The end was fitting. The backup quarterback, a true freshman, overcoming a brutal play with a touchdown toss to win a national championship. In a year of highs, lows, laughs and tears, there was no better way to put a bow on the season than with an utterly unexpected finish. But don't get caught up in how it ended. The 2017 season was so much fun from start to finish, and all the twists and turns and tweets deserve to be remembered fondly.
The preseason coaching carousel
We'll get to what happened after the season in a bit, but let's not forget what a spectacle things were before fall camp even kicked off. Not only did we wave goodbye to Bob Stoops, one of college football's longest-tenured and most successful coaches, but Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze got the ax after a lawsuit by former coach Houston Nutt uncovered some illicit phone calls. And if that last sentence sounds a bit crazy ... well, that was just the start of the coaching madness in 2017.
UAB returns to action
It would've been a great story regardless. After UAB's unceremonious end following the 2014 season, the program was resurrected for 2017 and wasted no time in finding some on-field success. The Blazers won seven of their first 10 games, earned a bowl bid, and coach Bill Clark earned plenty of love for a job well done.
Mark Richt teaches the world how to eat a sandwich
Media days are usually dull affairs, regardless of the conference. But Miami's coach managed to liven things up with what can only be described as the definitive guide to properly eating a sandwich. And after winning the Canes' first ACC Coastal Division title, it should be all "filet of the sandwich" for Richt until next season begins.
Mark Richt's sandwich philosophy is just amazing: pic.twitter.com/Gk3Ou8thhA— Crooked Halery (@DavidHaleESPN) July 14, 2017
This one wasn't Richt's idea, but it sure was a popular one. In a season in which sideline swag became all the rage, Miami made the biggest fashion statement with its gaudy gear that just so happened to actually work (or, it at least made for a pretty impressive placebo effect), as the Canes finished with 31 takeaways. Plus, if your competition is a rubber garbage can, well, the chain was clearly the fashion statement of 2017.
Stay away from the rat poison
Breaking news: Alabama is pretty good at football. It's true. But seriously, guys, don't say anything about it. The Tide don't need to hear that kind of praise. Believe it or not, it's "rat poison." Or so Nick Saban said after Alabama struggled to put away Texas A&M, putting the onus on all the praise the team had gotten in advance of the game. He also got to play the "nobody believes in us" card in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, where Alabama was the betting favorite. Saban is a genius.
Lane Kiffin and his Twitter feed
He tweaked Saban for the "rat poison" comment and posted a photoshopped image of Saban wearing torn jeans. (Seriously, how did these guys work together for so long without killing each other?) He tweeted about point spreads. He tweeted about Tennessee's disastrous coaching search. He tweeted about everything the rest of college football was talking about, and it was all gold.
Sister misses overtime
There's nothing quite like family. When you're down, they support you. And when you win, they want to celebrate. It's just that sometimes those celebrations are a bit premature, as Western Michigan tight end Donnie Ernsberger found out against Buffalo. Ernsberger's sister rushed the field to give him a hug after he caught a touchdown in the first overtime. It drew a flag, and she was tossed from the game. The problem? The game wasn't over. In fact, Western Michigan and Buffalo played seven overtimes before the Broncos finally won.
Sister celebrates brother's touchdown on field during game
Western Michigan's Donnie Ernsberger scores a 14-yard touchdown in overtime, and his sister runs into the end zone to join in on the celebration. She's asked to leave the stadium soon after as the game hadn't concluded.
Clemson goes down
Clemson was the defending champ, the No. 2 team in the country and a 24-point favorite when it headed to Syracuse on Friday, Oct. 13 -- a prophetic date. The Tigers looked utterly overmatched. QB Kelly Bryant got hurt. And Syracuse pulled arguably the season's biggest upset -- a win so impressive that Dabo Swinney went to the Orange locker room afterward to congratulate the victors. Of course, if you're into upsets, there were other big ones, including Iowa's dominance over Ohio State, Iowa State's stunner against Oklahoma and the biggest upset in the history of college football, according to point spreads, as Howard upended UNLV in the opening week.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit Baker Mayfield made college football a lot more interesting. Not only did the Oklahoma quarterback win the Heisman Trophy this season and lead the Sooners to the College Football Playoff, but he made plenty of headlines outside his play, including planting an Oklahoma flag on Ohio State's home turf and offering a few profanities and an obscene gesture to the folks at Kansas who'd refused to shake hands before the game.
