Top College Football Stories Of 2015

    What were the top college football stories and moments of the 2015 season?

    December 31, 2015


    What were the top college football stories and moments of the 2015 season?


    2015 Top College Football Stories

    Save for a swath of remaining bowl games, including the biggest ones of all, the book is about to close on the 2015 campaign in college football, which began almost four months ago. It was a typically eventful fall, flush in surprises, lasting moments and breakout performances from both teams and individuals.

    So before the curtain falls on 2015, let’s all croon a few bars of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, pour a flute of our favorite bubbly and toast the most enduring and unforgettable stories of the past year in college football.

    15. Navy Makes National Waves

    It was a most memorable fall for the Academy, its first-ever as a member of a conference. The Midshipmen won 10 regular season games, housed a legit Heisman candidate in record-setting QB Keenan Reynolds and cracked the Top 25 for the first time in 11 years. Navy was also able to retain head coach Ken Niumatalolo, the architect of its stability and success since 2008.

    14. Florida Wins SEC East

    The Gators aren’t all the way back. That won’t happen until Jim McElwain can build an offense with the right personnel. But the coach got off to a terrific start in his first season in Gainesville, leading Florida out of the abyss of the Will Muschamp era and improbably into the SEC Championship Game. In an ugly year overall for the East Division, the Gators stood out as an exception by laying a solid foundation under a first-year staff.

    13. The Les Miles Saga

    What a mess, huh? The future of Miles at LSU hung in the balance in late November, handled with amateur-like skill by the administration. After all indications pointed to a booster-led coup that would usher out the popular coach, and usher in Jimbo Fisher, Miles wound up surviving following an emotional victory over Texas A&M. It was the kind of edge-of-your-seat high drama that could only happen in a conference like the SEC.

    12. Beamer Retires

    After almost three decades and 238 wins in Blacksburg, Frank Beamer stated on Nov. 1 that he’d be retiring at the end of the season. It was time, making room for Virginia Tech to hire Memphis’ Justin Fuente. Beamer’s preemptive retirement announcement also set the stage for some emotional farewells, from a tearful finale at Lane Stadium to his last game as a coach, an un-Beamer-like 55-52 Independence Bowl win over Tulsa.

    11. Texas Flounders: The Sequel

    The Longhorns and Charlie Strong made a ton of headlines in 2015, but it was rarely to spout off good news. Texas finished below .500 in consecutive seasons for the first time in a quarter-century. And the fact that Strong was at the helm for both seven-loss campaigns means he’ll be facing a win-or-else scenario in 2016. UT opened with an ugly loss to Notre Dame, and was unable to make strides as the season progressed.

    10. Emergence of McCaffrey

    One certainty in college sports is that each year will produce a new generation of megastars who explode onto the scene without a lot of advanced warning. McCaffrey was college football’s meteorite in 2015, rising from relative anonymity outside the Pac-12 to No. 2 in the Heisman voting. If he wasn’t the nation’s best player, he surely was its most exciting and versatile, smashing Barry Sanders’ single-season mark for all-purpose yards.

    9. Henry Wins Heisman

    For the second time since 2009, an Alabama running back won the Heisman Trophy. Derrick Henry joined Mark Ingram with an unstoppable performance as the focal point of the Tide attack. Despite getting only tepid support from Jake Coker and the passing game, Henry rushed for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season, steamrolling the schedule’s best opponents to help carry Bama to a playoff berth against Michigan State.

    8. Richt-Georgia Split

    For the first time since the start of the century, Mark Richt will not be on the sidelines for the Dawgs, who fired him after 15 mostly positive seasons. Richt was one of the top coaches of his era, but a full decade between SEC championships was enough for the administration to move in a new direction, former Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Meanwhile, Richt has landed at his alma mater, Miami, where both he and the Canes are hoping to restore the glory.

    7. Sark Canned For Off-Field Behavior

    For the second time in three years, USC cut ties with its head coach in-season. However, unlike with Lane Kiffin in 2013, there was a twist this past October. Steve Sarkisian, who had an embarrassing, alcohol-related incident during the summer, was fired after reports surfaced that he’d arrived intoxicated to a practice. Sark has since sued the institution for wrongful termination, the latest chapter for a program that’s been dogged by scandal since Pete Carroll left six years ago.

    6. Spurrier Leaves Midseason

    Steve Spurrier was on the offensive last offseason, firing back at critics suggesting the game may be passing him by. He went as far as saying he’d be at South Carolina for the next five or six years. A few months later, Oct. 13 to be precise, the legendary coach announced he was hanging up the visor, effective immediately. True, the Gamecocks were unusually awful in 2015, but the sudden announcement, particularly the timing, was a stunner.

    5. The Michigan State-Michigan Ending

    Nah, it wasn’t the game of the year, but the final 10 seconds were as remarkable as any since the Iron Bowl two years ago. The Wolverines, a mere successful punt from handing the Spartans their first loss, somehow botched the play so badly that Jalen Watts-Jackson scored the game-winner to forever be etched in MSU lore. Remember, if the Spartans don’t pull off the miracle, the Big Ten title and playoff foursome has a very different look.

    4. Harbaugh Debuts at Michigan

    Not since Ohio State’s Urban Meyer in 2012 has a head coach debuted with so much attention as Jim Harbaugh did in his return to Ann Arbor. Harbaugh’s Q score was off the charts, often for the most mundane of quotes or clips. No college coach created a steadier buzz, though he did live up to the hype once games began. The Wolverines’ play improved markedly from the end of Brady Hoke’s tenure, ascending from below .500 to ranked for most of the season.

    3. Oklahoma Rebirth

    This was supposed to be the year of Baylor and TCU in the Big 12. The Sooners? An also-ran that was fading under Bob Stoops and ranked well behind the Bears and the Frogs in preseason polls. But OU flipped the script in 2015, channeling some of Stoops’ early teams in Norman. Even after losing to Texas on Oct. 10, Oklahoma was undeterred. It rallied around QB Baker Mayfield and an underrated D to steamroll through the rest of the schedule and become the most unlikely playoff participant.

    2. Clemson Runs the Table

    At long last, the Tigers are over the hump. After years of being good, but not quite good enough under Dabo Swinney, Clemson broke through by being the only of 128 FBS squads to sweep its regular season schedule. The staff overcame wholesale changes to both lines, with help from budding QB Deshaun Watson and a D that retooled on the fly for coordinator Brent Venables. The Tigers have won at least 10 in five straight seasons, but didn’t really hit the big time until 2015.

    1. Buckeyes Underachieve

    Ohio State was THE team in the preseason. Defending national champs and a ton of returning talent, including three qualified candidates who dominated headlines. The Buckeyes were a near unanimous choice at No. 1 and a virtual sure-thing to return to the playoffs. But OSU failed to seize the momentum it built late last year, fell late to Michigan State and didn’t even win the Big Ten East, let alone qualify for a spot among the final four. An 11-1 mark never felt so disappointing.

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