The 2019 college football season has been one of the more interesting in years. Alabama didn't make it to the College Football Playoff, but former Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts did. LSU found out what it was like to let loose on the passing game. Meanwhile, along with the Tigers, there were several schools that felt they had a shot at the Playoff in the last few weeks of the season. UCF finally lost a regular-season game while we saw resurgences from Indiana, North Carolina and Louisville. Rutgers scored 51 points over nine Big Ten games, while Ohio State scored at least 51 points in games against Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern, Maryland and...yes...Rutgers.
That's right. Michigan lost to Ohio State, so I guess it wasn't all that different.
Here are 25 of the best college football moments of the season:
This wasn't against Northwestern State. The Tigers didn't catch Arkansas in a vulnerable spot. This was LSU spanking Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl in the semifinal of the 2019 national championship. Joe Burrow, who just picked up the Heisman Trophy two weeks prior, completed 21 of 27 passes for 403 yards and seven touchdowns...in the first half. Yes, Burrow set several LSU, Peach Bowl and College Football Playoff game records in just a half's worth of work. Even the most skeptical fans out there took notice.
The Gamecocks' win over the Bulldogs came out of nowhere. Georgia was a legitimate national championship contender but looked completely out of sorts against a South Carolina team that wasn't exactly playing at a top level either. The normally reliable Jake Fromm threw three interceptions, and both teams missed late kicks in what was a clunky SEC contest. To put it into context, the Gamecocks would lose five of their next six games, while Georgia would end up winning the East division. South Carolina's unlikely win put the college football world and its contenders on notice that at any time, anyone can beat anyone.
We all spent the offseason joking that Jalen Hurts was set to be the third consecutive Oklahoma quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, even though we knew that probably wasn't going to happen. That is until the season started, and the Alabama transfer looked like the best player in the nation. In his first game with the Sooners, a win against Houston, he completed 20 of 23 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 176 yards and three TDs. In September, he threw for 1,295 yards, 12 TD passes and just one interception while rushing for 443 yards and five scores. He'd cool off eventually but not much.
Clemson was the defending champion and going into Chapel Hill to face a North Carolina program that won just two games in 2018. Call it a post-title hangover or an underdog playing over its head, but the Tar Heels were able to stick around with the Tigers all game long. After Clemson scored to take a 21-14 lead with less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Heels went on an epic 16-play, 75-yard march that ate up 8:37 of clock and ended with a Javonte Williams touchdown run. Instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game, Mack Brown went for two and the win. The attempt was stuffed, and Clemson would hold on for the victory. Still it was a ballsy move for a team that had lost two in a row to make a controversial decision (which led to debates among fans) that didn't work out. However, if it did...
I usually am not a fan of the College Football Playoff rankings being released in nearly November, as at that time they are worthless (imagine the NCAA basketball selection committee putting out official tournament brackets each week) and based on unfinished work. What they do well is invoke discussions and debates among talking heads and average joes who not only try to criticize them but also predict the necessary scenarios to get certain schools into the Playoff. This was a banner year for that discussion, as the schedule makers did a great job backloading with big games that pitted contenders against each other. Eventually it led to a fantastic championship weekend where several of the conference title tilts felt like their own Playoff games. We went into the final week not knowing if Utah, Oklahoma, Baylor, Georgia or Wisconsin could join LSU, Ohio State and Clemson in the Playoff. (And what happens if one of those teams lost?) We spent weeks looking into the crystal ball to see what chaos could happen when it turned out the top three teams couldn't be knocked from their perches. It was a soft landing, but it was so fun talking about the what-ifs.
Getting to see the Associated Press No. 1 and No. 2 teams face off in college football during the regular season is so rare that when it happens, it should be a reason for celebration. So when LSU brought its lethal offense into Alabama to face a vulnerable Crimson Tide, there was a buzz around college football. Two quick touchdowns to end the first half gave the Tigers a big lead at halftime, but Alabama responded with a fury in the second half. Both teams threw major blows, but LSU hung on for the win. Many felt this could set up a rematch in the College Football Playoff, but a Tua Tagovailoa injury and a Tide loss to Auburn ended that possibility.
One of college football's most touching traditions is the Iowa Wave, where at the end of the first quarter, Hawkeyes fans and players wave to the kids watching the game from the university's children's hospital that overlooks Kinnick Stadium. When Iowa hosted Minnesota on Nov. 16, Golden Gopher holder and four-time cancer survivor Casey O'Brien got to participate and waved at kids he not only related to but also inspired. O'Brien has been battling cancer since he was 13, and his debut against Rutgers earlier in the season was one of the most heart-tugging moments of the year. For O'Brien to show those kids that despite their situations they can still reach their dreams was one of the best stories of 2019.
Who doesn't like to see a big ol' offensive lineman catch a touchdown pass? Sure, it is almost never pretty and there is the trepidation from everyone as they see who the target is for the sure-fire touchdown. But what's more fun than the celebration that occurs once the receiver with the funny number reels it in? Cosmi's score was so much more as he caught a backward pass from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and ran 12 yards for the touchdown. He even got in a nice steamroll of a defender at the goal line. Big Guy scores are the best, and Cosmi's may have topped them all.
