14 for '14: The Season's Big Stories

14 for '14: The Year's Biggest Stories. From Oregon to Jameis to UAB, the biggest things about 2014.

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Save for the national championship, the book is about to close on the 2014 season, which will go down as the first in major college football history to feature a playoff – and it was certainly fun. It was a typically memorable year, rife with the surprises, breakout individual performances and off-field shenanigans that have become perennially synonymous with the sport.

So before the sun sets on the season, let’s all sway to 'Auld Lang Syne', pour a glass of our favorite bubbly and toast the most enduring and unforgettable stories of the past year in college football.

14. Football Abolished at UAB
Depending on who you asked, UAB closed the doors of its football program for fiscal responsibility or because school president Ray Watts is the antichrist. Either way, the ranks of the major programs retracted for the first time since Pacific dropped football in 1995. With or without the Blazers, life will go on in Birmingham and in Conference USA. But in the arms race era of escalating costs to compete in the FBS, it might not take 19 more years before another university must choose between finances and football.

13. Gurley Ends Early
Through the first month of the season, Georgia RB Todd Gurley was playing better than anyone in the country. He was a runaway locomotive, averaging well over seven yards a carry. But he couldn’t plow through a four-game suspension for accepting autograph money or a season-ending ACL tear upon his return on Nov. 15. Had Gurley not missed half the season, he’d have threatened Melvin Gordon for the Doak Walker Award and even Marcus Mariota for the Heisman. Rookie Nick Chubb flourished off the bench, but Gurley’s absence robbed fans of a chance to see one of the game’s superstars for one final season.

12. Bowl Ban Lifted at Penn State
On Sept. 8, the NCAA announced that the Nittany Lions would be immediately eligible for a bowl game, essentially cutting the original four-year sanction in half. It was a seminal moment for the program, James Franklin’s new staff and the upperclassmen who thought they’d never participate in postseason revelry. Penn State went on to face—and defeat—Boston College in a Pinstripe Bowl thriller. In the bigger picture, though, moving one step closer to being whole in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal is going to hasten Franklin’s rebuilding efforts on Happy Valley.

11. Mississippi and Arizona Deliver State-ment Seasons
Football fans in the states of Mississippi and Arizona were in a particularly celebratory mood throughout the fall. And for good reason. Each of the states’ main programs, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arizona and Arizona State, combined for 19 wins, while contending for conference crowns. The regions enjoyed unprecedented success to bring unprecedented attention to their schools. In the first-ever College Football Playoff rankings released, the Bulldogs were No. 1 and the Rebels were No. 4. The 9-3 Sun Devils are the only member of the quartet not playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

10. High-Profile Openings at Michigan, Florida and Nebraska
At varying degrees of difficulty, Brady Hoke, Will Muschamp and Bo Pelini began the season facing pressure to win at a high level. None of the trio fulfilled his boss’ expectations, resulting in openings at three of the most historically relevant and recognized programs in college football. Former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has replaced Pelini, who now coaches Youngstown State. Jim McElwain left Colorado State to succeed Muschamp, the new Auburn defensive coordinator. And the Wolverines landed their dream guy, former QB Jim Harbaugh.

9. Single-Game Rushing Record Broken … Twice … Within a Week
It took 15 years before someone, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, could eclipse TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game rushing record of 406 yards. But it took just a single week for Oklahoma rookie Samaje Perine to bump Gordon into second place all-time. Running downhill like a modern-day Ron Dayne versus Kansas, Perine rumbled for 427 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries. The gaudy numbers rung up by Gordon and Perine became microcosms in 2014 for the reemergence of the importance of the running back.

8. Two “One True Champions”
“One True Champion”. It seemed like a perfectly logical Big 12 tagline, since every league member plays each other during the regular season. But it unraveled into a lampooned PR disaster, with league officials, led by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, presenting one-loss TCU and Baylor as co-champions. The Frogs’ lone loss came to the Bears, 61-58, resulting in a lengthy debate over which school should be ranked higher in the College Football Playoff standings. Baylor eventually leap-frogged TCU on the final weekend, but the bumbling Big 12 still wound up being the only Power Five conference left out of the playoff picture.

