The top 50 moments that shaped the 2017 college football season

From the opening kickoff of Stanford-Rice to Tua Tagovailoa’s walk-off touchdown pass in the national championship, the 2017 season was entertaining from start to finish.

I went back and found the top 50 moments that shaped the year that was in college football. Anything that happened from the end of last year’s national championship to the end of this year’s national championship was fair game.

That was anything from a wave to a pass. The moments that resulted in a sequence of events got a higher priority than others. Still, there was plenty of room for stories that just defined what college football was in 2017.

So what were those moments?

50. Drew Lock breaks SEC single-season TD record

People might’ve overlooked Lock’s season, but they shouldn’t have. The Missouri quarterback broke Andre Woodson’s single-season SEC touchdown passes record, which stood for 10 years. Lock finished with a whopping 44 touchdown passes, and believe it or not, not all of them came against Missouri State. What was even better news for Missouri? Lock announced he was coming back for one more season in Columbia.

49. Gary Andersen quits on Oregon State, texts get leaked

Does Oregon State’s head coach have national interest? No, but it says a lot that about the times that not only did a coach leave midseason, his texts with a reporter went public. We’re talking about moments that defined 2017. To me, a coach at a Power 5 program who texts his frustrations with a reporter and then leaves midseason says something about the landscape of the sport.

48. MAC-tion goes crazy, produces epic 139-point game

THERE WERE 7 OVERTIMES. SEVEN. You know that song “525,600 minutes?” That’s basically how long it took for Buffalo and Western Michigan to decide a winner. The 71-68 thriller produced an FBS record for overtimes. There were 19 touchdowns and 1,328 yards of total offense. Buffalo quarterback Drew Anderson threw for 597 passing yards and 7 touchdowns and he LOST. This game was so lit that at one point, Western Michigan tight end Donnie Ernsberger scored a touchdown and his sister ran on to the field to hug him because she thought the game was over. 

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Little did she know that there were 6 OVERTIMES LEFT. MAC-TION FOREVER.

47. Will Grier’s finger injury grosses/bums everyone out

After a bizarre rise and fall at Florida, Grier reinvented himself at West Virginia, where he led one of the nation’s top offenses in 2017. When he went down late in the season against Texas, it was a bummer … and it was a stomach-turner. Let’s just say Grier’s finger did something that fingers aren’t supposed to do and the internet was pretty grossed out. The good news for West Virginia was that 4 weeks after the injury, Grier announced that he was returning to school for one more season.

46. Nebraska announces firing of A.D. after Northern Illinois loss

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any athletic directors who were fired midseason for a non-scandal. Welcome to 2017. Well, losing to Northern Illinois qualifies as a scandal at Nebraska. That’s why Shawn Eichorst was fired as athletic director. That move was made to open the door for Mike Riley to be fired and for Scott Frost to be hired. I’ll get to more of that later.

45. Deebo Samuel misses basically all of 2017 after breaking leg

For a brief time in 2017, the South Carolina return man/receiver was one of the most electric players in America. He was must-see TV those first few weeks, and South Carolina looked like a legitimate Top-25 team. Then Samuel broke his leg and it poured some cold water on the offense. There were too many brutal season-ending injuries in 2017, especially in the SEC. Samuel’s injury meant that South Carolina’s shot in the SEC East was all but dead.

44. Feleipe Franks’ Hail Mary sinks Tennessee’s hope of winning an SEC game

Wait … how could a battle between two teams that went a combined 8-15 define the year that was? Well, Franks’ Hail Mary ultimately squashed Tennessee’s hope of winning a game in conference play in 2017. The bar seemed pretty low for Butch Jones to stick around in Knoxville another year. Could that have made the difference? Perhaps. Thanks to the throw of Franks’ life, we’ll never know.

43. Army-Navy becomes everything we could’ve ever hoped

I always talk about Army-Navy as this great tradition, but I don’t think I truly got it until watching this year’s game. For one afternoon, college football fans got to step back in time. In a blizzard, Army and Navy battled in a game that felt like it was being played in 1945. Watching Army triple-option its way down the field and seeing that crowd lose its mind was what the service academy games are all about. Whether you had a dog in the fight or not, that was top-notch entertainment from start to finish.

