2013 College Football Headlines You Never Would've Believed 5 Years Ago

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

2013 College Football Headlines You Never Would've Believed 5 Years Ago

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    Pretend the year is 2008.

    You're walking down the street wearing five different "Livestrong" bracelets, listening to that one sick Kevin Rudolf song on your First Generation iPhone—that guy's gonna be a huge rock star someday! Suddenly, by accident, you stumble across what appears to be a time machine. The date is locked and loaded for Dec. 10, 2013.

    You step inside. The ground starts shaking. Buttons light up and alarms scream loud, frantic cries. You hold on for dear life, making peace with your gods, sure that this will be the end. Suddenly everything stops. The capsule comes to a halt and the door flies open, the sun shines bright through the crack. You inhale deep and smell your first, toxic breath of 2013 air. You step out and greet the world.

    There is time later to stalk your future self and see what your family is up to. You have your priorities in order. You've seen Back to the Future II, after all; you know what the first order of business should be. You run to the nearest computer and start checking sports scores, writing down whatever seems most profitable.

    But then you stop. Come again? This team did what? That team moved where? Which guy got fired from—how? The BCS system has been...what!?!?!

    How would you react if you read today's college football headlines 1,825 days ago? How would you possibly comprehend? Here's a look at eight things that would knock you off your feet.

Duke Plays in ACC Championship Game

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    This one wouldn't have been believed as recently as August.

    Despite Duke's obvious progress since head coach David Cutcliffe took the reins in 2008, it still hadn't finished with a winning record (bowl included) since 1994. Five years ago, when Cutcliffe first accepted the job in Durham, it had just ended the Ted Roof era with 42 losses in 46 games.

    "It's a pretty tough job if you look at the history of the program over the past 30 years," Roof said upon being fired, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN). He noted that only Steve Spurrier had ever left Duke with a winning record—there was no reason to expect sudden change.

    But Cutcliffe defied the odds in 2013, reaching heights after five years that no one would have expected after 15. His Blue Devils won 10 games this season, capturing the ACC Coastal title and advancing to the conference championship game.

    There, even in 38-point defeat, Duke can take solace in holding Florida State scoreless for the first quarter. That's (much) more than any other team could say this season.

UCLA Dominates USC Again

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Back in 2008, before all the vacated wins and withdrawn scholarships, USC was the apex of college football power. Under Pete Carroll, the Trojans engineered a historic run of success, going 80-9 over the course of seven seasons.

    UCLA, meanwhile, was a paragon of mediocrity toward the end of the decade, losing between six and eight games for six consecutive seasons between 2006 and 2011. 

    But fast forward to 2013, and you'll notice a large-scale changing of the guard in southern California. UCLA has finished ahead of USC in the standings these past two seasons, winning both of the last two head-to-head meetings by double digits.

    If you traveled in a time machine from 2008 to 2013, you would have been confused to see the Bruins win 35-14 in the Coliseum this season. But something else about that game would have shocked you beyond comprehension: How unsurprised people were at UCLA's dominance.

Missouri Wins SEC East

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Conference realignment would be jarring for the 2008 football fan, who would need some time to readjust his eyes and process the collapse of the Big East and WAC, or the expansion of the SEC and (former) Pac-10.

    Once he or she came to terms with Missouri in the SEC, however, he or she likely wouldn't give the Tigers a chance to compete. Good as it had been in the Big 12 for all those years, SEC football was a different beast entirely. Missouri would never be able to hang with all that conference-specific speed.

    We know this not to be a hypothetical, because that's exactly how people actually reacted before Mizzou joined the conference back in late 2011. And after a 5-7 debut with just two conference wins in 2012, those detractors seemed to be vindicated.

    But not anymore.

    Gary Pinkel's Tigers stormed through the conference with one loss this season, silencing haters all the way to Atlanta for the conference championship game. Auburn exposed some holes that need to be filled, but no longer can anyone doubt Missouri's place in the conference.

