College football season has come to a close, and with it, the BCS era has come to a close as well. Florida State certainly didn’t go wire-to-wire as #1, as they weren’t #1 until after Alabama’s loss to Auburn on November 30. But they were in the hunt all season long, through a great season of unbelievable games, jaw-dropping plays, and unforgettable players. Through all of that, a handful of teams proved they are above the rest, and are listed here as a list of the top 10 teams of the 2013 season. I’ve also added my picks for the best player, coach(es), and game of the year.
1. Florida State (14-0)
The Seminoles are national champions for the 3rd time, and for the 2nd time of the BCS era, after beating Auburn 34-31 in the Vizio BCS National Championship Game. We usually talk about runs in basketball, but rarely use the term in football. That being said, the Seminoles closed the game on a 31-10 run after trailing 21-3 in the first half. Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who was the 3rd Florida State player to win the award, was a major part of the comeback, including a near-perfect final drive down the field to score the winning touchdown with :13 remaining. The Seminoles were in the title conversation all year, and with a little help along the way from losses by teams like Alabama, Oregon, and Stanford, reached the title game and validated a perfect season, ending any concern about their weak strength of schedule in the ACC. The ‘Noles end the SEC’s 7-year streak of titles, and bring the ACC their first title since 1999, the last time the ‘Noles won. FSU should remain #1 in the 2014 preseason poll, as a lot of the major pieces on this team are coming back, and the ones that aren’t currently have players behind them who are more than capable of starting on a top-tier team.
2. Auburn (12-2)
The Tigers lost the Vizio BCS National Championship Game, 34-31, after leading 21-3 late in the 2nd quarter. If it’s any consolation for the Tigers, they lost one of the best title games of the BCS era, among the ranks of the 2002 Ohio State-Miami title game and the 2005 USC-Texas title game. And all of this was from a team that finished 3-9 a year ago and received no votes in the preseason AP Poll. They were, as they have been called, a “team of destiny”, with magical wins coming against Mississippi State, Georgia, and Alabama. Gus Malzahn did all this in his first year as head coach, after being the offensive coordinator for the 2010 National Championship team at Auburn. While Auburn will lose RB Tre Mason, who declared for the NFL Draft on Thursday, most of the rest of their team will be back next year, meaning they will remain a formidable opponent for the rest of the SEC.
3. Michigan State (13-1)
Michigan State had one of the most successful seasons in school history, and if it weren’t for an early loss to Notre Dame in September, it could have been even better. That 17-13 defeat is the only loss of their season, and after that they won every Big Ten conference game, including the championship game against Ohio State, by double digits. That led them to the Rose Bowl, where they were 7-point underdogs, but defeated Stanford 24-20 in a battle of two of the top defenses in the nation. The Spartans beat 4 ranked teams on the year, including teams ranked 2nd and 5th at the time the games were played in their last 2 contests. QB Connor Cook and most of the rest of the offense will be back next year, although some pieces of that defense will be lost to graduation or the NFL Draft. However, the coaching carousel has slowed down, and Pat Narduzzi, despite being a hot name, is still in East Lansing as defensive coordinator. Having Narduzzi around at least one more year is a win for the Spartans.
4. Oklahoma (11-2)
All season long, I had thought Oklahoma was overrated by both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll, and hadn’t given them much credit in these rankings. Even after they beat Oklahoma State on December 7, I still didn’t have them ranked in the top 10 (then again, the polls didn’t either). Then they led the entire game and beat Alabama, 45-31, in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, in QB Trevor Knight’s breakout performance, leading me to believe in the Sooners as an elite team, even though they did have bad losses to Texas and Baylor. The original purpose of these power rankings was to show who was playing the best right now, although they turned into a list of who has had the best season. Therefore, getting back to the original purpose, Oklahoma is definitely playing as well as just about anybody, with wins against the 6th and 3rd ranked teams in the BCS rankings in their last 2 games. Oklahoma may have the most players out of the top-tier teams who are coming back next year, and I fully expect them to be in national title contention as we enter into the new College Football Playoff era.
