The 2016 regular season is in the books, the four playoff teams have been chosen, the bowl games have been doled out, the trophies have been awarded and all that we loved or hated about the regular season has drawn to a close.
Before the excitement of bowl season gets underway, let us look back at the season that has just unfolded and highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is the best attempt to break down the entire season in one article, this will not get everything and some things will get left out. However, it will recap major highlights, games, and players from the 2016 season.
The Best Games
There have been some really fantastic games this season. From Tennessee winning on a Hail Mary after Georgia’s Hail Mary to Texas topping Notre Dame in double over time to USC trouncing Washington vaulting the Trojans into national relevance. However, these are the top three games, chosen because of the play of both teams and because these highly anticipated games lived up to the hype.
#3 - Alabama tops LSU 10-0 in Death Valley
Why this game? This game is always hyped because of the talent involved and the smash mouth history of this rivalry. It lived up to the expectations as this was a game that involved crushing defenses, and offenses that needed their running games to churn out yards. Remember this is the game then interim LSU coach Ed Orgeron needed to win to keep the head job for the Tigers. In the end some big plays from Jalen Hurts and the problems on LSU’s offense proved to be the difference.
#2 - Ohio State sneaks past Michigan 30-27 at home
Why this game? This game had great defense, failed fake punts, crazy calls, great coaching and phenomenal players on both sides. Most had one or both of these teams in the playoff, making this a game with huge implications since August. The hype could not have been bigger, and while both teams came in with flaws, they battled back and forth in a thrilling game that needed added time to be decided. In the end JT Barrett came alive to end the fourth quarter and show up strong in the over time. While the ending will forever be argued, this was one of the best games of the year.
#1 - Clemson edges out Louisville in a tight 42-36 shootout
Why this game? This game was perfectly timed at week five for the Lamar Jackson hype train to really get going while the Clemson doubters were at their loudest following four rocky weeks from the Tigers. The game raged back and forth and ended on a failed forth down conversion deep in Tiger territory. This game was every bit as crazy as the college season.
Most Surprising Team - Colorado
To go from a four win team to a 10 win program that was in the conference championship game is a huge leap, to do it in one year is even bigger. Behind Phillip Lindsey and a defense that only let up 17 points a game gave this squad a huge turnaround year. The also won in a lot of ways, they beat Stanford 10-5 in a ground and pound game along with a 41-38 win over Oregon in a shootout.
They found many different ways to win and got all the way to the top of the PAC-12 south. A pleasant surprise.
Most Disappointing Team - Ole’ Miss
An explosive offense led by star quarterback Chad Kelly was supposed to set this Rebels team above most of their conference. Instead, the defense was bad and the running game inconsistent, leaving far too much on Kelly. While they played close with teams like FSU and Alabama, they never were able to get the big win and ended the season with a 5-7 record and went 2-6 in the SEC.
The Most Impressive plays
Every year there are crazy plays that drop jaws and stun fans, this year there are three that standout from the season.
#3 - Michigan’s Jordan Lewis with the one handed pick vs. Wisconsin.
#2 Louisville’s Jackson sails over Syracuse defender.
#1 Insane Utica pick off a helmet vs. Cortland.
Most Impressive Players
Jalen Hurts - To come in as a true freshman and start for the Tide, bearing all the responsibility and pressure that comes with the title, and play the way he has is really impressive. He has made huge plays with both his arm and legs time and again. He has been more than Bama could have hoped for coming into the season.
Ben Boulware - This stud linebacker for Clemson has nine tackles for loss and four sacks along with being responsible for four turnovers on the year. More importantly, he has been the heart and soul of a defense that lost six starters in last season’s draft and he has helped make this unit just as fearsome as last years despite the losses.
Zay Jones - I like Dede Westbrook as much as the next guy, but the fact that he beat out this receiver as the most recognized is disrespectful. Jones caught 158 passes for East Carolina, tallying 1,746 yards with eight touchdowns. These numbers are even more impressive when looking at his starting quarterback’s numbers. Phillip Nelson had 237 completions with 2,621 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jones was the passing attack for a team all season long and put up monster numbers.
James Conner - This running back is now headed for the NFL draft, but before he declared for the draft he recovered from cancer to put up 1,060 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns at Pitt this season. This man has tremendous talent and toughness as he was a vocal leader on this team, then backed it up with impressive actions on the field.
D’Onta Foreman - Despite a down year for Texas, Foreman still managed to rumble for 2,028 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He also broke Earl Campbell’s record for consecutive 100 plus yard rushing games with 12. In a season that saw Texas doing a lot wrong, Foreman was consistently great.
Lamar Jackson - While I did not want this to be about stats, not putting in the Heisman trophy winner after 51 total touchdowns would be silly. Jackson made a team that is typically middle to bottom of the ACC an actual playoff threat for most of the season. He was dominant and brought to mind highlights from RGIII, Young and Vick with his passing ability matched by the damage done with his legs. He is a special talent and a joy to watch.
Leonard Fournette and Derwin James make the list through no fault of their own, but unfortunately injury ruined seasons for two exceptional players. I have no doubt both of these guys will be pro bowlers at the next level and feel robbed of the opportunity to see them light up the college arena this past season. However, injury is as much apart of the game as winning and losing so we are forced to wait until next year to see them pack highlight reels.
While some would say this year is the problem with the playoff as teams win their conference and get left out, quite the opposite is true. The urge to become a top level team based on opponents and wins has driven the level of play forward, along with the sense of urgency. Games as early as the end of September really mattered and teams with really difficult out of conference schedules were rewarded for going out and putting together an intimidating schedule. Overall this was an incredibly fun year of college football, loaded with great games. From Oklahoma vs. Ohio Sate or USC vs. Washington to Texas A&M vs. Tennessee, there was never a down Saturday. The story lines where also fascinating to follow all year long, from USC rebuilding their squad back to respectability, to the Tide rolling, to Tennessee playing themselves into and then back out of relevance, this has been another college season full of twists and turns, villains and heroes. Another fantastic year in the books, and excited for a great bowl season to commence.