NCF Nation: 2008 season 0901
How will the 2008 Big East football season be remembered? Here are my top 10 memories from this year.
1. Cincinnati's orange crush: I attended a couple of Bearcats games in the 1990s as a college student and can remember how deserted and dreary Nippert Stadium was in those days. So to see the place stuffed with fans and people running onto the field and throwing oranges in anticipation of a BCS bid -- twice -- stands as my indelible memory of the '08 season. Sure, the celebration was premature in the Pitt game. But in other ways, it was a long time coming.
2. The Donald's stiff-arm: No one player put his team on his back quite like Connecticut running back Donald Brown. He had eight games of at least 150 yards rushing and three games over 200 yards. His 2,083 yards placed among the top 10 seasons all-time among FBS running backs. What I'll remember most is how he'd get into the open field, extend one of his powerful arms to the head or chest of a defender and just push him away as he dashed ahead for a bigger gain.
3. LeSean McCoy's burst: The Pittsburgh star tailback wasn't bad either, with 1,488 yards and 21 touchdowns. He did it with a little more style and flair than Brown. No player was more explosive upon finding a small opening. And when there was a lane to the end zone, McCoy always seemed to find another gear. He may have tried to force the big play too much at times, but when it was there, it was breathtaking to watch.
4. West Virginia 31, North Carolina 30: The Meineke Car Care Bowl had a little bit of everything, from wild offensive bursts to key turnovers to Tar Heels' receiver Hakeem Nicks' acrobatic catches. But what I'll remember most is how Pat White finished his college career in style by showing us something new -- 332 passing yards -- and then being his usual humble self afterward. It was the perfect end to an astonishing career.
5. Rutgers 54, Pittsburgh 34: I was in the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium press box for Louisville-South Florida at the same time as this game was going on, and since I didn't have access to watch it on TV, I was following the score on ESPN's GameTracker. I couldn't believe what I was seeing even as I called out the updates to other reporters -- "Mike Teel just threw another TD!" Rutgers nearly equaled its point total from the entire season in one game, and it was the start of one of the more remarkable turnarounds in recent college history.
6. Syracuse 24, Notre Dame 23: Speaking of shocking results. I remember watching this in the press box at Nippert Stadium, where everyone was gathered around the TV before the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game to see the Orange complete their comeback in South Bend. They won less than a week after the school announced coach Greg Robinson would be fired, and then Robinson and his players displayed class by pausing for the Notre Dame alma mater. No matter your loyalties, you had to feel good for the long-suffering program at that point.
7. Maikon Bonani's debut: South Florida may have had a disappointing season once it reached Big East play, but I didn't see a more exciting game all year than the Bulls' 37-34 thriller over Kansas. And the best story line was the team's freshman kicker, who made his college debut earlier in the game and then drilled a 43-yarder as time expired. For a moment there, anything seemed possible for the Bulls.
8. Victor Anderson's arrival vs. Kansas State: The Louisville freshman ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns on just 18 carries on a Wednesday night in September. Watching his speed and shimmying up close, you knew a star had been born.
9. Bill Stewart's press conferences: The homespun West Virginia coach was liable to wax on for 20 minutes at a time, almost always including his love for the "ol' Blue and Gold" in there somewhere. He'd call players by their numbers instead of names or refer to them as "that rascal." Sometimes he'd even confuse everyone with long-lost references. But it was always entertaining, and no coach seemed happier just for the opportunity to talk about his team.
10. Mardy Gilyard meets Garrett Monroe: Another image I'll take with me from this season happened when Cincinnati's Gilyard crashed into the stands and ran into the 7-year-old Monroe. After Monroe cried, Gilyard stayed with the boy and hugged him, momentarily turning the youngster into a celebrity. That act showed Gilyard's compassion and led to more people finding out about his pretty amazing background. Stories like that are the ones that stick with you.
What were some of your best memories from the 2008 Big East season?
