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Revisiting the 2015 college football season with advanced box scores

The 2015 national title race was fine. The number of crazy-ass finishes was amazing.

Valero Alamo Bowl - TCU v Oregon Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

And we’re back! After a travel-based hiatus, it’s time to resume our advanced box score series.

This series is a weird mishmash of stat nerd stuff and YouTube highlights, but more than anything else it’s been an opportunity for me to say, “Oh man, I’d forgotten about that game!” I had also, to some degree, forgotten about the different personalities each season took on.

On a macro level, focusing mostly on the national title race, 2015 wasn’t amazing. Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State were the best teams in the country for most of the way, and it seemed like there was basically a battle for one extra CFP spot. When Ohio State lost, that made things a bit weird, but Alabama pretty quickly rebounded from a funky loss to Ole Miss, and neither semifinal was close.

On a micro level, holy crap, what a season this was. Every single week seemed to have an amazing ending, from BYU-Nebraska in Week 1 to Notre Dame-Virginia (which I didn’t even include below because of space) in Week 2, to TCU-Texas Tech, to the Michigan-Michigan State blocked punt, to the Georgia Tech-FSU blocked field goal, to Miami-Duke, to Ole Miss-Arkansas, all the way to the amazing TCU-Oregon Alamo Bowl comeback.

If you just enjoyed wild-ass college football and didn’t really care all that much about the national title race, this was one of the most enjoyable seasons on record.

Let’s relive 2015.

Sept. 5: No. 11 Notre Dame 38, Texas 3

Charlie Strong’s second season at Texas didn’t start off any better than his first year finished, and for a single week, Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire was a shoo-in Heisman winner. (He was lost for the season to injury the next week against UVA.)

Sept. 5: BYU 33, Nebraska 28

Taysom Hill had an outstanding game, then suffered a season-ending injury. Backup Tanner Mangum (who finally just ran out of eligibility) came in and did this:

BYU’s entire season, its last with Bronco Mendenhall as head coach, was nutty. The Cougars beat Boise State near the buzzer, too, then lost by one to UCLA. Later in the year, they gave Mizzou’s Gary Pinkel the final win of his career with a tight finish, then nearly pulled off an enormous bowl comeback against Utah. Then he left for Virginia.

Sept. 7: No. 1 Ohio State 42, Virginia Tech 24

The skycam is neat.

That was pretty much the highlight of the game. There was massive anticipation regarding who Ohio State would start at quarterback after returning 2014 first-stringer J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, who looked great leading the Buckeyes to the national title in Barrett’s injury-based absence. Jones played most of the game (he would eventually be surpassed in the lineup), and OSU took the drama out of this one pretty quickly.

Sept. 12: No. 5 Michigan State 31, No. 7 Oregon 28

What a home-and-home this turned out to be. No. 3 vs. No. 7 one year in Eugene, then No. 5 vs. No. 7 the next in East Lansing.

Sept. 12: No. 19 Oklahoma 31, No. 23 Tennessee 24

I’ve rarely been madder at a coaching staff than I was at Tennessee’s in this one. I wasn’t even rooting for the Vols. It was just the quintessential example of coaching scared. It became an ongoing theme for this season (well, seasons).

Sept. 19: No. 15 Ole Miss 43, No. 2 Alabama 37

Ole Miss was legitimately good, and this whole game was wild, but ... yeah, you’re thinking of only one play. It’s fine.

I said there was little national title race drama in this season, and I mostly stand by that, but it’s worth noting that Bama fell to 12th after this game and needed six games to hop back up into the top four. The Tide also needed some late-season help from Arkansas to keep Ole Miss out of the SEC title game.

Sept. 19: No. 22 Missouri 9, UConn 6

Maybe the worst game I’ve ever watched in person. And I’ve seen a lot of Mizzou games in person. I mean ... come on ... the first highlight in this MIZZOU-FRIENDLY highlight package is a punt. That speaks volumes.

Sept. 19: Stanford 41, No. 6 USC 31

The season hasn’t officially begun until a top-10 USC team loses in September to an unranked foe.

Okay, that’s not fair. It turned out Stanford was awesome. But yeah, early-season USC upset losses have kinda been a theme in this series.

