latimes.com/sports/college/football/la-sp-college-football-moments-20130109,0,7396367.column

latimes.com

Chris Dufresne / On College Football

Chris Dufresne's top 10 college football moments for 2012 season

The No. 1 choice is no surprise: Alabama's resounding win over Notre Dame in the BCS title game. As for the other nine . . .

Chris Dufresne

6:45 PM PST, January 8, 2013

Advertisement

The end of this season means there's only a year left of the snaggle-toothed Bowl Championship Series, a cartel dreamed up by Satan that has been infuriating college football fans since 1998. We can't wait for the new four-team playoff starting in 2014 that would have solved this season by picking Oregon as the clear-cut No. 4 team. Or, wait, should it have been Stanford? OK, so maybe the controversies won't end, but that shouldn't stop the sport from continuing to be rip-roaring fun.

This season's top 10 moments:

1. Crimson Tide landslide

Alabama's toughest obstacle to the national title wasn't Notre Dame in Monday night's BCS title game at Miami Gardens, Fla. Shoot, that was easy — Tide 42, Irish 14. Alabama's toughest obstacle was getting out of the Southeastern Conference championship game.

"We got here by five yards," Coach Nick Saban said. "Georgia was five yards from scoring."

Had Georgia succeeded, the Bulldogs would have earned the right to defeat Notre Dame for the national title.

Alabama has combined great players, great coaching and, yes, a little luck to win three of the last four BCS titles. Alabama will probably be the early season favorite to three-peat in 2013.

2. USC's football is deflated

Expectations had never been higher for USC football as the Trojans entered the season No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. But they collapsed to a 7-6 finish that ended with a mail-it-in performance against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. How bad was it? USC became the first AP preseason No. 1 to finish with six losses. The low moment came when the Pac-12 Conference fined the program $25,000 after it was learned a student manager intentionally deflated footballs before the Oregon game.

3. Johnny Football

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel came out of nowhere, almost like a comic-book hero, to win the Heisman Trophy. He was the first redshirt freshman to claim the award as he led the Aggies to an 11- 2 record in their first season as members of the SEC. Manziel amassed 4,600 total yards of offense in the regular season, and led the Aggies' Nov. 10 upset at Alabama. Manziel closed the season with a virtuoso performance — 516 total yards — in Texas A&M's Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma.

4. "S" stands for success

There's no getting around it: The Southeastern Conference is really good. Yes, it has gotten some great BCS bounces through the years, but the bottom line is that the SEC is better than all other football leagues because it cares more about being better.

The SEC has dominated the BCS era, winning nine of 15 championships. The league's only loss in a BCS final came last year when Alabama shut out Louisiana State in New Orleans.

Next year is the last BCS season before there is a four-team playoff.

The last BCS game is at the Rose Bowl. The SEC will be favored to win that one too.

5. Chip stays on the block

One of the most surprising stories of the season was when Chip Kelly recently announced he was not leaving Oregon for the NFL. Kelly has led the Ducks to four straight BCS bowls, and the prevailing thought was that it was time to take his up-tempo offense to the big leagues.

Kelly nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2011 season but returned, saying he had "unfinished business." Only an overtime home loss to Stanford prevented Oregon from probably playing for the national title. The Ducks capped a 12-1 season with a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

6. Lot of grit in those Nits

Penn State's year of horror in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal left the school in shock. Severe NCAA penalties handed down to players who had nothing to do with the mess threatened to dismantle the program for years. Things looked bleak when the Nittany Lions started 0-2, but then things changed: Guided by first-year Coach Bill O'Brien, Penn State won eight of its last 10 games.

The school received more positive news last week when O'Brien rejected offers to coach in the NFL, saying he was "not a one-and-done guy."

7. The Irish are back (we think)

Notre Dame's return to college football's upper echelon was going just fine until Monday night. The Fighting Irish were 12-0 and ranked No. 1 entering the BCS title game but were no match for the Crimson Tide. Notre Dame was trying to win its first national title since 1988. The question now: Is Notre Dame really back or was this season the product of several lucky victories against a schedule that didn't turn out to be as good as it looked in September?

8. The wrath of Kirk

Why is college football the only sport that doesn't embrace underdogs? News that Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois had earned an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl drew unexpected and vitriolic backlash from many analysts, including ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit. Northern Illinois qualified fairly under BCS rules by finishing in the top 16 ahead of an automatic-qualifier league.

Why the outrage? Wisconsin won the Big Ten with an 8-5 record and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl. Northern Illinois faced Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State in the Orange Bowl and trailed only 17-10 in the fourth quarter before losing 31-10.

9. League of their own

In what conference is your favorite school playing today? More important, will it be in that league tomorrow? College football went through another ugly round of realignment during the season when the Big Ten announced it would be adding Rutgers (from the Big East) and Maryland (ACC). The ACC piled on and plucked Louisville from the Big East, putting that conference on life support. Boise State, which had planned to join the Big East next season, decided to remain in the Mountain West.

What's left of the Big East is due exit fees from two schools — Boise State and Texas Christian — that never played in the league.

10. Changes in attitudes

Jim Mora began his coaching era at UCLA by taking his team to San Bernardino for a boot camp that would put some kick back in the program. Mora believed UCLA was "soft" and set about turning the ruined Bruins into nine-game winners in a season that included only the second victory over USC since 1998. It was quite a contrast to the 50-0 debacle of a loss in 2011.

The only problem is that UCLA totally botched the 2012 ending. Consecutive defeats to Pac-12 champion Stanford could be forgiven, but not the horrible effort in a blowout defeat to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

Mora has UCLA on the right track, but the program is best served when it allows others to dictate when the program is "back."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com