Mack Brown Being Forced out of Austin

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Mack Brown had earned—or at least appeared to have earned—Caesar-like job security at Texas back in 2008, having led the Longhorns to nine-plus wins every season since taking over in 1998 and double-digit wins every season since 2001.

    Just like Caesar, however, his reign might now be cut short.

    Texas football has circled the (metaphorical) drain since making the national title game in 2009, starting with a 5-7 year in 2010 and continuing all the way into the present. On paper, Texas appears to have done just fine this year—it was, after all, just 30 minutes away from winning the Big 12 at Baylor last week—but those who have watched the games know that not to be the case.

    After the season-ending loss to Baylor, Mike Finger of the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News asked Brown if he wants to return next season. The coach declined to comment. His silence spoke 1,000 words.

    Even after a nine-win season, Brown's time in Austin appears to have run its course. With a new Athletic Director at the helm, at least long-time friend DeLoss Dodds won't have to play the role of Brutus.

Vanderbilt Makes Third Straight Bowl Game

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    Between 1983 and 2007, Vanderbilt made all of zero bowl games. It broke that ugly streak in 2008, but after going 2-10 in both of the following seasons, the seeds of another streak appeared to be sown.

    And then James Franklin happened. Vandy poached the fiery offensive coordinator away from Maryland, naming him head coach and ushering in the most successful era of Commodores football since the Great Depression.

    In three short years at the helm, Franklin has led the team to 23 wins and three consecutive bowl games. His offense helped receiver Jordan Matthews rewrite the SEC record book during his career, something a college football fan from 2008 would never have thought possible.

Florida Bowl Ineligible

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Florida won its second BCS Championship in three years in 2008, going 13-1 for the second time under Urban Meyer and showing nascent signs of a true college football dynasty. The Gators went 13-1 again the following season, and even without winning another national title, they still appeared to be trending in the right direction.

    So it would be impossible for a 2008 college football fan to reconcile what he saw in Gainesville this season. Even with the massive attrition due to injury, Florida's painful offensive incompetence would never have existed under Urban Meyer.

    How could this team go 4-8, winning less than six games for the first time since going winless in 1979? How could the coaching staff fail so miserably?

    Remember that in 2008, Will Muschamp was the new defensive coordinator at Texas (via Auburn) and Brent Pease was the assistant head coach at Boise State. Pairing those intrepid minds together and giving them unlimited funds for recruiting and facilities could only end in success...right?

    RIGHT???

Back-to-Back Freshman Heisman Frontrunners

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    The first 77 Heisman Trophies were awarded to sophomores, juniors and seniors, so when Johnny Manziel shattered the mold and won as a redshirt freshman in 2012, it was supposed to be the exception—not the rule.

    But so much for that. Not one year after Johnny Football took the nation by storm, Florida State's Jameis Winston did precisely the same thing and is now the heavy, heavy favorite to become the second consecutive freshman to win the stiff-arm trophy.

    Like Manziel, Winston's off-field episodes have made him a tad controversial to root for, but neither quarterback has ever been proven guilty of serious wrongdoing. Under the American doctrine of presumed innocence, we have no right to continue begrudging them.

    Put simply, Manziel and Winston are changing the way we think about quarterback development. Like that annoying, insufferable nerd who got 100s on every chemistry exam, they are throwing the curve for each freshman quarterback who starts in their wake.

The End of the BCS Era

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    The institution of a college football playoff was one of the things you were taught never to talk about—a pipe-dream so perfect, you didn't want to jinx it by mere means of mention.

    Thinking about how much better this sport would be without the arcane BCS system could only lead to dark places, could only make you resent the current approach. Chalking up the BCS as a necessary evil was easier, smarter, safer to do.

    But now, unthinkably, we have finally reached the end. The last batch of BCS standings ever were released on Sunday. Asinine computer systems like the Colley Matrix can finally be put to pasture. Starting in 2014, we'll have a four-team playoff to determine the national championship game—and who's to say that it can't expand from there?

    In 2008, this new world order would seem too good to be true. In 2013, our wildest dreams have become sweet reality.