Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel had plenty of special moments in 2012
The 2012 college football season is winding down and coming to a close, which means it's time to start taking a look back and appreciating all the great moments we witnessed this year.
This was a season that was filled with exciting highlight-reel plays, rankings-shaking upsets, record-breaking performances, exciting down-to-the-wire games and the type of chill-inducing moments that only a sport like college football can provide.
Here's a look at some of the best moments of the 2012 college football season.
The SEC championship game between Alabama and Georgia certainly lived up to the hype, and then some.
The Bulldogs and the Tide traded blows in an extraordinary battle that turned out to be one of the most entertaining college football games we've seen in years.
After three fourth-quarter lead changes, Georgia got the ball at its own 15-yard line with just 1:08 left, down 32-28. QB Aaron Murray managed to lead the team down to the Alabama five-yard line with a chance to win. But unfortunately, the Bulldogs just ran out of time before they could punch it in.
This is one of those special games on a big stage, in which both teams stepped up to the challenge and played well enough to win.
Manti Te'o was playing with a very heavy heart when Notre Dame took on Michigan State in East Lansing back on Sept. 15.
In the week leading up to the game, Te'o learned that both his grandmother and his girlfriend had passed away. Amazingly though, he managed to regroup and focus on the game, and he went out and had a brilliant and passionate performance against the Spartans.
The star senior linebacker racked up 12 tackles, including seven solo stops, broke up two passes, scooped up a fumble and played an integral role in holding Michigan State to just 50 total rushing yards in the 20-3 victory.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith earned the distinction of being the early Heisman front-runner after a sensational September performance. However, Smith gave up the title of Heisman favorite to Collin Klein after the Kansas State QB came into Morgantown and beat down Smith's Mountaineers on Oct. 20.
Klein completed 19 of his 21 passes for 323 yards, ran for 41 yards and accounted for all seven of his team's touchdowns, as he led the Wildcats to a 55-14 victory.
It didn't take long for Urban Meyer to restore Ohio State back into a national powerhouse.
In just his first season in Columbus, Meyer led the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season. But none of those wins tasted as sweet as a 26-21 victory over hated rival Michigan in the season finale.
You can bet Meyer will be hoping to add plenty more wins over the Wolverines to his resume in the years to come.
Texas A&M was 8-2 and ranked No. 15 in the nation going into its big SEC showdown with No. 1-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa. But that didn't stop the sports books in Vegas from installing the Tide as a two-touchdown favorite.
While they may have been perceived as the clear underdog, the Aggies certainly didn't play like it, as they built up a 20-0 first-quarter lead and eventually hung on to win 29-24.
A&M got a fantastic performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who toasted the Tide's vaunted defense. Manziel threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns, adding another 92 yards on the ground.
That huge performance in the upset victory over Alabama helped Johnny Manziel become a breakout national star.
It also ultimately helped him become the first ever freshman to win college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy.
Manziel had one of the greatest seasons that we've ever seen from a freshman player in the history of the sport.
The explosive dual-threat signal-caller finished the regular season with over 3,400 passing yards and 24 passing touchdowns to go along with over 1,100 rushing yards and 19 scores on the ground.
Notre Dame had one of college football's most dominant defenses in 2012. The Irish finished the regular season ranked first in the nation in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense and sixth in total defense.
LB Manti Te'o, DE Stephon Tuitt, NT Louis Nix and the rest of the stout defensive unit made plenty of key stops this season. But the most impressive and arguably the most important of them all was its key goal-line stand against Stanford in overtime back on Oct. 13.
The Cardinal got the ball down to the 4-yard line, where they had a 1st-and-goal to go. But Notre Dame stiffened up and stuffed RB Stepfan Taylor four straight times to seal the win.
Down 17-14 to LSU with just 1:34 left in the game, on the road in a hostile Death Valley environment, Alabama's offense took control of the ball and proceeded to put together one of the most memorable drives in the history of the prestigious program.
QB A.J. McCarron displayed poise and precision with his passes, as he completed three quick strikes to Kevin Norwood to get the Tide down to the Tigers' 28-yard line. McCarron's next throw would end up being his most important of the season.
The junior signal-caller hit RB T.J. Yeldon on a beautifully orchestrated screen pass, and Yeldon did the rest of the work, taking the ball into the end zone to give Alabama a crucial 21-17 victory.
Going into this year's matchup between UCLA and USC, the Bruins had lost 12 of their last 13 games against their hated crosstown rivals.
This season, however, first-year head coach Jim Mora instilled a new type of attitude in his UCLA team.