42. Tom Herman trolls Drew Lock in Texas Bowl

This was such a 2017 story. ESPN cameras followed Herman doing some odd gesture on the sidelines late in the Texas Bowl that had the announcers stumped.

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After the game, the Twitterverse put 2 and 2 together that Herman was trolling Lock’s touchdown celebration. Why Herman felt the need to make fun of a college kid on national television after his team won its seventh game of the year is beyond me. Needless to say, Herman didn’t exactly paint himself in the best light.

41. Interception completes Michigan’s Outback Bowl collapse vs. South Carolina

Heading into bowl season, none of Michigan’s victories came against teams that finished the regular season with a winning record. For the first 3 quarters against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, it looked like that was going to change. Then, the Michigan offense imploded. Brandon Peters had a chance to get the lead back with Michigan driving in the South Carolina red zone, but he threw an awful interception to JaMarcus King. Michigan capped the hollowest of seasons and once again, Jim Harbaugh was criticized for failing to beat a quality team.

40. Nick Fitzgerald suffers season-ending injury in Egg Bowl

This is a chain of events deal. Fitzgerald is a great player and Mississippi State fans wished he wouldn’t have suffered a season-ending ankle injury. But what I wonder about is if Dan Mullen stays at Mississippi State if that doesn’t happen. Mullen all but squashed any Florida rumors in the days leading up to the Egg Bowl. Did Fitzgerald’s injury put things in a bit more perspective? We’ll never know. All we know is that those pre-Egg Bowl comments didn’t carry much weight when Mullen signed on the dotted line in Gainesville.

39. Arkansas waits roughly 6 seconds to fire Bret Bielema after regular-season finale

I wish someone had a stopwatch to see how long it took from the end of the Missouri game for Bielema to get fired. It had to be a record. There was no waiting for the dust to settle on 2017. Bielema didn’t even get to meet with his team before he found out that his days in Fayetteville were over. For basically everyone in college football, the days of giving a coach a full day after the season ends to get his ducks in a row are gone. Nothing embodied that more in 2017 than Arkansas’ treatment of Bielema.

38. Iowa State stuns Oklahoma, Matt Campbell becomes household name

At the time, it was arguably the upset of the season. A program like Iowa State, which had one winning season the previous 11 years, beating Oklahoma in Norman was improbable at best. It ultimately didn’t hold the Sooners back from a conference title and a Playoff berth, and Iowa State actually had a decent season. That game also put Campbell on everyone’s radar as a hot coaching candidate … until they realized his buyout was $9.4 million. 

37. Texas A&M crumbles in historic fashion to open season at UCLA

To be up 44-10 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter suggests that the night is over. Texas A&M learned the hard way that the night was far from over. Josh Rosen sliced and diced the Aggies defense for an astounding 35 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes.

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That made Kevin Sumlin’s already-hot seat even hotter, which he was reminded of when an A&M regent called for him to be fired after the brutal loss. Sumlin survived that game, but it was the beginning of the end for his time in College Station.

36. Sam Darnold turns over his Heisman candidacy against Washington State

Many expected 2017 to be the year of Darnold. As in, the USC quarterback would win the Heisman Trophy, lead USC to a national title and become the No. 1 draft pick. Darnold all but lost his Heisman candidacy when he fumbled on USC’s final possession in a late-September loss to Washington State.

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The fumble added to the fact that Darnold threw a whopping 8 interceptions in the month of September alone. He and the Trojans still finished with a nice season and he’ll likely be a top-10 pick, but 2017 definitely wasn’t the year of Darnold as many predicted.

35. Chris Petersen gets mad about the Pac-12 TV schedule, cries foul

Petersen made some rare headlines when he called out the Pac-12 for its consistent late starting times. He said that the late start times — Washington opened the season with 7 games at 8 p.m. ET or later — were actually hurting the Pac-12. It sparked a debate about the East Coast bias and if guys like Stanford star Bryce Love were getting slighted because of the Pac-12’s late kickoffs. Kirk Herbstreit even fired back at Petersen by saying ESPN should be “thanking” the Pac-12 for broadcasting their games. At the very least, it generated some discussion about how even in the streaming/social media age, not everyone is getting the same exposure.

