Normally we spend this week, unceremoniously wedged between Christmas and New Year’s Day, tuning into random bowl games that take place during weekday afternoons. This year, however, that seems to be a descending opportunity, as bowl games are getting canceled left and right due to health and safety protocols.
So, as we cross our fingers and wait for the bigger games to come around on December 31, I took the last week to reflect on the college football season that was. Things still aren’t the way they were before COVID, but this season seemed closer to what we’ve experienced in the past.
And as always in college football, there was plenty of weird stuff to go around.
MVP: The Transfer Portal
I don’t think anything has had as significant an effect on college football this season as the transfer portal. Players no longer have to wait a season to change schools, and as such, we are seeing tons of big names leave big schools and change the competitive balance. It has made college football way more interesting, as we’ve seen literally dozens of players the last two weeks switch teams like they’re playing NCAA 14. Does it make life harder for coaches and school administrators? Probably. Does it make college football more interesting for fans? Yeah, I think it does.
Least Interesting Development: NIL Money
For so long, opponents of the free-market system warned everyone that if we started allowing college football players to make money, college football as we knew it would be a disaster. So, this year we started allowing college football players to capitalize on their fame by signed licensing deals, and guess what? Nothing really changed. I mean, I guess some players made more money than they would have cleared under the cafeteria table, but it didn’t fundamentally change the playing field in college football. I know, some haters are still hanging in there, pointing to Florida State losing the number one recruit in the country, Travis Hunter, who flipped to Deion Sanders and Jackson State, perhaps because of some potential NIL money. But if Florida State is losing players because they can make more NIL cash at other places, doesn’t that mean Florida State isn’t playing things the right way?
Player of the Year: Bryce Young
Bryce Young was supposed to be the next Michael Vick, a wildly athletic QB who would continue Alabama’s dominance. But after a start that was closer to Marcus Vick, Young got going as the season went along, and I guess we can give this nod to Young. He led the Crimson Tide through a topsy-turvy season that ended, as it always seems to do for Nick Saban, with a trip to the playoffs. While his season was similarly topsy turvy, Bryce Young was the best player in arguably the biggest college football game this season, when Alabama bested UGA in the SEC Championship Game. There were other players who were probably more integral to their team’s success, and did it with less help surrounding them—Matt Corral in Oxford comes to mind immediately, as does Kenny Pickett at Pitt—but Young was good enough.
Video of the Year
I thought a lot about all the videos that went viral this season, but man, I don’t know if there was anything as emotional or heart-wrenching as this video from the Texas A&M upset over Alabama. With two seconds left on the clock, Aggies kicker Seth Small came on to attempt a field goal to knock off the number one team in the country. Smartly, videographer Cam Worthy smartly spun around and shot this video of Small’s parents and wife experiencing all of the feels as he entered the game and then drilled the game winner. When Small’s wife hopped the railing to run on the field, I felt like running out there also.
Upset of the year: Wait, Kansas beat Texas?
Kansas has been hapless at football for as long as I can remember. Despite a few attempts at halfhearted flashy reboots—Les Miles! Charlie Weis!—Kansas has never been able to get things on the right track long enough to make any sort of tangible impact. The most recent person in the coaching lineage is Lance Leipold, who won his opener against South Dakota, and then lost 8 straight games. For his tenth game? Leipold and Kansas knocked off friggin’ Texas in overtime, 57-56. Now, Kansas has defeated Texas before, back in 2016, but the two teams scored a combined 45 points in that game. To see the Jayhawks beat the Longhorns while lighting up the scoreboard was unbelievable.
Quote Of The Year
There were a lot of weird moments in press conferences and on the fields following games, but the one moment I’ll likely remember the longest came just before Halloween, when Mississippi State coach Mike Leach was asked about Halloween candy. Leach delivered a reasoned, deeply considered treatise on various varieties, flavors and types of Halloween candies. I particularly liked how he handled the question so seriously, as though he’d been asked about a late-game play call or something actually related to the game they literally just finished playing.
Quote of the Year Runner-Up
Let’s stay in the SEC and check in with Alabama’s Nick Saban, who went on his coach’s show and bashed fans who were upset that Alabama wasn’t blowing teams out.
To me, the best part of this video was the way the fans—the very fans Saban is talking about, for what it’s worth—cheer Saban on after each sentence, like the crowd at a WWE show.
Win of the Year: Michigan beating OSU
All things considered, Michigan and Ohio State occupy relatively similar positions when it comes to their places in the college football firmament. They’re both powerhouses in the middle of the country, who have each won plenty of national titles over the years. They have anchored the Big 10 forever, and together they provide sort of a counterbalance to the SEC’s college football weight. But all of that said, Ohio State has owned Michigan for a while now. Before this season, Michigan had beaten Ohio State just once over the last 17 seasons. Current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was 0-6 against the Buckeyes, which produced plenty of grumbles across the Great Lakes. And then finally, it happened. This year Michigan finally knocked off OSU, and they did it decisively, 42-27. The only rivalry I could think of that would have produced a more seismic win would have been if UGA finally beat Alabama. But that hasn’t happened. Yet.
Oddest News Story: The Mike Gundy email leak?
This was such a weird story, and it went away about as quickly as it flashed across social media. Oklahoma State had a really good season, finishing 11-2 and being in the college football playoff hunt right up until the end, losing by literal inches in the Big 12 championship game. OSU coach Mike Gundy, meanwhile, kept the Cowboys in the hunt, and kept himself in the picture also, as usual, by being glib and forthcoming in interviews. But a few weeks ago, as the Florida Gators stumbled through their season and fired coach Dan Mullen, someone reached out to the Gators to pitch Mike Gundy as a possible successor. This kind of stuff happens routinely, certainly, but it’s rare that we actually get to see the pitch emails.
The strangest part to me was in the aftermath, when Gundy claimed he had no idea that any of this was happening, adding that he doesn’t even have an agent. (I guess this was just some random person who pitched Gundy to Florida?)Florida passed on the unsolicited advice and hired Billy Napier, but either way, it worked out pretty well for Gundy: A few weeks ago he got a raise and a contract extension from Oklahoma State.
How Will We Remember This Season?
Will this be the season that we remember Alabama showing a sliver of vulnerability? Tennessee fans throwing golf balls and crap at Lane Kiffin? Harbaugh finally beating the Buckeyes? Brian Kelly becoming a Southerner overnight
and it only got worse after may column. By my count, 28 colleges have hired new coaches since the season started, and bowl season isn’t even over yet! I don’t feel much sympathy for these coaches who have been ousted — they are all extremely well-compensated, and they all get into the business with the knowledge that one day they’ll most likely lose their job. It says a lot that college football’s biggest moment west of the Mississippi this season was probably USC hiring Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. For so long, college football players were the ones who always seemed to have to take the fall. Thanks to the transfers and NILs, maybe coaches will be the ones to have to take some responsibility from now on.