20 What-If Moments in College Football This Season

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20 What-If Moments from the 2012 College Football Season

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Brett Davis - USA TODAY SPORTS

Every season, including this one, it's easy to look back at moments that could have changed the landscape of the college football year if they had happened differently. This season there were plenty of these, moments in time that affected the season in a unique way.

The destiny of certain teams were changed by these small moments in time, for better or worse. As they say, football is a game of inches and can just as easily also be a game of moments. Notre Dame, Florida State, Northern Illinois and Stanford all had defining moments that changed the course of the season-- moments which could have flipped the bowl picture we currently are looking toward in the next few weeks.

What if Stepfan Taylor's final carry against Notre Dame was determined a TD? What if Florida State hadn't collapsed against North Carolina State? What if Northern Illinois had held on against Iowa? The national championship picture, let alone the bowl picture, could look entirely different.

From terrible kickers, to controversial calls, to first-class and low-class performances, the 2012 college football regular season was certainly entertaining. With the bowl schedule in full swing, there are certain to me plenty more in the next few weeks, but none will have the lasting impact of the top 20 moments we feature in this slideshow.

Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports. You can follow Kris on Twitter @KrisHughesRS.
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What if Texas A&M had beaten Florida?

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Brett Davis - USA TODAY SPORTS

In an early-season tilt, the Texas A&M Aggies just lost to the Florida Gators 20-17 in College Station on September 8th. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel had one of his weaker performances of the season that day, throwing for only 173 yards and scoring his only touchdown on the ground. If the Aggies could have managed to pull this one off, they could have been undefeated later in the season against LSU-- which ended up being their second loss-- and who knows what would have transpired from there.

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What if Colorado didn't fire Jon Embree?

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Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY SPORTS

Many thought that Colorado Buffaloes head coach Jon Embree deserved at least one more season in Boulder, in spite of the team's miserable 1-11 2012 that led to his firing. Ultimately, Embree would be replaced by former San Jose State coach Mike McIntyre, known as a turn-around artist with an ability to help struggling programs. Was McIntyre the right decision? What would have happened had Jon Embree gotten one more chance to turn things around? We'll never know.

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What if Kansas State had beaten Baylor and not laid an egg?

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Tim Heitman - USA TODAY SPORTS

The Kansas State Wildcats made a trip to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears on Saturday, November 17th with plenty on the line. Wildcats signal-caller Collin Klein was still in the running for a Heisman Trophy and the undefeated squad still had an outside chance at a National Championship. That all ended with a 52-24 thrashing at the hands of a Baylor squad that was as good as they had been all season. Had K-State found a way to win here, their No.1 ranking would have been retained and the National Championship game we're looking at in January could be entirely different.

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What if Bobby Petrino had never gotten caught?

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Beth Hall - USA TODAY SPORTS

Former Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino had one of the most unceremonious exits possible as his affair with athletic department employee Jessica Dorrell and a bizarre motorcycle crash ended his time in Fayetteville. Petrino has re-emerged as the coach of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, but his absence from the Arkansas sideline had an obvious effect as the Razorbacks limped to a 4-8 finish, resulting in another new head coach for 2013, former Wisconsin head guy Bret Bielema. If Petrino hadn't made such stupid mistakes, and was able to coach a team that was among the country's best in the pre-season, who knows what would have happened?

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What if Marcus Lattimore had stayed healthy all season?

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Jeff Blake - USA TODAY SPORTS

South Carolina Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore just couldn't catch a break when it came to his health during his time on campus. Suffering another knee injury on November 8th against Tennessee, the all-world running back saw yet another season end too quickly. What if Marcus Lattimore could have actually stayed healthy during his time in Columbia? Who knows what kind of numbers, and awards, the young guy could have racked up? Now we just have to hope he can stay healthy in the even tougher grind of the NFL starting next season.

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What if West Virginia had even a decent defense?