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's time to say so long to the 2008 SEC football season -- the highs, lows, great plays, crippling fumbles, clutch performances and fiery exchanges. I'll say my farewell with the 10 things I'll remember most about this season:
1. The greatness of Tim Tebow just sort of wears on you. He's not the purest passer, the fastest runner or even the best quarterback you're ever going to see. That said, I've yet to see a better player or a better winner at the collegiate level in my lifetime.
2. The first half of football in Alabama's 41-30 win over Georgia rates up there with as perfect a half of football as I've seen in the SEC in a long time. The Crimson Tide led 31-0, and a blacked-out Sanford Stadium sounded more like a funeral parlor.
3. The tears in Tebow's eyes told you all you needed to know. Minutes after Ole Miss' shocking 31-30 win over Florida at the Swamp on Sept. 27, an emotional Tebow promised Florida fans that they would never see a player or a team play any harder than he and the Gators would the rest of the way. They never lost again en route to their second BCS national championship in the last three years.
4. The incomparable Larry Munson broadcast his final Georgia football game on Sept. 6 against Central Michigan. There will never be another Munson, who's as much a part of Georgia lore as Uga, Herschel Walker, silver britches and The Hedges.
5. After 30-plus years at his alma mater, a teary-eyed Phillip Fulmer struggled through his forced resignation letter at a press conference that nearly got out of hand. An angry bunch of Tennessee players glared at Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton the whole time, and at least one shouted something as the players stormed off.
6. Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry probably still hasn't received the publicity that he deserves. He was the most dominant defender in the SEC this season, and that was never more apparent than the second half of the LSU game when he completely took over that contest.
7. Andre Smith's suspension changed the whole complexion of Alabama's otherwise brilliant season. As soon as the news came out, you could just sense that the Crimson Tide were in trouble ... and they were. They were manhandled by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
8. How much nastier has the Florida-Georgia rivalry become in the last two years? Rewind back to the final 49 seconds this season with Florida leading 49-10. Urban Meyer called, not one, but two timeouts in those waning seconds to rub it in and remind Mark Richt just exactly what he thought of the Bulldogs' end zone celebration from the year before.
9. Seeing Vanderbilt go to 5-0 for the first time since World War II with its 14-13 win over Auburn on Oct. 4 and seeing the electricity in Vanderbilt Stadium that night was something to behold. It was truly a special season for the Commodores, culminating with their first bowl victory in 53 years.
10. Watching Tommy Tuberville walk off the Bryant-Denny Stadium field on Nov. 29 after a humiliating 36-0 loss to Alabama was a sobering reminder of how quickly it all can change in the SEC. It turned out to be the last game he would coach at Auburn, which had flourished for much of the decade under his tutelage.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The end result wasn't what most Big Ten fans had in mind, but 2008 still brought plenty of intrigue around the league. Before putting the season to bed, here are some moments that stick out in my mind.
Terrelle Pryor takes over -- Pryor came to Ohio State with unparalleled hype as the nation's No. 1 recruit, but most expected him to sit out most of the season. Everything changed after the USC loss, and Jim Tressel's decision to start Pryor in Week 4 marked a significant shift for a program that usually sticks with its seniors. Pryor had some growing pains along the way, but he also showcased incredible talent and the potential to take Ohio State a long way in the years to come.
Joe Paterno keeps on winning -- Despite a bum hip that needed to be surgically replaced in November, Paterno gutted his way through the season and proved once again that he knows exactly what he's doing. Despite spending the final nine games in the press box, including the Rose Bowl, Paterno helped Penn State to a co-Big Ten title and won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The 82-year-old signed a three-year contract after the season and will be back in 2009.
Holy Toledo -- Michigan had never lost to a MAC team in 24 tries, but this season was anything but ordinary in Ann Arbor. The low point for Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines undoubtedly arrived Oct. 11, when a subpar Toledo team came into the Big House and beat Michigan 13-10. Michigan went on to lose a school-record nine games, posted a losing season for the first time since 1967 and missed a bowl for the first time since 1974.
