Tue Dec 13 06:16pm EST
The best (and worst) of the year. Today: Counting down the season's biggest surprises.
10. Colorado 17, Utah 14.
If the Pac-12 had given Utah its pick of opponents with the South Division title on the line, Colorado would have been the pick: Prior to the season finale, the Buffs had dropped eight of their last nine games — all but one by at least 20 points — and hadn't won on the road since 2007. As it turns out, they would have chosen… poorly. As it turns out, all it took to end that streak on Nov. 25 was a sleepy offensive effort and three missed field goals from the Utes, handing Colorado an offseason springboard and handing a division title to UCLA.
9. Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29.
By mid-October, Ohio State could barely complete a pass at any distance. But with the clock winding down against the eventual Big Ten champs on Oct. 29, freshman Braxton Miller rolled right and uncorked one of the throws of the year, a 40-yard bomb to fellow freshman Devin Smith that simultaneously secured Ohio State's biggest win of the season, clinched Miller's status as OSU's Quarterback of the Future and ripped the heart out of Wisconsin's bid to climb back into the national picture.
Wisconsin was a seven-point favorite going into Columbus, but the final score makes even less sense from here: After the loss, the Badgers proceeded to rip off five straight wins en route to the Rose Bowl, while Ohio State spiraled to three straight losses en route to its worst regular-season finish (6-6) since 1999.
8a and 8b. Clemson 23, Virginia Tech 3, Clemson 38, Virginia Tech 10.
In October, then-undefeated Clemson went into Blacksburg as a seven-point underdog and came out as the clear frontrunner to win the ACC. Two months and three losses later, the Tigers found themselves as seven-point underdogs again in the ACC Championship Game, and came out with the first BCS bid in school history. Neither outcome was particularly surprising in and of itself, but under the circumstances — with Clemson on the road in the first game and reeling from three double-digit losses in its last four going into the second — the lopsided margins certainly were.
7. N.C. State 37, Clemson 13.
The longest day of the Tigers' long November came in Raleigh on Nov. 19, where — ACC Atlantic title already sewn up — they laid down and died for the sake of N.C. State's chances at making a bowl game and Tom O'Brien's chances of keeping his job. Clemson didn't sit its starters like an NFL team that's already wrapped up a bye in the playoffs (though freshman phenom Sammy Watkins missed his first game with a nagging shoulder injury), but it did cough up four turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all year.
In all, the ACC's No. 1 offense gave up six sacks, punted seven times, hit a new season low for scoring and barely missed a season low for total yards against a .500 outfit coming off a loss to Boston College. Combined with their flop against South Carolina a week later, no wonder everyone just assumed the Tigers were done.
6. UAB 34, Southern Miss 31.
At 9-1, Southern Miss arrived in Birmingham ranked for the first time since 2004 and riding its longest winning streak in 50 years. At 2-8, UAB came in on the verge of firing its head coach in the midst of its seventh consecutive losing season. Before he faced the firing squad, though, outgoing Blazer boss Neil Callaway continued his mastery over his North Carolina-bound counterpart, Larry Fedora, picking up his third straight win in the series courtesy of an offense that converted 12 of 17 third downs and dominated time of possession by nearly a full quarter.
The flop wasn't just embarrassing: It also wound up costing Southern Miss a shot at its first BCS bid, which might have otherwise been forthcoming on the heels of…
5. Southern Miss 49, Houston 28.
If the Golden Eagles couldn't have it, nobody could: In one fell swoop, the end of Houston's undefeated campaign on the final weekend of the season knocked the Cougars, Conference USA and the rest of the "mid-major" conferences out of the big-money bowls altogether for the first time since 2005. The total, across-the-board hit for those leagues was likely in the neighborhood of $20 million.
At least the payday wasn't lost on something as trivial as a missed field goal or blown call. As two-touchdown underdogs, the Eagles held the No. 1 total and scoring offense in the nation to its worst output of the year in terms of total yards, yards per play and points. Case Keenum, owner of every major Division I passing record over the course of his career, was sacked twice, picked off twice and finished with his worst pass efficiency rating of the season. For the game, the Cougars punted nine times, went three-and-out six times and turned it over on downs twice.
4. Baylor 50, TCU 48.
On Sept. 2, Robert Griffin III was just another upstart in a conference that doesn't play defense, and TCU still owned the nation's No. 1 total defense three years running. By Sept. 3, both teams' seasons had an entirely different course: In the span of a few hours, the vaunted Horned Frog D went from an irresistible force that led the nation in 2010 in scoring, total and passing defense to the first of many helpless victims on Griffin's scorched-earth run to the Heisman Trophy.
