January 21, 2009

2008 was a long, strange season on the gridiron

Phillip Fulmer was served with a subpoena … and then walking papers. Sam Bradford was the subject of a hoax, but eventually hoisted the Heisman. The President-elect called for a playoff, but college presidents didn't answer the call.

Those were some of the big stories of the 2008 college football season, which wasn't short of them. Some stories were sad, some were outrageous, some controversial and some just plain bizarre.

And in keeping with the traditional top 25 college football rankings, here's a review – in rough chronological order – of some highlights and lowlights of the season and events leading up to it.

• In May, Florida coach Urban Meyer dismissed junior safety Jamar Hornsby from the team after Hornsby used the credit card of a friend who had died in a motorcycle accident. Hornsby was accused of running up $3,000 in charges on the card. He transferred to a junior college and has committed to Ole Miss.

• Heavy rains in June damaged the gravel foundation beneath the field in Indiana's Memorial Stadium, left a sinkhole in the south end zone and lumps in the turf on the south end of the field. The university spent about $1 million to have the field in playing shape before the season opener. Maybe the school shouldn't have bothered: The Hoosiers went 4-8 with just one victory in the Big Ten and ranked 97th in the country in scoring offense.

• Injuries are a part of football, but not the kind Louisville wide receiver Trent Guy endured. In July, Guy suffered a gunshot wound to the back after an argument near a Louisville, Ky., nightclub. He had emergency surgery that might have saved his life. He was back in action by the time the season started and caught 14 passes for 216 yards.

• Nebraska football fan and Austin, Texas, resident James W. Conradt wanted to shake up Oklahoma fans on the Internet, so he lifted a template off The Daily Oklahoman newspaper's Web site and pasted a bogus story about Sooners quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones being arrested for distributing cocaine. Although radio stations in Dallas and Austin reported the story as fact, it clearly was a hoax, and threats to sue Conradt came from Jones' father, the newspaper and the university. Bradford had the last laugh. He led the Sooners to a 62-28 victory over Nebraska and went on to win the Heisman Trophy.

• While arriving for SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., in July, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was served with a subpoena that required him to provide a deposition in a lawsuit brought by Chattanooga, Tenn., car dealer Wendell Smith against the NCAA. Fulmer called the issue "crap." In late November, Fulmer was served with a pink slip by Tennessee officials after the Vols finished 5-7.

• In August, Kansas State gave coach Ron Prince a contract extension. In November, they fired him after the Wildcats went 5-7, the second season in a row they failed to attain bowl eligibility. K-State replaced Prince with Bill Snyder, the coach Prince originally replaced.

• The presence of senior quarterback Sean Glennon led Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer to decide to redshirt sophomore Tyrod Taylor. That way, Taylor could be counted on to be the Hokies' starter for the following three seasons. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But then Glennon passed for just 139 yards and threw two interceptions in a 27-22 season-opening loss to East Carolina. Beamer responded by taking the redshirt off Taylor, who led the Hokies to the ACC championship.

• Pac-10 officials came under criticism – is this an annual event? – when Washington quarterback Jake Locker was penalized for tossing the football skyward after scoring a last-second touchdown that put the Huskies on the verge of forcing overtime against BYU. But the 15-yard penalty forced the extra-point attempt to be tried from the 25-yard line, and it was blocked. The Huskies lost 28-27 on their way to an 0-12 record that got coach Tyrone Willingham fired.

• During a Sept. 13 victory over Michigan, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis suffered tears to the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee after a player was blocked into him as he stood on the sideline in the second quarter. "I feel like an athlete. First time in my life," Weis said. Weis leaned on crutches in the second half and eventually had surgery. Later in the year, he was hurt again – this time, it was a damaged reputation – when the Irish lost to a woeful Syracuse team Nov. 22.

• Following a 31-30 loss to Ole Miss in which he was stopped short of a crucial first down on a fourth-and-1 run, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow made an emotional postgame promise: "You have never seen any player in the country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season, and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season, and you will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season." Florida won all of its remaining regular-season games by at least 28 points, won the SEC Championship Game, then defeated Oklahoma for the national title.

• Washington State lost quarterbacks Gary Rogers, Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael to injury. Although Lopina did return after missing three games, the situation became so dire that in early October, coach Paul Wulff held open tryouts to find a scout-team quarterback. Freshman Peter Roberts, who played high school football, won the job. Fortunately for him, he never actually had to play in a game.

• Sometimes you wonder if Texas Tech coach Mike Leach strives to be unorthodox. Upset with his team's unreliable kicking game, Leach offered a place on the roster to Matt Williams, a sophomore who won free rent by kicking a 30-yard field goal in a promotion during Texas Tech's game against Massachusetts on Sept. 20. It turned out to be a good move: Williams kicked nine extra points during a win over Kansas and finished the season 29-of-29 on extra points and 2-for-3 on field goals.

• Starting Oct. 6, Joe Paterno, 81, began coaching Penn State from the press box because of a painful hip injury endured while demonstrating an onside kick in practice two days before the season opener. Paterno coached the first three games from the sideline, but the pain apparently intensified after standing on the artificial turf of the Carrier Dome during a win over Syracuse. The move to the press box obviously didn't matter: Penn State won the Big Ten championship and finished 11-2. Paterno had successful hip replacement surgery in late November. He also announced his intentions to return in the 2009 season.