Sept. 26: No. 3 TCU 55, Texas Tech 52

I kind of want to set a recurring appointment on my work calendar to watch the highlights of this game once a week from now until retirement. I can’t think of anything that would improve my quality of life more. This game was perfect. And four hours long. But perfect.

Sept. 26: Florida 28, Tennessee 27

At nearly the same time that TCU-Tech was losing its mind, Florida was beating Tennessee. I’m sorry, Vols, I’m not doing this on purpose. But your 2015 was extremely ... memorable. Yeah, that’s the word.

Oct. 3: No. 12 Clemson 24, No. 6 Notre Dame 22

My podcast spouse Steven Godfrey was on hand for this monsoon game. It ended up being one of the most impactful games of the year from the perspective of the national title race.

Oct. 3: No. 13 Alabama 38, No. 8 Georgia 10

“Nick Chubb and the Georgia offense are dominating! Bama’s vulnerable! Statement time for the Dawgs!”

“...oh. Never mind.”

Oct. 3: Iowa 10, No. 19 Wisconsin 6

We thought we were watching a random Big Ten upset. Wisconsin looked pretty good, and Iowa was unbeaten but not even ranked yet.

Instead, we were watching the game that decided the Big Ten West. And got Iowa to within about two minutes of the College Football Playoff.

Oct. 10: No. 2 TCU 52, Kansas State 45

A classic. Also possibly the fourth-most exciting game of TCU’s season. Fifth, maybe.

Oct. 10: Wake Forest 3, Boston College 0

The Big 12 was experiencing another offensive boom in 2015. Other pockets of the country were ... whatever this was...

Oct. 17: No. 6 LSU 35, No. 8 Florida 28

Florida rocked Ole Miss and was 6-0 and back in the top 10 under Jim McElwain. Then Will Grier got suspended. And then the Gators went to Baton Rouge.

Oct. 17: No. 7 Michigan State 27, No. 12 Michigan 23


Oct. 24: No. 8 Alabama 19, Tennessee 14

I can criticize the hell out of Tennessee’s late-game execution in tight losses to Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas. Can’t really criticize this one, though. The Vols scored late to go ahead, but Alabama responded because Alabama was really good.

Oct. 24: Georgia Tech 22, No. 9 Florida State 16

Seriously, we had about one all-time classic finish per week.

Oct. 24: USC 42, No. 3 Utah 24

I was at this game. Not particularly memorable, really, but let this be a reminder that, in late-October, Utah was third in the country.

Oct. 31: No. 9 Notre Dame 24, No. 21 Temple 20

ESPN GameDay in Philadelphia! And Temple almost pulled off an extremely (statistically) unlikely win.

Oct. 31: Miami 30, No. 22 Duke 27

Yeah, there were like eight illegal blocks on this play.

Don’t care. We almost got a finish like this in the TCU-Tech game earlier in the season. The payoff came here.

Nov. 7: No. 7 Alabama 30, No. 4 LSU 16

LSU was very good and had a nice year (9-3, 11th in S&P+) against a rugged schedule. Alabama was better.

Nov. 7: Arkansas 53, No. 19 Ole Miss 52

Indeed, Alabama needed this to happen to reach the SEC title game. Do the Tide still make the College Football Playoff without an SEC title? Probably. After all, here were the CFP rankings heading into Championship Weekend:

  1. Clemson (12-0)
  2. Alabama (11-1)
  3. Oklahoma (11-1)
  4. Iowa (12-0)
  5. Michigan State (11-1)
  6. Ohio State (11-1)
  7. Stanford (10-2)
  8. Notre Dame (10-2)

Once Notre Dame lost to Stanford (we’ll get there), the coast was probably clear. Ohio State certainly doesn’t leap the Tide when the Buckeyes also didn’t play in the title game, and it’s hard to make the case that two-loss Stanford would have either.

So yeah, it probably doesn’t impact the national title race. But it likely prevented us from experiencing “Ole Miss, SEC champions” (and, yes, “Ole Miss vacates SEC title” later on). Goodness, what a game.

Nov. 7: Nebraska 39, No. 6 Michigan State 38

It didn’t end up mattering to State’s title chances because of what would happen two weeks later, but Michigan State got hosed in this one.

