The 2019 NCAA football regular season and conference championships are in the books. This college football season was one to remember. From Joe Burrow’s ascension to another year of Alabama kickers, Conference title, sports director Garrett Jones takes a look back the highs and lows.
Sep. 22: UCLA 67, Washington State 63– 1,077 passing yards. 14 passing touchdowns. 130 total points. That’s not the boxscore from a game of NCAA Football 14 on PlayStation 3- those are numbers from UCLA’s first conference win of the season in September. It was also No. 19 Washington State’s first loss of the season. Everything about this game was peak Pac-12 after dark. Oh, and by the way- UCLA overcame a 32-point deficit in the third.
Nov. 23: Florida International 30, Miami 24– Texas is not back- but Miami is DEFINITELY not back. The Hurricanes took a significant blow to whatever progress was made in Manny Diaz’s first year as head coach in the program’s first ever loss to FIU. Moreover? This game was played at Marlins Park- a palace of mediocrity- and the site of the former Orange Bowl.
Nov. 30: Alabama’s doink– Alabama kickers just can’t figure it out. In another classic installment of the Iron Bowl, Auburn got the edge this year at home with a 48-45 win. After the Tigers roared ahead with the help of two pick sixes in the game, Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas had a chance to tie the game. He missed. Badly. Another infamous doink- and another notch on the Crimson Tide’s legacy of kicking failure.
Kansas State– In Chris Kileman’s first season at head coach, Kansas State took leaps and bounds with a road win over Southeastern Conference opponent Mississippi State in September to get to 3-0, topping Oklahoma in October- the Sooners’ only current loss. They also topped Iowa State to get to 8-4 in the final week of the regular season. Bill Snyder’s exit came at the right time- the Wildcats are trending up.
North Carolina– Led by Mack Brown, the Tar Heels started the season off with a bang thanks to a huge win over rival South Carolina, albeit a Gamecocks team that finished 4-8. Still, for a program that lost all its momentum in Larry Fedora’s final season as head coach, a six-win season with a one-point September home loss against Clemson is tangible progress.
Indiana– The Hoosiers reached eight wins for the first time since 1993, and head coach Tom Allen received a much-deserved contract extension. Indiana lost every game they should have against No. 6 Ohio State, No. 13 Michigan, No. 9 Penn State and a ranked Michigan State team at the time, but took care of every game they should have including an overtime win over rival Purdue. The Hoosiers have a chance to break the plane and prove its supremacy over Tennessee in its first bowl game since 2016.
Illinois– Finally, tangible signs of improvement in Lovie Smith’s fourth season. The team improved from four to six wins this season, culminating with an upset win over No. 6 Wisconsin in October. It also grabbed a huge road win over Michigan State, and have a chance to win its first bowl game since 2011 in the RedBox bowl against California.
Missouri– This one might hit a little too close to home. When the 2019 schedule was released, Missouri fans clamored for an 8-1 start or bust. Instead, Missouri got a season-opening loss to a Wyoming team that ended up 7-5, only to rebound with five straight wins, followed by five straight losses. This roller-coaster ride wasn’t smooth enough to save Barry Odom’s job. Graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant didn’t bust, but 16 total touchdowns in an injury-plagued season didn’t help the Tigers’ case, either.
Army– Coming off a 11-2 season that included a 70-point offensive output in a bowl win, Jeff Monken’s squad entered 2019 with sky-high expectations. Those took a hit in a handcuffed season-opening win 14-7 win over lowly Rice. The Black Knights bounced back with a near win in an overtime classic at the Big House against Michigan, but came up just short. Disappointing losses to Western Kentucky, Georgia State and San Jose State led to a 5-7 record, but Army has a chance to bounce back Saturday against rival Navy on a national stage.
Central Florida– 2019 was the season for the Black Knights to break out on a national stage. They entered the regular season ranked and had palpable momentum going into the year. That dissipated quickly with upset road losses to Cincinnati and Tulsa- losses many fans pinned on head coach and former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. No one would complain if UCF can finish off a 10-win season, but it was still less than enough for many in the fanbase.
The absolute worst:
Akron– The 0-12 Zips take the cake for the absolute worst FBS team this season. They bookended the regular season with a 42-3 loss in the opener, and a 52-3 loss to Ohio in its season finale. Everything in between was forgettable. Akron put up a measly 12.3 points per game- the lowest total in the FBS. There’s no room for an offseason hangover- the Zips travel to Death Valley to play Trevor Lawrence and Clemson Sep. 19.
Players that deserve attention, but won’t get it:
Evan Weaver, California LB– Don’t let his jersey number fool you- Weaver isn’t a mediocre tight end. He led the FBS with 172 total tackles. He buoyed a Cal team that peaked at No. 15 in the AP rankings. After QB Chase Garbers’ season ended, the Golden Bears lost all their momentum- but are still in a position to win the RedBox bowl in late December largely thanks to Weaver’s play on defense.
Omar Bayless, Arkansas State WR– Bayless is probably the best NFL draft prospect you’ve never heard of. Even with questions at the quarterback position in Blake Anderson’s offense, he still found ways to get open. He racked up 1,473 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on the way to a second-team All-American selection. His gaudy numbers paired with a 6-foot-3, 207 lb. frame will likely be convincing enough for an NFL team to take a chance on him in the later rounds.
Dino Babers and Hugh Freeze’s interaction– In what was a scary situation in late August, Liberty first-year head coach Hugh Freeze was limited to coaching from a hospital bed due to a staph infection. Fortunately, Freeze recovered, but after Syracuse and head coach Dino Babers shut out the Flames 24-0, instead of the customary postgame handshake, Babers resorted to a friendly gesture toward Freeze in the press box, a bizarre scene that had to be seen to be believed.
Ty Storey returns to top Arkansas- As a college football pundit and fan of under-the-radar games, I was excited when Arkansas scheduled Western Kentucky for a home game this season. I thought the Hilltoppers would be able to give them a good fight. I was even more excited when I saw former Razorback starting QB Ty Storey decided to transfer to WKU for his final season of eligibility. This storyline spelled disaster for Arkansas from the jump, and Hog fan’s worst nightmares were realized- Storey scored 3 touchdowns on the way to a 45-19 win in Fayetteville.
If I had a Heisman vote, it’d go to LSU’s Joe Burrow- with Chase Young as my second-place option. Once an aftethought Ohio State transfer, Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady completely transformed his game on the way to a record-shattering 13-0 season in which he broke the Southeastern Conference record for passing touchdowns in a single season with 48. His Heisman moment came with the SEC Championship game still in the balance- throwing a strike after avoiding two Travon Walker tackles. Aptly described as “Joe Houdini” by CBS’ Brad Nessler.