciating the game — conference players of the year, coaches of the year, the Heisman, Doak Walker, Biletnikoff, Outland and so on.
For every team and player enjoying a banner year, there’s another who will be going home or a bowl game disappointed.
Not all of our disappointments are equal. Some let us down because these teams could have and should have achieved more. Some simply denied us to see a college football season at its best.
The Big 12 in 2014, indeed, turned out to be a two-team race. Just one of them turned out not to be Oklahoma. Athlon tabbed the Sooners at No. 4 in the preseason top 25, and OU went on to have its worst season since Bob Stoops’ first year in 1999. The 5-4 record included no wins against the league’s top three teams (Baylor, TCU and Kansas State) and a loss to Oklahoma State in which the Sooners led until the final five minutes. Aside from a win over Texas and Samaje Perine’s single-game rushing record, this was a forgettable season for the Sooners. Kudos to everyone who warned of overrating OU due to rout of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season.
The Hokies had about a week to feel good about the season. With an active pass rush and tough quarterback play, Virginia Tech had the look of an ACC contender with a 14-point win at Ohio State. Then the losses started to pile up — first to East Carolina at home, then Georgia Tech at home. Virginia Tech kept its 22-year bowl streak intact but needed a touchdown drive in the final two minutes against Virginia to do it (because it lost 6-3 in overtime to Wake Forest a week earlier). With a 12-12 record in the ACC the last three seasons, Frank Beamer is in for a long offseason.
The Irish emerged from an offseason academic scandal to start 6-0 with wins against Michigan and Stanford that seemed more impressive at the time than they did at the end of the season. Everett Golson began the season as a Heisman contender but ended the year as a turnover-prone liability. The Irish ended the season on a four-game losing streak and a 49-14 loss to USC.
The Gamecocks’ season was a debacle from the start. South Carolina lost 52-28 at home to Texas A&M to start the season, and the defensive never recovered. At 6-6, South Carolina finished the regular season with more losses than any other preseason top 10 team. What’s even more startling is that the season could have been worse: South Carolina needed a late blocked punt to beat Florida in overtime and played sloppy enough against Vanderbilt to give us the press conference of the year. Oh, and the Gamecocks lost to Clemson.
Where has Andrew Luck gone? Or at least Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal sat out the Pac-12 North this season, falling out of the race by Nov. 1. Stanford had one of the nation’s best defenses, but its offense didn’t find an identity until the final two games of the season against Cal and UCLA. Stanford finished 7-5 for its worst regular season mark since the second year under Jim Harbaugh in 2008.
Other teams fired coaches. Other teams might have had worse seasons, but programs like Michigan have no excuse to miss bowl games, never mind missing three bowl games in seven years. Besides losing to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Wolverines found room for one of their worst three-game losing streaks in school history (Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers). If the losing wasn’t enough, Michigan took heat for mishandling the concussion to backup quarterback Shane Morris and saw one of its team leaders, Frank Clark, arrested for domestic violence.
Group of 5 teams in crunch time
Nothing against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Broncos had the path cleared for them throughout the course of the season. East Carolina looked like it had wrapped up a major bowl bid by the end of September thanks to wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Instead, East Carolina finished the season with three losses in AAC play. Marshall lost its bid to an undefeated season in a wild 67-66 overtime defeat to Western Kentucky on Nov. 28.
Try telling Georgia Southern and UAB there are too many bowl games. These two programs would love to play in any pre-Christmas bowl game, no matter the destination. Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt was one of three teams to go undefeated in its conference — the other two are in the College Football Playoff — but because the Eagles are transitioning from FCS, they are ineligible for a bowl. And after UAB announced it would shut down the football program, the Blazers became untouchable to bowl organizers despite being bowl eligible for the second time in school history.
Injuries to Chuckie Keeton and Taysom Hill
At the start of the season, the state of Utah had some of the best star power at quarterback of any state. BYU’s Taysom Hill was en route to a career year when he sustained a broken leg on Oct. 3 against Utah State. The Cougars were 4-0 before his injury and 4-4 after. Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton returned from a torn ACL but re-injured the knee in the third game of the season against Wake Forest. The Aggies still won nine games, but the game missed two of its more dynamic quarterbacks for most of the season.
June Jones quitting in September
SMU would have been awful with Jones for a full season, but his departure after losses to Baylor and North Texas by a combined score of 88-3 didn’t help the Mustangs this season. SMU was one of the least competitive teams in college football this season, scoring more than 10 points just once before November.
College football award season can be fun.