We were waiting to see if undefeated Baylor was for real, and it sure looked like it as the Bears surged to a 28-3 lead midway through the second quarter against Oklahoma. The Sooners had lost a few weeks earlier to Kansas State, and their College Football Playoff hopes looked to have been dashed. They dominated the second half, though, outscoring Baylor, 24-0, and stunning everyone with a 34-31 win. Jalen Hurts threw four touchdowns and ran for 114 yards, and the maligned Oklahoma defense did an outstanding job shutting down the Bears. The two would face off again in the Big 12 championship game, which the Sooners also won.
One of the biggest blindsides of the year happened in a Houston-Tulane matchup. With the game tied at 31 late, Tulane kneeled down on the first and second downs and looked content to send the game into overtime. On third down, Green Wave quarterback Justin McMillan faked the kneel and slid the ball to Amare Jones who ran 18 yards to the Tulane 47-yard line with 12 seconds remaining. On the next play, McMillan completed a pass to Jalen McCleskey to the 25-yard line and somehow split three defenders, stayed on his feet and galloped the rest of the way for the winning touchdown. One of the best endings to a football game you will ever see.
Who doesn't love a shootout? Washington State and UCLA set all kinds of Pac-12 records when the Bruins beat the Cougars, 67-63, in regulation . Mike Leach's Cougars, who love to throw the ball all over the field, jumped out to a 49-17 lead early in the third quarter behind Anthony Gordon's seven touchdown passes. For whatever reason, that's when the switch turned on for UCLA, as the Bruins would outscore Washington State, 50-14, over the final 19 minutes of the game to stun the Cougars. Look at some of these stats: Gordon threw for 570 yards and nine TDs; UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 507 yards and five TDs while rushing for two more scores; Cougars receiver Easop Winston caught 10 passes for 114 yards and four TDs; the Cougars turned it over six times.
Lynn Bowden began the season as a receiver and returner for Kentucky. He would end the season as the team's starting quarterback and lead the Wildcats to a Belk Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. After the top two quarterbacks on the roster were injured just five games into the season, Bowden was tasked to take over the offense. All he did was help the Cats win six of their final eight games despite rarely throwing the ball (just 35 pass attempts). His stat line is insane: 30 receptions for 348 yards, 1,468 rushing yards and 13 TDs; 403 yards passing and three TDs — and he was the team's leading rusher and receiver but not passer as the starting quarterback. Bowden won the Paul Hornung Award and was a consensus All-American.
The past few seasons have presented us with some anticlimatic conference championship games: matchups featuring a Playoff-caliber team facing one that barely was bowl eligible. This year was a pleasant change (well, except for the ACC). The Big 12 title game ended up being a playoff game itself, with the Baylor-Oklahoma winner likely getting the fourth postseason spot (Oklahoma won, and it did). The SEC had a great matchup of LSU-Georgia -— two teams ranked in the top four. Some felt that Wisconsin had an outside shot at a Playoff berth with a win over Ohio State. Had Utah won the Pac-12, some felt the Utes would be in the driver's seat for a Playoff spot but they ultimately lost to Oregon. All Power Five conferences plus the AAC had matchups of two ranked teams.
Complain about the plethora of bowl games all you want, but I just eat it up! Even though some of these lower-tier bowls are played in front of sparse crowds in not-so-exotic locales, they still have charm. One of the nice byproducts of these bowls are their unique festive moments, and the celebratory "Gatorade shower" has taken on a whole new vibe now. Air Force players dumped Cheez-Its on their coach after winning the Cheez-It Bowl. The Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl saw Frosted Flakes poured all over Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards. But the best may be Ohio's Frank Solich getting a french fry shower at the end of the Idaho Potato Bowl. No word if gas (Valero Alamo Bowl), sweaters (Belk Bowl), bloomin' onions (Outback Bowl) or sugar (ahem, Sugar Bowl) will be coming in the future, but seeing crazy sponsor-inspired celebrations was the highlight of bowl season.
One of the fun things about the bowl games is when drastically different styles play each other...like a great offense playing a suffocating defense. Or in the Cheez It Bowl's case, there was a team that wants to throw the ball all the time faces a team that wants to run the ball all the time. Washington State threw for 351 yards and ran just eight times for 15 yards, while Air Force ran the ball 69 times for 371 yards and completed just four passes for 30 yards. Air Force would grind the ball down the field to score, then Washington State would quickly throw a couple of passes and score. The Falcons had the ball nearly 27 more minutes than the Cougars and would hold on to win, 31-21.
No, the game didn't end up deciding a national championship, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fun. Notre Dame, the quintessential college football program, traveled into the Deep South to play a true road game against an SEC power in Georgia — the golden helmets playing in between the hedges. One of the biggest home games in Georgia's history. Both teams had national championship aspirations at the time and played a spirited, hard-hitting game. The Irish lost but held their own . Georgia looked the part of a title contender until losing to South Carolina a couple of weeks later.