34. Shea Patterson’s injury ends up being final play of Ole Miss career

What if I told you that Patterson would go down in the middle of a potential record-setting season, transfer at season’s end and many Ole Miss fans wouldn’t lose any sleep over it? I’m not ready to assume Jordan Ta’amu is on that same level just yet, but what if Patterson simply stayed healthy for all of 2017? Let’s say he did break Tim Couch’s SEC passing yards record. How devastated would Ole Miss fans have been to watch him leave for Michigan having not seen Ta’amu? And on the flip side, how much more excited would Michigan fans have been? Michigan fans will be really excited if Patterson leads the program to its first conference title since 2004.

33. J.T. Barrett caps career day against Penn State to keep Playoff hopes alive

At the time, it felt like the game that was going to catapult Ohio State into the Playoff. Down 3 scores at one point, Barrett stormed the Buckeyes back with a touchdown pass to Marcus Baugh in the final 2 minutes. OSU knocked off the unbeaten Lions thanks to Barrett’s near-perfect performance. Urban Meyer said he had never had a kid play perfect, “but damn (Barrett) was close tonight.” Unfortunately for  Meyer, Barrett was much less than perfect the following week in Iowa City. But I’ll get to that later.

32. Dino Babers gets his moment in the sun against Clemson

Kelly Bryant went down, and Syracuse played out of its mind to stun Clemson. If Clemson had been held out of the Playoff, this would’ve been higher on the list. But the Tigers still earned the No. 1 seed with the Friday night stunner as their only blemish. It didn’t matter that Syracuse failed to win another game after this. Babers celebrated like he knew that. For at least one weekend, he owned the college football world.

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31. LSU announces it gave Dave Aranda all the money to keep same job

I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t Aranda’s stunning raise to $2.5 million annually be on the list for 2018 instead? After all, his ridiculous contract set a new absurd precedent for coordinators. But it says a lot about 2017 that an assistant with the No. 14 defense got a 39 percent raise to do his same job at the same place. Coaches displayed tons of leverage in negotiating some of their new salaries, many of whom weren’t even close to earning a Playoff bid. I’m not doubting Aranda’s abilities as one of the best defensive minds in the sport, but the ballooning of coaching salaries was never more apparent than it was with his new deal.

30. Auburn “whips the dog crap” out of Georgia

Oh, Gus Malzahn. In the postgame handshake following Auburn’s regular-season beatdown of No. 1 Georgia, the Tigers coach said that his team “whipped the dog crap” out the Dawgs. He was right. It was arguably the most impressive single-game performance of the 2017 season.

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Unfortunately for Malzahn, Georgia players remembered that. They made sure to remind Malzahn of his “dog crap” comment after stomping Auburn in the SEC Championship.

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Did Malzahn give Georgia the second wind it needed to reach the national championship? Perhaps, but at the very least, he provided us with one of the best on-field soundbites of 2017.

29. Chip Kelly picks UCLA over Florida, Tennessee

Kelly had his pick of the litter. He was reportedly offered the jobs at Florida and Tennessee, both of which likely would’ve paid him at least $6 million per season. Instead, Kelly turned down the two traditional SEC powers and picked a lesser deal at UCLA. None of them was a turn-key operation, but Kelly’s West Coast roots won out. Still, Florida and Tennessee fans had to feel like it was a slap in the face that Kelly chose to rebuild at a program that’s been mediocre for much of the 21st century.

28. Bob Stoops suddenly retires at Oklahoma

Arguably the biggest shock of the offseason was that Stoops decided to walk away at age 57. At the time, it felt like a huge blow to the Sooners. A consensus preseason top-10 team suddenly had to deal with a shocking development just a couple months before the season. Oklahoma went from having the longest-tenured coach in the sport to having a 34-year-old with zero head coaching experience take over. And how did it turn out? Oklahoma’s offense was as dangerous as ever under Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy and the Sooners nearly made it to the national championship. All’s well that ends well.