5. Alabama (11-2)
For so much of the season, Alabama was #1 in both major polls and the BCS rankings, as well as these rankings. They were 11-0, with big wins over Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and LSU on their résumé, and had seemingly dominated all their competition. Then came the Iron Bowl, where the so-called “Kick Six” gave Auburn a 34-28 win, and ended Alabama’s chances of their 3rd straight national title. For all intents and purposes, that was a freak play that could have happened to anyone. Then came the loss to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, 45-31. The Tide were within 7 with the ball with a minute left, but QB AJ McCarron was stripped of the ball, allowing the Sooners to walk in for another touchdown. I still believe the Tide to be one of the best 5 teams in the nation, although the AP Poll has them at 7th, and the Coaches Poll has them at 8th. Then again, anytime a team loses consecutive games, it kills their poll numbers. Most programs would be thrilled with a top 8 finish in both polls, and an 11-win season. But this is Alabama, who was trying for 3 titles in a row, and 4 out of 5, so this season surely leaves fans with the feeling of a letdown.
6. South Carolina (11-2)
The Gamecocks of South Carolina finished 4th in the AP Poll, their highest finish ever, after defeating Wisconsin, 34-24, in the Capital One Bowl. They are the highest ranked team in both the AP Poll and in these rankings that did not play in a BCS bowl game. However, I don’t have them that high for a couple of reasons. First of all, I see no way that South Carolina is a better team than Alabama. Second of all, some of these teams near the top with 2 losses had their losses to other ranked teams, or at least decent unranked teams, but one of the Gamecocks’ losses was to Tennessee. That being said, they are still ahead of Missouri due to their head-to-head win over the Tigers. They also got a win in September that, at the time, seemed somewhat irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but now is large in looking at their campaign; that win was over UCF. Gamecock fans have to wonder where their season would have gone without the loss to Tennessee, as they would have won the SEC East, and had the opportunity to play Auburn. If they had found a way to upset Auburn, they would have possibly slipped into the national title game. The Gamecocks had never won 11 games in back-to-back years before last year, so obviously this is the first time in school history they have had 3 consecutive 11-win seasons.
7. Missouri (12-2)
Missouri is also thinking what might have been. Theoretically, if they could have held Auburn to 41 points, they would have won the SEC and may have played for the national title (since they scored 42). As is, they went to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, where they beat Oklahoma State, 41-31, in a game that was closer than the score would indicate. Other than the Auburn loss, their only other loss was in double overtime to South Carolina, in a game they led 17-0 at the start of the 4th quarter. However, their 5th place finish in the AP Poll ties their 2nd best in school history, and it comes after last year’s 5-7 record in their inaugural SEC campaign. If anyone was skeptical whether or not Missouri could compete in the SEC, I think the Tigers answered that question easily this year.
8. Clemson (11-2)
Clemson won the Discover Orange Bowl, 40-35, after a back and forth battle with Ohio State, winning their first BCS bowl game and securing back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time. As coach Dabo Swinney mentioned after their bowl win, since Clemson’s 37-point loss in the Orange Bowl 2 years ago, they are 22-4, including bowl wins over LSU and Ohio State. Interestingly enough, the 4 losses are to the same 2 programs, as they have lost to Florida State and South Carolina in each of the last 2 seasons. Their 8th place ranking in the AP Poll matches their 3rd highest in program history. This season was, in fact, bookended with wins over top 10 opponents, after it began with a home win against Georgia. That home-and-home series continues to start the 2014 campaign, in a matchup I’m looking forward to already when the Tigers go “between the hedges” in Athens.
9. UCF (12-1)
To say that Central Florida had their best season in school history is an understatement. This program has only been an FBS member since 1996, and this was only the 4th time they’ve won 10 games or more in a season. It was, in fact, their first ever 12-win season, with their only loss coming to a team ranked higher than them, South Carolina. Their season really took off when they beat then 8th ranked Louisville, 38-35, on a nationally televised Friday night game. After winning out to win the American Athletic Conference, the Knights went to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, where they were 17-point underdogs to Baylor’s offensive attack, but pulled the upset, 52-42, and actually beat Baylor worse than the score would indicate. Since star QB Blake Bortles is leaving early for the NFL, I don’t expect UCF to be a top 10 team again next year, but I do expect them to be competitive in the AAC, and possibly hover in the top 25. Coach George O’Leary, however, has proven doubters wrong for his entire tenure in Orlando, so don’t expect that to stop.