The collapse at the Coliseum -- The most anticipated game of the season turned into a disaster for the Big Ten and Ohio State, which got steamrolled 35-3 by USC. Ohio State couldn't stop Mark Sanchez, committed uncharacteristic errors and didn't score a touchdown for the first time since 1996. The loss reinforced the perception that Ohio State struggles in big games, a reputation the Buckeyes helped restore in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Murray kicks Penn State out of title game -- Penn State seemed destined for a date in the BCS Championship Game until it ran into an inspired Iowa team on Nov. 8 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes rallied from a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit and won the game in the final seconds on a 31-yard field goal by Daniel Murray, an Iowa City native who had lost his starting job seven weeks earlier. Head coach Kirk Ferentz went back to Murray in the clutch, a decision that paid off.
Coordinators take off -- The Big Ten had no head-coaching changes this year, but several of the league's top assistants left following the season. Illinois offensive coordinator and chief recruiter Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Minnesota lost both of its coordinators, as Mike Dunbar stepped down and Ted Roof left for the defensive coordinator spot at Auburn. Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned after only one season.
Another bowl flop -- The league needed a boost in the postseason after dropping four consecutive BCS games and four Rose Bowls. Instead, the Big Ten's national perception took another blow as the conference went 1-6 in bowl games. Despite a dominant Outback Bowl win by Iowa and encouraging performances from Ohio State and Northwestern, the Big Ten lost two more BCS games and another Rose Bowl.
Rodriguez sounds off -- His comments were largely misrepresented, but Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez didn't do himself any favors during a Nov. 17 news conference. Speaking about outlandish comments on fan message boards, Rodriguez said, "You almost want to tell them, 'Get a life.' There's a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy." Though the comments weren't directed at Michigan's fan base, they made headlines around the Big Ten and added to the woes for the first-year coach.
Northwestern's Smith stuns Minnesota -- No play symbolized Northwestern's renaissance on defense more than Brendan Smith's 48-yard interception return for a touchdown with 12 seconds left to beat Minnesota 24-17 on Nov. 1. Defense was the story for Northwestern during a 9-4 season, as first-year coordinator Mike Hankwitz revolutionized one of the conference's worst units. Smith's return also signaled the beginning of the end for Minnesota, which dropped its final five games after a 7-1 start.
Dantonio gets rewarded with new deal -- Mark Dantonio's stock is on the rise at Michigan State, and the university rewarded him before the Capital One Bowl with a restructured contract. Dantonio's salary raise puts him on par with other Big Ten coaches, and he will receive a $2 million bonus if he's still coaching Michigan State on Jan. 15, 2016. The Spartans have made upgrades in facilities and recruiting, and if they can keep Dantonio, they'll consistently be in the mix for league titles.
It's time to start putting the 2008 season to bed, but I wanted to look back on some of the defining moments that made the 2008 non-BCS season memorable. These are from my point of view. I know there are tons of things to remember about this season, but these are a few things that that stick out in my mind about my first season covering this beat (in no particular order):
• The Sugar Bowl: It started with Bob Bedont, the voice of the Utah Marching Band, pumping up the modest Utah crowd and it ended with one of the most surprising and unbelievable performances I've seen all season. Anyone who watched the game knew they were seeing something very special.
• Notre Dame at North Carolina: I was standing on the field for the final plays of the game, dodging oranges that were being hurled toward Notre Dame players from UNC fans in the student section. It was one of the biggest meltdowns of the season, but only a forecast of things to come.
• The band cart: I saw this play on TV, but it's hard to get the image of Houston wide receiver Patrick Edwards running full speed into a band cart just off the end line at Marshall that snapped his leg and ended his season out of my head. The play sparked all sorts of controversy about safety in C-USA.
• BYU pummels UCLA: At the time, this was one of the most ridiculous outcomes of the season. BYU made UCLA look like a junior varsity team and got a ton of national notoriety because of it. That was the best game Max Hall played all season.