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Peter G. Aiken - USA TODAY SPORTS

Make no mistake-- the West Virginia Mountaineers offense was potent in 2012, by any standard. Unfortunately for them, however, their defense was an absolute joke. If the Mountaineers could have even played passable defense in 2012, things could have looked very different for a team that finished the regular season 7-5 and struggled mightily in consecutive losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State in mid-October.

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What if Ohio State took their suspension last season?

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Rich Barnes - USA TODAY SPORTS

The Ohio State Buckeyes finished the 2012 regular season 12-0 on the back of consistent solid performances from sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, who promises to be a primary Heisman Trophy candidate in 2013. The Buckeyes' defense was as solid as ever also, a constant nightmare for opposing Big 10 offensive coordinators. What if Ohio State had chosen to take their season-long suspension in 2011 rather than carrying it over to 2012? Well, the answer is, the National Championship picture this fall would have been muddier and more-controversial than ever as the BCS era starts to wind down.

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What if the playoff system was already in place?

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Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY SPORTS

What would have happend this season if the to-be college football playoff system, set to start with the 2014 season, was already in place this season? For one thing, we would certainly be looking at some dynamic national semi-finals which would likely include the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs and Oregon Ducks instead of just a National Championship-- which promises to be a thriller-- between the latter two. For that matter, Kansas State and Stanford could have slid their way in as well. Oh well, soon enough these conversations will be reality instead of projections.

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What if David Wilson had stayed behind at Virginia Tech for his senior season?

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The Star-Ledger - USA TODAY SPORTS

New York Giants rookie running back David Wilson has been one of the more pleasant surprises for a team that's limping down the stretch and struggling to take home one of the NFC's final Wild Card playoff spots. Wilson's energy and dynamic running style has won over fans in New York, which, as we know, is far from an easy task. What if Wilson had played his senior season in Blacksburg with the Virginia Tech Hokies, a team that struggled to find any offensive identity all season long? It's a safe bet to assume they wouldn't have finished the regular season 6-6!

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What if Louisiana Tech played this season in a BCS conference?

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Soobum Im - USA TODAY SPORTS

The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs capped off a strong 2012 campaign with a 9-3 regular season finish, but won't be playing in a bowl game over the Holidays. In a monumentally stupid move, the school's athletic director, Bruce Van De Velde chose not to accept a bid to the local Independence Bowl, under the assumption the Bulldogs would receive a bigger bid. They didn't.

Given this, a team that won nine games is left out in the cold. What would have happened if the Bulldogs played in a BCS conference? They may not have won nine games, but they certainly would have had a wealth of options in terms of bowl bids. As a rising mid-major, you can bet this in on their radar.

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What if Mount Union played at a level higher than Division III?

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David Richard - USA TODAY SPORTS

The Mount Union Purple Raiders are the most successful college football program many of you have likely never heard of. "The Mount" picked up yet another NCAA Division III National Championship, knocking off St. Thomas in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl 28-10 on December 14th. I'm starting to wonder if the Purple Raiders won't consider a move to Division II sooner than later, after all, isn't dominance boring?

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What if Stepfan Taylor's goal-line carry at Notre Dame ended differently?

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Matt Cashore - USA TODAY SPORTS

In perhaps the most controversial play of the 2012 college football regular season, Stanford Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor was ruled down at the one yard line in a final effort to help his team take home an overtime victory against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend on October 13th. Had Taylor gained one more little push and scored a touchdown here, who knows what we'd be looking at for a National Championship matchup on January 7th in Miami?

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What if Michigan State turned single-digit losses into a few wins?

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Mike Carter - USA TODAY SPORTS

Ranked among the top five teams in the country pre-season, the Michigan State Spartans found ways to lose when it mattered most all season long. Five of the team's six losses were by a total of 13 points, with several coming due to late-game collapses. It was obvious the Spartans missed Kirk Cousins this season as they just couldn't find consistent leadership at quarterback, and the overall offensive production was severely lacking. Just a little push here could have been the difference between another good year and a stumbling 6-6 finish.

