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The 25 biggest college football stories of the 2010s

Another decade is about to end, and from a college football standpoint it's been quite interesting — and groundbreaking in some cases. From rule changes to a needed postseason upgrade, the 2010s won't soon be forgotten for what happened on and off the college gridiron.

Here are some of the most notable college football storylines from the last 10 years. 

 
1 of 25

Dawn of the playoff era

Dawn of the playoff era
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

It might not be perfect, and the door is still open to griping, but the FBS finally has its Playoff, a four-team one at least, with the hope of one day expanding to look like a real Playoff — as is done in the FCS. Established prior to the 2014 season, the College Football Playoff replaced the BCS. It was the most important change to college football, not only this decade but also in the on-field, structural history of the game.

 
2 of 25

Looking for that perfect home

Looking for that perfect home
Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports

One constant from decade to decade is conference realignment. Some of the more notable football conference comings and goings this decade included: Nebraska moving from the Big 12 to the Big 10,Texas A&M to the SEC, Utah joining the Pac-12, Colorado also moving to the Pac-12, TCU becoming part of the Big 12, and Maryland and Rutgers being added to the Big Ten. BYU, meanwhile, became an independent and the American Athletic Conference was introduced in 2013 — not to mention the end of football for the Big East and WAC.

 
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I want my conference TV

I want my conference TV
Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the growing popularity of college sports, especially football, it was a matter of time before the Power Five conferences launched their own television networks to promote their respective sports. The Pac-12 followed the Big 12 (now defunct) and Big Ten by starting its own network in 2012. The SEC Network hit the air in 2014, and the ACC Network debuted in August.

 
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An abundance of bowls

An abundance of bowls
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

During the 2009 season, there were 33 bowl games on the schedule. That's not including the BCS championship. Fast Forward to 2019, and 39 recognized FBS bowl games are on tap, including the two College Football Playoff semifinal contests. While that's great for school spirit and a program's bank account, watching midweek bowls between two Group of Five teams playing in half-empty stadiums doesn't seem appealing.

 
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UAB gone and back

UAB gone and back
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most feel-good story of the decade in college football is that of the Alabama-Birmingham program. Near the end of the 2014 season, UAB president Ray Watts announced the school was ending its football program to save money. However, following plenty of due criticism and more than $25 million brought in through fundraising, the program was reinstated. The Blazers were back on the field in 2017, and as Nov. 7, 2019, they have a 19-8 record and recorded the program's first bowl victory since returning. 

 
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Little guy parity

Little guy parity
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Some might argue college football does not do enough for the little guy, or least give more than one program outside the Power Five conferences a shot at national glory. The "Group of Five" gets its one representative during the current postseason with the  "New Year's Six" scenario. Thankfully, there's been some variety among qualified schools. UCF's two-year run will end this season, and the likes of TCU (prior to joining the Big 12), Houston and Boise State have had their moments this decade as had true underdogs out of the Mid-American Conference like Northern Illinois (2012) and Western Michigan (2016).

 
7 of 25

Harbaugh returns to Ann Arbor

Harbaugh returns to Ann Arbor
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

It was no real surprise when Jim Harbaugh left the NFL to return to coach his alma mater at Michigan. While he's won at least 10 games in three — with a possibility of four — of his five seasons with the Wolverines, Harbaugh continues to draw ire from the Maize and Blue faithful. No national titles and he can't beat Ohio State — he'll get one more try. The big question now is if he'll begin the next decade in charge of the Wolverines?

 
8 of 25

Can't keep good coaches down

Can't keep good coaches down
Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Mack Brown and Les Miles each has a national championship on his resume, yet it wasn't enough to keep them from coaching more football instead of talking about it. Perhaps it is good for the game that two of the biggest coaching stories of the decade came with Miles returning to coach Kansas and the 68-year-old Brown back for a second stint with North Carolina.

