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The college football world as we know it changed forever again in 2022. It will never be the same on many levels.
Here are the top 10 stories in college football this year by order of occurrence:
1. PAC-12 EARTHQUAKE
It was an otherwise quiet Thursday last June 30. The biggest news in college sports at the time was Ole Miss’ shocking College World Series championship just a few days previously after a 7-14 start in SEC play. That and Tennessee’s dumbfounding choke in the Super Regional at home to Notre Dame after winning the SEC in a spring at 25-5 and spending virtually the whole season at No. 1.
But word leaked out that morning that there was going to be a major announcement concerning college football late that afternoon. It instead came at lunch time as Pac-12 expert reporter Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News broke the story that was later confirmed by the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. And it would be happening as soon as 2024.
The news came almost exactly one year after the bombshell by Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle that Texas and Oklahoma would be joining the SEC by 2025, or maybe 2024. What happens to the rest of the Pac-12 remains to be seen. How the Big Ten’s future scheduling will be impacted along with that of the SEC are works in progress. USC, meanwhile, under first-year coach Lincoln Riley nearly made the College Football Playoff with a stunning 11-2 season after a 4-8 finish in 2021. UCLA was good, too, finishing 9-3 and No. 18 in the latest College Football Playoff poll.
2. MAKE IT A DOZEN
The heck with expanding from a four-team College Football Playoff to eight teams. The 11-member College Football Playoff Board of Managers instead voted unanimously on Sept. 2 to forge ahead to a 12-team playoff as early as the 2024 season. And in December, the board made it official – 12-team playoff in 2024. On with it! And forget about all the arguments. Is it really going to matter what the No. 13 team is complaining about?
3. ALABAMA WR STRIKES TENNESSEE FAN AFTER LOSS TO VOLS
The biggest news of the college football season on the field hit on Oct. 15 as No. 6 Tennessee beat No. 3 Alabama, 52-49, on a 40-yard field goal by Chase McGrath. Then what proved to be a much bigger story developed on the field moments after the game ended. Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton slapped a female Tennessee fan in the back of the head as she walked past him. Burton was roughed up by multiple Tennessee fans as he exited the field as well, but he was still way out of line. And Alabama coach Nick Saban was wrong not to suspend Burton as the story dragged on for several weeks.
4. VIRGINIA TRAGEDY
Three Virginia football players had just returned on a bus from a field trip with other students in Washington D.C., where they saw a play, on Nov. 13. And a former football player on the bus – Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. – opened fire, killing three players – Lavell Davis Jr. of Dorchester, S.C., Devin Chandler of Huntersville, N.C., and D’Sean Perry of Miami. Jones is in jail without bond on second degree murder charges and awaiting trial.
5. FLY AWAY WAR EAGLE
“How many yachts can you ski behind,” Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, sarcastically asks Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, in the film Wall Street.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin could have afforded more skis and yachts and a lot more Name, Image & Likeness money for recruits had he left the Rebels for the Auburn job in late November. But he said no. Kiffin will now make approximately $9 million a year after turning Auburn down. He was making $7.25 million a year. So, what if Auburn would have paid him $11 million a year? It could have. When you get that high up, there’s a lot less difference between $11 million and $9 million than there is between $3 million and $1 million.
Auburn’s a mess and always has been. It will still be a mess even with more NIL money than Ole Miss. At least, Ole Miss stepped up and decided to pay Kiffin. Yes, Auburn will likely always have more resources than Ole Miss, and new Auburn coach Hugh Freeze ($6.5 million a year) is talented. But with the 12-team playoff coming soon, Ole Miss with Kiffin may well have as good a chance to make the field as Auburn with Freeze.
Good for Lane. It’s always a lot about the money, but it’s not always all about the money.
6. PRIME TIME TRANSITIONS TO MOUNTAIN TIME
Many did not take Deion “Prime Time” Sanders seriously when he decided to make the jump from high school coaching to college at Jackson State in 2020, following a Pro Football Hall of Fame career and an NFL broadcasting run. But Deion did and went 11-2 and 8-0 and 12-1 and 8-0 in his last seasons at Jackson State with a pair of Southwestern Athletic Conference titles. Unfortunately, Colorado is dead time for college football. The Buffaloes have had 14 losing seasons since 2006. Sanders should have chosen his next step more wisely.
7. ALABAMA DOESN’T MAKE IT
For just the second time since the College Football Playoff four-team format began in the 2014 season, Alabama did not make the field this season. Each time, Alabama suffered two regular-season losses with the previous failure in 2019. The Tide finished fifth at 10-2 behind No. 1 Georgia (13-0), No. 2 Michigan (13-0), No. 3 TCU (12-1) and No. 4 Ohio State (11-1). Yes, each of Alabama’s losses was on the road on the last play of the game. But each team the Tide lost to got worse. Tennessee was embarrassed by unranked South Carolina, 63-38, and LSU fell to one of the worst teams in the SEC in Texas A&M (5-7, 2-6) by 38-23. Alabama did not deserve to reach the final four, period.
8. BIG MOMENT FOR BIG TEN
Two Big Ten teams reached the College Football Playoff for the first time in history with Michigan at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 4. Michigan blew out the Buckeyes, 45-23. But Ohio State was within 31-23 midway through the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes deserved to be in the final four with their only loss to the No. 2 team. And it was the right call by the selection committee to put Ohio State No. 4 to avoid a rematch with Michigan so soon. No one wants to see that.
9. MIKE LEACH DIES
Mississippi State is clearly NIL challenged, and it would have been difficult for coach Mike Leach to keep up with the rest of the SEC. But he spent his whole head coaching career giving second and third city schools like Texas Tech, Washington State and Mississippi State a taste of the big time.
With the incoming 12-team playoff in 2024, who knows? Maybe the Pirate could have got the Bulldogs in through the back hatch. At 61 with the mind of a 21-year-old honor student, Mike Leach was much too young to die. His death should be a simple lesson to everyone – take care of yourself, don’t put things off.
10. NIL AND TRANSFER PORTAL KEEPING THINGS SLEAZY
As if college football was not corrupt and sleazy enough before Name, Image & Likeness and the NCAA Transfer Portal combined with a double whammy of wild west recruiting in the summer of 2021. Both are combining to continue to ruin college football behind the scenes. The games will continue to be great. They always have been. But everything around the sport is just dirtier now, and it will continue to get dirtier and dirtier because the rules are vague at best and non-existent at worst.
Take it from Jimbo Fisher, whose own recruiting was called outside the rules – accurately or inaccurately – last year when he signed the No. 1 class in the nation. Now, he sounds like a mafia informant.
“The problem with all of it is that there is no consistency and rules,” he said on national signing day last Wednesday. “And then when you get into the portal, there is so much tampering going on, it is utterly ridiculous. It is a joke. It is an absolute joke.”