• The Hail Mary: There were a couple Hail Mary plays this season, but two stick out in my mind -- Middle Tennessee quarterback Joe Craddock's pass to Malcolm Beyah to beat Florida Atlantic as time expired and Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy's pass to Naaman Roosevelt to beat Temple.
• Watching history: I was standing in the middle of Buffalo's celebration of the MAC title at Ford Field and looking back toward the stands and watching Willie Evans, a member of the 1958 team, take in the scene from the sideline with a mixture of happiness, sadness and pride.
• The blackout: With the exception of the Sugar Bowl, Utah's game against TCU in Salt Lake City might have been the loudest game I went to all season. Most of the crowd wore black and when Utah quarterback Brian Johnson led the Utes on the game-winning drive, the fans were so excited that it shook the press box.
• Notre Dame's loss to Syracuse: It's hard to top this game in terms of disappointing outcomes. Syracuse came into Notre Dame Stadium with two wins, rallied from a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 24-23. It was an unbelievable scene and one that put Charlie Weis on the hot seat with fans and boosters.
• Boise State at Oregon: The Broncos came into the game without a true road win over a BCS team during the regular season. Led by freshman quarterback Kellen Moore, Boise State rolled through the Ducks as the Oregon struggled to find a quarterback.
• East Carolina at Virginia Tech: I was standing on the sidelines when T.J. Lee blocked a punt and ran it back 27 yards for the game-winning score with 1:52 left in a 27-22 upset win over the 17th-ranked Hokies. It was the beginning of a special run for the Pirates and really an early display of the level of play the non-BCS as a whole would show against their BCS brethren.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The Big 12 received unquestioned national attention this season, probably more than it ever has garnered. It made for the most memorable season in the conference's history.
Here are my choices for my most memorable moments of the 2008 season.
Crabtree's catch: Texas Tech finished a stunning comeback against then-No. 1 Texas on Nov. 1 thanks to a dramatic touchdown reception by Michael Crabtree with only a second left. Blake Gideon's dropped interception on the previous play only makes the memory more searing for Longhorn fans. But it did set up the biggest play of the season, pushing Tech into uncharted territory near the top of the BCS polls for a few weeks, while killing the Longhorns' national title hopes. Because of that, it's the most dramatic play in Big 12 history in my opinion.
45-35 and beyond: Texas whipped Oklahoma on Oct. 11, but the numbers didn't add up as Sooners eventually claimed a Big 12 title berth thanks to a strong finish and a favorable computer ranking. At several late-season games, airplane flyovers reminded fans about the Oct. 11 contest ad nauseam. It only makes the 2009 Texas-Oklahoma game already the most anticipated in Big 12 history.
The pinball numbers continue all season long: With quarterbacks like Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Graham Harrell among others blistering secondaries on a weekly basis, offenses were moving at warp speed across the Big 12 this season culminating with Bradford winning the Heisman trophy. It made for a fun season -- until the bowls arrived.
Another Sooner BCS meltdown: The Sooners came into the BCS national championship game with the most explosive offense in school history. They left Dolphin Stadium with their fifth-straight BCS bowl game loss and another sizable dent in Bob Stoops' once-formidable coaching reputation.
The Sooners' late-season best: Although they would have difficulty matching their performance in the season's final game, their five-game stretch before the bowls was memorable. Oklahoma ran off at least 61 points in each game, culminating with a 62-21 blowout victory over Missouri that gave them an unprecedented three-peat of Big 12 titles.
Shipley's return: Texas appeared dead and buried after Oklahoma jumped to an early 11-point lead. But Jordan Shipley's dramatic 96-yard kick return for a touchdown resuscitated their hopes and boosted them back into a game they eventually won.