10. Stanford (11-3)
It was tough to put Stanford this low, since they were certainly among the upper echelon of teams all year long. However, they did lose 3 games on the year, including regular season losses to unranked Utah and USC teams. Also, all the teams who jumped them won their bowl game, and Stanford did not, losing the Rose Bowl to Michigan State, 24-20. The Cardinal actually played well in Pasadena, but couldn’t convert on a key 4th down late in the 4th quarter, costing them a chance to go down the field and win the game. Stanford can’t hang their head, however, after winning the Pac-12 for the 2nd consecutive year, and appearing in a BCS bowl for the 4th straight season. All of this has happened in a program that was the laughing stock of the Pac-12 in recent memory. Coach David Shaw has stayed out of the coaching carousel, despite rumors about big-time college jobs or an NFL job, and appears committed to Stanford for the long run.
Also Considered: Oregon (11-2), Ohio State (12-2), Baylor (11-2), Louisville (12-1), LSU (10-3), UCLA (10-3), Oklahoma State (10-3)
Fell From Rankings: Baylor (11-2, lost to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42), Ohio State (12-2, lost to Clemson in Orange Bowl, 40-35)
Player of the Year: Florida State QB Jameis Winston
While Winston may not be my favorite player in the country, due to his off-field issues (yes, I do realize he was cleared, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him), his on-field excellence simply can’t be denied. It was Winston who, during a rare bad game, drove the Seminoles all the way down the field in the final minute to score the championship-winning touchdown. He completed nearly 67% of his passes for 4,057 yards and 10.6 yards per attempt, leading to the Heisman Trophy. And his stats might have been better if some of Florida State’s games had been closer, since he didn’t play many 4th quarters since so many Seminole games were blowouts. As a redshirt freshman, he’ll be back next year, which is a scary thought for the rest of the ACC.
Also Considered: Alabama QB AJ McCarron, Auburn RB Tre Mason, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch
Co-Coaches of the Year: Gus Malzahn (Auburn), David Cutcliffe (Duke), and George O’Leary (UCF)
I couldn’t pick one coach, because the accomplishments of all 3 of these outstanding men are phenomenal. Malzahn took over an Auburn team that was 3-9 last year, with a 0-8 record in conference play, and led them to an SEC title and a berth in the national title game, which they came very close to winning. Before Cutcliffe took over at Duke in 2008, the Blue Devils had won a total of 4 games in 4 years, and were the butt of a lot of jokes in college football. It took time, but he has turned Duke into a legitimate contender in the ACC, and this year they won the Coastal Division title for the first time ever. O’Leary has a bit of a troubled past, and got a second chance when UCF hired him before the 2004 season. He’s taken a young program to 6 bowl games in 10 years, and this year won 12 games including a BCS bowl game, shocking the nation twice during the season with wins over Louisville and Baylor (in the bowl game). All 3 coaches are terrific coaches, and excellent fits at their respective schools.
Also Considered: Art Briles (Baylor), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State)
Game of the Year: The “Iron Bowl”, Auburn 34, Alabama 28.
Enough said. But then again, everybody remembers the “Kick Six” on the game’s final play, but Auburn was behind in the final minute before scoring on a Nick Marshall pass to Sammie Coates with :32 seconds left. Regulation had appeared over before a review put a second back on the clock and Alabama tried the most famous missed field goal in the history of college football. The play we’ve all seen like 1,867,249 times.
Also considered: Georgia at Auburn (the “Immaculate Deflection”, Auburn wins 43-38), South Carolina at Missouri (South Carolina wins in double overtime on a Missouri missed field goal after being down 17), Duke vs Texas A&M (A&M wins 52-48 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl), Florida State vs Auburn (Florida State wins 34-31 after being down 18 and scoring with :13 left), Ohio State at Michigan (Buckeyes win 42-41 after Michigan fails to convert 2-point conversion)