College football's top saved seasons
On Saturday afternoon I realized that Thanksgiving must be near, for as I walked through the parking lot of the Artist Formerly Known As Joe Robbie Stadium, a man painted in Miami Hurricanes orange and green offered me a deep-fried turkey leg.
"This is particularly tasty," the proud cook exclaimed. "It's a Hokie leg."
To the plays!
First Down: 2010's Biggest Saved Seasons
I was in Miami for the NASCAR season finale at the Homestead Miami Speedway (yes, I still cover race cars too) but on Saturday I slipped up to Miami Gardens to see Virginia Tech versus Miami, or as I still like to call it, the Big East Championship Game.
I've always been intrigued by teams that are scrambling to save their seasons, as I think most serious college football fans are. And the Canes and Hokies came into Saturday with a chance to turn around their respective years after either a bad start (Tech) or a potentially devastating midseason injury (Miami QB Jacory Harris).
As I watched them desperately slug it out with potential ACC title game berths on the line, I started polling my fellow football scribblers in the press box to see who we thought were 2010's biggest in-season turnarounds.
Not surprisingly, the winner of our game made the list.
5. North Carolina
Yes, they just lost a heartbreaker to their biggest football rival, N.C. State. Yes, they've lost two in a row. And yes, they are hovering just above .500 and once again looking at a bowl-season bus ride to Charlotte, at best.
But take a moment and remember where the Heels' season started. I can still see coach Butch Davis' face growing red as we surrounded him at ACC media days with questions about the original "biggest agent scandal in college football history," a full three months before the Cam Newton winds began blowing down on The Plains.
Remember "Bus Watch" -- when media members hid in the pine trees alongside Kenan Stadium, waiting to see which members of UNC's much-hyped defense would actually make the trip to Atlanta for the season opener versus LSU? The team's vaunted 21-man senior class ended up losing four members to the NCAA probe and had another five benched for at least one game. Two more have suffered season-ending injuries. Meanwhile, an increasing number of letters to the editor, message posts and radio show callers in Chapel Hill are screaming for Davis' head.
In the midst of that circus, the Tar Heels managed to construct a midseason stretch of 6-1, knocking off then-No. 24 Florida State. And on Saturday they came within a tipped pass of pushing N.C. State's ACC title hopes into overtime.
When you consider that not so long ago we didn't even know if UNC would have enough players to field a full defensive squad, I'd say that's quite a turnaround.
The Cougars started the season by announcing their new Notre Dame-ish collegiate independence, defeating Washington, and receiving multiple votes for the AP Top 25. Then they were hammered by Air Force, Florida State, Nevada and Utah State.
But over the past six weeks BYU has posted a record of 5-1, the only loss coming to national championship contender TCU. If the Cougars can post a Holy War victory over scuffling Utah on Nov. 27, they would amazingly be in a second-place tie with the Utes as both wave bye-bye to the Mountain West.
3. Penn State
For more on the top turnarounds in college football, plus a look at the FAU program and the most overlooked rivalry, you must be an ESPN Insider.