Pelini's rant: After a demoralizing 62-28 loss at Oklahoma on Nov. 1, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini didn't allow his players or coaches to be interviewed as he took ownership of the loss himself. His coaching ploy worked as the Cornhuskers rebounded on a four-game winning streak that pushed them into the 2009 season with more momentum than any other North Division team.
Reesing to Meier, again and again: Kansas pulled out a wild 40-37 comeback victory over Missouri in the muck at Arrowhead Stadium thanks to two late touchdown passes from Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier, who competed with him for the starting quarterback position before last season. Both were injured late in the season, but rebounded to provide a memorable dramatic triumph over Kansas' most bitter rival.
Griffin's athletic feats: Baylor's Robert Griffin developed into the conference's best freshman offensive player thanks to his running and passing styles. Single-handedly, Griffin helped provide hope for the future for the moribund Bears program. Most amazingly, he was the youngest starting quarterback in the nation.
Kicks from Alex Henery and Matt Williams: Henery's school-record 57-yard field goal provided the winning points in Nebraska's 40-31 victory over Colorado with 1:43 left, knocking the Buffaloes out of bowl consideration. But an even better story was the development of Texas Tech kicker Matt "Lynwood" Williams, who was plucked out of the stands and put onto the Red Raiders' roster by Texas Tech coaches after he impressively won an in-game kicking promotion earlier in the season. Williams converted all 33 extra points and two field goals after joining the team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The memorable 10 from the Pac-10.
Jacquizz Rodgers slicing and dicing the nation's best defense: No individual performance changed the college football season more than Rodgers, a true freshman no less, rushing for 186 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in Oregon State's shocking 27-21 upset over top-ranked USC.
Jahvid Best has left the building: The California running back produced eight runs of 60 yards or more this season, rushed for 311 yards in two and a half quarters vs. Washington and produced runs of 42, 32, 28 and 25 yards while carrying the Bears to an Emerald Bowl victory over Miami. He's just a sophomore but YouTube already should give him a lifetime achievement award.
The passion of the Crapple Cup: Sure, Washington and Washington State were the two worst BCS conference teams in 2008. Sure, they played a sloppy game. Sure, the stakes didn't matter outside of the state borders. But the excitement on the Cougars' sideline -- and the mob scene as their jubilant fans stormed the field at Martin Stadium -- showed that rivalry games matter deeply, whatever the circumstances.
The second quarter of the Rose Bowl: USC's 24-zip second quarter that ended the Rose Bowl before halftime was the most overwhelming show of force in college football this season. The Trojans outgained Penn State 236 to 765 in that frame, with quarterback Mark Sanchez passing for two touchdowns and running for another.
Kevin Craft's tale of two halves: UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft didn't have a good season (see 20 interceptions), but his second-half reversal against Tennessee in the season opener was stunning. His first-half numbers: 7-of-18 for 66 yards with 4 INTs. No touchdown drives. His second-half numbers: 18-of-25 for 193 yards, no picks and a touchdown pass with 27 seconds remainiung to backup TE Ryan Moya. And he led 80- and 70-yard touchdown drives.
Sept. 13th, or Black Saturday: One horrible Saturday afternoon defined the Pac-10 for the regular season. On Sept. 13, the Pac-10 went 3-7 in nonconference games (including Washington State's loss at Baylor, which was rescheduled for Friday night due to weather). Included in that dismal record was an 0-4 mark vs. the Mountain West Conference.
Tyrone Willingham vs. Seattle media: Willingham's tenure at Washington was an unmitigated disaster, see bad recruiting and a 11-37 record over four years. It was also a disaster in terms of public and media relations. Willingham began his tenure completely shutting down access to his team for both media and boosters. He then gave vague or misleading reports on what was going on with his team, on the depth chart and in regard to injuries and/or suspensions. He then refused to answer questions from the Seattle Times, the state's largest newspaper. At the end, during prickly and brief news conferences, he seemed to mostly pass the buck, see his post-Apple Cup comment: "Obviously, if you're the head coach at this time, you take responsibility for what's going on. But, it should also be noted, that the day I arrived, what the state of the program was."
