After 14 weeks of tracking who’s up and who’s down in college football, let’s take a look at the the winners and losers from the 2016 regular season:
WINNER: Alabama. The Crimson Tide will be the top seed in the playoff later this month after wrapping up a 13-0 run through its schedule. Alabama rolled past Florida, 54-16, in the Southeastern Conference title game on a rare day when it surrendered multiple touchdowns. It also allowed zero rushing yards to the Gators. Nick Saban’s team will rightfully head into the playoff semifinals as the favorite to bag another national title.
LOSER: The rest of the SEC. It wasn’t quite “Alabama and the Thirteen Dwarfs” bad, but everything outside of Tuscaloosa just didn’t mean more at a national level. With Florida’s SEC title game loss, only the Crimson Tide will get to 10 victories this season. That’s the first time just one SEC program has hit double-digit wins in a given season since 2000. More than two had reached that plateau in each of the past six years.
WINNER: Washington. The Huskies are almost certainly headed to the playoff after brushing off Colorado, 41-10, on Friday to lock up their first Pacific-12 title since 2000. A confluence of factors worked in the Huskies’ favor, among them Oregon cratering and Stanford getting caught with a largely one-dimensional offense.
But Washington helped itself, too, when it hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State three years ago. The Huskies are 12-1, with only five of their 22 starting spots occupied by seniors. This isn’t a matter of Petersen fortuitously taking what he inherited and maximizing it. He’s responsible for the Huskies moving from mediocre to national title contenders, and his team might be even better next year.
LOSER: Notre Dame. Lost to Duke and N.C. State. Lost to disappointments Michigan State and Texas. Lost to traditional California foes Southern California and Stanford. Lost to Virginia Tech on senior day. Lost to Navy despite scoring on all but one of its possessions. The Irish lost and looked lost with great frequency, leading to the worst year since the darkest part of the Charlie Weis era.
WINNER: Lamar Jackson. The end of the season left a bit to be desired for the Louisville quarterback, but no one else turned in ridiculous performances with the regularity of the Cardinals sophomore. The 12-game damage: a whopping 1,538 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground to go with 3,390 yards and 30 TDs through the air. Late losses to Houston and Kentucky took the shine off Louisville and Jackson, but he remains the favorite to claim the Heisman Trophy.
LOSER: Big 12 relevance. Everybody had at least one loss by the end of October, and everyone had at least two before Thanksgiving. Oklahoma dropped a pair of games in September, and Texas still hasn’t found its way out of its abyss. Those two are the Big 12’s alpha programs, and when they struggle, the league’s perception takes a hit. In 2016, the league was long on points and short on national contenders.
WINNER: Tom Herman. Five years ago, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State. Just 15 months ago, he logged his first game as a head coach. And now, after a 22-4 run at Houston, he’s in charge at Texas. That’s a rapid (and lucrative) rise for the former Mack Brown graduate assistant and one that’s been almost universally lauded in part because of Herman’s work at Ohio State two years ago.
What’s fascinating is that Herman’s star did not dim even as Houston turned in a mildly disappointing 9-3 season. It’s true that the Cougars beat Louisville (twice), Florida State and Oklahoma over the past two years, an undeniably impressive set of victories. It also lost three times as a double-digit favorite in that span. Such missteps will draw a lot more scrutiny about three hours to the west, though Herman will have plenty of resources to work with in Austin.
LOSER: Mark Helfrich. In the end, the ex-Oregon coach was Gene Chizik 2.0. He was a fairly anonymous hire (more so than Chizik, who was 5-17 at Iowa State before arriving at Auburn). He got to the national title game in his second season thanks to a Heisman-winning quarterback (though Chizik won a championship and Helfrich didn’t). There was regression in Year Three. A respected offensive coordinator then departed, and the bottom fell out in Year Four. With an $11 million buyout, though, it’s tough to feel sorry for Helfrich.
WINNER and LOSER: Charlie Strong. The former Texas coach went 16-21 in three years, hence why he’s now the former Texas coach. But he leaves Austin with an eight-figure buyout, his dignity and reputation intact, a decent cupboard stocked for his successor and a solid chance to land a decent job either this year or next.