• Clemson fired coach Tommy Bowden following a 12-7 loss to Wake Forest in mid-October. The ouster of Bowden, who was replaced by assistant Dabo Swinney, started a trend of coaches being fired before the end of the season. Two weeks later, Washington announced Willingham would not return. But at least Willingham and the others were allowed to complete the season. Other coaches fired before the end of the season were Tennessee's Fulmer, Syracuse's Greg Robinson, Eastern Michigan's Jeff Genyk, Kansas State's Prince, Toledo's Tom Amstutz and Utah State's Brent Guy.

• During a game at Marshall on Oct. 28, Houston wide receiver Patrick Edwards suffered a compound fracture of his right leg when he ran into a metal cart holding band equipment. The cart was placed just outside the end zone and Williams collided with it at full speed while trying to catch a long pass. Marshall officials made the astute decision to relocate the cart in future games.

• With 81 catches for 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns, Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard proved himself a big-time receiver. On Oct. 30, he also proved himself a great guy. Going after a long pass in the back of the end zone, Gilyard's momentum carried him through the end zone and forced him to leap over a wall and into the Nippert Stadium bleachers. There, he collided with 7-year-old fan Garrett Monroe, who was knocked down. Gilyard quickly picked up the young boy, hugged him and comforted him before returning to the field. "I just scooped him up and I instantly told him, 'Everything's OK and you're OK. It's all right, you're all right,' " Gilyard said. "And he kind of gave me a little smile and said, 'OK, OK.' " Monroe then was interviewed on national TV by ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews.

• In November, Pat Quinn – who votes in the Harris Interactive poll, which is used to determine the teams that play in the BCS Championship Game – indicated he would vote Alabama and Penn State first and second because they were the only undefeated teams at the time. Problem was, Penn State already had a loss.

• In November, Texas coach Mack Brown dismissed center Buck Burnette from the team after Burnette posted a racial slur on his Facebook account about President-elect Barack Obama. Burnette apologized.

• On the eve of being elected President, Obama appeared on "Monday Night Football" and called for a playoff system in college football; he later reiterated the need for a playoff on "60 Minutes." "I think any sensible person would say, if you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear, decisive winner," he said. "We should be creating a playoff system – eight teams – that would be three rounds to determine a national champion." Unfortunately, Obama referenced sensible people. That does not include BCS advocates. ACC commissioner John Swofford responded that there would be no change to the system.

• Perhaps the greatest controversy of the season surfaced in late November, with Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech all 11-1 and tied for first place in the Big 12 South. The Sooners climbed ahead of the Longhorns in the BCS standings, and under conference tiebreaker rules, they advanced to the Big 12 championship game. There, they defeated Missouri and clinched a place in the BCS Championship Game.

• Playing offense and defense, Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore caught two touchdown passes and grabbed two interceptions, including a win-clinching theft in a 31-24 victory over Kentucky that enabled the Commodores to go to a bowl for the first time in 26 years. Vandy had not reached a bowl game since the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl. The Commodores received an invitation to the Music City Bowl and posted a 16-14 upset of Boston College, which marked their first bowl win since defeating Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl.

• Despite posting 85 victories in 10 seasons and owning a 7-3 record against archrival Alabama, Tommy Tuberville resigned as Auburn's coach after the Tigers' 5-7 finish. Or did he? Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs claimed the departure was Tuberville's decision. However, Olive Tuberville, Tommy's mother, told The Opelika-Auburn News that her son was fired. So who are you going to believe? Making the situation even weirder, Auburn hired as its next coach Gene Chizik. Once an Auburn defensive coordinator under Tuberville, Chizik managed just five victories in two seasons as Iowa State's head coach. To make matters weirder, Auburn alum Charles Barkley said racism was the reason Chizik was hired over Turner Gill, a black man who coached Buffalo to the MAC championship. "I think race was the No. 1 factor," Barkley said. "You can say it's not about race, but you can't compare the two résumés and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst résumé."

• In an early December interview with a Florida radio station, Meyer said, "Notre Dame is still my dream job. That hasn't changed." A month later, Meyer won his second national title in three seasons at Florida. In 2001, Meyer accepted a job offer from Florida rather than Notre Dame.

• In December, the University of Florida Athletic Association set an autograph policy in which fans were requested not to ask for autographs from Gators players, particularly Tebow. A release read, "The UAA is asking fans not to come to the practice field or attempt to have materials signed by members of the Florida football team throughout their preparations for their semester exams and bowl appearance." Of course, they did not ask that fans refrain from buying tickets, T-shirts or any other gear that would produce revenue for the university.

• A few days before the Sugar Bowl, Alabama star left tackle Andre Smith was suspended from the team, reportedly for having contact with an agent. Smith's place in the starting lineup was taken by Mike Johnson, who left the game with an injury in the first quarter. Coincidentally, the Tide allowed eight sacks in a 31-17 loss to Utah. Predictably, Smith declared for the NFL draft and is expected to be a top-10 selection.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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