Expected the unexpected: How the 2007 season forever changed col - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Expected the unexpected: How the 2007 season forever changed college football

LSU celebrates national championship (Source: AP) LSU celebrates national championship (Source: AP)
(WTOL) -

Like any college football season, there are more questions than answers heading into the 2017 season.

  • Is this the season when Alabama slips?
  • Can Ole Miss or Baylor look past their off the field disasters to have a respectable season?
  • Can Oklahoma win without Bob Stoops? Will Miami, USC and Texas return to prominence?

College football fans will see some of those answers revealed on Sept. 2, one-week after a “soft opening” week of college football on Aug. 26. And for yet another year, Labor Day weekend is full of marquee match ups.

While it is important to look ahead for what is shaping up to be an unpredictable season, it is also important for football fans to remember the 2007 season a decade ago. The season where the unpredictable became commonplace.

It all started in what was technically the 2006 season, when Boise State, then known solely for their blue football field, played against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. After an early Boise State lead, Adrian Peterson and Oklahoma came back to take a late lead. With a hook-and-lateral, halfback pass and the old Statue of Liberty, Boise State threw a fatal stone right at Goliath's forehead.

Little did fans know the stunning upset that January night in Arizona was an omen for what was to come that fall.

By the numbers, the 2007 college football season is memorable enough.

  • An unranked or lower ranked team beat a higher ranked team 59 times.
  • The No. 2 ranked team lost seven times, six of those coming against unranked opponents.
  • Starting in Week 8, the No. 1 ranked team lost three times before bowl season. In those three weeks, both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams fell.

In 2007, teams like Hawaii, Kansas, Boston College, Rutgers and South Florida rose to national prominence. Then there was an FCS school from a small town deep in the mountains of North Carolina.

Michigan opened its season ranked fifth against Appalachian State at the Big House. A blocked field goal and a screaming commentator later, and the greatest upset in college football history was written. It was the loss that would thrust the Wolverines into a state of limbo. It would take a decade and a khaki-dawned coach named Harbaugh for the maize and blue to rise again.

In 2007, that Harbaugh guy was then the head coach of Stanford.

On Oct. 6, Harbaugh and the unranked Cardinal pulled off an upset over No. 2 ranked USC. The Trojans were 41-point favorites and had not lost a PAC 10 game in 24 contests. They had not lost a home game in 35 games. That game, more than any other, began the legend of Jim Harbaugh.

Speaking of coaches, a failed NFL coach from the Miami Dolphins coached his first season in the once-proud city of Tuscaloosa. By 2007, the Crimson Tide had fallen so low, many Bama fans still refuse to acknowledge the “Dark Ages” of DuBose, Franchione, Price and finally Shula. But Nick Saban was to be the savior of the program. The Chosen One.

In 2007, Nick Saban and Crimson Tide finished the season 7-6 and lost a sixth straight game against hated rival Auburn. While it was yet another forgettable season for Tide fans, it was the beginning of an era that rivals the glory days of Bear Bryant in Alabama.

While Nick Saban is top headline news now, then there were two stories in the SEC that overshadowed Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa: Florida’s star quarterback Tim Tebow’s storybook journey to the Heisman and LSU’s bizarre journey towards a national championship.

Tim Tebow first took the field for the Gators in 2006. He provided another dynamic to the Florida offense, anchored by Chris Leak, that would win a championship that year.

In 2007, Tebow took the helm. He captured the country’s imagination and the hearts of Florida fans everywhere with his spectacular play on the field and his aw shucks, boyish charm off the field.

Watching his physical play against defenses that seemed to crash off the linebacker-sized quarterback like a wave against a rock, it was hard to imagine he was the same player who talked to reporters about his faith and good will to humanity. A player like Tebow was a relief to those who constantly heard about players with drug problems or DUI arrests.

Even though he was the overall best player in the country, in 2007, many fans found it hard to believe that a sophomore was even considered for the Heisman Trophy. A decade later, a freshman has won the award twice.

In 2007, Florida lost to LSU in one of many Tiger comebacks that would typify that season.

Les Miles took over for Nick Saban, who won his first national championship with LSU in 2003. But while Saban no doubt made LSU the football power they became by 2007, no previous coach related to LSU fans like Les Miles. Miles' quirky personality and strange play calls seemed to define the fans that lovingly cheered him on.

Against Auburn, the Tigers were down 24-23 on the Auburn 22-yard line with seven seconds left on a running clock. Instead of using his one timeout to line up for a chip-shot field goal, Miles called for a pass to the end zone. LSU’s Demetrius Byrd pulled in the pass from Matt Flynn with only a second left in the game. For Tiger fans, few other plays defined their coach more than that.

Only a week before,  then-No. 1 LSU seemed to be knocked out of title contention with a loss against unranked Kentucky. But thanks to the teams above them getting upset left and right, including the by now predictable upset of No. 1, undefeated Ohio State at the hands of Illinois, LSU climbed back to the top of the rankings.

On the last week of the season against rival Arkansas, LSU lost a triple-overtime thriller that seemed to knock them out of title contention for the second time that season. The loss dropped the Tigers to the seventh spot. But again, fate and chaos above them intervened.

Oklahoma upset No. 1 Missouri in the Big 12 championship. Pittsburgh upset No. 2 West Virginia. No. 4 Kansas and No. 5 Georgia were not in conference championship games.

No. 3 Ohio State jumped to No. 1 and LSU, who beat 14th-ranked 14 Tennessee in the SEC Championship, leapfrogged No. 6 Virginia Tech, who beat No. 11 Boston College in the ACC Championship.

By the end of the BCS National Championship held in New Orleans only a few years after Hurricane Katrina, LSU left little doubt who was the best team in the country with a 38-24 victory over the Buckeyes. LSU became the only two-loss team to play in, let alone win, the national championship since the inception of the BCS.

But perhaps if there was one moment that could describe 2007 college football better than any other, it was a bizarre and memorable play that later became known as Lateralpalooza.

It happened on Oct. 27, 2007 between the Division III Trinity Tigers and the Millsaps Majors.

Trinity, ranked 19th in country, found itself trailing 24-22 against the 24th ranked Millsaps. The Tigers, stuck on their own 39-yard-line with two seconds remaining, needed a miracle.

With both a field goal and Hail Mary pass both out of question, quarterback Blake Barmore completed a short pass to receiver Shawn Thompson at about midfield. The play turned into a wild series of laterals that saw the Tigers advance and retreat across the 50-yard line in a desperate attempt to the keep the play alive. By the time it was over, there were 15 laterals spread among seven players. The play took 62 seconds to complete. Finally, wide receiver Riley Kelly III found a seam and sprinted toward an immaculate touchdown. And despite the number of laterals and the length of the play, there was not one flag thrown.

The grainy footage of the play almost immediately went viral. It went down in history as an iconic example of playing through the final whistle.

Expect the unexpected. Between stunning upsets, unbelievable plays and a little bit of luck or misfortune, that overused cliché became an every day reality in 2007. It gave fans a reason to love the game, not just their team.

Ten years later, one could say it was the greatest season not just in college football history, but maybe even in the history of organized sport.

We can only hope this season is half as good as that.

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