Every Top 25 College Football Team's 2014-15 One Shining Moment
When the college football season ended in January, our final images were of Ohio State's players and coaches hoisting up the first playoff-fueled championship trophy amid a sea of confetti. It was a nice look, but nothing compared to how college basketball wraps up its year following the NCAA tournament championship game.
And nowhere near as tear-inducing.
Every year, as the players from the winning team partake in the age-old tradition of cutting down the nets, we're treated to a montage of highlights from the just-complete tourney with the tune "One Shining Moment" sung by Luther Vandross playing in the background. It's the perfect way to put a bow on the magnificent event, but make sure to have some tissues handy in case things get...dusty.
If college football was to put together one of these season wrap-up packages, what would be in there? We've picked out one shining moment for all 25 teams that are ranked in Bleacher Report's post-signing day top 25.
Taysom Hill hurdles over Texas
Before going down with a season-ending leg injury in October, Taysom Hill was making a name for himself as a dark-horse Heisman candidate thanks to his dual-threat quarterback skills and leading BYU to a 4-0 start. This run included victories over two power-conference opponents, including a win at Texas in which Hill dominated throughout.
The junior had 280 yards of total offense in the 41-7 win, rushing for 99 yards and three touchdowns that included a highlight-reel 30-yard TD run where he took off downfield and then avoided a tackle by leaping over a Texas defender.
Melvin Gordon (briefly) breaks the rushing record
It was a season of near-misses for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon in 2014, including a runner-up finish in the Heisman race and a second-place finish in the Big Ten after the Badgers were shut out by eventual national champion Ohio State in the conference title game.
Gordon also came just short of becoming the FBS single-season rushing leader, finishing 41 yards shy of Barry Sanders' mark of 2,628 yards.
He did manage to finish first in one thing, albeit for only one week, when Gordon ran for 408 yards—in just three quarters—in a November win against Nebraska. That broke LaDainian Tomlinson's mark of 406 set with TCU in 1999...and then was re-established at 427 yards by Oklahoma's Samaje Perine one week later.
Leonard Fournette's coming-out party in Music City Bowl
The expectations that came with Leonard Fournette as he arrived at LSU as a true freshman were at epic levels, but it took him a while to start showing that promise on a consistent basis. We saw it in the Tigers' final regular-season game, at Texas A&M, and then we got a big look at what Fournette will be able to do in 2015 during the Music City Bowl.
On just 13 touches, he tallied 264 yards and scored three touchdowns, two of which were quite long.
After scoring on an eight-yard TD run in the first quarter, Fournette added 100-yard kickoff return score midway through the second quarter. After halftime, he broke through for an 89-yard rushing TD.
22. Georgia Tech
Game-clinching interception in overtime against Georgia
Georgia posted a huge win over Clemson two weeks earlier to help win the ACC's Coastal Division, and the Yellow Jackets would end up finishing the season with a landmark victory over Mississippi State to claim the Orange Bowl. Yet their biggest win of the year came in a game that had roots going back to the beginning of the 20th century.
The latest edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, the name given to the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry, saw Tech leading with less than four minutes left, only for Georgia to take a 24-21 lead with 18 seconds to go. Somehow, though, the Yellow Jackets managed to drive downfield to kick a tying field goal and force overtime, and then Zach Laskey put them up by six in OT on a two-yard touchdown run.
That meant it would come down to Tech's defense to slow down a Georgia team that had been moving the ball effectively on the ground and through the air. But when it was needed most, Tech's D.J. White intercepted a pass from Hutson Mason to cinch the game and its first win over Georgia since 2008.
Samaje Perine tops them all
In what was otherwise a disappointing season for Oklahoma in 2014, the emergence of freshman running back Samaje Perine provided plenty of highlights. None stood out more than his effort in a November win over Kansas, when Perine ran for 427 yards and five touchdowns to set the FBS single-game rushing record.
Amazingly, that mark had just been established the week before by Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.
