The joy of college football, pre-playoff, is that supposedly everything matters: the giant falls in Week 2, and in his wake he topples trees, buildings, and a fanbase with hopes of national championships. In the NFL, two potential title contenders meeting in October is just a primer to make nice B-roll for when they meet in January, in college, it's a deathmatch.
Sure, that's true. Alabama got to their title by blasting through a gauntlet, and Oregon could've been there, had it not been for there one slipup. But when the dust's all cleared, there's so much that was pointless.
As we enter an offseason devoid of college football, let's remember why we love it: after looking at the year, here's some of the most confusing games that seemed worth spilling ink about a few months ago. In retrospect, these games were super-meaningless (Sure, some of them resulted in teams going to slightly better or worse bowl games, but for the most part, they didn't.), but most importantly, they really don't make sense when we look back at the end of the year.
The Inception Game That Didn't Make Sense On Further Review Award: Iowa 18, Northern Illinois 17. Week 1, this looked like the right result: Iowa had struggled a bit, but eventually, the Big Ten squad put two and two together and figured out how to beat a silly upstart from the MAC. They won based on field position, downing a punt at the one before an ensuing NIU punt gave Iowa the ball at their own 24. Yes, this was B1G-MAC at its finest, and the special sauce contains rust, just the way you like it. Iowa would try to win punting battles many a time in 2012, but this was one of the last times it worked, while Jordan Lynch got comfortable in the NIU offense and led his team to an Orange Bowl berth. The Orange Bowl result, however, demonstrated how much this game really mattered.
The West Ham United Relegation Should Exist Game of the Year: North Dakota State, 22, Colorado State, 7: SB Nation took on college football relegation this May, but this game should've been its living incarnation. Think fast - which of these teams is in the FBS? The answer is the Rams. That's Colorado State. Most of the time when an FBS team plays a team from the FCS, the top-tier team is scheduling it as win fodder, but I'm not so sure that's not the other way around here. The Bison went 14-1 en route to a second straight FCS title with some serious poundings along the way, while Colorado State went 4-8 without beating a .500 team all year. And unlike most FCS wins against their bigger, less playoff-friendly bros, this wasn't particularly close either, with NDSU jumping out to an early score lead and holding it. Championships > bowls, y'all.
Faux-upset of the Year: Pitt, 35, Virginia Tech, 17: Virginia Tech's fall from the preseason rankings wasn't as cataclysmic as USC's or Arkansas', but the thud was just as graceful. The Hokies were the No. 13 team in the country at the time, and things seemed dandy, while Pitt was 0-2 with a blowout loss to Cincinnati and a defeat at the
hands flippers of the most adorable team in college football, Youngstown State. This loss seemed season-ending to Virginia Tech for a day or two, until they realized it wouldn't hurt their chances of getting to the ACC title game, which seemed pretty much guaranteed with Miami and North Carolina ineligible and a win already over Georgia Tech, but then it turned out Virginia Tech was just an elaborate hoax built around sabotaging Logan Thomas' draft stock while Pitt scraped together six games and almost knocked off Notre Dame.
The real upset of the year that actually didn't matter at all: North Carolina State, 17, Florida State, 16: This seemed big at the time, as Mike Glennon and Odd Future Wolf Pack Kill Them All eked past the then-No. 3 Seminoles, handing them their first loss of the season. But let's move to an alternate universe: in this universe, Glennon's fourth-down pass with 16 seconds left gets dropped in the end zone. Just for fun, let's make that Odd Future reference relevant and funny in this alternate universe, and turn Glennon's neck-o-meter to "Okapi." Besides those two things, what's different about this season? Despite their then-high ranking, the 'Noles were always going to lose to Florida, win the ACC Championship game against whichever nobody the Wheel of Coastal spit out, and sure enough, they romped in their BCS game. This was still an upset, and a fun one, too, as it gave us NC State Fan.GIF, but it didn't even save Tom O'Brien's job.
The Tim Tebow Living Memorial Storyline that wasn't award: Ohio, 24, Penn State, 14: There was nothing Penn State could do this year to keep people from gawking, pointing, and staring, but the thing that could have prompted the most slow-motion-car-crash onlookers would've been a truly terrible season. That's what many thought this would be after Penn State blew a halftime lead in a three-turnover slopfest against a team from a lesser conference. But after winning eight of their last 10 games - and after Ohio turned out to be an above-average squad in the Year of MACtion - this loss isn't even Penn State's worst. Apologies for the extra Big Ten-MAC talk - I really didn't learn anything from that documentary where the dude eats McDonald's every day for a month and then throws up in his car and almost dies.
The Seriously, The Weirdest Game Of The Year Award: Connecticut, 23, Louisville, 20 (3 OT): Teddy Bridgewater blasted his way through defenses all year. Connecticut, on the other hand, was 121st in points, which are vital in most variants of sports. Louisville preceded this game with a loss to Syracuse, but still, this was a weird result. Bridgewater was briefly out after BREAKING HIS LEFT HAND - the word "briefly" here is the 11th reason out of millions I'm not a quarterback on a successful college football team - which prompted a spot cameo from America's sunniest QB, Will Stein, but that's not why the Cardinals lost. They didn't score until the game's last few minutes, forcing overtime on a last-minute touchdown, then couldn't overcome the Huskies. It worked out okay for Louisville, who still got a conference title and a berth in a BCS game, which they won over Florida - yeah, the one that beat Texas A&M, yeah, the one that beat Alabama, the one that, uh, my point is, this paragraph effectively disproves the transitive property. But the end result of this game is that a win over UConn would have prevented the phrase, "four-way tie for the Big East title," from existing, although it turns out that phrase is a really handy way to discourage people you don't like too much from getting into college football. Paul Pasqualoni presumably celebrated the same way he celebrates everything, which is by having his mouth slightly agape so as to appear legitimately confused.
And, the honorable mentions, in no order whatsoever:
- Cal 43, UCLA 17
- Toledo 52, Eastern Michigan 47
- Ohio State 29, Purdue 22
- Washington 17, Stanford 13
- SMU 72, Houston 42
- South Carolina 24, Wofford 7
- Monsoon game! Louisville 21, Southern Miss 17
- Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20
- Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57
- Texas State 30, Houston 13
- ULM 34, Arkansas 31
- Like every Georgia Tech game
- Like every Boise State game
- Like every Maryland game