- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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The unforgettable games, players and decisions that helped define the 2014 season aren't all staying in the past. A few of the signature moments will continue to resonate and ultimately will help shape 2015. Across the country, we're looking back at the best of the bunch from last season and looking ahead to how they'll impact the coming season, with fall camps just a few short weeks away.
1. QB J.T. Barrett fractures his ankle against Michigan: Ohio State had already faced a pivotal injury at the most important position on the field, and it was Braxton Miller's shoulder surgery in August that thrust Barrett into the starting lineup in the first place to begin his campaign for the Heisman Trophy. He helped get the Buckeyes in position for a berth in the College Football Playoff, though there were certainly doubts about the team's ability to actually reach the playoff when Cardale Jones needed to come off the bench, hold off rival Michigan, and then deliver in his first start in the Big Ten title game. The redshirt sophomore provided far more than anybody could have possibly expected and then followed it up by knocking off both Alabama and Oregon to give the Buckeyes a national crown -- and potentially the most heated, decorated three-way quarterback battle college football has ever seen.
2. Michigan State drives a spike in Brady Hoke: The Spartans had already proved they had clearly grown out of the infamous "Little Brother" moniker Michigan derisively applied to them, and they made it painfully obvious where they stood in the in-state rivalry by running up the score late and then mocking the ill-advised decision by Brady Hoke's squad to drive a tent stake into the field at Spartan Stadium before the game. That would effectively be the last stand for Hoke, with the Spartans hammering a metaphorical spike through his tenure and paving the way for Jim Harbaugh to take over the Wolverines. Much of the intrigue since Harbaugh's arrival has focused on his future battles with Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but the dynamic vs. Mark Dantonio and his Spartans promises to be every bit as entertaining.
3. Minnesota arrives, Bo Pelini departs: If Nebraska's decision-makers had truly made their mind up about Bo Pelini's future with the program before he closed the regular season with a win over Iowa, falling out of a wild chase for the West Division down the stretch and then losing the final home game of the season were the final straws. And while Minnesota was delivering the final blow to his run with the Huskers via its monumental win on the road, it also stamped itself as a legitimate contender in the league -- not just at the end of 2014, but heading into 2015 as well. The Gophers would come up short against Wisconsin in the de facto division title game, but they proved themselves more than capable of competing again with the best in the league thanks to Jerry Kill's rebuilding efforts, and the meeting with Nebraska provided something of a turning point for both sides.
4. Penn State hits a low point up front: There may have been sloppier efforts overall, but no singular breakdown really illustrated the growing pains up front for Penn State more clearly -- or delivered a more painful finish -- than the one in double overtime with a chance to upset Ohio State hanging in the balance. After breezing through a hole in the line and bulldozing a blocker into Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg to seal a victory with a walk-off sack, Ohio State's Joey Bosa solidified himself as a clutch performer capable of deciding an outcome and gave the Nittany Lions a perfect example of why they must protect their franchise quarterback better heading into his third season leading the offense. Penn State showed plenty of improvement with added experience by the end of the year, learning from those rough patches.
5. Fork in the B1G quarterback road: Perhaps it was inevitable that Iowa wouldn't be able to keep both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard happy and in the fold moving forward, but as that reality appeared to come into focus, coach Kirk Ferentz made a decision that would impact more than just his own Big Ten team. Beathard got the majority of the action in the TaxSlayer Bowl to close the season, so the writing was on the wall way even before Ferentz unveiled a rare January depth chart that had Rudock officially demoted to the No. 2 slot. With the ability to use a graduate transfer, Rudock bolted in the offseason and eventually wound up landing at Michigan. It could potentially lead to a situation where the former teammates are both starters in the league and trying to claim a Big Ten title after spending 2014 competing with each other only for playing time.