27. Paul Chryst gets caught sharing his, um, displeasure for Miami’s Turnover Chain

For much of the 2017 season, the Turnover Chain captivated America. It was so Miami that it felt like you were watching “The U: Part 3” every time the Canes played. Well, at least it did in the first 12 weeks of the season. The Turnover Chain didn’t have the best finish to 2017 when Wisconsin turned the ball over just once against Miami in the Orange Bowl. It didn’t matter that Miami was at home against the quarterback who threw an interception in nearly every game against Power 5 competition. So when Alex Hornibrook lit up the Miami defense and didn’t turn the ball over, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst was caught sharing his feelings on the Turnover Chain.

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26. Pat Narduzzi calls his shot against Miami … and delivers

Speaking of Miami getting silenced, Pitt had a halftime lead against the Canes. What Narduzzi said in the post-halftime interview was legendary.

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Pitt then delivered on their coach’s promise and handed the Canes their first loss. Why was that so significant? Instead of potentially looking at a 2-team Playoff bid for the ACC (Miami would’ve been unbeaten and Clemson would’ve had one loss), the conference title game then became a win-or-go-home game. Alabama should be extremely grateful that the Panthers delivered on Narduzzi’s guarantee.

25. Mike Leach delivers epic postgame rant after losing to Cal

How would one expect Leach to react after losing 37-3 to a weak Cal squad? Well, exactly like he did.

“We didn’t play good in any aspect of the game,” Leach said. “Cal out-coached us; Cal out-played us at every position that I saw. There may be an exception, but I don’t think there is. Every position I saw Cal out-played us. They wanted to win more than we did. They tried harder than we did. They tried more consistently than we did.

“Our guys just sauntered around out there on the field like we’d accomplished something, which obviously is false. And Cal certainly illustrated that.”

Leach then said that he thought his offensive line thought it was “too good” even though it wasn’t “very tough.” How do you really feel, coach?

24. Josh Rosen drops a truth bomb on players sitting bowl games

Of course more players sat bowl games in 2017. And of course pundits debated if that was the right thing to do. It’s going to be a yearly debate as long as the current system is set up the way that it is. Instead of debating it, we should just watch the UCLA quarterback’s answer about the subject on repeat.

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23. Vanderbilt claims it “wants Bama,” gets shut out 59-0

Yes, it was a new year. No, it still wasn’t OK for anyone to shout “We want Bama!” Vanderbilt fans did that after improving to 3-0. Even Vanderbilt defensive lineman Nifae Lealao said “Alabama, you’re next” after the Commodores beat Kansas State. Um, that didn’t work out so well. The Tide walked into Nashville and dropped the hammer. The 59-0 blowout sent a loud message to college football that you still NEVER poke the bear … especially when you’re Vandy.

22. Florida Atlantic avoids “rat poison”

Nick Saban delivered another classic press conference moment when he said that all the positive attention given to his team’s play from the media was like “rat poison.” In other words, Saban believed the media gave Alabama players a reason to be overconfident. As only he could do, Lane Kiffin took that rat poison quote and ran with it. Kiffin had plenty of great rat poison tweets in 2017, but his best was when someone asked his team why it took an inexplicable late safety against Marshall. Kiffin tweeted that FAU didn’t want to cover the spread because rat poison.

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Let’s be honest. Kiffin made 2017 sooooo much more entertaining.

21. Kerryon Johnson’s jump pass in Iron Bowl

How did Auburn score its first touchdown pass of the Iron Bowl? With a jump pass, of course. Johnson delivered the Tim Tebow-like jump pass to get the Tigers on the board. That set the tone for the day that Gus Malzahn was going to scheme Auburn’s way to a monumental victory. That game earned Auburn a chance to play for an SEC title in a Playoff do-or-die game. The SEC Championship followed a different script, but is Malzahn still at Auburn without that Iron Bowl win? Probably not.

