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Revisiting the 2009 college football season with advanced box scores

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This year was weird and sloppy and super fun ... with a disappointing (because of injury) ending.

If you’re a casual college football fan and you remember two things about the 2009 season, they’re probably a) this was the year that Alabama became All The Way Back, and b) Ndamukong Suh devoured souls.

To be sure, that’s a pretty good place to start. But there was all sorts of entertainment value and plenty of emerging subplots beneath the surface.

  • What was supposed to be the third act of Bradford vs. McCoy never got off the ground. OU’s Sam Bradford got hurt in the first game of the season, but the Sooners still were the only team to come anywhere close to keeping Colt McCoy and Texas from a 12-0 start. They won their other 11 games by double digits before the epic Big 12 title game vs. Nebraska.
  • If there had been a College Football Playoff this season, it’s possible that both Big East champ Cincinnati and MWC champ TCU would have made it. And the Bearcats were one second (in the Texas-Nebraska game) away from the BCS title game as is.
  • Chip Kelly took over as head coach at Oregon and watched his best player punch an opposing player in the very first game.
  • Ole Miss made it into the top five at one point! And Pitt made it into the top 10!
  • We got our first glimpse of Brandon Weeden!
  • Georgia Tech won the ACC running the damn triple option.
  • Thursday night football was amazing.

Looking back, Bama is the most relevant story line for obvious reasons, and ... man ... no one has ever been more screwed out of a Heisman than Suh was this season. (Yeah, I said it, Vols fans.) But beginning with a wild September, this year was a pretty fun ride. Let’s relive it.

Sept. 3: No. 14 Boise State 19, No. 16 Oregon 8

Hey lookie there at Scott Frost holding LeGarrette Blount back after the Falcon Punch...

Sept. 5: No. 20 BYU 14, No. 3 Oklahoma 13

Sept. 5: No. 9 Oklahoma State 24, No. 13 Georgia 10

Sharing this one simply because I had absolutely no recollection of it. This was the beginning of Mark Richt’s first lost-his-way period at UGA. He’d rebound by 2012, but he’d use up a decent amount of goodwill in the process.

Sept. 12: No. 3 USC 18, No. 8 Ohio State 15

For a little bit early in 2009, it looks like USC might not miss a beat despite starting freshman Matt Barkley at QB...

Sept. 19: No. 13 Virginia Tech 16, No. 19 Nebraska 15

Nebraska dominated SO MUCH of this game, but the Huskers’ offense just couldn’t get enough points on the board to keep them out of danger. (That would be a common theme for 2009.) And then...

Sept. 19: Washington 16. No. 3 USC 13

A late-aughts season just hadn’t begun until a top-five USC team had suffered a jarring upset loss. Granted, this wasn’t truly a top-five USC team, as we would find out later in the year — this wasn’t the same sort of title-killing loss that USC tended to suffer in Corvallis — but it was a big deal at the time. It was a big deal for Steve Sarkisian and Washington, too, signs of life after years at sea. And it ever-so-briefly backed up the hype that Jake Locker always had but rarely proved.

Sept. 24: South Carolina 16, No. 4 Ole Miss 10

Goodness, this is one hell of an atmosphere right here.

Sept. 26: No. 15 TCU 14, Clemson 10

One of many key, rain-soaked games from this season, this was TCU’s primary résumé-building win — Clemson wasn’t amazing but would make the ACC title game, and the Frogs knocked the Tigers off in Death Valley.

Oct. 3: UTEP 58, No. 12 Houston 41

Houston had already upset No. 5 Oklahoma State that year (Mike Gundy would turn around and hire Houston’s OC, Dana Holgorsen, the next year), and Case Keenum was throwing for a million yards per game. So UTEP rushed for a million yards. This one’s a beaut.

Oct. 8: No. 21 Nebraska 27, No. 24 Missouri 12

I attended this game. I have not yet dried off. Truly one of the oddest games I’ve ever been to ... the power was out in part of the stadium (and much of Columbia) ... there were about three total good offensive plays ... Missouri was, like, triple-teaming Ndamukong Suh at times, and he still made a bunch of plays (and drew a bunch of holds) ... and yet, Mizzou was still winning into the fourth quarter. And then they weren’t.

Oct. 10: No. 1 Florida 13, No. 4 LSU 3

Florida absolutely erased LSU’s offense in this game. The Gators finished the season (spoilers) first in overall S&P+ and third on defense. Keep that in mind when we get to the Bama-Florida game.

Oct. 17: No. 1 Florida 23, Arkansas 20

A week after throttling LSU, the Gators suffered some bad turnovers luck against the Hogs, and it nearly cost them. They had to score the last 10 points of the game to get ahead.

Oct. 17: No. 19 Georgia Tech 28, No. 4 Virginia Tech 23

This was one of Frank Beamer’s better teams — fourth overall in S&P+, top-15 in offense, defense, and special teams. But Georgia Tech outlasted the Hokies in Atlanta and didn’t lose again, claiming the ACC Coastal crown.

Oct. 24: No. 1 Alabama 12, Tennessee 10

One fun midseason subplot: Florida, Alabama, and Texas just kept alternating back and forth between the No. 1, 2, and 3 spots in the rankings. Florida’s near-loss to Arkansas gave Bama the poll lead, then the Tide slipped to No. 3 after pulling off a statistically unlikely, Mount Cody-led win over Lane Kiffin’s (!) Vols.

