Every college football season features at least one weekend in which the sport goes off the rails and descends into chaos. We saw it last year on Nov. 12, when No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Washington, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 9 Auburn and No. 14 Virginia Tech all lost on the same Saturday.
Something similar will happen in 2017. It always happens. But whatever you do, resist the urge to make one specific comparison: It will not be anything like 2007, the craziest college football season of all, one that set an incomparable standard for bizarre happenings on a weekly basis.
Look at the most basic details of 2007, and that may not seem true: LSU beat Ohio State for the national championship, and Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy. Those facts make the season look ordinary. Dig any deeper, however, and you may remember the wackiest fall of all, a season filled with upsets, surprises and week-to-week unpredictability in which championship hopes were routinely crushed and no result was a sure thing.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 2007 college football season. So, in honor of that -- and with the help of Sports-Reference's indispensable archives -- let's count down 10 of the strangest aspects of what might be the craziest college football season any of us have ever seen.
10. Notre Dame, Miami and Nebraska had a combined record of 13-23.
Given the ongoing bouts with mediocrity each program has had, it's less surprising now -- and even then each team had already shown signs of problems. Still, Notre Dame was coming off 19 wins in two years and abruptly learned that Charlie Weis wasn't the savior it thought he was, as the Irish collapsed to 3-9 in Jimmy Clausen's first season at QB. Miami, in Randy Shannon's first year, and Nebraska, in Bill Callahan's final year, both went 5-7. Miami and Notre Dame ruled the late 1980s and early '90s. Nebraska ruled the mid-'90s. By the end of 2007, they were all becoming punch lines: Notre Dame lost to Navy (who also won a game 74-62 against North Texas) for the first time since 1963, Nebraska gave up 76 points to Kansas and 65 to Colorado and Miami lost to Virginia 48-0. These former powerhouses languished in obscurity while teams like Kansas and Boston College stole the show.
9. Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe and spent Christmas in Shreveport.
Oh, sure, it requires proper context: This was Saban's first season at Alabama after returning to college football from the NFL, and the Crimson Tide had gone 26-24 in the four seasons under Mike Shula before he arrived. The Process was merely in its infant stages, and even Saban couldn't be expected to engineer an instant turnaround. Still! Saban, who has become arguably the greatest coach in college football history, needed a win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl to finish with a winning record in a season in which Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe 21-14 in November ... and then lost the Iron Bowl to Auburn a week later, in as bad of a two-week stretch as Alabama could ever have. After losing six games in one season, Saban has lost a total of 14 games and won four national titles in the past nine. Every subsequent year of success makes the 2007 season look more and more bizarre, even if a tough transition year was to be expected.
8. Illinois went to the Rose Bowl with a 9-3 record.
It's not often that a 9-3 team goes to the Rose Bowl, but in 2007, the Big Ten began its downward trend while Ohio State played in the BCS title game. Needing a Big Ten team to fill the void left by the champion Buckeyes, the Rose Bowl ended up picking the second-place Fighting Illini, who were unranked when they upset then-No. 1 Ohio State on Nov. 10 to give them a case for a trip to Pasadena. It remains Illinois' only Rose Bowl trip since the 1983 season and second since 1963. Remember, this is a program that has only three AP top-25 finishes in the past quarter-century. The result of the Rose Bowl bid? A 49-17 blowout loss at the hands of USC. It was one of only two winning seasons Ron Zook had at Illinois, where he went 34-51 in seven years, making the Illini's presence there even more shocking.
7. LSU lost in three overtimes as the No. 1 team … twice.
It's rare enough to play in one three-OT game in a season. It's a lot rarer to lose twice in three OTs. It's unheard of for a team do it both times while ranked No. 1. Then again, nobody has ever called Les Miles a conventional coach. After a dramatic win over Florida, LSU went on the road to Kentucky on Oct. 13 to take on the No. 17 Wildcats -- who started 5-0 and had a Heisman candidate at the time in QB Andre Woodson. Kentucky erased a 13-point third-quarter deficit to force overtime -- with the help of a missed LSU field goal -- and won 43-37 in the third OT period. LSU fell to No. 5, but it rose back up as chaos engulfed the rest of the national landscape. Against unranked Arkansas at home, the Tigers scored with 57 seconds left to force OT, but they failed to convert their two-point conversion in the third OT and lost 50-48 in a game in which Darren McFadden rushed for 206 yards, seemingly ending their title hopes. ...
