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My Favorite Moments of the 2019 College Football Season

LSU officially capped off a magical 2019-20 season this past Monday, blowing past Clemson to finish off 15-0. Watching the Tigers dominate en route to their first National Title in over a decade was a fresh, relatively unexpected aspect of this college football season. However, it was far from the only interesting part of a season filled with shocking upsets, dominant individual performances and inspirational moments. With that in mind, I wanted to break my annual "Favorite Moments of the Season". Narrowing down this list to just ten was extremely difficult, so there were some notable exceptions.

Georgia State Stuns Tennessee in Season Opener

This may hurt Tennessee fans to remember, but from a college football fan in general, Georgia State's stunner of the Volunteers was an exciting way to open up the season. The Panthers were 24.5 point underdogs going into Knoxville, but outplayed Tennessee for the entire sixty minutes. Three Vol turnovers proved to really be the decisive factor, while a quarterback run from GSU's Dan Ellington with five minutes remaining really sealed the win. The loss immediately sent shockwaves through a Tennessee program that was considered a dark horse SEC East contender. The good news is that they've been able to recover, finishing the regular season 7-5 and 5-3 inside the SEC.

Joe Burrow's Heisman Candidacy Gets Rolling

Prior to 2019, the LSU-Texas matchup in Week 2 was widely viewed as one of the biggest non-conference games of the season. The eventual struggles by the Longhorns ended up making it less important in the grand scheme of things, but it was still crucial for LSU and their QB, Joe Burrow. Burrow had already gotten some people's attention with a five-touchdown showing against Georgia Southern in their opener, but his Heisman candidacy really got rolling against Texas. He outplayed UT's Sam Ehlinger to the tune of 471 yards and 4 touchdowns, while completing nearly 80 percent of his passes. The dominant showing laid the groundwork for this season's Heisman campaign, while it also developed LSU into the National Title frontrunner they would showcase the entirety of the season.

Clemson-UNC Goes Down to the Wire

Leaving Mack Brown's emotional postgame interview following the South Carolina win off this list was tough, but I still have some UNC representation here. The Tar Heels' resurgent season was one of the best storylines of the year, and it would've been even more impressive if they had taken down the ACC's Goliath, Clemson. The Heels fought with the Tigers the entire way, and down 21-14 late in the fourth, a one-yard TD rush from Javonte Williams set up an interesting scenario. Would Mack Brown go for the victory against the nation's No. 1 team, or let things go into overtime. Brown decided to go for it and despite a great effort from freshman quarterback Sam Howell, UNC came up just short, preserving Clemson's perfect season. I didn't love the play call from the Heels, but I respected the guts to go for the win. Even in a losing effort, this game really showcased the potential of this North Carolina program, and how quickly they've bought back into Brown at the helm.

DeVonta Smith Dominates Ole Miss

Great individual performances are always some of the most impressive moments of any college football season, and there were a lot to choose from in 2019. There might not have been a better individual showing in a game this season than what DeVonta Smith did against Ole Miss in late September. Nearly half of Smith's 11 receptions went for touchdowns, as his five touchdowns are a new Alabama record. An addition to the staggering amount of touchdowns, they were also lengthy catches, going for 74, 25, 23, 33 and 27 yards, helping Smith finish with 274 in total. Although  he wasn't able to turn the dominance into a Biletnikoff Award, Smith's shredding of the Rebel defense was a thrill to watch, and record-setting in a few ways.

Illinois Stuns Wisconsin

Sitting at 2-4 with absolutely no momentum, Illinois entered their Week 8 showdown with Wisconsin as a 30.5 point underdog. Not only were they struggling, Wisconsin was playing terrific football, at 6-0 and No. 6 in the country. They seemed to have control of the game for the vast majority of it, but college football is a sport where weird things tend to happen. The win probably for the Badgers with just minutes remaining in the fourth was as high as 98%, but a wacky decision to throw the ball backfired, as Jack Coan was intercepted. In response, the Illini was able to drive down the field and kicker James McCourt nailed game-winning field goal as time expired. As simply an objective college football fan, these types of upsets are what makes things so unpredictable and interesting. It didn't kill Wisconsin's season, as they still won the Big Ten West, but it was able to give Illinois the momentum needed to make their first bowl in the Lovie Smith era. It will go down as history as the biggest upset in the Big Ten the last 40 seasons.