20. Ole Miss announces resignation of Hugh Freeze after escort scandal

Only in the SEC could someone with Freeze’s reputation go down in flames so quickly in the fashion that it did. Freeze, who was already being sued by predecessor Houston Nutt, was discovered to have made calls to a female escort service that began shortly after he arrived in Oxford. Ole Miss then gave Freeze the option to be fired or resign after “a troubling pattern of personal conduct.” That was roughly 6 weeks before the season was set to begin. With Ole Miss already facing a self-imposed bowl ban for 15 Level-1 NCAA violations, a messy situation turned into a firestorm.

19. Kirk Herbstreit walks off set after Alabama gets in Playoff

In the roughly 12 hours from the moment Ohio State won the B1G Championship to the moment that the 4 Playoff teams were announced, all the debate surrounded the final spot. Would it be Alabama or Ohio State? Everyone and their mother weighed in. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit actually said that he felt Alabama deserved that last spot leading up to the reveal. That didn’t stop him from walking off the set when Alabama was announced as the No. 4 seed and not Ohio State. 

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Herbstreit, a former Ohio State quarterback, took a lot of heat for his candid reaction in that moment. Justified or not, it spoke to the magnitude of that decision and how even people like Herbstreit were so impacted by the outcome. That decision, of course, opened the door for the eventual-national champions to do their thing.

18. Jimbo Fisher’s trashed Christmas tree goes viral

This story wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago. It might not have even happened 5 years ago. But in 2017, of course the nail in the coffin for the Fisher-to-A&M rumor came via a tweet that showed a picture of his Christmas tree on the curb.

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After all, who gets rid of a Christmas tree 3 weeks before Christmas? A coach on the move. That’s who. The viral tweet served as a reminder that breaking massive news in the 21st century comes in so many different ways. But no one could’ve predicted that.

17. Scott Frost celebrates UCF’s 12-0 season … as he’s off to Nebraska

UCF had one of the more bizarre celebrations we’ve ever seen. The Knights capped off a thrilling AAC Championship win against Memphis on their home field, and in an emotional postgame interview, Todd McShay was in an extremely awkward spot. News broke roughly 20 minutes earlier that Frost had accepted the Nebraska job. In the best moment of his coaching career, Frost was asked a question about those reports. He didn’t answer the question, and instead went back to celebrating the team’s 12-0 season (which grew to 13-0 after beating Auburn). How fitting though that Twitter fueled that unusual, memorable moment.

16. Benny Snell ejected for not wanting to be touched by ref in Music City Bowl

Officiating was widely criticized throughout 2017. What’s a catch? What’s targeting? What’s worthy of an ejection? No moment showed the disconnect with officials more than when the Kentucky running back was tossed for simply refusing to accept a ref’s help up after he was driven to the ground by a slew of Northwestern defenders. The ref then tossed Snell for “making illegal contact with an official” after it was the official who extended his hands to help him up … so yeah, it made no sense.

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You know it’s bad when the opposing team’s fans are blasting the decision. Shoot, you know it’s bad when TIM TEBOW IS GETTING FIRED UP ABOUT IT. Be better in 2018, officials.

15. Kirby Smart morphs into Nick Saban against Vanderbilt

OK, so I was one of many people who called Georgia “Alabama East” throughout 2017. To me, no moment personified that more than when Smart went off on Jake Fromm for not getting a first down in the third quarter of a blowout at Vanderbilt. It was so Saban-esque it was scary.

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Smart set the tone that day that every play, every yard and every inch matters. His group embodied that all season long.

14. Da’Ron Payne delivers incredible interception/receiving TD sequence in Sugar Bowl

How many times have you ever seen a defensive tackle (or anyone) intercept a pass and then cap off the ensuing drive with a touchdown catch? Payne made history in my book. It was a sequence that told the story of just how dominant Alabama’s defense was against Clemson that night. I mean, two Alabama defensive players scored touchdowns while zero Clemson offensive players reached pay dirt. Payne’s sequence completely turned the game in Alabama’s favor and the rest was history.

