Alabama didn’t start 2009 they way they wanted to, but outside of that bowl loss to Utah (which we all know was a total fluke), no team was more dominating off the field, in the headlines, and on the field for the rest of the year. Even in the off-season, Alabama continually dominated the headlines with NFL draft picks and a second straight number 1 recruiting class. For the 2009 season, Alabama posted a second straight undefeated regular season, destroyed Florida for the SEC Championship, and the gathered school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram. Poised to play for the BCS Championship and with another stellar class joining the deep ranks, it’s hard to think any team will unseat Alabama in 2010. This time, ‘Bama really is back.
2. Coaching Changes – Part One – Bobby Bowden was finally forced out at Florida State as the Seminoles stumbled and bumbled through the season. Notre Dame fires Charlie Weis for doing basically nothing different than his predecessors and hires Brian Kelly from Cincinnati. Mark Mangino and Mike Leach were removed amid controversy surrounding their treatment of players. Two names excised from coaching that many thought would land somewhere yet have remained "retired" are Tommy Tuberville (formerly of Auburn) and Philip Fulmer (formerly of Tennessee). The only coaching call those guys got was to make cameo appearances in The Blind Side next to Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. All in all, the carousel spun a few off to the wayside and added some long-awaited members to coaching positions in major conferences.
3. The Mountain West
The MWC started this year with some solid bowl wins for its top teams (TCU and Utah) and followed it up with another stellar season and solid bowl performances so far and another BCS bowl berth. Maybe it’s time for the BCS to open up the doors.
4. USC takes a step back
After dominating the PAC-10 conference for seven years, years of attrition of talent to the NFL finally caught up with Pete Carroll and the Trojans out west as they failed to win the conference and were relegated to sixth place and an after-thought bowl game. No team stays on top forever. The real question is can USC get it back in the coming years.
5. Coaching Changes – Part 2: Minority Coaching Hires
Turner Gill and Charlie Strong finally get their shots with the big boys by accepting jobs at Kansas and Louisville respectively. Gill was a hot story around the Auburn job late last year and Strong was considered long overdue to helm a program. For all that the coaching carousel spun to the wayside this year, adding these two names to programs in big conferences is long overdue.
6. Sam Bradford – This is how the last twelve months went for Bradford: he wins the Heisman in 2008, plays decently in a losing effort in the 2009 BCS Championship, decides to return for another season in spite of being projected as the number one pick in the NFL draft, gets hurt in the season opener, rehabs and comes back against Texas, had season ending injury/surgery, and now faces an uncertain future in the NFL. No one blames the guy for coming back, but he has become yet another chapter in the cautionary tale of striking while the iron is hot.
7. Redefining Lack of Class
LeGarrette Blount (Oregon) and Brandon Spikes (Florida) re-invented “unsportsmanlike conduct” their on-the-filed actions this year. Blount decked a Boise State player at the end of a tough loss early in the season and Spikes tried to poke out a Georgia player’s eyes through his facemask. Blount served a long, long suspension before being allowed to return to the team late in the year. Spikes was initially suspended for one half, but asked to be pulled for the whole game. Kudos to Chip Kelly for actually demonstrating discipline unlike Urban Meyer who seemed to skirt the ethic as close as possible when dealing with Spikes. No wonder he's stressed.
The Gators started the year by dismantling Oklahoma for the BCS championship. Tim Tebow returned for his senior year. Though the 2009 Gators lacked explosiveness on offense, they put together and undefeated regular season. And then the tracks came off the train. Florida was derailed in the SEC Championship by Alabama, Tebow finished near the bottom of Heisman voters, and then Urban Meyer’s health/resignation/leave of absence became a bigger story than the Sugar Bowl berth. Florida looked like a championship program in January. In December, they look like a program quickly on its way down the drain, grasping at any way to stay in the spotlight.
9. Lane Kiffin’s Repeated Missteps
Give the guy credit for this, he can dish it and take it. Since arriving in Rocky Top, Kiffin has bent and broken the rules and boundaries for coaches in the SEC and has lived to tell about it. He got a lackluster team up for the two biggest games of the year and was within grasp of winning at least one of those, made it to a bowl game, and has pulled in some impressive recruits. Along the way, he’s been sanctioned by the NCAA and SEC. At this point, Tennessee is hurdling towards the SEC East Championship and NCAA Probation at the same speed, but one thing is for sure, Kiffin will not let Tennessee out of the spotlight. He truly believes there’s no such thing as bad press.
10. Cincinnati & Pitt bring respect to Big East
Usually when you talk about football in these cities, it's all about the pro teams. However, the "amateur" provided plenty of spark including a very entertaining season ending game that sealed the fate of the conference. The Big East isn't a major powerhouse, but Pitt and Cincy had consistent talent on the field this year and it will be interesting to watch and see if they maintain it. Pitt's Dion Lewis should be a preseason Heisman candidate after a strong freshmen year.