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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Life begins anew in college football

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

When historians look at the 2013 season, they may see that Florida State returned to the top after 14 long years on the outside, that the Pacific-12 Conference provided the first threat to SEC hegemony in many seasons, that the traditional have-nots (Baylor, Duke, Michigan State, Stanford, UCF) morphed into haves, that "targeting" became a synonym for "good intention, bad rule."

They will see that when the year ended, Condoleezza Rice had a job in college football and Lane Kiffin did not, that USC employed four head coaches in a 12-week period and the Pelini who got fired was not the Nebraska coach.

That last point may hold the key to the season that concluded last week with Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher holding aloft the crystal football. The defining memories of the 2013 season center on who didn't win, what didn't happen and what came to an end.

Kelvin Benjamin, Chris Davis
Auburn's Chris Davis produced the season's memorable moment but was on the wrong side of the season's championship-deciding play.

In no way should that be construed as a negative, except, perhaps, in the crimson-and-white portions of Alabama, where disbelief over the end of the Iron Bowl reigns. Surely by now Auburn defensive back Chris Davis' 109-yard field goal return is the most replayed kick return in the history of the game, and deservedly so.

Auburn's 34-28 upset of No. 1 Alabama not only ended the Crimson Tide's two-year reign atop the sport, it propelled the Tigers onto the national stage, within sports and without. Davis' Kick Six rendered obsolete the Prayer at Jordan-Hare that Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis gathered in two weeks earlier, giving Auburn a stunning 43-38 victory over its other archrival, Georgia.

Davis' return against Alabama cemented Auburn in our collective memory, and yet the Tigers lost the BCS National Championship Game to the Seminoles 34-31 on a touchdown pass with 13 seconds to play (defensive back beaten: Chris Davis).

Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston completed 6 of 7 passes on the Seminoles' game-winning drive, as you would expect the Heisman Trophy winner to do (and on his 20th birthday, no less). But Winston's season will be remembered just as much for what didn't happen off the field.

The local state attorney, after a month-long investigation, declined to charge Winston with sexual assault in a case that dated to December 2012. The police report may not have provided the evidence to charge Winston, but it provided enough evidence for approximately one in eight Heisman voters to leave Winston off any of the three places on their ballots. Winston still won easily, as his on-field performance demanded.

Winston became the second consecutive, and second ever, redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Speaking of what didn't happen, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, after being suspended for the first half of the opening game, made it through the season without incident. Manziel's numbers dipped slightly from his freshman year, but the Aggies' amazing comeback against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl illustrated how Manziel still had his magic.

Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel left college football the way he arrived: full of drama, excitement and personality.

Florida State's victory over Auburn ended the streak of BCS champions from the SEC at seven and put a pretty, garnet-and-gold bow on the BCS itself. The Seminoles played in the first three BCS National Championship Games, sandwiching losses to Tennessee (1998) and Oklahoma (2000) around a victory over Virginia Tech.

Ohio State's two-year, 24-game winning streak ended without the Buckeyes winning a postseason game or the Big Ten Conference, a feat that head coach Urban Meyer would prefer not to have on his résumé.

The Buckeyes lost the conference championship to Michigan State, which nipped Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten arrested its Rose Bowl losing streak at three, although the league didn't make the improvements that the Pac-12 and ACC did. In the latter, not only did Florida State win the BCS title, but Clemson went 11-2 and won a BCS bowl, Duke -- Duke! -- won 10 games for the first time and Boston College, 2-10 a year ago, went 7-6 under first-year coach Steve Addazio.

The Eagles succeeded thanks to the production of tailback Andre Williams, the first 2,000-yard rusher in the BCS in six seasons and the leader of a resurgence of powerful rushers. Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, Bishop Sankey of Washington and Tre Mason of Auburn, who rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State, all finished with more than 1,800 yards.

Let's not forget Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who rushed for 1,920 yards and passed for 2,892 yards. Lynch led the Huskies within one game of a second consecutive BCS berth. In 2007, Northern Illinois went 2-10, but its relatively sudden turnaround is nothing new these days.

In 2006, Michigan State (4-8), Stanford (1-11), Baylor (4-8) and UCF (4-8) combined to go 13-35 (.271). This year, they won their conferences and played in BCS bowls. Their rise is a testament to the power of a good coach and the ephemeral quality of success these days in college football.

If the rise of those four schools isn't evidence enough, the fact traditional powers Texas, Penn State and USC all hired coaches in the past six weeks should buttress the point.

Texas head coach Mack Brown resigned 16 years after he arrived in Austin and one day after the team banquet, where he talked about how much he looked forward to working with new athletic director Steve Patterson. Brown, who won 158 games at Texas and 244 games in a 30-year head-coaching career, decided he would rather retire than be a lightning rod.

Penn State lost Bill O'Brien to the NFL and hired James Franklin from Vanderbilt, another ne'er-do-well that began to do well. USC hired Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, which in turn pilfered Chris Petersen from Boise State.

There may be no better representative of the peculiarities of the BCS than Petersen's eight seasons with the Broncos. What had been a I-AA power in the 1990s morphed into an FBS national power under Petersen. Even though he had his worst record -- 8-4 -- in 2013, Petersen left Boise State with the best winning percentage (.885) in the FBS.

The new postseason will be more difficult for the less powerful conferences to crack than was the BCS, which, it must be said, went out with a bang. The collective margin of the five games, 36 points, is far and away the smallest since the five-game format began eight years ago. We are learning to say hello to the BCS as it is time to say goodbye.