Perine carried the ball 34 times and was rarely touched during the game by Kansas defenders, most noticeably on his five TDs.
The performance wasn't a fluke for Perine, who had two other 200-yard games and finished the season with 1,713 yards and 21 TDs.
20. Texas A&M
Late rally, overtime victory over Arkansas
Playing on the same field where the national championship would take place about four months later, Arkansas and Texas A&M tapped into their old Southwest Conference roots with a wild back-and-forth game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. For much of the game it looked like this was going to be the time that Arkansas finally broke through and knocked off an SEC opponent, but then A&M decided to catch fire at the right time.
The Aggies fell behind by two scores in the fourth quarter, and then Kenny Hill—whose monster first five games of 2014 had him as a hot Heisman candidate at the time—threw touchdown passes of 86 yards to Edward Pope and 59 yards to Josh Reynolds to force overtime.
When Hill hit Malcome Kennedy for a 25-yard score in OT, Texas A&M completed the rally to remain unbeaten at 5-0.
19. Oklahoma State
Tyreek Hill's punt return forces OT in Bedlam
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's rivalry game is known as Bedlam, and it rarely fails to live up to the chaos and mayhem. Cowboys newcomer Tyreek Hill got involved in the series' rich history with one of the most electrifying touchdowns ever, helping his team pull off a shocking win at Oklahoma last November.
Down 35-28, OK State set up to return a punt but ran into Oklahoma's kicker. Oklahoma opted to re-kick, hoping to punt the Cowboys deeper with just over a minute left, but that decision ended up backfiring in a big way.
Hill fielded the punt at his own 8-yard line and raced up the field for a game-tying 92-yard punt-return touchdown. The Cowboys would go on to win in overtime on a field goal, getting to six wins and enabling them to finish the season with a Cactus Bowl victory over Washington.
The comeback win over South Carolina
The turnaround that Butch Jones has overseen the past two seasons at Tennessee has been full of key moments, yet the one that had the greatest impact on what this program will be capable of in the future came last November. That's when the Volunteers shook off the label of being a young, inexperienced team and played like seasoned veterans in knocking off South Carolina on the road in overtime.
Down 42-28 with just over four minutes left, the Vols rallied with two touchdowns in the final 1:50. One of those came on a scoring run by quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who had 467 yards of total offense and five touchdowns, while Jason Croom's nine-yard TD run with 11 seconds left forced OT.
Aaron Medley's field goal won the game in the extra session, giving Tennessee its first SEC win of the season and serving as the springboard to become bowl-eligible and finish with seven victories.
Sebastian Tretola's big-man touchdown pass
Arkansas earned its breakthrough year in the trenches, as its NFL-sized offensive line and stout front seven paced the Razorbacks to a 7-6 record that included the end of a long conference losing streak, a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and two consecutive shutout wins over ranked SEC opponents.
But the moment that stood out among all others in 2014 was one during the middle of a blowout win over nonconference opponent UAB. That's when lineman Sebastian Tretola showed off talents other than just blocking and opening holes, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema tapped into those for one of the best trick plays of the year.
The 6'5", 350-pound Tretola was originally on the field to block for what would have been a short field-goal try, but then the Hogs quickly realigned into an off formation that had Tretola in the shotgun and long snapper Alan D'Appollonio as an eligible receiver. Once Tretola got the snap he backpedaled and scrambled to the right long enough for D'Appollonio to get free in order to catch the six-yard touchdown pass.
Hail Mary pass to beat California
With one of the fastest-paced offenses in FBS, no deficit was too large to overcome for Arizona last season. California found this out the hard way in late September, as its 31-13 lead entering the fourth quarter couldn't hold up.
The Golden Bears also had a pair of 15-point fourth-quarter leads in that game, but the Wildcats never stopped fighting. They scored 36 points in the final 15 minutes, benefiting from an onside kick recovery and some conservative Cal play-calling as well, but the real luck came on the final play from scrimmage.