In retrospect, the night played out like a "Coming Attractions" reel for the Baylor offense. Excluding an abbreviated "drive" at the end of the first half, the Bears scored touchdowns on seven of their first nine possessions, five of them from the arm of Griffin, who finished with an obscene 241.6 efficiency rating. Kendall Wright (12 catches, 189 yards, 2 TDs) was virtually uncoverable. Oversized tailback Terrance Ganaway looked occasionally un-tacklable en route to 120 yards on the ground. As stunning as TCU's collapse was, a nationally televised triumph for Baylor — a perennial laughingstock that hadn't knocked off a ranked opponent since 2004, or an opponent ranked as high as No. 14 since 1991 — was the first hint of things to come out of Waco.
3. TCU 36, Boise State 35.
If there's certainty in college football, it's Boise State on the blue turf. Before Nov. 12, the Broncos hadn't lost at home since 2005, hadn't lost a regular-season game at home since 2001 and hadn't lost a conference game at home since 1998, which was three conferences ago. They're so money at home, the Mountain West voted to move this game from Fort Worth to Boise in the spring specifically to spite the outgoing Frogs and boost the conference's standing in the BCS. The annual speculation and complaints about the Broncos' impending snub in the BCS Championship Game were warming up. Actually, by the second weekend of November, they were approaching a simmer.
As -15½-point underdogs, the Horned Frogs came with an especially cold dose of reality. Boise's star quarterback, Kellen Moore, was outplayed by Casey Pachall, who bombed the Boise secondary for 473 yards and five touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner to Josh Boyce from 25 yards out. To that point, Boise hadn't allowed 30 points in any game; TCU scored 36. Boise was allowing barely 300 yards; TCU went for 504. Boise hadn't trailed in the second half; TCU led at halftime and rallied from a touchdown back on two separate occasions in the final 18 minutes, the second courtesy of a 73-yard drive to pull within a point and a two-point conversion to go ahead with a little over a minute to play.
And still the Frogs needed a last-second miss by Boise kicker Dan Goodale as time expired, the second year in a row the Broncos' BCS fate has turned on a late field goal. Had the kick sailed through, Boise might be on its way to New Orleans next month for its big shot against LSU in the BCS title game. Instead, the Broncos on their way to the Las Vegas bowl against 6-6 Arizona State as Mountain West runners-up.
2. Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma 38.
No. 1 ranking? Gone. Thirty-nine-game home winning streak since 2005? Done. Ten-year, 32-game home winning streak against Big 12 opponents since 2001? Over. Chance at an historic, winner-take-all Bedlam game against Oklahoma State? Kaput. Chance at a return to the BCS title game? Ruined.
For all that Oklahoma had at stake on Oct. 22, though, the final score is even more incredible in light of Texas Tech's complete and total collapse over the rest of the season: On the heels of one of the biggest wins in school history, the Red Raiders returned home to a 41-7 trouncing at the hands of Iowa State the following week, the first of a five-game losing streak to close their first losing season since 1992. (If that doesn't sound like that long ago, consider that most of Tech's freshman class wasn't even born in 1992.) Four of those five losses came by at least 24 points, which ought to be enough to nominate the triumph in Norman for a segment on "Unsolved Mysteries."
1. Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31 (Double Overtime).
The concentric circles radiating outward from the Cowboys' collapse affected the landscape on every level, all the way up to the national championship: With one more field goal or more stop on defense, Oklahoma State would have its title shot without debate. Instead, with a stunning rally out of a 24-7 hole, the most unlikely spoiler the BCS has ever produced may have stuck a dagger in the system as we know it.
All because the No. 2 team in the nation couldn't finish off a .500 outfit that opened the conference schedule with four consecutive losses by double digits. To the extent that Oklahoma State lived by the turnover en route to its 10-0 start, it died by the turnover against the Cyclones — and by a defense that was ultimately every bit as porous as its critics suggested. One week after shutting out Texas Tech, the Cowboys yielded 24 consecutive points in the second half and overtime to an offense that came in averaging just 24 points per game, fewest in the conference. When the turnover margin finally flipped on the nation's stingiest defense, all that was left was the unit looking every bit like one yielding 445 yards per game.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• What was the biggest story of 2011? Vote in Yahoo! Sports' poll
• Nets assembling a blockbuster Dwight Howard trade offer
• College basketball power rankings: KU's Thomas Robinson off to a fast start