Mora's squad used that new-found confidence and swagger to win the 2012 Battle of Los Angeles, 38-28, in front of 83,000 screaming fans in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans may have been the team that soaked up the spotlight and all of the preseason publicity over the summer, but it was UCLA that ultimately ended up being the toast of the town this season.
With just three weeks left in the regular season, it looked as if No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon were on a collision course to meet in the BCS championship game. But as we know, in college football, sometimes the pressure of being a top-ranked team can be just too much to handle, and that proved to be true on the night of Nov. 17.
Both the Wildcats and the Ducks ended up getting picked off and knocked from the ranks of the unbeatens. Kansas State got throttled by Baylor 52-24, while Oregon lost a heartbreaker at home to Stanford 17-14 in overtime.
Nights like that go to show just how wild college football can really get.
Teddy Bridgewater wasn't going to let wrist and ankle injuries stop him from playing in Louisville's most important game of the season—a Thursday night showdown with Rutgers that was a de facto Big East championship game.
Bridgewater sucked it up, played through the pain and displayed tremendous toughness and outstanding leadership ability.
The sophomore signal-caller completed 20 of his 28 pass attempts for 263 yards and two touchdowns, and he helped guide the Cardinals to a 20-17 victory. The win earned them a Big East championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
Penn State's senior players may not have been able to finish their collegiate careers in a bowl game due to strict NCAA sanctions that included a ban from the postseason. However, the Nittany Lions veterans were able to end their days in Happy Valley on a very positive note, as they beat Wisconsin 24-21 in overtime.
You have to really appreciate and respect every one of the Penn State seniors who opted to stay at the school, even as some of their teammates moved elsewhere after the NCAA sanctions were announced.
It was great to see a classy group of young men get such an important win in their final game.
Montee Ball may have been on the losing end of Penn State's victory on Senior Day, but he still managed to reach an important milestone on that day that earned him a place in the NCAA record books.
Ball broke former Miami (Ohio) RB Travis Prentice's FBS record for total touchdowns scored in a career with his 79th touchdown.
Although Ball may not have been able to win a Heisman Trophy or a Rose Bowl, which were two goals that likely drove him to return to Madison for his senior year, he still managed to earn a place in college football history as one of the most productive players the sport has ever seen.
Florida State went into halftime of its crucial early-season showdown with Clemson, trailing 21-14.
Things got worse in the third quarter, when QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins hooked up for a 52-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 28-14.
The Seminoles didn't show any signs of quit, though. QB EJ Manuel took over and led the team on a magnificent comeback charge, which included five second-half touchdowns.
Manuel was able to overcome the early deficit and lead Florida State to a key 49-37 win in Tallahassee. It was a victory that ultimately proved to be the difference in the ACC Atlantic Division race.
If you're a fan of defensive football, then you probably didn't enjoy the back-and-forth offensive shootout between West Virginia and Baylor. But if you love watching high-octane passing attacks and seeing big, explosive plays, then you were in heaven.
The Mountaineers and the Bears combined to score 133 total points and an unreal 1,507 total yards of offense in a game that West Virginia ultimately won 70-63.
Geno Smith was the true star of the game, finishing with 656 passing yards and eight touchdowns.
There's a reason that many consider South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney to be the premier defensive player in college football and the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Clowney had plenty of fantastic plays this season, racking up 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. But there was one memorable play in particular that really stood out above the rest—his vicious hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
After getting screwed out of a possession by the officials after a botched first-down call on the previous play, the star defensive end took it upon himself to get the ball back for the Gamecocks. He burst into the backfield and exploded through Smith, sending his helmet flying and knocking the ball loose.
Devastating defensive plays like that show you the type of special difference-maker Clowney really is.
West Virginia may have come up a point short against Oklahoma in a 50-49 loss at home back on Nov. 17. But WR Tavon Austin did everything he possibly could to get the Mountaineers the win, as he put together a truly breathtaking performance against the Sooners.
Austin was an unstoppable force, rushing for a whopping 344 yards and two touchdowns, catching four passes for 82 yards and compiling 146 yards on kickoff returns.
The versatile senior playmaker finished the game with an eye-popping total of 572 all-purpose yards.
Notre Dame wouldn't be undefeated and playing in the BCS championship game if it wasn't for a huge comeback to beat Pitt in triple-overtime back on Nov. 3.
Down 20-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Irish managed to tie the game up by scoring two late touchdowns to send the game into overtime.
Luck was there when they needed a little help (Pitt kicker Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard chip shot field goal that would have won the game) to beat the Panthers 29-26.
You have to give credit to Notre Dame, though. Even though the Irish played an ugly and sloppy game, they still managed to find a way to win and keep their title hopes alive.
