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Questions & Answers: College Football 2012 In Review

Who Was the Biggest Disappointment of 2012? Who Was the Biggest Surprise?


STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15: Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions gestures towards an official during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Updated April 27, 2014

The season has come, and the season has gone, and while a few (big) games remain, it's quite obviously time to sit back and reflect on everything we saw (and didn't see) during a very strange, very interesting 2012 college football year.

When we kicked the season off back in September, we thought we'd see USC challenging for the national title and we thought we'd see the Trojans' quarterback, Matt Barkley, making a run for the Heisman Trophy. We though we'd see West Virginia challenge for the Big 12 crown and we thought we'd see Wisconsin storm their way through a probation-riddled Big Ten. We thought we'd see Arkansas and Auburn at least look respectable, we thought we'd see Michigan challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten crown, and we thought there would actually be a Big East football conference by the time the season was over.

Well, we were wrong about all of that, at least.

Instead, the season unfolded in completely unexpected fashion, and we will begin to explore all of that unpredictability right here, in Part I of our College Football Questions & Answers for the 2012 season.

Who was the biggest disappointment of 2012?

Pretty simple, I think. The USC Trojans came into this season with perhaps the best pure passer in the country, two NFL-caliber wideouts, a backfield that had been complemented by the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd and, yes, a great deal of buzz--maybe the most buzz any USC team had seen since the Pete Carroll glory days of the mid-200s0s. Lane Kiffin had taken his fair share of abuse over the years, but coming into 2012, there was a fairly widespread feeling that Kiffin had turned the corner, that USC was poised to make a great leap forward, that these Trojans could perhaps have what it took to unseat the SEC powers from the college football championship throne. Well, things didn't quite work out as planned. The Trojans got off to a strong start but suffered a sad finish, and as I type these words, they are playing in, of all bowls, the Sun Bowl. Which, it must be said, is not quite what they had hoped for. Kiffin is back on the hot seat. As of now.

Who was the biggest surprise of 2012?

The conversation begins and ends with Bill O'Brien and Penn State. It's easy to forget just how dire things looked in Happy Valley this time last year. Joe Paterno--the legendary Joe Paterno--had been fired. The Penn State football program and the entire Penn State football community had been castigated coast to coast for the most heinous of crimes. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to be associated with the Nittany Lions, and when the NCAA handed down its crushing sanctions in late summer, one began to wonder if Penn State would ever be Penn State again. Those questions only grew louder after the Nittany Lions started 0-2, including a stunning season-opening loss against Ohio (not Ohio State, by the way) and an emotionally crushing Week 2 loss against Virginia. And then? Well, then O'Brien led the Nits to wins in eight of their last 10 games, including a thrilling season-ending victory over Wisconsin that may indeed be regarded as the greatest most irrelevant win in recent college football history. O'Brien is now a hot commodity in the NFL coaching market and may well not coach another season in Happy Valley--nobody knows at this point, to be honest, but the buzz says that he's at least under consideration for some NFL NFL jobs--but even if he leaves, he deserves major credit for helping a wounded football program and a wounded university take a big step forward.


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