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What if Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson played for a higher-profile school?

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Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY SPORTS

Nevada Wolfpack running back Stefphon Jefferson repeatedly showed up on our most-underrated players radar this season, as he dominated the competition, tallying 1,883 yards and 24 touchdowns, making him one of the best backs in the country, statistically. I'll make a bet you didn't hear of Jefferson much in 2012, because Nevada doesn't play in a premier BCS conference. You can bet NFL scouts are aware of him though, and he be playing on Sundays very, very soon.

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What if Northern Illinois beats Iowa in their season opener?

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Mike DiNovo - USA TODAY SPORTS

The Northern Illinois Huskies were one of the more interesting Cinderella stories of the 2012 regular season, led by the heroics of all-everything quarterback Jordan Lynch, could have been even more interesting had they managed to find a way to win against the Iowa Hawkeyes in week one. The Huskies lost this game 18-17, for their only blemish on a campaign that sees them BCS bowl bound. With a week one win, could we be talking about NIU competing for a National Championship. Probably not, but you never know..

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What if bowl-eligibility required a winning record?

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Kevin Liles - USA TODAY SPORTS

This is a question I ask myself almost every year around this time: What if bowl eligibility actually required a winning record?

Your answer? The following teams would not have been bowl-eligible in 2012: SMU, Central Michigan, Georgia Tech (actually finished 6-7 but earned NCAA exemption due to making ACC Championship Game), Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Duke, Rice, Air Force, Michigan State, Iowa State, Purdue, Pittsburgh, Nevada and Ole Miss.

Wouldn't the bowl system be stronger-- and not so shallow-- if a team had to win at least seven games to play in the post-season, or, am I just on a soapbox here?

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What if kickers throughout college football had been functional?

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Mark Zerof - USA TODAY SPORTS

As a whole, kickers across college football this season were AWFUL. I can't even begin to rattle off all the games that were affected adversely by missed kicks, which in the past, were considered gimmes. The one that immediately comes to mind is the Pittsburgh Panthers blowing an opportunity to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 3rd in triple overtime, due to a missed 33-yarder by Pitt kicker Kevin Harper in the second overtime which would have sealed the deal. Is solid kicking a lost art? On the college level it certainly appears to be headed in that direction.

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What if Manti Te'o returned a few of those INT's for TDs?

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Matt Cashore - USA TODAY SPORTS

Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te'o was without a doubt the best defensive player in college football this season, and arguably, should have won the Heisman Trophy accordingly. Te'o hauled in seven interceptions--more than most defensive backs in the country-- but didn't return any of these for touchdowns. What if Te'o had taken a few of these back to paydirt? Could that have been a tipping point for some Heisman voters that seem to be so caught-up on offensive stats? Maybe, just maybe.

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What if Florida State hadn’t collapsed against NC State?

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Rob Kinnan - USA TODAY SPORTS

The Florida State Seminoles had all of the elements on paper, at least, to make them one of the country's best teams in 2012. On Saturday, October 6th, the Seminoles' National Championship hopes crashed and burned in a 17-16 loss to the North Carolina State Wolfpack that included an awful fourth-quarter collapse. Had the Seminoles won here, even more incentive would have been placed in their in-state rivalry game against Florida later this season, and that result could have changed, creating a massive jumble of undefeated teams at the top of the rankings. No dice.

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What if Matt Barkley had played up to his Heisman hype?

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Gary A. Vasquez - USA TODAY SPORTS

USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley had basically been handed the Heisman Trophy prior to the start of the 2012 season. One small problem, though: you still have to play the games. Barkley struggled at times in 2012, in spite of having some of the best skill-position talent around him the Trojans have had in years. What if Matt Barkley had actually lived up to the Heisman hype? Well, for one thing, the Trojans would be right in the National Championship mix. With Max Wittek at the helm next season, I don't see this happening anytime soon.

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