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Revisiting the 2014 college football season with advanced box scores

The SEC loses its mind, Baylor and TCU break football, and then Ezekiel Elliott goes 85 yards through the heart of the South. What a damn year.

Alabama v Mississippi
Oxford, Mississippi, 10/4/14
Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

In this advanced box scores series, I try to keep the total number of games from a given season to around 40. With box score image files and YouTube clips, that tests the bounds of what a page can load without crashing in my experience. Besides, if I kept 2007 to 40 or fewer games, I don’t have an excuse — any other season can be at 40 or lower, too.

My initial list of games to include for 2014 ended up at ... 72 games. Seriously, the combination of a) crazy comebacks and Hail Marys (sorry, Hails Mary), b) tight Florida State wins, c) crazy Auburn games, d) dumb Missouri games, e) games pivotal to unexpected division title runs (Arizona, Mizzou, Georgia Tech), and, most importantly, f) games pivotal to a wild national title race was nearly unprecedented.

You know me by now: in basically every post in this series, I’ve declared that The 20XX Season Was Supremely Underrated. But damned if I don’t think 2014 was supreeeemely underrated. The plot twists, from Year of Mississippi and Baylor-TCU to Oh Right, Hello There Ohio State, was immaculate. And I apologize for the games I ended up leaving out below. Winnowing down to 40 was trickier than I thought it’d be.

Let’s relive 2014.

Aug. 28: No. 18 Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13

I remember basically one thing about this game: poor Grant Hedrick getting hit a lot.

Aug. 30: No. 1 Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31

I think my piece after this game was basically “I know, one game isn’t something to worry about and everything, but ... you alright, FSU?”

Sept. 6: Virginia Tech 35, No. 8 Ohio State 21

Bud Foster’s defense confused J.T. Barrett and hit him a lot, and if I recall correctly, Ohio State was officially eliminated from the national title race!

Sept. 6: No. 14 USC 13, No. 13 Stanford 10

A master class in now not to finish drives. It’s really, really hard to lose while creating six more scoring opps than your opponent, but Stanford pulled it off. And USC was on the other side of a confusing, damaging September loss this time!

Sept. 13: Boston College 37, No. 9 USC 31

Oh.

Sept. 13: No. 24 South Carolina 38, No. 6 Georgia 35

Georgia had already whomped Clemson to start the year, and it seemed like the post-Aaron Murray era was going to be just fine in Hutson Mason’s hands. And then the Georgia defense got torched by Dylan Thompson.

Sept. 20: Mississippi State 34, No. 8 LSU 29

Dak Prescott outrushes Leonard Fournette and outpasses Anthony Jennings. The first of quite a few “Hmm, this MSU team might be really good...” moments.

Oct. 2: Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24

So, first things first:

One of the best weekends in college football history began with a continuation of Arizona’s strange ownership of Oregon.

Then things only got nuttier on Saturday.

Oct. 4: No. 11 Ole Miss 23, No. 3 Alabama 17

Meanwhile...

Oct. 4: No. 25 TCU 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 33

That evening, the Pac-12 got drunk.

Oct. 4: Utah 30, No. 8 UCLA 28

And...

Oct. 4: Cal 60, Washington State 59

Oct. 11: No. 5 Baylor 61, No. 9 TCU 58

Seven days after an amazing weekend, we got the game of the year. As good as a 12-round title fight.

It would get boring if every game were like this -- five hours long, countless stoppages (usually before kickoffs), et cetera. But for the second time in four years, these two teams played a classic in Waco, one that said as much about the identity and direction of college football as anything else.

Both teams made strong defensive plays, and neither team missed a significant number of tackles. But there were so many plays, so many long balls, so many defensive risks, so many potential knockout blows.

Sometimes technically sound, slower fights can be gorgeous and appealing, and sometimes you just want guys throwing haymakers for 12 rounds. Allow me to make my one Gatti-Ward reference of the season. Granted, the ninth round was the classic in Gatti-Ward I, not the 10th and 11th, but it’s worth it to relive this one anyway.

Oct. 11: No. 3 Mississippi State 38, No. 2 Auburn 23

Auburn had won eight consecutive one-possession finishes and would win two more in the coming weeks. Mississippi State’s solution: don’t let it get that close! Brilliant.

It’s become an oddity or a footnote, that the first No. 1 team in the history of the CFP rankings was Mississippi State and not Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, or whoever. But this was a good team.

Oct. 18: No. 2 Florida State 31, No. 5 Notre Dame 27

The third of seven tight wins for the defending champs.

Oct. 18: WVU 41, No. 4 Baylor 27

Just a week after winning the game of the year, Baylor stumbles.