6. LSU won the national championship with two losses.
Nobody had won a national championship in the polls with two losses since 1960, when Minnesota went 8-2 but won a title anyway. However, that title came with a caveat: The final polls came out before the bowls, so the Gophers' Rose Bowl loss to Washington had no impact on the national championship vote. In reality, the national champion Minnesota team was 8-1 before an inconsequential loss in Pasadena.
LSU's 2007 season was different: The Tigers lost those two triple-OT games and thought their national championship dreams were crushed. They fell to seventh in the BCS after losing to Arkansas in late November, and moving into the top two appeared hopeless. And yet they rose all the way back to second in the final week thanks to their SEC title win over Tennessee and losses by No. 1 Missouri in the Big 12 title game and No. 2 West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl. The Tigers were picked over ACC champion Virginia Tech (lost to LSU and Boston College), Pac-12 champion USC (lost to Stanford and Oregon) and Big 12 champion Oklahoma (lost to Colorado and Texas Tech), plus one-loss Kansas and two-loss Georgia. Their argument was that they won the toughest league and did not lose a game in regulation. They capitalized on their unlikely, very lucky title shot, beating Ohio State by two touchdowns in New Orleans to earn the program's second national title in five seasons. Since the start of the BCS era in 1998, LSU remains both the only team to play for a title with two losses and the only one to win it.
5. Stanford beat USC as a 41-point underdog.
The first national splash Jim Harbaugh made as a head coach came on Oct. 6, 2007, when he started a rivalry with Pete Carroll that would carry over into the NFL. It was Harbaugh's fifth game at Stanford, where he inherited a 1-11 team from Walt Harris and had already been blown out by UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State. For the next presumed humiliation, Harbaugh's Cardinal visited Los Angeles to take on the most powerful program of the mid-2000s. The Trojans opened the year ranked No. 1 and were No. 2 at the time of the game. Vegas made them 41-point favorites. None of that mattered.
Despite the fact that Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard finished the game 11-for-30 passing, Stanford hung around because if forced five turnovers, intercepting John David Booty four times. Down by six, the Cardinal got the ball at their own 45 with 2:50 left after an interception. Pritchard completed a fourth-and-20 pass to Richard Sherman -- yes, that Richard Sherman -- down to the nine-yard line, and a few plays later, on fourth-and-goal at the 10, Pritchard found Mark Bradford in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The extra point put Stanford ahead, and one last Booty interception sealed one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. It marked the beginning of the end of USC's dominance, while Stanford began its climb.
4. Kansas-Missouri was the most hyped game of the year.
Not since 1973 had both Kansas and Missouri been ranked when they met. Not only were they both ranked this time, they were both in the top five. Prior to 2007, Kansas had gone 10 years without once being ranked in the AP top 25. Missouri hadn't won more than eight games in a season since 1969. The Border War was always a fierce rivalry, but on the football field, it rarely had national relevance. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it had national relevance and championship implications for both teams, resulting in a prime-time matchup in front of a packed house at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
While Kansas lacked marquee wins -- neither Oklahoma nor Texas was on its schedule and its nonconference slate was laughable -- the polls couldn't ignore its 11-0 record, which included a 76-39 win over Nebraska. Missouri, meanwhile, had lost only on the road at Oklahoma. The Jayhawks entered the de facto Big 12 North title game ranked No. 2 in the BCS, while the Tigers were No. 4. The game itself didn't quite live up to the hype despite the close final score: Led by a huge performance from QB Chase Daniel (40-for-49 for 361 yards), Missouri jumped out to a 21-0 lead and controlled the game before a Kansas rally resulted in a final score of 36-28.
Missouri vaulted to No. 1 with the help of LSU's loss to Arkansas, putting it in the driver's seat for a BCS title game bid. But the Tigers were blown out by Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, which ended up knocking them out of the BCS entirely … while Kansas vaulted over them into the Orange Bowl, where it beat Virginia Tech. Missouri beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl and finished fourth in the AP poll, and Kansas ended up seventh.
The game itself was a bit of a letdown, but bring up the 2007 season to a college football fan, and Missouri-Kansas as such an important game will always be one of the first things that comes to mind.
3. Nobody had a better record than Kansas and Hawaii.
The Jayhawks and Warriors were the only two teams to finish the season with fewer than two losses, both going 12-1. Hawaii, led by prolific QB Colt Brennan and coach June Jones, went undefeated in the regular season before losing the Sugar Bowl to Georgia. With a forgettable schedule beyond beating Boise State, it climbed to only 10th in the final BCS rankings and was never seriously considered for a title shot. Kansas, led by prolific QB Todd Reesing and coach Mark Mangino, lost only that regular-season finale to Missouri and won the Orange Bowl, its only major bowl appearance since 1968.