13. Sony Michel’s walk-off touchdown seals Rose Bowl

An instant classic, it was. Georgia’s signature moment of the 2017 season came when the senior tailback scampered in for the walk-off touchdown to clinch a national championship berth. That play will live in Georgia lore forever, unlike Michel’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown earlier in the game. But Michel redeemed himself in the best way possible, and continued the Dawgs’ storybook run.

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How many times do you think that play has been shown on the back of that dude’s Hummer?

12. Jim McElwain’s death threat press conference

McElwain couldn’t hide behind two division titles when he delivered one of the stranger press conferences you’ll ever see. Consider how he handled the shark saga last summer, that’s saying a lot for him. McElwain claimed that he and his family had received death threats. He then refused to elaborate on them, which gave Florida all the ammunition it needed to to get rid of McElwain in the midst of a disastrous season. McElwain was fired less than a week after the death threat comments, and Florida was suddenly back on the hunt for a new coach. McElwain’s Florida tenure spiraled quicker than anyone could’ve ever imagined, and the empty death threats were the last straw.

11. Jacob Eason goes down with injury in opener

There was a theme in 2017. Things that initially appeared to be awful actually turned out OK in the end. When Eason went down in the opener against Appalachian State, it was a troubling sight for a Georgia team that went 8-5 a year earlier. Turning the ball over to a true freshman quarterback in his first college game didn’t look like it would keep the Dawgs relevant, much less turn them into SEC title contenders.

Then Jake Fromm happened. Georgia rallied past Notre Dame, trucked through the East, won the SEC and nearly won it all with the true freshman signal-caller. Now, Eason is reportedly heading to Washington and Fromm is one of the bright young stars of the sport. Crazy.

10. Tennessee fans protest/block Greg Schiano hire

Only in 2017 could a reported head coaching hire get leaked, then get spread on social media, which fueled on-campus protests that ultimately blocked the hire. Of course that happened at Tennessee. Once word spread that Schiano had a connection to the Jerry Sandusky scandal (even though it was a hearsay accusation that the jury didn’t find credible in any way), all hell broke loose.

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It triggered the wildest coaching search we’ve ever seen in the sport. Little did we know that Tennessee would then offer the job to half a dozen people only to get turned down. The nation-wide search ended with a reported conspiracy to oust AD John Currie, who never even got to make the hire because he was fired 5 days after the Schiano debacle. Phillip Fulmer eventually got “his guy” in Jeremy Pruitt, but Tennessee’s reputation took a major hit to get there.

9. Blind USC long snapper Jake Olson provides most inspirational moment of 2017

Who said blind people couldn’t play football? Olson, who was blind since he was 12, ended that belief in tear-jerking fashion. With USC up late in the opener against Western Michigan, Olson was put in the game to snap the extra point. As expected, Olson delivered. The USC crowd and sideline erupted after Olson’s perfect snap gave the Trojans the extra point.

It was a reminder of just how great of a platform sports can be. Olson was an instant viral sensation, and he’s been able to tell his story to media outlets everywhere. If 2017 gave us nothing else, at least it gave us Olson’s story.

8. Iowa’s wave instantly becomes college football’s best new tradition

Speaking of tear-jerker moments, the best new tradition in college football was must-see stuff throughout 2017. After the first quarter of every Iowa home game, fans paused to turn and wave at the overlooking Stead Family Children’s hospital. Children with severe and chronic illnesses waved back to the Kinnick Stadium faithful.

It soon became something that everyone — even the visiting team — participated in. Coaches like Urban Meyer took part in the awesome new tradition, and basically every national media outlet reported on the best wave in sports history. If you can get through an Iowa wave without getting a little choked up, you’re tougher than I am.

7. UCF has “National Champions” parade after beating Auburn

An hour before the College Football Playoff National Championship was played, the Knights held a national champions parade to celebrate their perfect season. The city of Orlando embraced that title after UCF improved to 13-0 thanks to a Peach Bowl win against Auburn. Florida Gov. Rick Scott even declared UCF national champions in the state of Florida. Needless to say, that riled up plenty of SEC fans, many of whom think UCF embarrassed itself by making such a claim. Nearly 2 weeks removed from UCF’s final game, the “national champions” claim was still being debated. Clearly, the Knights’ marketing plan worked to perfection.