Going into Arizona's game against Colorado, everyone knew that Wildcats RB Ka'Deem Carey could potentially have a huge game, considering how bad the Buffaloes defense was. Still, no one could have expected him to put up the type of numbers he actually did.
Carey broke the Pac-12 single-game rushing record, as he ran for a whopping 366 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-31 win.
That performance proved that the budding sophomore star is indeed one of college football's most dangerous offensive playmakers.
Another Pac-12 player that turned in a huge record-breaking performance this year was USC WR Marqise Lee.
Lee had a remarkable season, leading the nation with 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. But it was his performance against Arizona on Oct. 27 that was the most impressive of the year.
Although the Trojans ended up getting upset 39-36 by the Wildcats, Lee did everything he could to get the team a victory. He hauled in 16 passes for 345 yards (a new Pac-12 record) and scored two touchdowns in the losing effort.
Everyone already knew that Jarvis Jones was an elite defensive playmaker based off his sensational sophomore campaign in 2011, in which he led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
Jones further solidified his status as an All-American-caliber player with an absolutely dominant performance in a win over archrival Florida.
The explosive edge-rusher made a ton of game-changing plays against the Gators in the 19-7 win, finishing with 12 solo tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
Tulane players honor Devon Walker
The most tragic moment of the 2012 season occurred when Tulane safety Devon Walker fractured his spine in a game against Tulsa back on Sept. 8. Sadly, it was an injury that has left Walker unable to move his extremities.
It was certainly a heartbreaking moment and one that reminds us of the type of danger that is always lurking in football.
In the team's following game against Ole Miss, the Green Wave and the Rebels players did give fans a heartwarming moment to remember, when they both honored Walker in a touching tribute. Tulane players all wore Walker's No. 18 on their helmet, while Ole Miss players wore a DW decal on theirs.
North Carolina went into this year's matchup against in-state rival NC State, having lost the last five previous games to the Wolfpack.
The Tar Heels finally ended that streak, when explosive RB/PR Giovani Bernard came up with one of the most exciting plays of the season.
With the game tied at 35 with just 30 seconds remaining, Bernard took an NC State punt 73 yards all the way to the end zone to give North Carolina a 43-35 victory over the Wolfpack.
A week after throwing for 554 yards and six touchdowns in a 50-49 win over West Virginia, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones once again used his arm to guide the Sooners to another big victory.
Jones threw 71 passes for 500 yards and three touchdowns, guiding Oklahoma to a 51-48 victory over archrival Oklahoma State in overtime.
Clemson came into the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU hoping to put the memory of the ugly 70-33 blowout loss to West Virginia last year in the Orange Bowl in the rear-view mirror. The Tigers did just that, as they showed no signs of quit this time around.
QB Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense got the ball on its own 20-yard-line down 24-22 with just 1:39 left.
Boyd put together a masterful final drive, completing five straight throws to get the Tigers down to the LSU 20-yard line. From there, kicker Chandler Catanzaro did the rest, booting a 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to give Clemson a 25-24 win.
The big bowl win gives the team plenty of momentum heading into the offseason.
Oregon RB Kenjon Barner didn't win the Heisman Trophy this season, but he certainly had a Heisman-caliber performance in the Ducks' 62-51 victory over USC on Nov. 3.
The Trojans defense simply had no clue how to stop the speedy senior back, as Barner rushed for 321 yards on 38 carries and scored five touchdowns.
Just three days before Texas hosted Iowa State on Nov. 10, legendary Longhorns head coach Darrell Royal passed away.
To honor Royal, Mack Brown and his team decided to start off the game against the Cyclones by running their first play out of the Wishbone formation that Royal loved.
The special tribute play turned out to be a successful one, as they caught the Cyclones off-guard with a tricky double-pass that resulted in a 47-yard gain.
Cincinnati QB Munchie Legaux didn't make many pretty throws this season (Legaux completed just 52 percent of his passes in 2012), but he did complete a memorable 39-yard touchdown pass to WR Damon Julian with just seconds left to give Cincinnati a 27-24 victory over Virginia Tech.
When RB Isaiah Crowell was booted from Georgia over the offseason, many Bulldogs fans wondered how big of an effect his loss would have on the offense. But their concerns were quickly put to rest when they got a look at freshman back Todd Gurley in his first live game action.
Gurley carried the ball just eight times against Buffalo in the season-opener, but he still managed to rush for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The young freshman sensation would go on to finish his first season in Athens with 1,385 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns.
Todd Gurley wasn't the only SEC freshman running back who quickly made a name for himself on opening weekend. Alabama's T.J. Yeldon also had a very impressive debut in the Tide's 41-14 win over Michigan at Cowboys Stadium.
