College Football Season Brought Many Surprises

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

It seems like just yesterday that temperatures were stifling and everyone who really mattered in the college football world – the SEC’s coaches and top players – had met in Hoover, Ala., for that little party known as SEC Media Days.

LSU coach Les Miles was speaking about the language barrier with his Australian punter – “you can’t just speak to those guys, you have to know how to speak Australian” – and SEC commissioner Mike Slive was bragging and Alabama coach Nick Saban was chiding.

Slive’s favorite numbers? Seven and 63, as in consecutive SEC national titles and the number of 2012 NFL draft picks.

Saban’s numbers of choice? The media’s 4-17 record in picking the SEC champion, saying, if he was 4-17 as a coach, “I’d be back in West Virginia pumping gas at my daddy’s gas station.”

The Auburn Tigers find themselves going to the BCS national title game following two improbable wins, including one over two-time defending national champion and No. 1 ranked Alabama.

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

We now know that the media is 4-18, their overwhelming selection of Alabama just another wrong pick further proving Saban right; even then, he probably suspected that his team was doomed for 109-yard heartbreak.

So what has this college football season taught us? Ah, trick question, given that class is still in session. We have all those bowl games – from the Little Caesars to the Fight Hunger – and including the last BCS national championship game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. between Auburn and Florida State.

Which is exactly the match-up that … no one predicted before the season. Miles, you might recall, was complaining about Alabama’s soft crossover schedule in the SEC. He didn’t mention the Crimson Tide by name, of course. He didn’t have to; it was obvious what he meant. And also irrelevant, the way things played out.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, by the way, now gets to come face to face with Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Stoops took several swipes at the SEC beginning with a comment last spring about the league’s reputation being the product of “propaganda.” That was a shot at Slive, among others, in case you missed the subtlety. And then during the season, as SEC offenses were burning out the lights on scoreboards all across Dixie, Stoops reached back and threw a nice left hook:

“All of a sudden we (in the Big 12) can play a little better defense, and some other people can’t play defense.”

Meanwhile, as near as we can tell, everyone who has never eaten a moon pie is rooting for Florida State to win so seven in a row doesn’t become eight in a row.

But lest we forget, there is life in the SEC below Alabama and Auburn, who combined have won four national titles in a row going on five. Although not in that stratosphere, overachieving Ole Miss and Vanderbilt continued their winning ways. And let’s not forget second-year SEC member Missouri, which went from 2-6 to 7-1 in the league and a spot in the SEC title game.

Then there’s Johnny Football Manziel, the polarizing Texas A&M quarterback, who, once he goes to the NFL, will learn he had it way good in College Station.

Up on the hill in Knoxville, first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones learned he indeed has a mountain to climb. And over in Fayetteville, Ark., first-year Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema went winless in the SEC and now must be fit to be, well, hog-tied.

Mississippi State rallied in the last hour, going from 4-6 to 6-6 with overtime wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss to reach bowl eligibility; now coach Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs will play in the Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl. So Memphis gets both sleigh bells and cowbells this year.

The University of Memphis football season ended with crushing defeats to lowly Temple and Connecticut. After the Tigers won four games in coach Justin Fuente’s first season, they fell back to three wins – albeit against tougher competition. Fuente apparently tried everything imaginable toward the end, including removing players’ names from the backs of their jerseys.

Turns out, uniform alterations are no substitute for talent.

That much we even knew back in July.