As far as certainties go in life, college football is right up there. Unlike, say, death or taxes, the sport really never disappoints.
While this season never devolved into the absurd 2007-style chaos many predicted (read: hoped for), 2015 was not lacking for insane finishes, gut-wrenching results, and simply astonishing plays. As you’ll hear in the process of soundtracking one of the plays, indeed:
What A Time To Be Alive.
With the regular season officially on ice after Navy’s thrilling win over Army on Saturday, we figured a sampling of the plays that defined college football — and separated the playoff and conference contenders — was in order.
Oklahoma at Tennessee: Sooners Survive On 4th Down (Sept. 12)
Notre Dame at Clemson: 2-pointers Doom Irish (Oct. 3)
Michigan State at Michigan: Sparty Yes! (Oct. 17)
Florida State at Georgia Tech: What A Time To Be Alive (Oct. 25)
Arkansas at Ole Miss: Hog Wild (Nov. 7)
Oregon at Stanford: Duck Season (Nov. 14)
Stanford achieved mightily this season, returning to the Rose Bowl and winning the Pac-12 for the third time in four years. Still, there’ll always be a lingering what-if for the Cardinal, be it the opening-weekend ambush at Northwestern or this last-second home loss to their perennial division rivals.
It all came down to a 2-point conversion after a masterful 50-yard scoring drive in the final minute, putting the Trees in position to survive a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit. However, 15th-year senior (OK, we kid) Kevin Hogan’s pass was knocked away, giving the CFP committee a far simpler Selection Sunday and propelling Oregon’s second-half surge toward a still-attainable 10-win season.
Houston at UCONN: Cougin’ It (Nov. 21)
It was unlikely Houston could crash the playoff party, at least not this year, without a major non-conference pelt. The Cougs’ defeat at Connecticut still had ripple effects that would be felt in many subtle ways.
Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. missed much of the game with an ankle issue, only to be thrust back into action due to backup Kyle Postma’s in-game injury. Ward, an explosive playmaker and difference-maker as he especially proved in subsequent weeks, tossed a pick that ended UH’s unbeaten bid. The loss quelled any outcry about the Group of Five’s playoff odds, and may have been a net positive for UH. Prized coach Tom Herman hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, perhaps enticing him to prove a bit more in H-Town before making the leap to an elite gig (See: Texas, LSU).
TCU at Oklahoma: 2 for the Show (Nov. 21)
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) November 22, 2015
Michigan State at Ohio State: The Win-Mill (Nov. 21)
Geiger postgame on Spartan Radio: “It was the biggest kick of my life, and I fucking nailed it.” — Tony Garcia (@RealTonyGarcia) November 22, 2015
This was college football at its most vital.
North Carolina vs. Clemson: #goaccrefs (Dec. 5)
To cap a year in which the ACC had already apologized for an all-timer of a botched ending, the league put the cherry on top with a call that actually had national championship ramifications. Sure, UNC was still trailing by eight points with 73 seconds left, but the Tar Heels earned that onside kick entirely above board — a relatively rare occurrence, I might add. Alas, the referees ruled offsides on Carolina, an obvious farce of a call which robbed the Tar Heels of a proper chance to send the game to overtime. It was a mistake that ultimately benefited a team most wanted to see in the playoff. What an entirely apropos way to ensure it.
This list isn’t comprehensive, as the sport is shaped every year by thousands of small bounces and universal randomness.
It’s just a blend of the weird and wacky plays that make college football eminently compelling and maddening, a stew of humanity and humility that replays on loop each fall, only bothering to change the actors and some minor details.
Here’s to more drama this bowl season.