In his first collegiate game, Yeldon totaled 137 yards of offense and a touchdown on just 12 total touches.
The big, athletic freshman helped fill the void left by departed star back Trent Richardson, as he went on to finish the regular season with 1,000 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns.
The Northwestern basketball team may still be the only major conference school that's never made it to the NCAA tournament. But at least the Wildcats football team ended another agonizing drought when it beat Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl to snap a nine-game bowl losing streak.
It was Northwestern's first postseason victory since a win in the 1949 Rose Bowl.
You have to give a ton of credit to Coach Pat Fitzgerald for what he's been able to do at his alma mater since taking over in 2006. Fitzgerald's definitely got his program on the rise.
Vanderbilt's James Franklin is another head coach who helped lead his team to one of the best seasons in school history this year. Franklin guided the Commodores to their first nine-win season since 1915.
It was a campaign that ended with just the school's third bowl win ever, a 38-28 victory over NC State in the Music City Bowl.
Ohio State WR Devin Smith made one of the most impressive highlight-reel plays of the 2012 season in just the first game of the year, hauling in an insane one-handed touchdown catch in the season-opener against Miami (Ohio).
Devin Smith may have been the early favorite to win the "Best Catch of 2012" award, but he ended up getting some stiff competition from Middle Tennessee State's Anthony Amos. Like Smith, Amos hauled in an amazing one-handed catch for a touchdown against Georgia Tech.
Amos' touchdown was one of the key plays that helped give the Blue Raiders some early energy and momentum, as they went on to shock the Yellow Jackets 49-28 in Atlanta.
When TCU lined up for a potential game-winning two-point conversion try down 37-36 in overtime on the road against West Virginia, it didn't seem to be a big secret who the Horned Frogs would likely throw to.
WR Josh Boyce was the one who got the team to overtime with a 96-yard touchdown grab in the final minutes that tied the game. He was also the one who won the game for TCU with a diving grab in the end zone to give the Horned Frogs a 38-37 victory in Morgantown.
You've got to hand it to Coach Gary Patterson for making such a gutsy call in a critical situation. He had faith that his best offensive player would deliver, and Boyce did just that.
The opening game of the 2012 bowl season—a matchup of two 7-5 teams, Arizona and Nevada, in the New Mexico Bowl—obviously wasn't the most anticipated game of the postseason. However, the game turned out to have one of the wildest finishes of the year.
After Nevada kicked a field goal to go up 48-35 with just 1:48 left in the game, it looked like all hope was lost for the Wildcats. However, after scoring with 46 seconds left in the game, they managed to recover an onside kick and hit three quick passes, including a decisive two-yard touchdown score to win 49-48.
It was certainly a terrific ending to Rich Rodriguez's first season back on the sideline.
Mike Leach was another prominent head coach who ended his first season back on the sideline with a bang.
There may not have been a lot for Leach to celebrate during his first year at Washington State, as his Cougars won just three games and got embarrassed in a few of their losses. However, the coach managed to pick up a huge 31-28 win in overtime over Washington to win the Apple Cup.
Leach has to be very proud of the resiliency and determination his team showed, coming back from a 28-17 fourth-quarter deficit to pick up a key win in an important rivalry game.
Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy had already established himself as one of the top linebackers in college football before the Poinsettia Bowl. But Van Noy's takeover performance against San Diego State showed just how good the Cougars edge-rusher really is.
Van Noy had the best game of his career in front of a prime-time national audience. He racked up eight tackles, including five solo stops and 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. He also blocked a kick and scored two touchdowns in the 23-6 win.
The standout linebacker has decided to return for his senior year. He'll enter the 2013 season as one of the top impact defenders to watch in college football.
Duke fans couldn't have dreamed up a more perfect scenario for the team to earn its first postseason berth since 1994.
Down 30-26 at home against rival North Carolina with just three minutes to go, the Blue Devils drove 87 yards down the field to score a game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds left.
The 33-30 victory gave Duke the necessary six wins it needed to earn a bowl invitation.
Although the Blue Devils went on to lose their final five games, including a 48-34 loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, there was certainly still a lot to celebrate on that special night after the win over the Tar Heels.
Utah State celebration
Utah State ended up having the best season in school history this year, as the Aggies went 11-2 and won the WAC championship.
There was certainly plenty for fans to get excited about in 2012, but if you asked them what the best moment of the season really was, most would probably tell you a victory over in-state rival Utah.
Coming into this year's matchup, Utah State had lost the last 12 games and 23 of the last 26 meetings in the Battle of the Brothers series. But this year was different. The Aggies hung on to win 27-20 over the Utes in overtime, which caused the home crowd to storm the field in jubilation.
