10 College Football Items to Return
By Matt Smith
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While the college football regular season is always enjoyable, there are often things we wish we could "return" at the end of the year.
Another Christmas has come and gone, and now many of us will once again flood stores throughout the country to return gifts that we only pretended to like. Despite it being the greatest sport in the world, every college football season has its Aunt Clara-like moments (remember the bunny suit in A Christmas Story), giving us certain things that simply make us cringe. 2012 certainly had its fair share, and as the world prepares to exchange unwanted presents, let’s look back at 10 things from the college football season that we’d like to return.
It just won’t go away. From the ongoing mess to sustain the viability of the Big East to the stunning defections of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, conference movement has defined the continued emphasis on money in college athletics. New York City and Washington, D.C. generally garner some of the lowest television ratings for college football anywhere in the country, but the ability to charge millions of cable subscribers in two of the nation’s largest cities for the Big Ten Network made Rutgers and Maryland attractive options. Louisville is headed to the ACC, and the Big Ten could to go 16 teams. Will it ever end? Probably not.
2. Bowl Bans
When the full slate of 35 bowl games was revealed on Dec. 2, most of us cringed at the general unattractiveness and one-sided nature of many of the matchups. A primary reason for the lousy pairings is the bowl bans of four teams: Miami (FL), North Carolina, Ohio State and Penn State. The Buckeyes likely would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, with Penn State going to one of the top New Year’s Day bowls in Florida. Instead, the Big Ten is underdogs in all seven of its bowl games. The ACC’s No. 3 slot in the Russell Athletic Bowl is being filled by a 6-6 team (Virginia Tech), and Georgia Tech, which is playing the Sun Bowl, the league’s No. 4 slot, needed an NCAA waiver just to play in a bowl after falling to 6-7 in its ACC Championship Game loss to Florida State. While the Notre Dame-Alabama matchup in the BCS Championship Game is likely to be one of the most-watched college football games of all-time, the same can’t be said for many of the other major bowls.
3. Georgia’s Effort at South Carolina
ESPN’s College Gameday came to Columbia for what was expected to be one of the best games of the season between the No. 5 Bulldogs and No. 6 Gamecocks. The Dawgs’ dynamic duo of freshman running backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, was expected to challenge a previously untested South Carolina defense. Less than a quarter in, the game was over. South Carolina raced out to a 21-0 lead behind two Connor Shaw touchdown passes and an Ace Sanders punt return, and Georgia never recovered. The Bulldogs could only manage a meaningless touchdown in the final minutes in a 35-7 blowout, a win reminiscent of what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had done during his tenure at Florida in which he defeated Georgia in 11 of 12 meetings.
4. Logan Thomas
The quarterback once called “the next Cam Newton” was anything but in his second season as a starter at Virginia Tech, throwing 14 interceptions in the Hokies’worst season in two decades. While he had little help thanks to an influx of new skill position players and an inexperienced offensive line, Thomas failed to build on the promise he showed in a strong 2011 season as the Hokies plummeted from 11-2 to 6-6, defeating only one team that finished with a winning record. A 4-3, Virginia Tech had a chance to save its season in a three-game stretch against Clemson, Miami (FL) and Florida State, but Thomas threw multiple interceptions in all three games and the Hokies went 0-3, leaving them to scramble just to make a bowl game. 2013 can only get better for Thomas, unless he heeds the advice of certain NFL scouts and turns pro early.
5. The Cocktail Party
Nine turnovers marred the late October showdown in Jacksonville between No. 2 Florida and No. 11 Georgia, as the Bulldogs took command of the SEC East race with a narrow 17-9 win secured by a fumble recovery in the final minute as Florida was threatening to tie the game. The Gators offense struggled all season, but was particularly anemic in their biggest game, losing four fumbles and throwing three interceptions. Georgia wasn’t much better, but did manage two touchdown drives to win its second straight over its rival to the south. The 26 total points were the second lowest in the series since 1984.
6. Sal Sunseri
Tennessee was seen as a poor man’s Alabama heading in the 2012 season, with Nick Saban protégé Derek Dooley in charge of the Vols and newly hired athletic director Dave Hart having come from Tuscaloosa. To replace defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Dooley once again turned to the Tide, plucking Sunseri, the linebackers coach at Alabama, to bring a more aggressive defensive system to Knoxville. What ensued was a disaster, and now both Dooley and Sunseri are unemployed after a 5-7 season for the Volunteers. Tennessee allowed at least 37 points in seven of its eight SEC games (the exception being the game after Dooley was fired), finishing last in the conference in both total defense and scoring defense.
7. Injuries to Chris Thompson and Michael Mauti
Regardless of what team you cheer for, it was impossible to not to pull for these two players who poured their heart and soul into college football despite fate often not working in their favor. Thompson returned from a broken back to spark Florida State to a 5-0 start, including a two-touchdown game against rival Clemson. However, Thompson suffered an ACL injury in a midseason win at Miami, ending his injury-riddled career in Tallahassee. Mauti, Penn State’s defensive captain, was extremely vocal about the program’s NCAA sanctions handed down in July, displaying the relentless passion that fueled him on the field despite two significant knee injuries. The Lions surprised many by finishing 8-4, but Mauti’s season ended a week early after another knee injury. The team wore No. 42 decals on their helmets in Mauti’s honor for the season finale. With Mauti on the sideline in crutches, Penn State defeated Wisconsin in overtime to cap one of the strangest years a university and a football team will ever experience.
8. Johnny Manziel’s Silence
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a policy to not let freshmen speak to the media, so the Heisman Trophy winner was kept quiet until after the regular season. From his initial press conferences to his tour of the awards circuit, it was evident that Manziel was a very engaging young man in addition to having rewritten the SEC records book with 4,600 yards of total offense and 43 touchdowns during a 10-2 season that included a monumental upset of No. 1 Alabama. The university engaged in a full-fledged Heisman campaign for “Johnny Football” in the two weeks between the regular season finale and the ceremony, proving to be an effective strategy. Provided he is allowed to attend SEC Media Days in July, he’ll be the most notable attendee since Tim Tebow’s final appearance in 2009.
9. Black Friday
The day after Thanksgiving used to feature at least one must-see game, whether it was Colorado-Nebraska in the ‘90s, two unforgettable Iron Bowls in 2009 and 2010 or an occasional must-see game between LSU and Arkansas or Pitt and West Virginia. This year, we might have well have been out shopping. Nebraska and Iowa played a 13-7 clunker, and Arkansas going 4-7 put a major damper on its game with LSU after the teams were both ranked in the top three heading into their 2011 meeting. West Virginia at Iowa State looked like a possible final hurdle for the Mountaineers to play for the national title after they started 5-0, but a five-game losing streak made the game simply a battle for a Pinstripe Bowl berth. Excuses to avoid the mall usually come easy for college football fans on Black Friday, but it was extremely difficult to find one this year.
10. The Entire Big Ten
This wasn’t supposed to be the finest season in the long history of Big Ten football, but by mid-September, it was evident that the conference that had at one time been the class of college football had sunk to an unimaginable level. Inept offenses, embarrassing non-conference losses and a five-loss Rose Bowl participant highlighted (lowlighted?) the 2012 campaign for the Big Ten. Fittingly, the Big Ten Championship Game was a major dud, as 7-5 Wisconsin hung 70 points on Nebraska in front of just 41,000 people in Indianapolis. To cap it off, Bret Bielema, who had led Wisconsin to the past three league titles, left for Arkansas, a program that has never won an SEC title.