Most fired coaches wear a scarlet L, but it’s understood that Strong had a lot to clean up and plenty of administrative dysfunction surrounding him. He won at Louisville before going to Texas, and he’ll win elsewhere so long as he can enjoy a more stable foundation.
WINNER: James Conner. Kicked cancer’s butt, emerged as a major inspirational figure in the sports world, rushed for 1,060 yards and scored 20 touchdowns to become the ACC’s career touchdown leader. Good luck finding anyone who truly accomplished more in 2016 than the Pittsburgh tailback.
LOSER: Michigan State. From the playoff last year to 3-9 this season, the fall from grace in East Lansing was sudden, nasty and jarring. The Spartans surely missed Connor Cook at quarterback, but there was severe regression on the defensive side as well. Oh, and it coincided with Michigan’s continued ascendance under Jim Harbaugh.
WINNER: Jabrill Peppers. A complete menace on defense, Peppers had 72 tackles (16 for loss) and four sacks to go with three rushing touchdowns and a punt return for a score this season. He fit perfectly into first-year coordinator-mad scientist Don Brown’s defense, and he very well may have earned an invitation to New York for the Heisman announcement.
LOSER: Rutgers. And, by extension, Ruth’s Chris Ann Arbor. The Scarlet Knights are in full rebuild mode, and never was that more apparent than in their meetings with Big Ten East royalty (even Michigan State). In four games against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, Chris Ash’s team was outscored 224-0 and outgained 2,258-391. It was all part of a 2-10 season.
Low tide very well may have been the 78-0 bludgeoning against Michigan, though the Ann Arbor Ruth’s Chris was part of the collateral damage. It had offered 1 percent off food bills for every point the Wolverines won by. Oops.
WINNER: Temple. The Owls have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons, with a pair of division titles and now an American Athletic Conference title (thanks to Saturday’s 34-10 triumph at Navy) to their credit. It’s the winningest two-year stretch in program history, and while few questioned how good Temple was last year, this season served as even greater validation of the job Matt Rhule has done in Philadelphia.
WINNER: Kirk Ferentz. That’s Coach For Life Ferentz, to you. Ferentz, who wrapped up his 18th year in charge in Iowa City, received a 10-year contract extension through 2026 in September. He’s about as much a fixture in the Hawkeye State as flat land and retail politics.
LOSER: Champions of Life... and maybe the first month or so of the season. But definitely not of the SEC East. Tennessee (8-4) squandered an early-season stretch littered with comebacks and near-miracles, only to drop games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt down the stretch. Prior to the Vanderbilt game, Vols Coach Butch Jones described his players as “champions of life.” Suffice to say, Tennessee fans who thought they might have a team capable of playing in the SEC title game were not enthused that their “champions” went 4-4 in a down SEC.
WINNER: Eastern Michigan. One of the most woebegone FBS programs is headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1987 after cranking out a 7-5 season under Chris Creighton. That was a nickname ago, since Eastern Michigan was then known as the Hurons and beat San Jose State in the California Bowl. The now-Eagles will face Old Dominion in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 23.
LOSER: Depending on the interpretation, either everyone but Alabama and Western Michigan or no one at all. Only the Crimson Tide and the Broncos made it through the season without a loss. Then again, everyone in the FBS managed to win at least one game, and everyone other than Fresno State scratched out multiple triumphs. So here’s to no one getting saddled with an 0-for-2016.
WINNER: Second chances. Some familiar old tires were kicked in the early stages of this year’s coaching carousel. Ed Orgeron was a disaster as Mississippi’s head coach a decade ago but learned from his mistakes and turned in a solid stint as Southern Cal’s interim coach in 2013. Now, after another interim gig, he’s landed just about the perfect head-coaching job for him — as Les Miles’s successor at Louisiana State.
Meanwhile, Jeff Tedford (at Fresno State) and Butch Davis (at Florida International) have re-emerged from exile with some geographic proximity to their greatest success. Neither, though, is likely to be as quotable as the colorful Orgeron.
LOSER: Baylor. Won its first six, in the process creating anxiety that a program with a sexual-assault scandal that led to the firing of coach Art Briles could ultimately reach the playoff. Those concerns were unfounded. Between injuries, attrition and old-fashioned disintegration-in-freefall, the Bears dropped their final six games. No other program has cratered in national esteem this year in the manner Baylor has.