Today, essentially, closes the book on the 2009 college football regular season. Save for next week's Army-Navy game, the season wraps up today with games in the Big East and Pac-10, and conference title games in the SEC, ACC and Big 12. By the end of the weekend, the bowl schedule will be set and we will have two teams selected to play for the BCS championship. So with the season ending today, here's our take on the 2009 college football season.
Three most surprising teams
Unranked to start the season, the Bearcats go into today's Big East showdown with Pitt undefeated and ranked fifth in the nation despite playing a good chunk of the season without star quarterback Tony Pike, above. They beat USF on the road and West Virginia at home and, perhaps, their most impressive victory came at Oregon State against a Beavers team that nearly won the Pac-10.
The Hawkeyes were not supposed to challenge for the Big Ten title, yet they upset Penn State on the road and ran their record to 9-0 before tripping against Northwestern and losing their quarterback Ricky Stanzi, above, to injury. Iowa still nearly won the Big Ten title, but without Stanzi, it lost to Ohio State in overtime. Nevertheless, the Hawkeyes still could snag a BCS bowl.
The Horned Frogs (still the best nickname in the nation) were supposed to be good, but this good? They might be a Nebraska upset of Texas away from playing for the national championship. And, you know, maybe they should be in the big game anyway, considering they're undefeated and have quality wins over Utah and BYU and only twice have won by fewer than 16 points. In the past seven games, their average margin of victory is 36 points.
Three most disappointing teams
1. Southern Cal
The perennial top-five team looked ready for another national championship run after winning at Ohio State with freshman QB Matt Barkley, above, in the second week of the season. But then came an upset loss to Washington and embarrassing blowout losses to Oregon (47-20) and Stanford (55-21), leaving the Trojans to most likely play in the Holiday Bowl — the first time since 2001 that they haven't played in a BCS bowl game.
With Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, above, returning, the Sooners were a national championship contender. But they lost their opener to BYU and lost Bradford to injury, too. He missed a loss to Miami, returned and was injured in a loss to Texas. Without Bradford, OU lost to Nebraska and Texas Tech, leaving the Sooners with five losses — their most since 1999.
3. Ole Miss
After last season's upset of Florida and the emergence of quarterback Jevan Snead, above, there were some who thought the Rebels had a shot at the SEC title. After a 2-0 start, they were ranked No. 4 in the country, but they lost to South Carolina and finished with an underachieving 8-4 record.
Player of the year
This year's Heisman race was supposed to be among quarterbacks Tim Tebow (Florida), Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Colt McCoy (Texas). Tebow had a good but not great season, and Bradford missed most of the season with an injury. McCoy has put up big numbers and should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation. But he shouldn't win it. Our player of the year is bulldozing Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, above. He leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.
Coach of the year
Think about what Oregon's Chip Kelly, right, had to deal with just a week into his first season. His Ducks lost at Boise State and he made the tough call of dismissing his best player, running back LeGarrette Blount, after Blount slugged a Boise player during the postgame. Kelly made the equally tough (and correct) call to bring Blount back, but held him out of the lineup until Thursday night's game against Oregon State. Despite that distraction and the absence of a star player, his Ducks knocked off Utah, Cal and USC, then wrapped up the Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl with a victory against archrival Oregon State.
Story of the year
It's hard to imagine anything being bigger than Florida State's Bobby Bowden, the coach with the second-most wins in Division I history, announcing he will retire after this, his 34th season at FSU. But actually there was a bigger story week-in and week-out in 2009. Though some would argue that it hasn't been relevant in 15 years, Notre Dame's continued struggles dominated the college football landscape and, ultimately, cost coach Charlie Weis, above, his job after five seasons and a 35-27 record.
Three programs that just don't seem to be getting any better
1. Michigan. How's the Rich Rodriguez thing working out? Michigan is 8-16 over the past two seasons.
2. Notre Dame. If you count the George O'Leary debacle, the Irish are now looking for their fifth coach since Lou Holtz left in 1996.
3. USF. Same ol' story. Hot start with big upset followed by loss at home followed by a losing skid followed by another trip to a so-so bowl.
Three programs that seem to be getting back on track
1. Miami. Nice victories over Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and FSU on their way to 9-3 record mean things looking up with the U.
2. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are playing in tonight's Big 12 title game with a 9-3 record, and they were just a couple of plays away from being 10-1, including an upset of Virginia Tech.
3. Georgia Tech. Taking over a program that had lost either five or six games in six of the previous seven seasons, coach Paul Johnson is now 19-6 over the past two seasons and has his 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets in tonight's ACC title game.