Nov. 14: Oregon 38, No. 7 Stanford 36

If this also doesn’t happen, then yeah, Alabama’s potentially in trouble.

Nov. 21: No. 9 Michigan State 17, No. 2 Ohio State 14

Zeke Elliott: 12 carries.

Nov. 21: No. 7 Oklahoma 30, No. 11 TCU 29

TCU had been thumped by OSU two weeks earlier and knocked out of the national title race, but the Horned Frogs came within a two-point conversion of winning in Norman and winning the Big 12 at 11-1. Do the Frogs hop non-SEC-champion Bama? Eh, I doubt it. Not when you’re 11th on November 21. But still.

Nov. 21: No. 10 Baylor 45, No. 4 Oklahoma State 35

I had completely forgotten that Oklahoma State started this season 10-0. The Pokes were a major part of the CFP conversation ... and then finished 0-3.

Nov. 28: No. 13 Stanford 38, No. 4 Notre Dame 36

This Notre Dame team was better than the one that made the BCS championship game in 2012. It lost two heartbreakers, though.

Nov. 28: No. 8 Ohio State 42, No. 12 Michigan 13

The first Urban Meyer-Jim Harbaugh battle ... was not worth the price of admission. Ohio State finished the year playing pissed off and free after blowing its national title shot.

Dec. 5: No. 5 Michigan State 16, No. 4 Iowa 13 (Big Ten Championship)

I spent the whole year getting yelled at by Iowa fans because S&P+ hated their team. (The updated S&P+ also hates their team, for what it’s worth.) But damn, what a beautiful (in its own way) game this was.

Dec. 5: No. 1 Clemson 45, No. 8 North Carolina 37 (ACC Championship)

Clemson went on a major roll after taking down Notre Dame, but the Tigers nearly slipped up at South Carolina in the regular season finale, then thought about losing to UNC as well. But they survived.

Dec. 29: No. 18 Baylor 49, No. 10 North Carolina 38 (Russell Athletic Bowl)

Knowing what happened with Baylor in the ensuing offseason, it’s not a lot of fun to talk abut the Bears on the field. But this game was still mind-blowing. Baylor had 102 plays ... and 84 of them were run attempts. Johnny Jefferson ran for 299 yards. Seemingly everybody got a snap behind center. And UNC couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

Dec. 31: No. 14 Houston 38, No. 9 Florida State 24 (Peach Bowl)

Houston cruised to the AAC title despite a loss to UConn and a total lack of love from S&P+. The Cougars had a 33% success rate and got out-gained by 1.3 yards per play ... and still cruised. Odd finish for an odd season.

Dec. 31: No. 2 Alabama 38, No. 3 Michigan State 0 (Cotton Bowl)

Blood. Blood everywhere.

Dec. 31: No. 1 Clemson 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 17 (Orange Bowl)

It’s easy to forget that OU led 17-16 at half. The Sooners had a top-20 defense and had Clemson on the ropes. Then Clemson applied a second-half knockout blow.

Jan. 1: No. 16 Ole Miss 48, No. 13 Oklahoma State 20 (Sugar Bowl)


Jan. 1: No. 5 Stanford 45, No. 6 Iowa 16 (Rose Bowl)

HEY WHAT WE WERE WE SAYING ABOUT KNOCKOUTS? At least both Ole Miss’ and Stanford’s bowl romps were fun to watch (unless you were an OSU or Iowa fan) ... and hey, after the regular season, we just didn’t have any more room for wild finishes. Had to save up for the Alamo Bowl and national title game.

Jan. 2: No. 11 TCU 47, No. 15 Oregon 41 (Alamo Bowl)

This highlight package is 16 minutes long. You must watch it. Now.

Jan. 11: No. 2 Alabama 45, No. 1 Clemson 40 (CFP Championship)

At the end of a season full of classics, we got basically the beginning of the series that would dominate the second half of the 2010s. Bama-Clemson I might have been my favorite, start to finish. The ending to Bama-Clemson II was better, and III and IV were certainly not as close. But this was an incredible game to watch. In a less crazy season, it could have easily been the best game of the year.