College football's biggest surprises of 2014
COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S BIGGEST SURPRISES THIS SEASON
8. Nick Chubb, not Todd Gurley, leading Georgia’s rushing attack: LSU’s Leonard Fournette was the SEC’s most anticipated freshman running back this season but it was fellow five-star Nick Chubb who exploded onto the scene as an all-league first teamer in the shadow of Todd Gurley. After Gurley, a preseason Heisman frontrunner, was suspended several games for an autograph incident in October, Chubb rushed for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns over the next eight weeks. He finished with a 1,281 yards on the ground, second in the SEC behind Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne.
7. Five SEC teams finish with better records than defending champ Auburn: It’s accurate to blame Auburn’s slide from the top on a brutal schedule and an underwhelming defense, but Gus Malzahn’s not using either as an excuse. The Tigers were the recipient of Western Division chaos this season, losing at top-ranked Mississippi State and suffering a letdown at home against Texas A&M a few weeks before a shootout loss in the Iron Bowl. Auburn didn’t show up at Georgia, the lowpoint of Malzahn’s second season.
6. Down to his third-string quarterback, Urban Meyer keeps winning: After Heisman candidate Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury in fall practice, the outlook was grim for the Playoff-bound Buckeyes this season. All was not lost, however. Second-team quarterback J.T. Barrett lost his second start to Virginia Tech before winning 10 straight games and setting a Big Ten record with 45 total touchdowns in the process. Barrett suffered a leg injury in the regular-season finale that gave way to Cardale Jones. With just a week of prep, Jones helped Ohio State to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the league title game, securing a Playoff berth. It’s not just the talent in Columbus, it’s the system.
5. Mizzou’s second straight SEC East title: Picked to finish fourth in the preseason, the Tigers did it again under the direction of veteran coach Gary Pinkel, winning six straight games to end the regular season and keep Georgia out of the SEC Championship Game. An early-season loss to Indiana was the black mark on an otherwise impressive season for a team that overcame the loss of All-American and 2013 SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam.
4. Louisville sophomore safety Gerod Holliman’s 14 interceptions: Something clicked for this third-year ballhawk under Bobby Petrino, a star defender who is one interception away from breaking the single-season FBS record for picks. A situational player at the back end as a redshirt freshman in 2013, the ACC’s top safety has recorded takeaways in nine games this season despite not playing in the Cardinals’ Week 2 win over Murray State. There may not be a defensive player in the country who has developed into a prolific playmaker as quickly as Holliman.
3. Quarterback Trevone Boykin’s unexpected offensive explosion at TCU: This dual-threat sophomore made the transitioning to an Air Raid offense look easy as the Horned Frogs’ best player, throwing for 3,714 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. His 461 attempts nearly doubled his total over the two previous seasons combined and several strong second-half performances helped TCU to an 11-1 finish. It wasn’t enough to place Gary Patterson’s team in the College Football Playoff, but it’s worthy of national merit.
2. State of Mississippi boasts two Top 10 teams at regular season’s end: Much of the late-summer buzz surrounded around quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Dak Prescott and which one would leads their respective team to division title contention. Few expected both to do so, especially Prescott who entered the season with only six career starts. Dan Mullen’s catastrophic record against ranked teams in Starkville was turned on its head after the Bulldogs won three straight games against then-Top 10 teams to reach No. 1 for the first time in school history. With bowl wins, the Rebels and Bulldogs will both finish in the AP Top 10 for the first time ever.
1. Jameis Winston’s season-long fall from grace and Florida State’s refusal to lose: A sexual assault investigation first opened in November 2013 has followed Winston during his sophomore campaign, but other off-the-field incidences have been equally newsworthy. In April, Winston was issued a citation after stealing crab lags from a Florida-based Publix grocery store. Five months later, Winston was suspended for Florida State’s win over Clemson after yelling sexually aggressive comments inside the student union. Despite a disappointing sophomore season compared to last year’s Heisman run, the Seminoles ride a 29-game winning streak into the College Football Playoff semifinal against Oregon on Jan. 1.