 
9 of 25

When coaches go bad

When coaches go bad
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of coaches — and not in a good way — within the confines of the Big Ten in 2018, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who retired after the season, was suspended for the first three games for botching the handling of domestic violence allegations against an assistant. At Maryland, coach D.J. Durkin was suspended then fired following the practice-related death of lineman Jordan McNair and an investigation into the unsatisfactory state of the Terps program. These are a couple of dark moments that still leave a collective stain on the game.

 
10 of 25

Stay off target

Stay off target
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports

Safety at all levels of football has become paramount in recent years, especially in the college game and specifically when it comes to a tackler leading with his head or making above the shoulder contact in the same manner. In 2013, the NCAA's Football Rules Committee passed a rule that players whistled for "targeting" would be ejected from the game and forced to miss further time, perhaps the most significant rules development in recent college football history. 

 
11 of 25

Making history

Making history
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

Records are broken all the time, some more prominent than others. That's been true this decade. Some that stand out include the 427 yards Oklahoma's Samaje Perine ran for against Kansas in 2014 or Washington State's Connor Halliday (2014) and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes (2016) each throwing for 734 yards in a single contest. On the career front, Western Michigan's Corey Davis became the NCAA's all-time leader with 5,278 receiving yards (2013-16).

 
12 of 25

Multiple-purpose field general

Multiple-purpose field general
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Is there such a thing as a pro-style quarterback anymore? And if so, what is the definition? It seems the more versatile the better, and that's been the trend throughout the decade. From stars like Cam Newton (Auburn) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) in the early portion of the 2010s to Kyler Murray (Oklahoma), Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and Jalen Hurts (Alabama/Oklahoma) later on, the run-pass option-favored offenses continue to be all the rage...until the next big thing comes along.

 
13 of 25

QBs and Heisman go hand in hand

QBs and Heisman go hand in hand
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

So having that do-it-all quarterback is an obvious reason why eight of the nine Heisman winners so far this decade have been quarterbacks. Led by Auburn's Newton, all these winners had the ability to shine with their arm and legs. Some, like Oklahoma's Murray's Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Louisville's Lamar Jackson, were the best of the best. Will that trend continue to close out the decade?

 
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How the mighty have fallen

How the mighty have fallen
Glenn Beil/USA TODAY Sports

It was wasn't long ago, in 2014, that Florida State was trying to repeat as national champion. Now the Seminoles just fired coach Willie Taggart in his second season and unthinkably can miss a bowl for two straight years. Joining FSU on the downtrend is UCLA, which finally has shown improvement under Chip Kelly but has just one bowl berth in the past three seasons. Meanwhile at Nebraska, favorite son Scott Frost has the Cornhuskers in danger of going three consecutive years without a bowl. 

 
15 of 25

Notre Dame is back...sort of

Notre Dame is back...sort of
Pool/Icon Sportswire

Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988; however, the program put itself in position for more national glory during the 2010s. Twice this decade (2012 and '18), the Irish, under coach Brian Kelly, went 12-0 during the regular season. They played solid defense and were above average offensively but ran into potent outfits in Alabama (in the national championship game) and Clemson (in the semifinals), respectively. 

 
16 of 25

Clemson claims its place

Clemson claims its place
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

In 2010 Clemson made a bowl but finished 6-7. Since then the Tigers have won at least 10 games every season. Oh yeah, Dabo Swinney's program has also won two of the last three national championships and played for a title in three of the last four. The Tigers boast three of the game's best coordinators in DC Brent Venables and co-OCs Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. Entering the slate of Nov. 9, 2019, Clemson has won 28 straight regular-season games.

 
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SEC is still king

SEC is still king
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

We know Clemson's program is at an elite level, but it's also the class of the ACC — by far. While various factions of the college football fandom love when teams from the mighty SEC fail, especially in big games, there is still no denying that conference remained king the 2010s. Five of nine national champs so far in the decade came from the SEC, and all but once (2014) has the league had a representative in the title game — and twice had two.