With only a Hail Mary left as a possible play call, Arizona sent every possible receiver into the end zone, and quarterback Anu Solomon rolled right to buy time. He then heaved it deep toward the goal, and it somehow landed right into the hands of senior receiver Austin Hill for the improbable score to cap an amazing comeback.
15. Florida State
Beating Clemson without Jameis Winston
After quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first half—and eventually the whole game—in the wake of him making a vulgar remark in public on Florida State's campus, the defending national champions had to go into their biggest game to date without their top player. Instead, sophomore Sean Maguire had to make his first start against Clemson, one of the best defenses in the country.
The game ended up being one of several that FSU had to rally late in order to win, and while Maguire struggled at times, he also showed some great poise in order to keep the Seminoles in it. Yet in overtime, it was the play of others that ensured the victory.
First came FSU's defense, which was faced with a 4th-and-1 from the 16-yard line and had just given up a 13-yard pass. The unit stepped up and stuffed Clemson running back Adam Choice to give the ball back to the offense. On the next play, running back Karlos Williams scored on a 25-yard run for a 23-17 OT win.
The game-saving goal-line strip at Ole Miss
While this play would no doubt be a top candidate for the worst moment in Ole Miss' 2014 season, the forced fumble that Kris Frost pulled off late in a Nov. 1 victory in Oxford kept the Auburn Tigers in contention for the SEC West title.
Auburn had taken a 35-31 lead late in the fourth quarter of a back-and-forth game, but Ole Miss quickly moved downfield for the potential go-ahead score. Bo Wallace found Laquon Treadwell over the middle and was just short of the end zone when Auburn linebacker Kris Frost grabbed at Treadwell and pulled him down awkwardly.
Frost stripped the ball from Treadwell as he went to the ground, and Cassanova McKinzy recovered the fumble to save a TD. On that play, Treadwell suffered a dislocated ankle and a broken leg, which ended his season.
Though Auburn would go on to lose four of its final five games, that winning play served as one of the few bright spots for a defense that struggled all season.
Nick Chubb sets school's bowl rushing record
A top prospect who was expected to play a huge role in Georgia's future, Nick Chubb became the present midway through the 2014 season when star running back Todd Gurley had to sit out four games while serving an NCAA suspension related to getting paid for autographs. The true freshman responded with 100-yard games in every start and continued that pace after Gurley returned but quickly went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Chubb just kept getting stronger, ending up with 1,547 yards for the season despite hardly playing in the Bulldogs' first five games. He finished with his best effort yet, setting a school bowl record with 266 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
"Chubb's Belk Bowl performance will likely act as a launching pad for his 2015 Heisman campaign," wrote Drew Laing of Saturday Down South. "Not only has Chubb taken college football by storm, but he continues to get better with every passing game."
12. Arizona State
Hail Mary pass to beat USC
Coming off a humbling home loss to UCLA, Arizona State found itself in a wild dogfight at USC the following Saturday. USC led 27-18 with just over 14 minutes left, but the teams combined for four more touchdowns, and three of them went for 40-plus yards.
The Sun Devils pulled within 34-32 with 2:43 left on a 73-yard TD pass to Cameron Smith from Mike Bercovici, who was making his second start in place of injured quarterback Taylor Kelly. ASU got the ball back at its own 28 but with just 23 seconds left, which meant there was little time to dink and dunk.
Three plays later, ASU only had enough time left for a desperation heave toward the end zone from 46 yards out. Yet when Bercovici released the ball, his top receiver, Jaelen Strong, was all alone just a few yards short of the goal line. He hauled in the game-winning Hail Mary as time expired.
11. Ole Miss
Senquez Golson's game-clinching interception to beat Alabama
Ole Miss' 2014 season didn't end as well as it would have liked, with the Rebels getting blown out by TCU in the Peach Bowl. But the year wouldn't have made it to that point had the Rebels not pulled off one of their biggest wins in school history in early October.
