The 2008 season started Labor Day weekend with UCLA’s incredible overtime win against Tennessee in Rick Neuheisel’s debut, prompting some in the Bruins’ marketing department to believe USC’s monopoly in Los Angeles might be over.

UCLA finished 4-8, the Tennessee coach who lost to UCLA was forced out, USC’s monopoly of L.A. continued and college football was as mind-bogglingly controversial and poll-powered as ever . . . just the way we like it.

Before we look ahead, let’s recap the top 10 moments of 2008 with Times staff writer Chris Dufresne:


1 Florida wins it

Urban Meyer had a big decision to make after leading Utah to a 12-0 season in 2004. He could become coach at Notre Dame, which he had long called his dream job, or take over at Florida.

Meyer chose Florida and Thursday night won his second national title in three years as his Gators defeated Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

You could say Meyer made the right career choice. He has already claimed one more national title than longtime coach Steve Spurrier, who led the Gators to the championship in 1996.

The Southeastern Conference has now won three straight BCS national titles, four since 2003, and can make a strong claim that it remains the nation’s preeminent college football conference.

2 Salt Lake rolls Tide

Utah capped a fabulous 13-0 year with a 31-17 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and left many wondering why the Utes were not taken more seriously as a national-title contender. Utah clinched an automatic BCS berth by sweeping to the Mountain West Conference title but ended the regular season at No. 7 in the polls and sixth in the final BCS standings. En route to its perfect season, Utah won its opener at Michigan, defeated Oregon State -- which defeated USC -- and conquered ranked opponents Brigham Young, Texas Christian and Alabama. Utah’s Sugar Bowl win lifted to 3-1 the record of “non-BCS” schools in BCS bowl games. Utah previously capped a perfect 2004 season with a win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

3 Beaver-trapped

Oops, they did it again. Another key loss to an underdog Pacific 10 Conference school cost the USC Trojans a chance to play for the national title. Oregon State’s 27-21 win over USC in Corvallis on Sept. 25 was certainly no fluke. Oregon State physically dominated USC in jumping out to a 21-0 halftime lead and freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers finished with 186 rushing yards, dodging and darting past the Trojans’ defense. The heartbreak came two years after a 2006 defeat at Corvallis cost USC a title-game trip, and one year after a shocking home loss to 41-point underdog Stanford denied the Trojans a BCS title bid.

4 The ‘Lubbock Lob’

There is no debating the play of the year in college football. Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree with one second left lifted the Red Raiders to a 39-33 upset victory over No. 1 Texas in Lubbock. The defeat cost Texas a trip to the national-title game. It would have been a fabulous finish for Texas had freshman safety Blake Gideon, on the final drive, not dropped what could have been a game-clinching interception. Texas Tech’s national-title hopes were later wrecked by a lopsided loss at Oklahoma.

5 Tiebreaker from hell

The BCS was blamed for Texas’ being left out of the title game even though it beat Oklahoma, but that was actually a Big 12 problem. Conference rules dictated that the three-way tie in the Big 12 South involving Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech would be settled by the team ranking highest in the BCS standings. That team ended up being Oklahoma, even though it lost to Texas. The Sooners advanced to the Big 12 title game and earned a national-title berth with a win over Missouri.

6 Sam’s the man

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford put up silly numbers in the Sooners’ no-huddle offense and was rewarded with the 74th Heisman Trophy. Bradford became the second sophomore to win the award, following Florida quarterback Tim Tebow last year. Bradford orchestrated one of the most prolific offenses in college football history. He came into the BCS title game having already thrown for 48 touchdowns, with only six interceptions, and was averaging 343 passing yards a game. Bradford, who had two TD passes against Florida, is Oklahoma’s fifth Heisman winner. He finished with 1,726 votes to beat out Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (1,640) and Tebow (1,575).

7 Big Ten blues

Ohio State’s loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl capped a dreadful 1-6 bowl season for the Big Ten. Penn State’s loss to USC in the Rose Bowl was the Big Ten’s sixth straight in the Granddaddy and had some wondering whether the Pac-10/Big Ten partnership that started in 1947 should be discontinued. The Big Ten has not won a Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 2000, when Wisconsin beat Stanford. The conference is now 15-28 in bowls since Ohio State won the national title in 2002, including 3-8 in BCS games.

8 Irish win bowl game!

Hey, it doesn’t happen very often. After nine straight bowl defeats, the Irish sort of salvaged a mediocre, don’t-let-it-happen-again season with a wipeout win in the Hawaii Bowl over Hawaii. OK, it was only Hawaii, but the victory allowed Notre Dame to finish 7-6 and put a smiley-face finish on another chaotic and disappointing season in which fourth-year Coach Charlie Weis nearly lost his job. The pressure is really on next season -- the “Win Nine in ‘09” campaign is not just a slogan, it’s a mandate.

9 Flail to the victors

There will definitely not be an “Ann Arbor Day” to celebrate Rich Rodriguez’s first year as Michigan coach. The winningest program in college football history finished with nine losses, the most in school history, and missed a bowl game for the first time in 34 years. Michigan’s 3-9 campaign marked the school’s first losing season in 41 years. The Wolverines also lost a fifth straight game to archrival Ohio State, but other than that things went well.

10 Give ‘em the ax!

It’s not only Stanford’s annual rallying cry against archrival California, it’s also what a lot of athletic directors did to their head coaches this season. Among the coaches who lost their jobs or “resigned” included Tyrone Willingham (Washington), Tommy Bowden (Clemson), Phil Fulmer (Tennessee), Greg Robinson (Syracuse), Chuck Long (San Diego State), Sylvester Croom (Mississippi State), and Tommy Tuberville, forced out at Auburn despite averaging 8.5 wins for 10 seasons.

Tough (but lucrative!) business.

“You’re a missed field goal from being a bum with everybody else,” Florida Coach Meyer said.