 
18 of 25

The Tide keep rolling

The Tide keep rolling
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

OK, we just talked some SEC love, and there are still rightful gripes since Alabama has won four national championships this decade (2011, '12, '15 and '17). The Crimson Tide have also played for the title two other times and been part of the final game of the season in each of the last four seasons and could be headed there again. From the beginning of the 2010 season to Nov. 7, 2019, Alabama is 121-13, with nine of those defeats coming in the regular season.

 
19 of 25

Nick "The Great"

Nick "The Great"
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

Alabama is the decade's most successful program because it's run by the best head coach in college football at the moment — and perhaps of all time. Nick Saban has won four of his six national championships thus far in the 2010s and could be in line for another. Since taking over the Crimson Tide in 2007, Saban has lost just 21 games (entering the Nov. 9 tilt with LSU) and has done his best work as a recruiter, game-planner and father figure this decade.

 
20 of 25

Championship moments

Championship moments
Bart Boatwright/The Greenville News via USA TODAY Sports

Whether the BCS or College Football Playoff era, fans of the game have been blessed with some memorable finishes this decade when it comes to the national championship games. It started with Wes Byrum's walk-off field goal that got Auburn by Oregon. Then there was Jameis Winston's late 2-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin as Florida State topped Auburn (2013) and Hunter Renfrow's own 2-yard catch with one second left to beat Alabama three years later. And who can forget Tua Tagovailoa's 41-yard-winning toss in overtime to stun Georgia (2017)?

 
21 of 25

How about that ...

How about that ...
Devin C. Cox/Getty Images

Great finishes, however, weren't limited to championship games. There are too many to count this decade alone, but a few stand out. There was Central Michigan's stunning late heroics to upset Oklahoma State in 2016, or Michigan State's ridiculous touchdown off a botched Michigan punt to win at Ann Arbor in 2015. And of course, the moment simply known as "Kick Six" to end the 2013 Iron Bowl.

 
22 of 25

Problems at Penn State

Problems at Penn State
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

No doubt the most disturbing college football story of the decade involved Penn State and former assistant Jerry Sandusky, who in November 2011 was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation that happened from 1994-2002. In June 2012, Sandusky was also convicted on 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Penn State school president Graham Spanier, vice-president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley were also charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for failing to report Sandusky. Legendary Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno, meanwhile, was fired in November 2011 as part of the scandal and died a couple of months later.

 
23 of 25

Hard to say goodbye

Hard to say goodbye
Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire

Dealing with lung cancer and a tarnished image from the Penn State abuse scandal, Joe Paterno died on Jan. 22, 2012, at age 85. However, Paterno was not the only prominent college football figure to pass this decade. Others included legendary Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian (2017) and Darrell Royal (2012) who coached Mississippi State and Texas, among others. Coach and administrator Frank Broyles (2017), and Heisman trophy winning running back Rashaan Salaam (2016) also passed. Not to be forgotten, Keith Jackson (2018), one of the great college football play-by-play voices of all time. 


 
24 of 25

So, where do you want to play?

So, where do you want to play?
Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports

College football has its own version of "free agency." Officially known as the transfer portal  (established in 2018), it offers players and coaches a chance to better their situations. Should a player not be happy or no longer have a future at one program, he has an opportunity to open himself up to other schools. The school he left, meanwhile, can move on without much red tape. It's been especially beneficial in the case of graduate transfers (Jalen Hurts, Kelly Bryant), who are eligible to play for their new schools the next season. The NCAA claims it's under control, but we'll see. 

 
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Still going strong after 150

Still going strong after 150
Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

College football is celebrating 150 seasons in 2019, and the party has been going on for a while now. Schools and programs spanning all levels of college football from throughout the country continue to showcase their history. Meanwhile, the popular "Tailgate Tour," celebrating 20 years of its own, is adding the 150 celebration as part of its trek. Here's to 150 more.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.



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