The visit from Alabama was a game that had been circled on every Ole Miss fan's calendar since the schedule's release, and with both teams coming in unbeaten, it was the perfect time for ESPN's College GameDay to make its first trip to The Grove. A massive turnout for the festive tailgate was matched by an equally immense crowd, which got to see a back-and-forth game that Ole Miss didn't lock down until the final moments.
The clinching play came from standout cornerback Senquez Golson, a key piece of the Landsharks defense that Ole Miss rode to nine wins and the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. Golson out-leaped Alabama tight end O.J. Howard for an interception in the end zone with 37 seconds left, sealing the 23-17 win.
Ending losing streak to South Carolina
The Clemson-South Carolina rivalry is one of the great showdowns in college football, an interleague matchup that is so important in that state it warrants being played during the final week of the season instead of each team wrapping up conference play. The only thing that was missing from it the last few years was competitive balance.
That changed last November when Clemson ended a five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, a 35-17 victory that helped make it possible for the Tigers to win 10 games for the fourth straight season.
Clemson took the lead for good early in the second quarter on a touchdown run by Wayne Gallman, who ran for a career-best 191 yards. But the real hero of the game was freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, who had played with a torn ACL, according to reports after the game.
Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman
Oregon fans would have much preferred their team's shining moment to have involved a different trophy, one the entire Ducks squad could share in, but Marcus Mariota becoming the program's first Heisman Trophy winner will have to do.
Mariota became the first Hawaiian-born player to win the award, beating out Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Alabama's Amari Cooper. He was on more than 95 percent of Heisman ballots—the most ever—and he had more than 90 percent of the possible points for the second-highest tally in that category.
There was little argument that Mariota was the most deserving winner, as his performance was the key reason Oregon won the Pac-12 title and earned a spot in the playoffs. He led the Ducks to the national title game before falling to Ohio State.
8. Notre Dame
Kyle Brindza's game-winning kick in Music City Bowl
It was a roller coaster of a 2014 season for Notre Dame, which began 6-0 as quarterback Everett Golson fired on all cylinders in leading the offense, only for the Fighting Irish to lose five of six down the stretch with Golson turning the ball over in bunches.
But the year ended on a high note with an impressive 31-28 win over LSU in the Music City Bowl, a victory that provided great hope for the future—thanks to quarterback Malik Zaire's play—and served as the perfect ending to the great career of kicker Kyle Brindza.
Brindza struggled late in the year, missing key kicks that could have given Notre Dame some extra victories. But given one last chance to come through, the senior didn't disappoint as he nailed a 32-yard field goal at the end of the bowl.
Jerry Neuheisel's off-the-bench heroics
The game was played in Texas, but UCLA's victory over the Longhorns in September had the kind of finish that would make for a great Hollywood script.
Star quarterback Brett Hundley went down with an elbow injury and couldn't return, which forced the Bruins to go with little-used sophomore Jerry Neuheisel to lead the offense. The son of the former UCLA coach, whose firing in 2011 led to the school bringing in current coach Jim Mora, Neuheisel threw two second-half touchdown passes including the game-winner with three minutes left.
After the comeback was complete and UCLA had sealed the victory, Neuheisel's teammates lifted him onto their shoulders and carried him off the field. It was a scene that no doubt will make the theatrical version of that game.
6. Michigan State
Fourth-quarter comeback in Cotton Bowl
Effort in bowl games can vary from team to team and player to player, yet each year we get some amazing performances from those who want to go out on top even if the contest has nothing riding on it beyond pride and something new for the trophy case.
Michigan State could have easily called it a day when it fell behind by 20 points late in the third quarter against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, since the season had already been a success with 10 wins. But that's not how the Spartans operated, not under coach Mike Dantonio, who kept at it and motivated his players to keep fighting until the final whistle.
