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Revisiting the 2012 college football season with advanced box scores

A boring September, followed by a booming November. (And a title game blowout.)

Texas A&M v Alabama Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

It has been fun walking back through these old seasons. For one thing, it has answered questions I had about the statistical makeup of games I didn’t have the tools to break down at the time. For another, it’s been fun looking at all the different personalities a season can take on.

In 2011, for instance, September was crazy, October was extremely uneventful, and the second-half of November changed a ton. Meanwhile, 2012 was completely different: September was extremely by-the-book, October had a lot of odd games that didn’t really change the title landscape all that much, and November got nuts. We were distracted by otherworldly Big 12 point totals, and then the SEC’s oddity took over.

Those were the two conferences that made the most lasting impact. The first 14-team SEC had five of the top 10 teams, the Big 12 had six of the top 11 offenses, A&M had Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans, Kevin Sumlin, and a Tuscaloosa upset, and we had ourselves a pretty good time.

Let’s relive 2012.

Sept. 1: No. 2 Alabama 41, No. 8 Michigan 14

Michigan was coming off of an 11-win season in Brady Hoke’s debut campaign and headed into 2012 with top-10 expectations for the first time in five years. Didn’t last long. In all, not much happened in Week 1.

Sept. 8: No. 24 Florida 20, Texas A&M 17

This was very much a “we didn’t know what we were seeing until later” game — Florida would go on to win 11 games behind the best defense in the country, we didn’t know who Johnny Football was yet, and the Gator defense swallowed up what turned out to be a pretty spectacular passing game.

Sept. 8: ULM 34, No. 8 Arkansas 31

Ahh yes, probably my most favorite game of the year. (I’d have probably guessed that ULM’s post-game win probability was indeed under 50 percent...)

During a timeout before what ended up being the game’s final play, a 16-yard, fourth-down touchdown run by Browning, Todd Berry said some quick words to his team, and as the players began firing each other up, Berry simply grinned. This was a masterpiece almost three years in the making. UL-Monroe, a program that has never finished with a winning record or attended a bowl game since joining FBS, was about to knock off a Top 10 team. His team was about to dogpile in the end zone. His fans were about to start weeping in the Little Rock stands. And the look on his face suggested Berry knew it. It was a wonderful moment before an even more wonderful moment.

Sept. 15: No. 21 Stanford 21, No. 2 USC 14

Like Michigan, USC headed into 2012 having re-established high expectations the previous season. Like Michigan, the Trojans would very quickly fail to reach them.

Sept. 22: No. 15 Kansas State 24, No. 6 Oklahoma 19

After a 2011 season full of magic tricks, KSU pulled another one in Norman, riding turnovers luck and fantastic drive finishing to another unlikely win. The Wildcats were far better in 2012 than 2011 on paper, but this one reeked of 2011.

Games like this and Stanford-USC were truly interesting and impactful. But we were averaging about one of those games per week as we headed into late-September.

Sept. 22: No. 11 Notre Dame 13, No. 18 Michigan 6

Speaking of unlikely wins ... before Notre Dame could start generating major BCS title game hype, the Irish had to steal this one in South Bend.

Sept. 29: No. 9 West Virginia 70, No. 25 Baylor 63

This game was too much for me. I basically turned into Chris Spielman from the previous year’s Alamo Bowl, just yelling “Oh, COME ON” at both defenses on my television screen. Both of these offenses were in peak form, but this was a little too easy. I mean LOOK at those first-quarter success rates...

Oct. 6: No. 10 Florida 14, No. 4 LSU 6

While the Big 12 was getting absolutely nuts in WVU’s first season in the league, the non-A&M SEC was going out of its way to bring balance to the universe.

Oct. 6: No. 6 South Carolina 35, No. 5 Georgia 7

Georgia finished this season sixth in S&P+ and fifth on offense. And in the Dawgs’ only regular season loss, South Carolina completely shut that attack down. This might have been the single best defensive performance of the year.

Oct. 6: No. 8 West Virginia 48, No. 11 Texas 45

Another big WVU game, another shootout. Texas’ defense — headed by new Miami coach Manny Diaz — was in Game 3 of an absolutely horrific five-game stretch. The Horns would give up 113 points to OU and Baylor before stabilizing, but this slump would end up costing Diaz his job a year later after a single bad game.

Oct. 13: No. 7 Notre Dame 20, No. 17 Stanford 13

If at first you don’t succeed (at running the ball up the middle), try, try, try again. And fail.

Oct. 13: No. 22 Texas A&M 59, No. 23 Louisiana Tech 57

I had forgotten about this game, and that’s a shame. For whatever reason, I enjoyed this one far more than BU-WVU. No idea.

Oct. 13: Texas Tech 49, No. 5 West Virginia 14

Aaaaaaaand the WVU train goes barreling off the tracks. The Mountaineers averaged 52 points per game in a 5-0 start, then just 31.6 per game in a 2-6 finish.

Oct. 20: No. 3 Florida 44, No. 9 South Carolina 11

2.8 yards per play, a minus-8 yardage margin ... and a plus-33 scoring margin. Truly a museum piece of an advanced box score.

By the way, this stupid, stupid game also kept South Carolina from winning the SEC East and playing Alabama in the “Win and you’re in” SEC title game that Georgia played in instead. Georgia, the team SC stomped.

Oct. 20: No. 6 LSU 24, No. 20 Texas A&M 19

A&M had averaged 53 points per game over its previous five contests and would average 46 over its final six. But LSU had no patience for Johnny Football.