Oct. 25: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7

And then a dominant Ole Miss falls, too.

And then the calendar flipped to November, and all hell broke loose.

Nov. 1: No. 4 Auburn 35, No. 7 Ole Miss 31

It had really begun to feel like Auburn was never going to lose a close game ever again.

Nov. 1: No. 10 TCU 31, No. 20 WVU 30

TCU juuuuuuust barely survives a ride on the WVU Upset Train...

Nov. 8: Texas A&M 41, No. 3 Auburn 38

“Auburn’s down 18 at halftime? Doesn’t matter. They’ll find a way. See? I told you s—WHAT?”

Nov. 8: No. 13 Ohio State 49, No. 7 Michigan State 37

Nov. 15: No. 4 Alabama 25, No. 1 Mississippi State 20

Just one too many Dak Prescott picks.

Nov. 15: No. 5 TCU 34, Kansas 30

I could only find KU highlights for this one online, but that’s just as well — beating KU by four was as good as a loss. (That’s an exaggeration, but ... considering how the CFP committee ended up ranking TCU a few weeks later, maybe not...)

Nov. 22: Arkansas 30, No. 8 Ole Miss 0

That Auburn loss just broke Ole Miss’ back. Well, that, and there was a point in mid-November in which Arkansas was quite possibly the best team in the SEC. The Hogs almost won at Mississippi State, then beat LSU and Ole Miss by a combined 47-0. And then they crushed Texas in the Texas Bowl, too.

Nov. 28: No. 12 Arizona 42, No. 13 Arizona State 35

What a wild Friday this was. Out west, Arizona clinched a division title...

Nov. 28: No. 17 Missouri 21, Arkansas 14

...and back in God’s Time Zone, Mizzou played a perfect fourth quarter to beat the hottest team in the conference.

Nov. 28: WKU 67, No. 19 Marshall 66

Also on Black Friday: long Marshall winning streak, meet Jeff Brohm.

Nov. 29: No. 16 Georgia Tech 30, No. 8 Georgia 24

After a two-game losing streak in October, Georgia Tech suddenly became one of the hottest teams in the country, too. This was their fifth win in a row.

Nov. 29: No. 18 Ole Miss 31, No. 4 Mississippi State 17

For most of the season, it looked like this was going to be the most important Egg Bowl ever, one with SEC or national title implications. Instead, it was a battle between one team clinging to CFP hopes and a reeling, pissed off rival. Naturally, the pissed off rival won.

Dec. 5: No. 3 Oregon 51, No. 8 Arizona 13

Arizona owns Oregon no more, and the Ducks are into the CFP.

Dec. 6: No. 2 Florida State 37, No. 12 Georgia Tech 35

Nobody did Just Enough like the 2014 Florida State Seminoles.

Dec. 6: No. 5 Baylor 38, No. 9 Kansas State 27

Baylor takes down a top-10 team, and TCU crushes a bad Iowa State. As long as Ohio State doesn’t do anything wild against Wisconsin, you figure the Bears have the inside track to a CFP bid.

Dec. 6: No. 6 Ohio State 59, No. 11 Wisconsin 0

Oh. Oh God.

This might have been the most perfect performance you’ll ever see from a team in need of an absolutely perfect performance. I still say that if the Buckeyes win, like 31-21, Baylor gets in.

Dec. 24: WKU 49, CMU 48

No future Bahamas Bowl can or will ever top the inaugural one. Yes, I’m still mad at CMU (led by new Miami OC Dan Enos) for throwing a fade on the two-point conversion.

Dec. 30: Notre Dame 31, No. 22 LSU 28

I’m glad to see that the stats (ND’s postgame win expectancy: low) basically said “Wait, what? They won?” just like I did after watching this game. Fun as hell, though.

Dec. 31: No. 6 TCU 42, No. 9 Ole Miss 3

Vengeful. This is a vengeful box score.

Jan. 1: No. 7 Michigan State 42, No. 4 Baylor 41

Granted, Michigan State and Baylor playing each other in football has taken on a different context now than it did at the time, but in a vacuum, this was one hell of a football game.

Jan. 1: No. 3 Oregon 59, No. 2 Florida State 20

This was a complicated game that turned on turnovers and early red zone execution, and it was more competitive than the score, and all that, sure, of course, but you only care about one play here:

Jan. 1: No. 5 Ohio State 42, No. 1 Alabama 35

Granted, big plays and turnovers aren’t the most replicable formula in the world, but Ohio State only needed it to work the one time.

Jan. 12: No. 5 Ohio State 42, No. 3 Oregon 20

Good God, Zeke.