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli runs over Oklahoma State safety Quinton Moore: No play exemplified the Pac-10's 5-0 bowl season redemption more than Masoli pancaking Moore on a 41-yard touchdown run in the Ducks' 42-31 Holiday Bowl victory. Masoli led an offense that rolled up 565 yards, including 307 yards rushing. "They were more physical than us," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said afterward.
"Write something nice about me." That's what Arizona coach Mike Stoops said to reporters after he left his postgame news conference following the Wildcats' 42-27 victory over California. The comment came off as amusing rather than bitter or paranoid and indicated that the seemingly always embattled Stoops was becoming more comfortable in his coaching shoes. An impressive Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU, the program's first bowl game in a decade, was further evidence.
The USC defense: It pitched three shutouts. Eight teams failed to score after halftime. It held foes to just nine points a game, 2.3 points less than any other defense. It gave up just six touchdown passes. Opponents averaged 3.6 yards per play. It was by nearly every measure, the nation's best defense and one of the best in the history of college football.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It was a great season to cover ACC football, with plenty of memorable moments, games, plays, coaches, players and issues -- some good, some not so good. Here are a few things I won't forget from 2008, in no particular order:
The jumbled, exciting race for the ACC title -- It was arguably the most competitive season in ACC football history, as the race to Tampa came down to the final weeks in November, and four teams finished with 5-3 conference records and six teams finished at 4-4.
Tommy Bowden resigns midseason -- On Oct. 13, 2008, Clemson announced that Bowden would no longer be head coach, and wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney took over the program and made immediate, sweeping changes, including the firing of offensive coordinator Rob Spence.
Miami's quarterback controversy -- It all began when starter Robert Marve was suspended for the season opener, and ended with him being suspended for the Emerald Bowl. Jacory Harris or Marve? Following Marve's transfer, there's only one choice.
Myron Rolle wins a Rhodes Scholarship -- There might not have been a more positive story in ACC football this season, as Rolle interviewed for one of the prestigious scholarships on the same day Florida State played a critical Atlantic Division game at Maryland. Rolle won the award, and flew to Maryland in time to contribute to the 37-3 win.
Virginia Tech wins the FedEx Orange Bowl -- The Hokies did the most with the least this season, as Frank Beamer did arguably the best coaching job of his career and led Virginia Tech to its fifth straight 10-win season. The 20-7 win over Cincinnati gave the ACC its first BCS bowl win since 1999.
Jeff Jagodzinski gets fired -- After only his second season and back-to-back appearances in the ACC title game, Jagodzinski decided to interview with the New York Jets, knowing it would cost him his job. A private matter of trust between Jagodzinski and athletic director Gene DeFilippo became public.
Bye-bye coordinators -- Virginia coach Al Groh fired his son, offensive coordinator Mike Groh, Miami coach Randy Shannon fired offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, Clemson coach Swinney fired offensive coordinator Spence, and both Maryland and Clemson's defensive coordinators both bolted for K-State. BC will need a new defensive coordinator now that Frank Spaziani is the new head coach.
Georgia Tech's 45-42 win over Georgia -- The Yellow Jackets earned their first win in the series since 2000, and they did it on the road and in Paul Johnson's first season. Georgia Tech broke a seven-game losing streak to the Dawgs and rushed for 409 yards in the process. It was arguably the ACC's best nonconference win of the season, though the Hokies' win over Cincinnati had a bigger impact.
The poor attendance at the ACC title game in Tampa -- Having seen it first-hand, it will be tough to forget. According to the St. Pete Times, the turnstile count for the game at Raymond James Stadium was 27,360, about half the tickets that were sold and distributed (53,927).
NCAA-record 10 bowl eligible teams -- Heading into the season, it didn't seem as if the ACC would be strong enough to have even a ninth team qualify to play in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl, but the conference became the first to send 10 teams to bowl games in a single season.