Before the 2012 season started, some fans questioned whether Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez was really a true leader or not.
Those critics got awfully quiet, however, after Martinez led the Cornhuskers to a huge comeback win over Wisconsin.
Down 27-10 with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, Martinez led Nebraska on four straight scoring drives, scoring 20 unanswered points to secure a 30-27 win.
Before the MAC became a national punch line after Northern Illinois' poor performance in the Orange Bowl, there was actually quite a lot of love for the league on the night of the MAC championship game.
"MACtion" was trending on Twitter, as Northern Illinois and Kent State waged a memorable double-overtime battle in Detroit.
Ultimately, the Huskies ended up prevailing behind the play of QB Jordan Lynch, who accounted for 372 yards and four total touchdowns in the 44-37 victory.
Up 6-2 on Texas with 4:25 to go in the first quarter, Oklahoma was just trying to get out of the shadow of its own end zone and pick up some field position on second-down play.
Then, all of a sudden, RB Damien Williams broke off the biggest momentum-shifting play of the game, as he took the ball 95 yards for a touchdown.
It turned out to be a play that destroyed the Longhorns' spirit, as the Sooners would go on to roll to an easy 63-21 blowout win in the Red River Shootout.
In the weeks leading up to the Sugar Bowl matchup between heavily favored Florida and Louisville, there certainly didn't seem to be too many people outside of the state of Kentucky who were giving the Cardinals a legitimate shot to win.
Louisville entered the game as a 13-point underdog, but the Cardinals ended up shutting up their doubters with a resounding 33-23 thumping of the Gators down in New Orleans. It was the largest upset in BCS bowl history.
QB Teddy Bridgewater was the star of the show, throwing for 266 yards and two touchdowns, as he kept the Florida defense off balance all game long.
Following such a big performance on such a big stage, Louisville will go into the 2013 season as a hot team to watch out for, and Bridgewater will likely see his name on plenty of preseason Heisman lists over the summer.
If you didn't stay up to watch the Texas A&M-Louisiana Tech game on the night of Oct. 13, then you missed an absolutely thrilling offensive shootout.
Aggies star quarterback Johnny Manziel began his quest for the Heisman by accounting for six touchdowns and 576 total yards against the Bulldogs.
Manziel helped A&M build up a 59-44 lead with just two minutes to go. But it quickly evaporated after the Bulldogs scored on a 62-yard touchdown strike from Colby Cameron to Quinton Patton, recovered an onside kick and followed that up with another touchdown pass with just 13 seconds left.
Fortunately for Manziel and the Aggies, Louisiana Tech failed on a two-point conversion attempt, and Texas managed to come away with a 59-57 victory.
Heart, determination, toughness—Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk showed off all of those qualities on his gutsy 76-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State.
Even though Seastrunk injured himself with 40 yards to go before the end zone, remarkably, the speedy rusher still managed to use a boost of adrenaline to score an impressive touchdown.
RB Le'Veon Bell was a true workhorse back for Michigan State's offense in 2012, leading the nation with 382 total carries and rushing for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Bell's biggest workload of the season came in the Spartans' opening game against Boise State.
The big, powerful 6'2'', 244-pound junior carried the ball 44 times for 210 yards, caught six passes for 55 yards and scored both of his team's touchdowns to help lead Michigan State to a 17-13 win.
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs had plenty of exciting highlight-reel plays during his freshman season in 2012. However, none of them were as impressive as his 56-yard touchdown catch against West Virginia.
Diggs showed off his game-changing speed and his natural playmaking instincts, running circles around the poor Mountaineers defenders before waltzing into the end zone untouched.
After watching his team blow a 36-26 lead with less than four minutes left in regulation, Texas Tech QB Seth Doege knew he needed to step his game up in overtime in order to leave the field with a win.
Doege did exactly that, throwing a touchdown pass in each of the three overtimes, including an eight-yard strike to WR Alex Torres that gave the Red Raiders a hard-fought 56-53 win over TCU.
The senior signal-caller finished the wild shootout with 318 passing yards and seven touchdown passes.
Before the season started, most people felt that Stanford had the chance to be very competitive, given the type of talent that it was bringing back on both sides of the ball.
Still, there weren't many fans outside of Palo Alto who thought the Cardinal could win a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl just a year after losing star quarterback Andrew Luck, arguably the greatest player in the program's history.
That's just what David Shaw's team ended up doing, though. Stanford capped off an impressive 12-2 championship season with a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
The win helps to solidify Shaw's status as one of the true, young, rising-star head coaches in college football.