7. Bliffin Emerges as Unlikely Supercouple of College Football
Alabama senior Blake Sims was seemingly an afterthought in the race to replace QB AJ McCarron, especially after a rocky spring game. And Lane Kiffin was a punchline, a curious choice of Nick Saban’s to replace offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. But Sims plus Kiffin blossomed into a beautiful marriage of a quarterback and a coach, both looking to capitalize on second chances. Sims shocked everyone by beating out ballyhooed Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, and then flourished under the deft tutelage of Kiffin. The pair fed off one another, helping guide the Tide to an SEC crown and a top seed in the playoff.

6. Jameis Winston Can’t Stay Out of the News
There was no more polarizing figure throughout 2014 than Florida State’s quarterback, and not just because he was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Winston made headlines for shoplifting crab legs in April, yelling obscene phrases on campus in September and being cleared in December of a code of conduct violation related to sexual misconduct charges. The sophomore was a magnet for accusations and turmoil away from the field, yet unbeatable on it, leading the ‘Noles to a second-straight perfect regular season. Winston’s ability to endure athletically as controversy swirled in his wake was one of the more impressive happenings of the season.

5. Bullpen Bails Out Playoff-Bound Ohio State
The Buckeyes won huge games with two different starting quarterbacks, and neither one of them was Braxton Miller, the senior who was supposed to lead Urban Meyer’s third team in Columbus. Miller never played a down, aggravating a shoulder injury in August. But Meyer and his staff did a remarkable job of preparing redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who’d go on to win 11 games, account for 45 touchdowns and finish fifth in the Heisman. Yet, it was third-stringer Cardale Jones who was taking snaps in Indianapolis on Dec. 6 when Ohio State decimated Wisconsin to win the Big Ten and elevate into the fourth and final playoff slot and a spot in the national title game.

4. Oregon Slays Old Demons, Wins First Heisman
This was a critical season in Eugene. The Ducks and rookie head coach Mark Helfrich were coming off a sobering non-BCS bowl campaign, and conventional wisdom suggested 2014 would be QB Marcus Mariota’s final year as an amateur. Was the rest of the Pac-12 catching up to Oregon now that Chip Kelly was in Philadelphia? After stumbling to Arizona on Oct. 2, the Ducks went on a tear, winning eight straight to set up a playoff matchup with Florida State in Pasadena. Along the way, Oregon crossed off a couple of bucket list items, finally beating nemesis Stanford and winning a program-first Heisman Trophy.

3. Cardiac ‘Noles Extend Winning Streak to 29 Games
Nov. 24, 2012. That’s the last time Florida State lost a football game. But more incredible than college football’s longest winning streak in nine years is how the Seminoles have preserved it in 2014. From the opening weekend against Oklahoma State to the ACC title tilt with Georgia Tech, FSU played with fire … and lived to tell about it. The ‘Noles survived seven games decided by a touchdown or less, and repeatedly rallied back from deficits with all of the poise and clutch of a defending national champ. The 2014 Seminoles were arguably the most compelling and dramatic team so far in the 21st century up until they slipped up, falling backwards and getting housed by the Ducks.

2. The Changing Landscape of College Athletics
The evolution of college athletics is beginning to happen at warp speed, with the changes becoming more visible and topical than ever in 2014. Northwestern’s flirtation with unionization set the tone for the offseason, as compensation for student-athletes bloomed into a hot-button debate that’ll rage on in 2015 and beyond. And autonomy for Power Five conferences will allow the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC to make decisions and rules outside of the larger governance of the NCAA. In other words, bank on more benefits for players and a wider gap between the haves and have-nots going forward.

1. Playoff Era Begins in College Football
At long last, a four-team playoff has arrived in college football. And the early returns have been positive, from the matchups to the efforts of the 12-person committee, even if the actual process got a little wonky down the stretch. The postseason will finally feature more than one game of true significance, with semifinal games fittingly staged on New Year’s Day. And the fact that it’ll be Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer and Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston on Thursday night is an appropriate gift for fans who’ve pined for an alternative to the old BCS format for determining a champion.

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