Casey O'Brien & P.J. Fleck

Minnesota's 42-7 throttling of Rutgers on October 19th wasn't very surprising when you consider what both teams looked like this season. However, it was notable for one major reason: the appearance of Minnesota' Casey O'Brien. O'Brien's path to college football has been inspirational; O'Brien is a four-time cancer survivor who couldn't continue his dream of being a quarterback but remained around the game as a holder. Up 27-0 in the fourth quarter, Fleck decided to put in O'Brien for the hold, which he did to perfection. After coming off the field, O'Brien had an emotional embrace with Fleck, the coach who believed he could still be a part of a big-time college football program. This was an extremely inspiring moment to see O'Brien get on the field after all he has been through, while also reminding us of the power of college sports.

The SMU-Memphis Shootout

I love when College GameDay goes to unique locations, and they did just that by deciding to go to Memphis in Week 10. Sure, the Tigers have become one of the Group of Five's strongest programs, but this was the first time ever GameDay had decided to visit the city. And the game, which also featured a great story in undefeated SMU, did not disappoint. Two explosive offenses dogged it out for four quarters, and after falling down three touchdowns halfway through the 4th, SMU nearly mounted an impressive comeback. Overall, there was 102 points scored and 1,067 total yards, the perfect contest for fans who love offense. It also ended up having a real impact; the win helped cement Memphis as the AAC West frontrunner, a position that helped them end up eventually sealing the Group of Five's lone New Year's Six bid.

Week 11

There wasn't a more consequential week in college football this year than Week 11, which for the first time ever featured two matchups of 8-0 teams. LSU-Alabama continued their long-standing rivalry, but it was notably different this time around. A game that has long been decided by defense, there was 87 points scored, with LSU finding a way to come out on top. The win made it clear LSU was a clear National Title favorite, while also further aiding Burrow's Heisman chances. Penn State-Minnesota was another exciting game with important implications. The Gophers ended a PSU comeback attempt with an interception from Jordan Howden, sealing the biggest win for the program in decades. Seeing the fans storm the field at TCF Bank Stadium was a really awesome moment, particularly for a school that has mired in mediocrity for so long. Even less important games ended up being critical, as Wisconsin beat Iowa to keep their Big Ten West hopes alive, and Baylor beat TCU to remain undefeated.

Jalen Hurts Leads the Oklahoma Comeback

It's hard to root against Jalen Hurts. The former Alabama QB was the model teammate when he lost his job to Tua Tagovailoa, supporting the younger signal-caller and not transferring right away when it became clear he wasn't going to start. His eventual move to Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma seemed like a match made in heaven, and his impressive 2019 confirmed it. Although Hurts didn't take home the Heisman Trophy, his comeback performance against the undefeated Baylor Bears was a Heisman-level showing. The Sooners fell down 31-3 quickly to Baylor, but they showed poise and resiliency in the comeback. Hurts ended up with nearly 300 yards passing and 114 on the ground, despite going up against a physical Baylor defensive front, that includes Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year James Lynch. Scoring 31 straight points against the best defense in the league was quite the exclamation point on Hurts' legendary collegiate career. Being able to take the Bears down in the rematch a few weeks later to earn a Playoff berth helped Hurts become the first-ever QB to lead two different teams to the four-team field.

Ohio State-Clemson

For a system that is supposed to pair the four best teams in the nation against one another, the College Football Playoff has suffered from competition issues, with a bunch of blowouts and boring games. However, you got the feeling once they were matched up, that a meeting with Clemson and Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl was going to be different. These two teams were 13-0 and two of the most talented teams in the country, but only one could move on. The Buckeyes would took a commanding lead early, but Clemson and Trevor Lawrence displayed grit down the stretch to take home the victory. There were a number of controversial calls in the game that certainly played a role, but in these type of massive games with two evenly matched teams, there is going to be controversy. Ohio State in particular felt that the targeting call in the first half and a confusing Justyn-Ross fumble that was ruled incomplete screwed them over, but they did also miss opportunities by themselves. Settling for field goals three times in the red zone and the decisive Justin Fields interception can't be blamed on the officials, and Clemson moves on. This game really had all you want for a Playoff semifinal: two great programs, teams, coaches, and an unbelievable atmosphere. Hopefully we'll see more of this in the future and not more blowouts (2015 Michigan State-Alabama!).

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