At the time, Hawaii's success wasn't a huge surprise, given that Jones had built the Warriors up and they had won double-digit games twice in the previous five seasons. Still, they had gone winless in 1998, so they weren't far removed from being at the bottom of the FBS. Kansas, meanwhile, had won double-digit games twice ever -- 1905 and 1995 -- and had gone 25-35 in Mangino's first five seasons.
Seven teams finished with two losses, and LSU and Missouri equaled the 12 wins of the Jayhawks and Warriors. But with the help of favorable schedules, nobody enjoyed a better winning percentage than Hawaii and Kansas.
2. Big Ten Network debuted with Appalachian State shocking the world at Michigan.
The launch of the Big Ten Network was one of the most important college football events ever. It has been a financial success, one that led to the launches of the SEC and Pac-12 networks, provided a wave of new income for Big Ten schools and played a significant role in conference realignment. It also launched at the beginning of a down era for the conference's football product that began with Ohio State's blowout loss to Florida in the previous BCS title game and really got rolling on Sept. 1, 2007, the infamous day that No. 5 Michigan lost to Appalachian State, then an FCS team, at the Big House to set the tone for everything that happened in the rest of a wild season.
Appalachian State was a powerhouse, but that didn't change the fact that an FCS team winning on the Wolverines' home field was a seismic event. It also happened to be in the first football game broadcast by Big Ten Network, making for an exciting, dramatic and strange beginning for the network designed to promote the conference, as Appalachian State made a go-ahead field goal, then blocked a field goal in the final 30 seconds to seal the upset behind quarterback Armanti Edwards.
1. California, South Florida, Boston College, West Virginia and Kansas all reached No. 2 in the AP poll.
For the most part, the start of the season looked relatively normal. Yes, West Virginia opened at No. 3 in the AP poll, but it had a top-10 team the year before and returned Steve Slaton and Pat White. Otherwise, the preseason top five included USC, LSU, Texas and Michigan. What followed was as bizarre of a poll shuffle as we've ever seen. Michigan immediately plummeted out of the top 25 upon losing to Appalachian State. USC would soon endure an unimaginable upset to Stanford. Preseason No. 6 Florida had Heisman winner Tim Tebow and had just won the national title, but it lost three regular-season games. Texas fell off after a late-September 20-point loss to Kansas State. Meanwhile, unexpected schools took advantage.
California climbed to No. 2 and immediately lost to unranked Oregon State. It ended up finishing 7-6 with a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl. South Florida -- which had upset West Virginia a few weeks earlier -- climbed to No. 2 and immediately lost on a Thursday night at Rutgers, starting a three-game losing streak. Boston College, led by Matt Ryan, lasted two weeks at No. 2 before losing back-to-back games to unranked Florida State and Maryland. Oregon reached No. 2 but lost Heisman candidate QB Dennis Dixon to a torn ACL is an upset loss to Arizona. Kansas got to No. 2 before the loss to Missouri, who vaulted to No. 1 and lost to Oklahoma. West Virginia, with an explosive offense and the No. 2 ranking, fell apart in a 13-9 loss to Pitt, a week after scoring 66 on No. 20 UConn. To make things crazier, Rutgers and Kentucky are among the other teams that made appearances in the top 10.
Teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the AP poll lost on the same weekend three times, including each of the final two weeks of the regular season. Starting in Week 6, the team ranked No. 2 in the AP poll lost in seven of the final nine weeks of the regular season -- and six of those losses were to unranked opponents. Nothing made sense, and even the predictable national champion LSU (two losses) and Heisman winner Tim Tebow (on a four-loss team and the first sophomore winner) have strange facts attached to them. Plus, we haven't even mentioned some of the individual statistical craziness, which included Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell passing for 5,705 yards; three players rushing for 2,000 yards, including Kevin Smith of UCF running 450 times for 2,567 yards; and Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree coming up just short of 2,000 receiving yards.
This coming college football season, there will be a week or two that brings back the feeling of 2007, and we'll play out all sorts of chaotic scenarios in our minds. In reality, there's little chance of the unpredictability coming close to what happened 10 years ago, in a college football season that should forever be celebrated for its unsurpassable drama and quirkiness.