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Posted: Wednesday December 10, 2008 1:05PM; Updated: Wednesday December 10, 2008 1:37PM
Stewart Mandel Stewart Mandel >

What stood out in the '08 regular season, bowl criteria and more

Story Highlights

Best game, best play, best coach and other stand-out moments and people in '08

The BCS bowls should ditch their geographical alliances for a more flexible system

Here's what their coaching changes mean for Auburn and Washington's programs

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Texas-Texas Tech was one for the ages, but Florida's SEC title-game win over Alabama was the game of the year.
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
Stewart Mandel's Mailbag
Submit a question or an opinion to Stewart.

There are more than 1,100 unread e-mails sitting in my inbox right now. Most of them were sent during the week prior to Championship Saturday, and, based on my random sampling, about 90 percent seemed to pertain to the Big 12 South controversy.

Well -- I'm done writing about that. If I had my druthers, I'd rather not write about the BCS at all this week, though I know I can only avoid it for so long.

You know what I do want to talk about? Football.

Last Saturday in Atlanta, I attended one of the most exciting football games I've ever had the pleasure to cover. The atmosphere inside the Georgia Dome was electric. The two teams, Florida and Alabama, played as clean and precise a game as you could ever hope to witness. They traded leads, they made big plays, they made big stops. With the game, and the teams' seasons, hanging in the balance, one transcendent player, Tim Tebow, lifted his team to victory.

For three-and-a-half-hours in that press box, there was no talk of tiebreakers or "style points" or computer rankings -- just a collective awe at the level of intensity on that field.

Which is why, as I sifted through e-mail after e-mail this week bemoaning the BCS and everything associated with it -- an annual tradition this time of year -- I was struck by this quaint yet refreshing query from Bill in Pocatello, Idaho.

As in every season, there were quite a bit of amazing plays and storylines this year. Looking back on the 2008 regular season, what has stood out to you most?

First of all, my single biggest observation of the '08 season was its surprising amount of ... orderliness. In glaring contrast to 2007, the year of Appalachian State-Michigan, Stanford-USC, Pittsburgh-West Virginia, et. al., there were barely any jaw-dropping upsets or chaos-laden weekends.

If anything, the teams at the top were too good. Of the seven top 10 teams that lost a game over the final eight weeks, all but one (Penn State) lost to a fellow top 10 team. The season's biggest controversy -- the aforementioned Big 12 South tie -- was a result of the fact that three 11-1 teams proved incapable of losing to anyone besides each other.

Later this week, I'll reveal my vote for the season's "most outstanding player" (as of Tuesday, I had yet to reach a final decision), but here are some other unofficial "awards" I'd like to bestow.

BEST GAME: If you couldn't tell from the gushing commentary above, Florida-Alabama. It's not often these days you see a contest of such magnitude in which neither team led by more than a touchdown until the final 2:50. Close runner-up: Texas' comeback win over Oklahoma on Oct. 11.

BEST PLAY: Michael Crabtree's game-winning, 28-yard touchdown catch from Graham Harrell with one second left to beat Texas on Nov. 1. I'm guessing the image of Crabtree breaking that tackle and dashing the final five yards will be forever etched in our memories. Not-so close runner up: Knowshon Moreno's full-on hurdle over a Central Michigan defender (which then started a national trend).

BEST COACH: Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson. Do you know how hard it is to go to a school and install an entirely new offense? Tommy Tuberville and Rich Rodriguez sure do. The Jackets not only took to Johnson's triple-option, but by the end of the year they were flat-out dominant. Close runner-up: Alabama's Nick Saban.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: Ball State WR Dante Love's 336 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns against Navy on Sept. 5, including nine catches for 165 yards and two TDs, a rushing TD and 134 return yards. Sadly, his career ended with a spinal injury two weeks later. Close runner-up: Colt McCoy's 29-of-32 day against Missouri on Oct. 18.

BIGGEST UPSET: Oregon State over USC, Sept. 25. The Trojans were coming off a rousing annihilation of Ohio State, while the Beavers were 1-2. Yet there was Oregon State, jumping to a 21-0 lead behind a then-unsung freshman tailback, Jacquizz Rodgers, in a stunning display. Close runner-up: Ole Miss over Florida, Sept. 27.

BEST PROGNOSTICATOR: Susan Caneso, a.k.a. "SportsGrama," beat roughly 20,000 contestants to win the Stewart Mandel College Football Challenge. Susan is in fact a 56-year-old grandmother of two, which means the proverbial insult, "My grandma could pick games better than you," is in fact true. You might like to know: She's picking Oklahoma to win the national title.

Obviously, I did not have the opportunity to watch every single Division I-A game this season, and I'm sure there were countless other exhilarating games/moments/performances that could have made this list. I figured I'd at least bring up a few as a friendly reminder of why we all watch this sport.

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