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15 people, programs, and plays that defined the 2023 CFB season

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The confetti raining down in Houston on Monday signified the end of the 2023 college football season.

The final campaign of the four-team playoff format saw Michigan emerge victorious despite losing its head coach to two separate three-game suspensions amid recruiting and sign-stealing scandals.

Those represent the first two entries for the 15 people, programs, and plays that defined the 2023 season.

Connor Stalions

The name Connor Stalions will always be associated with college football despite the fact he never played a down. The scandal featuring the ex-Michigan staffer heading an elaborate sign-stealing scheme brought the sport's news cycle to a screeching halt, with 24/7 coverage around the story as more details dripped out. Stalions had concocted a network of associates that flew all over the country to attend games featuring future Michigan opponents and film the sidelines to help decipher play calls. There was even footage of a man who looked very similar to Stalions on the Central Michigan sideline when the Chippewas faced Michigan State in the season opener. He was eventually brought down by the scandal, but that would be far from the end of the story for the Wolverines.

The Big Ten opted for a shocking three-game suspension for Jim Harbaugh - despite the head coach never being accused of any wrongdoing. Stalions, it appeared, acted without the head coach or any top assistants knowing of his activities. Michigan was able to overcome the Stalions scandal and deliver the school's first national title since 1997. However, his name will be prominently featured in any 2023 season recap for the rest of time.


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Most of us laughed the first time Harbaugh grabbed a microphone and bellowed, "Whose got it better than us? Nobody!" However, the Michigan coach proved that slogan to be true Monday in Houston. There's nobody that currently has it better in college football than the Wolverines. Wins over rival Ohio State resulted in three consecutive Big Ten titles and trips to the CFP in 2022 and 2023. However, two straight losses in the semifinal left some unfinished business for the Wolverines, with many standout players opting to return to school to push the program over the top.

That belief paid off in a big way, with Michigan becoming just the fifth team to ever go 15-0 in a college football season. The Wolverines are unabashedly themselves and perhaps the most disciplined team in recent memory at staying true to their game plan. That was on full display in the title game against Washington, with a CFP-record 304 rushing yards and a lockdown defensive performance to hold the Huskies to 13 total points.

Lou Holtz

Somehow, the 86-year-old Holtz is one of the defining people of the 2023 season. The former Notre Dame coach can thank Ryan Day for that honor after the Ohio State coach had one of the most bizarre postgame interviews we've ever seen. After the Buckeyes beat Notre Dame with a one-yard touchdown plunge in the dying minutes of their September matchup, Day called out Holtz for comments he made in the buildup to the game.

Holtz had suggested the Buckeyes lost games whenever a team was more physical than them. While Ohio State got the last laugh in that contest, the Buckeyes would once again lose to rival Michigan for the third straight year.

Jayden Daniels

Daniels was rewarded with the Heisman Trophy for not just leading the nation's top offense but for also somehow dragging an LSU team that played almost no defense to a 10-3 record. Daniels piled up the yardage in his second season with the Tigers, finishing with 3,812 passing yards and a whopping 40 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He also led the nation in yards per attempt by a full yard and finished 20 points ahead of second in passer rating. While the air attack was impressive, it was Daniels' ability to run the ball that cemented his legacy as a Heisman winner. The former Arizona State star finished with over 1,100 yards on the ground and found the end zone 10 times. His unstoppable dual-threat ability made it pretty clear he was the best player in the nation - and saw him soar up draft boards in the process.

Michael Penix

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Monday's loss didn't provide the storybook ending, but Penix and Washington deserve all the accolades for a tremendous run to the title game. The sixth-year senior used his effortless release and turbocharged arm strength to attack the opposition all year, flicking the ball all over the field to lead the country in passing. His masterpiece was the Sugar Bowl victory over Texas, a game in which he was nearly perfect in executing breathtaking throw after breathtaking throw. The final damage was a sizzling 29-of-38 stat line for an absurd 430 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. His performance on the season was enough to grab second place in the final Heisman rankings, but it was the dismantling of the Longhorns that turned heads in the NFL world. Regardless of how he ends up in the pros, Penix becoming the first quarterback with back-to-back 4,500-yard seasons since Patrick Mahomes cements his place in college football lore.

Brian Ferentz

Iowa was must-see television this season thanks to a remarkable contract situation for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. After multiple years of offensive struggles under his watch, the school put a stipulation in the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz's contract, stating the team had to average 25 points per contest this season for him to keep his job. Not only did the Hawkeyes not come close to that number, but they only topped the 25-point mark in a game twice in total. The unit was particularly laughable against ranked opponents.

Brian didn't last the season, with the administration opting to let him go before the end of the schedule. However, in remarkable Iowa fashion, the Hawkeyes somehow still won the inept Big Ten West with 10 victories, thanks to a punishing defense.

Jimbo Fisher

Texas A&M provided an answer to the question of how much money was it worth to be rid of Jimbo Fisher: a whopping $77 million. That mark absolutely obliterated the previous $20.5 million buyout of Gus Malzahn by Auburn. What was once thought to be the safest contract in collegiate sports is no more, with Fisher now off on a beach somewhere collecting the remaining figure to not coach the Aggies. The final tally of 45-25 may not be terrible, but Texas A&M was just 19-15 in the final three seasons. That included a road losing streak that spanned two years. The Fisher era delivered the best recruiting class of all time, but none of the off-field success translated for the former Florida State boss.