6. Josh Jackson puts exclamation point on Iowa’s 55-24 demolition of Ohio State

While Iowa put a stunning beatdown on the Buckeyes, Jackson made one of the plays of the year. His 1-handed interception told the story of the day. Iowa could do no wrong. The Hawkeyes might’ve beaten anyone in America on that early-November afternoon.

Fortunately for Alabama, that blowout loss prevented Ohio State from earning a Playoff berth. Contrary to what many suggested, the Buckeyes couldn’t erase that horrific loss and make the field as a 2-loss team.

5. Baker Mayfield plants Oklahoma flag in Ohio Stadium after knocking off Buckeyes

Mayfield’s Heisman moment came in Week 2 of the 2017 season. The Oklahoma quarterback was brilliant in a dominant second-half effort against Ohio State. The fiery senior then capped the victory by planting an Oklahoma flag in the middle of Ohio Stadium. It cemented Mayfield’s “bad boy” reputation while also serving as announcement to the college football world that 2017 was his year. Mayfield might not have gotten the national championship ring he was after, but no individual left a bigger mark on 2017 than he did.

4. Georgia juniors announce return for 2017

Many expected the Dawgs to lose several underclassmen to the 2017 NFL Draft. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter all had NFL decisions to make in the beginning of 2017. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if all four left for the draft. Instead, they walked into the end of a Kirby Smart press conference and the Georgia coach announced that they were staying.

The news sent shockwaves through Athens. Georgia instantly became the favorite to win the East and earn an SEC Championship berth for the first time since 2012. All of that and more happened. Chubb and Michel finished their careers as the most prolific backfield duo in college football history while Bellamy and Carter played pivotal roles for the dominant Georgia defense. Without those four seniors, the Dawgs wouldn’t have reached their first national championship game since the 1982 season.

3. Deondre Francois injured in opener against Alabama

I could make the argument that Francois’ injury against the Tide should be No. 1 on this list. Why? Look at the sequence of events that followed after the Florida State quarterback went down.

  • Florida State falls apart, barely makes bowl game
  • Alabama’s non-conference résumé takes serious hit, nearly prevents Playoff absence
  • Texas A&M fires Kevin Sumlin in hopes of luring Jimbo Fisher to College Station
  • Fisher leaves for Texas A&M
  • Willie Taggart leaves Oregon for Florida State

That’s bonkers. And no, I don’t think any of those things happen if Francois avoids a season-ending injury that night. It’ll be incredible to look back on the Francois injury 5 years from now and see how many things are added to those chain of events. Something tells me that list is set to grow exponentially.

2. Nick Saban puts Tua Tagovailoa in for second half of national championship

Saban had to make arguably the toughest in-game decision of his career. Could he really bench 25-2 Jalen Hurts in the second half of the national championship in favor of a true freshman who didn’t have any meaningful snaps? It was the ultimate roll of the dice. Watch Tagovailoa fail and suddenly desperate Saban is being passed up by Kirby Smart and Georgia. That narrative would’ve written itself.

Instead, Saban ignored the potential downfall of that decision and put in Tagovailoa to win a title. Saban deserved credit for sticking with Tagovailoa when Alabama went 3-and-out to start the second half. What happened next was the stuff of legend.

1. “The pass”

Is there another name for it yet? There shouldn’t be. I’ll always refer to Tagovailoa’s 41-yard, walk-off touchdown to DeVonta Smith as “the pass.” In my opinion, it was the single most dramatic ending to a national championship in college football history. Never mind the fact that it only happened because of the heroics of a couple of true freshmen. Tagovailoa’s ability to look off the safety and deliver a perfect strike in that spot — with the season on the line — is something that words can’t explain.

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Saban himself was in such shock that he was initially at a loss for words in the postgame interview with Tom Rinaldi. For all the atypical ups and downs of an Alabama season, that title-clinching play solidified that the college football world still belonged to Saban and the Tide in 2017.


Source: Saturday Down South

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