Campus Corner

In 2012, college football focus was on the field (mostly)

Crime didn’t dominate the college football headlines in 2012 as it did the previous season, but punishment was a big part of the news.

Four teams that qualified for a bowl game couldn’t go. One, Ohio State, rolled through its schedule 12-0, and had the Buckeyes not played with NCAA handcuffs this season, they might have been in South Florida for the BCS National Championship Game. Penn State, North Carolina and Miami, Fla., also sat in the penalty box while others played.

But the action on the field, especially in November, was riveting.

The month started with Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State jockeying for poll position. Notre Dame, was fourth in the group and looked like an also-ran.

Then came the upsets — Texas A over No. 1 ’Bama, Baylor over K-State, Stanford over Oregon.

The national title and Heisman races were scrambled, vaulting the Fighting Irish into first place in the final BCS standings and opposing the Crimson Tide for the championship.

Johnny Manziel authored the Aggies’ upset victory in Tuscaloosa and effectively won the Heisman that day.

The biggest stories of 2012, plus one week:

1 Irish resurgence

Notre Dame started the year just outside the Associated Press’ preseason top 25 poll, but the Irish finished the regular season undefeated and No. 1 heading into the championship game.

Good fortune followed the program. Pittsburgh missed a makeable field goal that would have beaten the Irish in overtime. Stanford insists running back Stepfan Taylor reached the end zone on a goal-line stuff by Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. There were other struggles. But the Irish turned back every challenger and the iconic program put itself in a position to win its first national title since 1988.

2 Johnny Football

At SEC media days in July, Texas A coach Kevin Sumlin said he thought the quarterback position would soon resolve itself, but didn’t name the candidates. It wouldn’t have mattered. Not many had heard of the eventual winner, Johnny Manziel. It didn’t take long for the nation to learn of the player with the cool nickname, Johnny Football.

By the season’s end, Manziel had broken Cam Newton’s SEC record for total offense and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Speaking of freshman quarterbacks …

3 The kids are all right

Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariotta, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson — all redshirt freshman who led their teams to top 10 seasons — played well beyond their years and experience.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbsreit said. “I think what’s happening is quarterbacks are identified and developed at such a young age.”

4 Re-realignment

The story that never ends, conference realignment, continued with the Big Ten reaching into two conferences in expanding to 14 teams. Maryland was plucked from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East.

Is the Big Ten finished? That may depend on the outcome of the ACC’s lawsuit against Maryland, insisting the Terps cough up about $52 million in exit fees. Maryland expects to pay much less. If it’s less, the Big Ten may grow to 16 by plucking more ACC schools.

As for the Big East, as a football conference it’s greatly diminished, especially now that Boise State has decided to stay in the Mountain West.