Oct. 24: No. 4 USC 42, Oregon State 36

USC’s slide was about to begin, but hey, at least they managed to beat the Rodgers brothers (who had another big game against them) first.

Nov. 7: No. 3 Alabama 24, No. 9 LSU 15

Bama needed a couple of LSU injuries and a long catch-and-run by Julio Jones on a screen to survive this one. The Tide spent much of 2009 surviving before officially becoming Bama.

Nov. 7: No. 4 Cincinnati 47, UConn 45

Cincinnati’s November was one of the nuttiest months a national title contender could have. Brian Kelly’s (!) Bearcats had the best offense in the country and needed every bit of it. Before they could get to the all-timer shootout against Pitt, they had to beat UConn 47-45, WVU 24-21, and Illinois 49-36. And they had to do it partially with their backup quarterback!

Nov. 7: Navy 23, No. 19 Notre Dame 21

Navy had broken a long losing streak against Notre Dame two years earlier, so this was like old hat at this point.

No. 7: Nebraska 10, No. 20 Oklahoma 3

Nebraska finished second in Def. S&P+ ... and 66th in Off. S&P+. A top-40 offense might have meant a national title run. By this point, teams were doing whatever they could to neutralize Suh, and everybody else was making the plays instead. And the only touchdown of the game came on a 1-yard drive.

Nov. 19: No. 12 Oklahoma State 31, Colorado 28

With Zac Robinson hurt, Alex Cate started the game for OSU ... and went 0-for-9. So Mike Gundy inserted a former baseball player.

Nov. 26: No. 3 Texas 49, Texas A&M 39

Long before they were passive aggressively spreading recruiting conspiracy theories about each other, Texas and Texas A&M were actual, on-the-field football rivals. And this was the first time Texas had had to sweat in quite some time.

Speaking of lost rivalries...

Nov. 28: Missouri 41, Kansas 39

Fun fact: most Mizzou-Kansas football games were terrible. I miss the rivalry, but mostly because of basketball. That said ... the three-game series from 2007-09 was unbelievable, pretty much the only three good games I watched in the series. And for the second time in three years, a late end zone sack of Todd Reesing played a major role.

Dec. 3: No. 7 Oregon 37, No. 13 Oregon State 33

One of the best Civil Wars ever.

Dec. 5: No. 5 Cincinnati 45, No. 14 Pitt 44

My Top 100 Games of the Season posts didn’t begin until a few seasons later, but this would have almost certainly been number one. Massive stakes, crappy weather, and one of the best shootouts you’ll ever see.

Dec. 5: No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 1 Florida 13

Honestly, this might be the most impressive Alabama offensive performance of the Nick Saban era. Florida’s defense was dynamite, and the Tide had taken much of the year to grow into themselves (only 23rd in Off. S&P+). But Florida just couldn’t get the ball away from them. Fifty-six percent success rate! 71 snaps to 49! Unbelievable.

Bama got revenge for 2008 and a title shot for 2009. Oh yeah, and Tim Tebow cried.

Dec. 5: No. 12 Georgia Tech 39, No. 25 Clemson 34

Speaking of playing keepaway ... 83 snaps to 51 for the Jackets...

Dec. 5: No. 3 Texas 13, No. 21 Nebraska 12

God, December 5 was amazing. We’d already had Cincy-Pitt and Alabama-Florida, and then this beautiful disaster of a game was still waiting for us in the evening.

(Yes, there was one second left on the clock when the ball hit out of bounds. No, Nebraska didn’t get screwed. Nebraska’s defense got screwed by not having a better offense, though.)

Dec. 30: No. 20 Nebraska 33, No. 22 Arizona 0

Nick Foles deserved to eventually win a Super Bowl ring after this miserable experience.

Jan. 1: Auburn 38, Northwestern 35

Northwestern hadn’t won a bowl game since 1949, and it was like the streak itself prevented the Wildcats from winning this one. They make a huge comeback, give themselves a chance to win ... and then don’t.


(Skip to about the 15-minute mark of this very long highlight package.)

Jan. 1: No. 5 Florida 51, No. 4 Cincinnati 24

Cincinnati damn near made the national title game. The consolation prize wasn’t very kind.

Jan. 1: No. 8 Ohio State 26, No. 7 Oregon 17

Ohio State spent most of this season in the shadows after that loss to USC (and one to Purdue as well) but finished well.

Jan. 1: No. 11 Penn State 19, No. 13 LSU 17

The most glorious slopfest in a year full of them. My goodness, this was fun/horrible to watch.

Jan. 4: No. 6 Boise State 17, No. 3 TCU 10

I’m still annoyed that these teams had to play each other instead of getting shots at P5 (or I guess P6 at the time) teams.

Jan. 5: No. 10 Iowa 24, No. 9 Georgia Tech 14

“Nice option you’ve got there. We’ve got an Adrian Clayborn.”

Jan. 1: No. 1 Alabama 37, No. 2 Texas 21

A fun, sloppy, underrated season ends with a massive what-if when Colt McCoy goes down. Texas defense dominated the offense that had just dominated Florida. I’m always going to assume the Horns win this game if McCoy’s healthy. I assume Mack Brown feels the same.