College Football's 10 Best Feel-Good Stories of 2013
All too often, the negative college football stories—scandals, arrests and sanctions—dominate the sport's headlines.
While this season has brought its share of darkness, it has also been brightened by an abundance of feel-good stories.
USC's Ed Orgeron, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and several other coaches been at the forefront of incredible resurgences, while a number of players have recovered from serious injuries to star on the field.
Up ahead are 10 stories from the college football season that remind us why the sport is so great.
Ed Orgeron Revives USC
It takes a lot for a program like USC to produce a warm, fuzzy story, but Ed Orgeron made it happen.
In September, the program was in shambles. The Trojans fired head coach Lane Kiffin after just five games, a stretch that included two Pac-12 losses and ugly wins over Hawaii and Utah State.
USC named Orgeron the interim head coach, and the charismatic former Ole Miss coach immediately changed the culture in Troy.
The change wasn't just cosmetic either. The newfound attitude led USC to win six of its next seven games, including a momentous upset of then-No. 4 Stanford—all with a roster depleted by NCAA sanctions.
It remains to be seen whether or not Coach O will return as the full-time head coach, but nothing can take away from what he has already done in Los Angeles.
The Rise of Duke
Before last season, Duke hadn't been to a bowl game since 1995.
Now the Blue Devils are on the verge of winning the ACC Coastal Division title, which would give them an opportunity to play Florida State for a BCS bowl berth.
Even if that dream falls short, they are already going to play in their second straight bowl game, something that has never been done in program history.
At 9-2, Duke has already locked down its most wins since 1941 and can achieve its first 10-win season in school history with a win over rival North Carolina this weekend.
It has already been a historic season in Durham, N.C., but it might end up even more magical.
Just Add Gus: Auburn's Instant Turnaround
After finishing 3-9 last season and 0-8 in the SEC, it looked like it would be a long time before Auburn could build its way back to the top of its crowded conference.
The Tigers fired coach Gene Chizik and brought back former assistant Gus Malzahn. With a familiarity with many of the players in the program, Malzahn made a smooth transition in the plains.
Of course, that is a severe understatement.
Auburn currently sits at 10-1 and 6-1 in SEC play. The Tigers are taking on archrival and two-time defending national champion Alabama this weekend for the SEC West title and a chance at a BCS bowl berth.
A winning season and bowl eligibility would've been considered a triumph for Malzahn after taking over a 3-9 program, but no one could've predicted the wild success he has found in such a short time.
While Malzahn is a front-runner for Coach of the Year, he still has his eyes on an Iron Bowl and a SEC title—perhaps even a berth in the national title game too.
Briles Brings Baylor from Worst to First
Before Art Briles came to Baylor, the Bears had never recorded a single winning season as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
BU was one of the original Big 12 members, helping to form the league back in 1996, but a train of futility left it as the league's doormat.
Then Briles came in 2008 and the team had that elusive winning season by 2010. From there, Baylor has just continued to rise, including the program's first Heisman Trophy in 2011—won by Robert Griffin III.
Now this year, BU is two wins away from locking down its first Big 12 title. While Baylor's dream season took a hit with its first loss to Oklahoma State last week, it will still be at least the co-Big 12 champion if it wins out.
The Bears remain as the only original Big 12 member without a regular season or postseason Big 12 title. Regardless of how this season plays out, Briles has officially taken Baylor from the Big 12 cellar to the top of the league while also making it a viable destination for top recruits.
Briles is as humble and as likable as coaches come, making it easy to root for the Bears.
Missouri's SEC Arrival
In its second season in the SEC, Missouri was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the crowded East Division.
The distinction made sense, after the Tigers finished 5-7 in 2012 and showed no signs of being able to compete with the conference's best teams.
However, now Mizzou is just one win away from taking the SEC East crown and heading to Atlanta to play for the conference championship.
At 10-1, the Tigers have just one loss to South Carolina, a heartbreaking defeat in double overtime. If not for that loss, they would be right in the thick of the national title race.
Still, Mizzou has been a remarkable story this season as it has eclipsed traditional SEC powers Georgia, Florida and South Carolina to lead the division.
Minnesota Winning for Jerry Kill
For many programs, the frightening health issues of its coach would result in a tumultuous season.
For Minnesota, it has resulted in its most wins in a decade.
The Gophers sit at 8-3, their highest win total since a 10-3 finish in 2003, despite head coach Jerry Kill suffering two epileptic seizures during games. While that might seem like an easy source for distraction, Minnesota instead treats it as a source of motivation.
"We all love coach Kill and him being away could have been a big negative for us," senior cornerback Brock Vereen told Erik Brady of USA Today. "We turned it into inspiration and motivation."
Now on new medication to control his epilepsy, Kill has been coaching from the press box, with assistant Tracy Claeys on the sideline as the acting head coach.
After being picked last in the Big Ten Legends Division in the preseason, the Gophers will likely finish third or fourth—a tremendous result considering the situation surrounding the team.
Derek Carr Eclipses Big Brother
Statistically, no quarterback has been close to Fresno State's Derek Carr this season.
The senior leads the nation with 394.8 passing yards per game and 39 touchdowns, with just four interceptions.
While he has been college football's most prolific signal-caller this season, his brother, Fresno legend David Carr, calls him the best quarterback in program history, per Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee:
If you look at his physical ability, his mental ability, his leadership and the team he has around him, he's the best quarterback ever to play here—hands down.
No doubt. It's not even a close second.
David Carr held many of Fresno's passing records and was drafted first overall in the 2002 NFL draft after a tremendous career in the San Joaquin Valley.
But now, the younger Carr holds all of the school's career passing records and is on track to take down his brother's single-season marks.
With that, he has Fresno undefeated at 10-0 and within striking distance of a BCS berth—a goal his brother was never able to accomplish.
Tulane's Journey to Bowl Eligibility
The Tulane football program has been through as much turmoil as one can handle in recent years.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 left the team without a home. Since then, the Green Wave have gone through two coaching changes.
Last season, they witnessed a frightening collision that ended in safety Devon Walker being paralyzed.
With plenty of tragedy surrounding the program, the situation had to swing upward for Tulane at some point. After a 2-10 finish in 2012, that didn't seem likely this season.
But second-year head coach Curtis Johnson made that upswing come early. The Green Wave started 6-2, reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2002.
Tulane's win over Tulsa to reach bowl eligibility was a validating moment for a program that has been needing one for years.
Paul Richardson's Return to Health
It's amazing what a player can do once he's finally healthy.
Colorado's star receiver missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL. In 2011, he was limited by an MCL injury.
This season, he has stayed off the trainer's table, and the redshirt junior has been one of college football's most prolific receivers as a result.
Richardson has tallied 79 receptions for 1,289 yards and 10 touchdowns thus far, notching six games with more than 120 receiving yards.
He'll finish up the season, and possibly his career at Colorado, next week at Utah. After an outstanding season, Richardson is a solid candidate to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Jake Ryan's Recovery
Seven months—that's all it took for Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan to recover from a torn ACL and return to the field.
The All-Big Ten junior led Michigan with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks last season but suffered a torn ACL in mid-March. While that injury often takes a year or longer to fully heal, Ryan was back on the field on Oct. 12 when the Wolverines took on Penn State.
The St. Ignatius product from Westlake, Ohio, has appeared in all six games since then, tallying 22 tackles, three tackles for a loss and two hurries.
While he hasn't quite been the tackling machine that he was a year ago, the fact that he is on the field is simply amazing.