Oct. 27: No. 5 Notre Dame 30, No. 8 Oklahoma 13

Chris Brown caught two passes for 56 yards in 2012. The one ball he caught in Norman all but put Notre Dame in the BCS title game ... at least after a major scare from Pitt the next week.

Nov. 3: No. 1 Alabama 21, No. 5 LSU 17

In a role reversal from 2011, this time finishing drives won Alabama a game against LSU...

Nov. 3: No. 4 Notre Dame 29, Pitt 26

Ray Graham’s home-run runs were really the only thing Pitt had going for it (besides turnovers luck), and it was almost enough for a huge upset. But ND survived.

Nov. 3: No. 2 Oregon 62, No. 18 USC 51

The Big 12 had six of the top 11 offenses, but it didn’t have the top offense. That belonged to Oregon and its freshman quarterback, who went 20-for-23 for 304 yards with 121 rushing yards in this one. (Oh yeah, and Kenyon Barner rushed for 321. That too.)

Nov. 10: No. 15 Texas A&M 29, No. 1 Alabama 24

Nov. 17: Baylor 52, No. 2 Kansas State 24

So it’s worth noting that, following Alabama’s loss to A&M, the top two teams in the BCS rankings were Oregon and Kansas State. KSU just needed to win at unranked (and explosive) Baylor and beat Texas at home (which KSU always seemed to do), and the Wildcats were in the national title game.

That dream died seven days after Bama’s loss.

Nov. 17: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 1 Oregon 14

Oregon just had to beat Stanford at home and Oregon State on the road. On the same day that KSU lost, the Ducks also stumbled.

Within a damn week, Alabama was back in the top two.

Nov. 17: No. 13 Oklahoma 50, West Virginia 49

Yeah, only one person’s highlights need to be revisited from this game, and he didn’t play for the winning team.

November 17. Was. WILD.

Nov. 24: No. 6 Florida 37, No. 10 Florida State 26

If Notre Dame had lost any of the countless tight games it played in 2012, it’s possible our national title game would have been Alabama vs. Florida, a second straight championship game that would have pitted the SEC champ against an SEC team that didn’t even make the conference title game. That would have thrilled the nation.

Nov. 24: No. 1 Notre Dame 22, USC 13

Nothing like qualifying for the national title game with five field goals.

Nov. 29: Louisville 20, Rutgers 17

If you didn’t know Teddy Bridgewater’s name before this game, a) WTH is wrong with you, but b) you definitely did afterward. Bridgewater had a hip injury and a broken wrist, but with the Big East title on the line and backup Will Stein struggling, Teddy threw two second-half touchdowns to lead a double-digit comeback and clinch a shot at Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Nov. 30: No. 19 NIU 44, No. 18 Kent State 37

In the background of all of November’s nuttiness, we found ourselves in a unique spot: with two MAC teams fighting for an Orange Bowl bid. With three MWC teams sitting with two losses, one-loss NIU and Kent State teams played in a winner-take-Orange MAC title game. The right team won, but it took a while.

Dec. 1: No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 3 Georgia 28

This year’s Alabama-Georgia SEC title game was truly amazing. Scripted for Hollywood. And it might only be my second favorite Alabama-Georgia SEC title game.

I’ve said before that my grading system for games is basically “How many times does it make me yelp out loud?” The fourth quarter of this game damn near broke that scale.

Dec. 8: Navy 17, Army 13

The way Georgia lost to Alabama just makes you ache. And then this happened the very next week.

Dec. 31: No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 9 LSU 24

In a way, this game was Hurdle No. 1 for transforming Clemson from “the team that Clemsons” into a dynasty. The Tigers beat LSU in a bowl in 2012, then beat Ohio State the next. Two years later, they were within a play or two of beating Bama in the national title game, and the next year, they beat Bama. An almost perfectly linear improvement from the humiliating 2012 Orange Bowl loss to WVU to winning rings.

Dec. 31: Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

I demand a 30-for-30 on this game. Or just a YouTube video of all the shots of Lane Kiffin looking cold and hungover on the sidelines.

Jan. 1: No. 13 Florida State 31, No. 16 NIU 10

If there’s consolation for NIU here, it’s that Kent State probably would have lost by 35. (And hey, it was only 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter!)

Jan. 1: No. 11 South Carolina 33, No. 19 Michigan 28

You already know the play I’m going to show here.

Jan. 2: No. 22 Louisville 33, No. 4 Florida 23

This Florida team was really, really hard to watch even when it was playing well. It ... did not play well in the Sugar Bowl.

Jan. 3: No. 5 Oregon 35, No. 7 Kansas State 17

The Could’ve Been The National Title Game Bowl went to the better team. (Oregon ended up seventh in S&P+, KSU 11th.)

Jan. 4: No. 10 Texas A&M 41, No. 12 Oklahoma 13

For the most part, this was a wrecking ball of an Oklahoma team — take out the ND and A&M games, and the Sooners outscored opponents by an average of 20 points per game in the other 11 games. But they let ND get the upper hand and just got blasted in this one.

Jan. 7: No. 2 Alabama 42, No. 1 Notre Dame 14

When the most memorable moment of the broadcast is Brent Musberger ogling a young woman in the stands, you know you just watched a dud of a national title game. Considered how wild November was, 2012 deserved better. And even if ND had lost in the regular season, we’d have potentially ended up with an even more miserable Bama-Florida game instead. If the CFP had been in place, however, we might have ended up with Bama-Oregon. Boo.