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You've heard the phrase "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but Lincoln Riley oddly opted for a "It's very broke, but don't fix it" approach with his defense for the 2023 season. The decision to bring back Alex Grinch as defensive coordinator following a lackluster 2022 campaign backfired immediately, and the veteran assistant was finally fired with two games to play. At the time of his dismissal, Grinch's defense ranked 121st in the nation in points allowed per game and 119th in yards. The wheels fully came off in mid-October, with a 28-point loss at Notre Dame to kick off the Trojans losing five of their final six contests. The defense was the main problem, but too often, the offense resembled a plan of "let Caleb Williams figure it out." Not even the reigning Heisman winner could overcome that, and Riley now faces a daunting move to the Big Ten without his star quarterback.


Alabama made the playoff based on its upset of Georgia in the SEC title game, but the Crimson Tide were only alive in the CFP chase because of the latest mad finish in the Iron Bowl. The rivalry with Auburn has a history of insane endings, with this year's grabbing a deserved spot in the list. Down by four points with 32 seconds left, Alabama had fourth-and-goal from the 31-yard line. No problem for Jalen Milroe.

Jordan Travis

Jayden Daniels may have won the Heisman, but no player was more important to their team than Florida State's Jordan Travis. At least, that was clearly the view held by the College Football Playoff committee, which opted against including an undefeated ACC champion Seminoles team due to their performance without Travis in the final two games of the season. Florida State was able to win a rivalry road game at Florida and the ACC title game against Louisville after Travis was lost for the year, but with the offense a shell of its former self led by backup quarterbacks, the committee opted to include one-loss Texas and Alabama over the Seminoles in the playoff. Would Florida State have been steamrolled by Michigan in the Rose Bowl without a passing attack? Maybe, but thanks to the committee's decision, we'll never know. Unfortunately, what amounted to almost a quarter of the team was either injured, in the transfer portal, or opted out of the Orange Bowl against Georgia. That resulted in a 63-3 drubbing - the worst loss in bowl history.

Deion Sanders

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We could probably make a list of 20 entries strictly related to Coach Prime after the impact his Colorado hire had on the college football world this season. He announced himself by essentially telling most of the players he inherited to enter the transfer portal because he was bringing his luggage (players) with him to Boulder. He then pulled off a stunning upset in the opening game, knocking off last year's national runner-up TCU on the road. He pounded the table postgame, asking the media, "Do you believe?"

Wins over Nebraska and Colorado State followed, and the hype train had fully left the station. It wouldn't even make it to the next stop before a mass derailment and the Buffaloes' season being flipped on its head. Colorado lost eight of its last nine, including blowing a 28-point lead at home to Stanford. Coach Prime didn't hesitate in repeatedly calling out his offensive line as the losses mounted.

Year 2 for Sanders is perhaps the most intriguing storyline in college football for 2024. Will Colorado's move to the Big 12 bring more competitive contests and a run to a bowl game, or will Coach Prime follow son Shedeur and Travis Hunter out the door following the season?

Shedeur Sanders

You don't get Deion without Shedeur, with the younger Sanders the main reason Colorado was even able to win four games on the year. Shedeur made the jump from Jackson State to the FBS level with ease, shining despite his offensive line being overmatched on a weekly basis. A final season stat line of 3,230 yards passing with 27 touchdowns against only three interceptions had NFL scouts taking notice. However, the professional ranks will wait as Sanders will be back with his father next year.

Miami fails to kneel

If you thought Alabama's fourth-and-31 conversion was the most painful loss of the season, think again. Miami takes that crown for its inexplicable collapse at home to Georgia Tech. Holding a late lead, the Hurricanes could've taken victory formation and knelt the ball to run the clock out. Instead, they opted for a running play, which resulted in a fumble.

A couple of plays later, the inevitable happened: a 44-yard touchdown pass by the Yellow Jackets to clinch the most unlikely win of the season.

Tyler from Spartanburg

It was a particularly rough beginning to the season for Clemson, with the Tigers struggling to a middling 4-4 mark through eight games. There was plenty of unrest among the faithful in South Carolina, perhaps perfectly embodied by a particular fan named Tyler from Spartanburg. Tyler called into Dabo Swinney's radio show following the fourth loss of the season to question why the coach was making $10 million to post a .500 record. What followed was a five-minute rant by Swinney about the fan base lacking appreciation for what the program had accomplished during his tenure. That apparently lit a fire under the team, as the Tigers won five straight games to end the season at 9-4. No word on whether Tyler will be a guest at spring practice for the Tigers, but it's likely Swinney will keep his number on file in case things go south next season.

Pop-Tarts Bowl mascot

There were 41 bowl games this year, including the College Football Playoff, but the Pop-Tarts Bowl was the undisputed winner for the most memorable moment. The first-year sponsor announced that the winning team would be given a massive Pop-Tart to eat after the game. What we didn't know was that it would come after the live mascot was sacrificed into a toaster.

The Duke's Mayo Bowl upped the bowl game shenanigans a couple of years ago with the tradition of dousing the winning coach with a bucket of mayonnaise, but the Pop-Tarts Bowl has set the new standard heading into next year's bowl season.

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