Sure, Clemson got back to the national championship game, but we nearly had some new blood in the College Football Playoff. Minnesota was undefeated late into the season before a couple of losses ended that dream. Baylor also had an undefeated mark late into the season before choking away a 25-point lead to Oklahoma. Utah may have snatched a playoff berth had they beaten Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. It is healthy for the sport to have so many teams in the hunt in November...even if they end up not closing the deal.
North Dakota State's dominance of the FCS continues. The Bison won their third straight national championship (and eighth in the last nine years) by beating James Madison (the team that won that title NDSU didn't) and now hold an FCS-record 37-game winning streak. Their 16-0 season is the first in college football since Yale did it back in 1894. They lost head coach Chris Klieman to Kansas State last offseason, replaced him with first-year head coach Matt Entz and didn't miss a beat. Next year the Bison open against Oregon.
Houston pulled off one of the more interesting and debated decisions in sports when they used a loophole of sorts in the new redshirt rule. The rule change was implemented prior to the 2018 season in that a player can participate in no more than four games and can still have the option to redshirt the season. Its most notable use was last year when Kelly Bryant redshirted at Clemson after he was benched early in the season so he could transfer out and start his senior season. Houston went a step further. After a bad 1-3 start to the season, star seniors QB D'Eriq King and receiver Keith Corbin decided to redshirt so they could, in essence, do over their senior seasons. At debate is whether this is abusing the rule and if it is fair to the rest of the senior class who played out their final collegiate season. King then threw a wrench in Houston's plans by putting his name in the transfer portal.
Ole Miss-Mississippi State is an old-fashioned, hate-filled rivalry that got a bit out of control in 2019. Rebels receiver Elijah Moore caught a touchdown with :04 remaining in the game to cut the Bulldogs lead down to 21-20, with the PAT pending. Moore celebrated the TD by getting on his knees and miming a dog peeing on Mississippi State's name in the end zone. That was grounds for an unsportsmanlike penalty, which pushed the extra-point attempt back...and of course the Rebels missed. State wins the game in what is referred to in some circles as "The Piss Miss." Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke was fired after the game, and Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead was fired a few weeks later. Next year's Egg Bowl will now feature Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach, so expect the wildness to continue.
Pretty much all year we've known that LSU, Ohio State and Clemson were the three best teams in the nation, and the national champion would be crowned from that bunch. Two would have to face off in the College Football Playoff semifinal, and it was the Buckeyes and defending champion Tigers (the Clemson ones) that did so in the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State jumped all over Clemson early, validating claims that the Tigers were not as good as past incarnations because they hadn't played anyone all season. Before halftime, they fired off two huge touchdowns that immediately got them back in the game. This game was hard-hitting, with huge plays and the lead changing hands multiple times in the final quarter. There were controversial replay reversals and penalties that have some fans upset, but we also were treated to three late drives with the game on the line that had everything we wanted in a battle of heavyweight programs.
Talk about dedication! Hugh Freeze coached his first game as the head man at Liberty from a hospital bed in the coaches booth. Freeze had some back issues heading into the season as well as a dangerous bout with a staph infection, but he wanted to be there for his team. He had cameras and video equipment to communicate with players and coaches, but it didn't help in the 24-0 loss to Syracuse. There were some kinks to the setup and it was obviously not optimal, but it showed his players he would support them no matter what.
In "Week 0" of the regular season, Hawaii and Arizona played a wild affair that saw over 1,100 yards of offense and 149 plays from scrimmage. On the 149th play of the game, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate scrambled and ran 30 yards toward the goal line but was tackled 1 yard short as time ran out. The Rainbow Warriors won, 45-38.
Not many knew of Blake Anderson when the season began. He has been the head coach at Arkansas State for six years, taking the Red Wolves to a bowl game each season. Soon after the season was underway, Anderson lost his wife to breast cancer. In his first game coaching after her passing, against Georgia in Athens, a majority of the Bulldogs fans wore pink in honor of her and to support Anderson. After Arkansas State's Camellia Bowl win over FIU you could not only clearly see how the tough year drained Anderson but also the love and support his players had for their coach.
LSU has kind of been in that tier of programs that Michigan is mired in now: talented enough to win the entire thing but can't beat its rival and get a chance to play for a title. LSU went to Austin in Week 2 and beat a solid Texas Longhorns team and then powered through wins over top 10 teams Florida and Auburn. The Tigers faced Alabama in Tuscaloosa in a matchup of the AP's two top-ranked teams and beat the Tide in a shootout. They spanked Georgia for the SEC championship and rolled Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. Then they flexed their muscle in the College Football Playoff championship game and pounded defending champion Clemson. Quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy with one of the greatest seasons in college football history (60 passing touchdowns???) as he was throwing to a ridiculous stable of talented wide receivers and shared a backfield with one of the top rushers in the SEC. The LSU Tigers have been so exciting to watch, their head coach, Ed Orgeron, has been one of the most quotable all season, and they've shied away from no one all year. Now they are the college football champions.