Louisiana Tech gets behind the chains
There's third down. Then there's third-and-long. Then there's third-and-a-mile. Then there's what Louisiana Tech faced in a game against Mississippi State in September. The Bulldogs were actually on the brink of scoring when a bad snap sailed past QB J'Mar Smith, and a Keystone Cops routine ensued, with Mississippi State players flubbing a recovery as the ball continued to bounce toward the opposite end zone. Eventually receiver Cee Jay Powell flopped on top of the ball at the 5-yard line -- setting up a historic third-and-93 for La Tech. Spoiler alert: They didn't convert.
Payne dazzles with pick and TD catch
Alabama DL Da'Ron Payne comes up with an interception off a deflection on defense, then corrals a TD catch moments later as the Tide pull away from Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Mike Leach on ... everything
If Leach read the phone book during his news conferences, they'd still be the best news conferences of the season. Thankfully, he does so much more. Whether waxing poetic on weddings, coffee, goths or ... well, pretty much anything, Leach presented an eye-opening outlook on the world around us. And that's not even getting into his suggestion that no one streaks anymore, leading a Washington State fan to do just that during the Cougars' game against Stanford.
Say hello to sports' best new tradition
Iowa started the best new tradition in all of sports -- when fans turn to wave at the children's hospital next door. At the end of the first quarter of each home game, fans turn and wave to the patients there, and one heartwarming story after another followed this season. On the field, we had some great moments, too, including Southern California long-snapper Jake Olson, who is blind, getting playing time.
It's more than just a wave at Iowa.https://t.co/n8lNoQrYdv— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 8, 2017
The postseason coaching fiascos
Freeze was crazy. Tennessee was a whole new level of crazy. But wait, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The coaching carousel included all kinds of fun: From Bret Bielema's claims of being fired as he walked off the field to Jimbo Fisher's will-he-or-won't-he dalliance with Texas A&M that netted the former FSU coach $75 million guaranteed, it was a heck of a year for coaching changes. But no one did it with more utter incompetence than the Volunteers, who tried to hire Greg Schiano, only to see reports of the deal ignite a massive fan quest to overrule the administration. After that, the Vols interviewed everyone from Leach to Mike Gundy to 11 Jon Gruden look-alikes, then fired their AD instead. The end result: Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt got the gig. And you know the old saying, the 417th time is the charm.
New Mexico State wins a bowl game
The last time New Mexico State even played for a bowl, the Beatles were an unknown band playing clubs in Germany, Nick Saban was 9 and John F. Kennedy had just been elected. In fact, New Mexico had only been a state for 48 years when the Aggies went to their last bowl game in 1960. But with a win over South Alabama in the final game of the regular season, New Mexico State became bowl eligible, and the Aggies made the most of the moment, upending Utah State 26-20 in the Arizona Bowl. Here's hoping they can do it again before 2074.
UCF wins the national championship*
First off, let's get back to those inspirational stories. There were few as awesome as the season turned in by UCF's Shaquem Griffin, who blossomed into one of the nation's top defenders, despite missing his left hand. He was an inspiration for kids all over the country each time he played, and his performance in helping UCF topple Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl also set the stage for the Knights' claims to a national title. UCF didn't lose a game and beat a team that beat both the national title game participants. So that's enough for a championship resume, right? Tons of UCF folks thought so, as did Florida governor Rick Scott, so they threw themselves a parade at Walt Disney World. And in the end, isn't that what counts? (Note: No, it's actually not. But nice try.)
300-pounders making interceptions and catching TDs
The favorite play of couch potatoes everywhere is the big-guy touchdown. And there's been no bigger big-guy TD than Da'Ron Payne's grab against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Just a few plays after an interception and a nifty return, the 308-pound defensive lineman caught a touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts that proved to be a dagger to Clemson's Sugar Bowl hopes. And with that, 300-pound men everywhere thought, "Yeah, I can do that, too."
How many coaches would've had the guts to pull a two-year starting quarterback at halftime of the national championship game for a guy who hadn't taken a meaningful snap all season? Saban did. And it paid off. If the first half of the national title game was a snoozefest, the second half -- and overtime -- was as good as it gets, and Tua Tagovailoa officially etched his name into the history books with the biggest throw of the year. What a season, and what an ending.