Celebrating The Best and Worst of College Football, 2012

The good news is that the 2012 college football season left fans anxiously awaiting next season. The bad news is that’s mostly because this season’s ending was so unsatisfying.

The 2012 season was full of highs and lows. It gave us a thoroughly entertaining final five weeks, but its first two months were a dud. The regular season’s final Saturday was fantastic, but the bowl season was about as interesting as an extended conversation with Erin Andrews.

In keeping with the bipolar nature of the season, let’s examine the best and worst of college football this year.

Best Nick Saban Impression, Circa 2007:

Chip Kelly, Oregon’s now-former coach, didn’t try to stop the speculation that he was leaving for the NFL after the Fiesta Bowl. He scheduled three interviews the next day, leading everyone to believe he had one foot out the door.  But after Oregon beat the wheat out of Kansas State, Kelly shocked the world on January 7th by announcing to the media through an intermediary (without actually issuing a statement) that he was staying put after all.  Nine days later, he accepted the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching job.  It’s hard to fathom what was going on in Kelly’s head during this process, but one can only hope he’ll be more decisive if he gets to announce the Eagles’ first draft pick.

Worst Coaching Job:

Lane Kiffin’s USC team was ranked in the preseason top three. It finished with a 7-6 record and the distinction of being the only team in football that lost its bowl game to a team with a losing record.  USC’s defense was an embarrassment and a good portion of Matt Barkley’s once-promising future earnings evaporated at the hands of a petulant young coach who, in three high-profile coaching jobs, has never ceased to appear in over his head.  The only bright side for Kiffin is that Chip Kelly won’t be there to kick him around next year, but his crosstown rival Jim Mora, Jr. has proven perfectly capable of taking over the role.

Best Unanswered Question:

At season’s end we knew that Alabama and Oregon are the nation’s two best teams. Alabama’s resume was better, so it deserved its National Title appearance, but Notre Dame’s fraudulent undefeated regular season meant that the two real best teams never got to settle it on the field. Oregon probably wouldn’t have beaten Alabama (after all, the Ducks lost to Stanford who lost to Notre Dame), the contrast of styles would have at least provided a more entertaining game. It really couldn’t have been worse than what we got.

Worst Strategic Move:

Two years ago, the Big 12 chose to forgo its title game for fear that the added competition would make for a harder path the national championship.  For the second year in a row since that decision, karma has struck back, as a one-loss Big 12 champion was denied the chance to play for the national title in favor of a one-loss SEC that played a tougher schedule.  The Big 12 seems content on sitting tight with 10 members and no title game, so it appears its only path to a national title is an undefeated season.  It had better hope two other undefeated teams  from power conferences don’t manage the same feat.

Best Game:

The SEC Championship game between Alabama and Georgia was not the most entertaining game of this football season.  It was the most entertaining game of ANY football season, at least since the Texas-USC BCS Title Game in 2006. Unless you are a Georgia fan, not a single thing could have made this game better.  The stakes were high, as the winner was guaranteed a berth in the BCS Title Game.  Momentum constantly shifted as Georgia’s big plays and Alabama’s overwhelming power attack took turns changing the dominant narrative.  In-game subplots abounded: Alabama’s Barrett Jones played center on one foot.  Georgia’s Aaron Murray finally shook off his struggles in big games.  In the end, the clock ran out with the Georgia 5 yards away from victory, and most likely, a national title of its own.

Best and Worst Realignment Storylines:

It’s only fitting that a column about college football in 2012 should end with a section on realignment.  But for all the complaints from traditionalists, realignment was a resounding success this year from a fan perspective.  In exchange for losing Texas A&M against Kansas State, fans got A&M against Florida, LSU, and Alabama, in what might have been the season’s second best game.  West Virginia’s Big 12 shootouts, and the corresponding brilliance of Geno Smith, were the only thing that kept September’s Saturdays interesting.

Realignment’s downside? Missouri wasted a spot on the schedule of Georgia, Alabama and Florida that could have gone to a traditional league power.  The constant shuffling on the horizon that it will soon be impossible to remember whose in what league. It’s already impossible to remember the divisional alignment of the conferences that don’t divide geographically.

But at least we’ve narrowly managed to avoid a world where teams from Boise and San Diego play in a conference called the Big East.

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