That drive led MSU to score 21 fourth-quarter points. The Spartans won 42-41 on Keith Mumphery's 10-yard touchdown from Connor Cook with 17 seconds left.
Lane Kiffin pre-celebrates receiving touchdowns...twice
Lane Kiffin's impact on Alabama's offense in 2014 was easy to see, as the Crimson Tide were far more explosive with the ball than in previous seasons. He helped turn quarterback Blake Sims into a star and helped further the rise of Amari Cooper as possibly the program's best receiver ever.
He also had a knack for knowing the Tide were about to score before anyone else, and not just because he had called the plays.
In both the Iron Bowl win over Auburn and the SEC title game against Missouri, Kiffin could be seen celebrating on the sideline with arms raised in the air for a pair of long touchdown passes. The thing is, he was doing so both times before the ball had ever left his passer's hands, as he was reacting to how the play was unfolding and how Cooper had already done what was needed to beat his defender and get deep for the TD catch from Sims.
Icing the kicker to beat Arizona
USC was coming off a painful home loss to Arizona State, having allowed a Hail Mary at the end (and looking really bad in trying to defend the play). The Trojans then had to travel to Arizona, where they were facing a team that had shot up the rankings following a shocking upset of Oregon the week before.
The game came down to the wire, with USC holding a 28-26 lead as Arizona got its final shot to win it. The Trojans defense buckled down and forced Arizona to attempt a 36-yard field goal in the final seconds.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian still had a time out left, so he decided to use it—just as Arizona's Casey Skowron was about to try to win the game.
"Generally speaking, it is hard to make two kicks in a row," Sarkisian told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. "And I'd like to think some timing is involved."
Skowron made what ended up being an inconsequential field goal, since Sarkisian's time out was granted before the snap. Then he pushed the second try, giving USC the victory.
LaQuan McGowan's massive Cotton Bowl touchdown
There are big touchdowns and there are touchdowns by big guys. Sometimes they can be the same thing, which was the case for Baylor during its Cotton Bowl game against Michigan State.
Leading 34-21 late in the third quarter, the Bears felt it was the perfect time to break out a trick play they'd been working on all season. And it worked flawlessly, with 6'7", 390-pound offensive lineman LaQuan McGowan lining up as a tight end and going untouched after hauling in an 18-yard touchdown pass.
"When men weighing over 300 pounds touch a football, we hear music," Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wrote. "And on those cherished occasions when they score touchdowns, we’re treated to glorious symphonies."
That was the final TD of Baylor's season, but Michigan State won the game after scoring 21 fourth-quarter points to win 42-41.
Trevone Boykin's TD flip vs. Kansas State
TCU has had better records than the 12-1 mark from last season, as it was unbeaten in 2010, but no year was bigger for the Horned Frogs than the 2014 campaign. And quarterback Trevone Boykin's emergence as a playmaking superstar was a huge part of that.
Boykin was TCU's unquestionable offensive leader, showing off both a strong arm and also mobility skills that made him dangerous any time he decided to take off with the ball.
Just ask Kansas State's defenders, who after seeing Boykin scramble for the goal line on Nov. 8 thought they had him pegged in their sights. Then he flipped over them into the end zone for a score.
"It was the epitome of everything Boykin and TCU did in 2014, and a sign of what's to come in the future," wrote Ryan Gerbosi of The Dallas Morning News.
1. Ohio State
Winning the national championship
If college football did have a season-ending, music-themed montage video, it would end with Ohio State claiming its first national title since 2002.
The Buckeyes completed a storybook season in January, running past Oregon in the first College Football Playoff championship game. The victory capped an incredible comeback from where OSU was in September, when a home loss to Virginia Tech (with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his second career start) made it seem unlikely it would be in contention for the playoffs.
Then OSU ran off 13 straight wins, each increasingly more impressive than the next, especially when J.T. Barrett became the second quarterback to get injured and unproven Cardale Jones stepped in to lead the Buckeyes to three convincing postseason victories.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.