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A remarkable season
By Brent Musburger
Special to

Each week throughout the season, ABC's Brent Musburger provides his insight on events of the coming weekend.

It was a college football season filled with pleasant surprises, but then again, that's what makes the college game exciting year in and year out.

When the NCAA limited the number of scholarships to 85, it forced programs like Alabama and Southern California to discontinue the practice of stockpiling blue-chip talent on their campuses. In the old days, the second-teams at 'Bama and USC could have easily handled the first team squads at more than half of Division I schools. We're not picking on 'Bama or Southern Cal, both of which had bad seasons, but we're pointing out that the recruiting of talent requires a much more deft and practiced eye.

It is an era of parity in college football, which has made for a more entertaining game for the players, the alumni and the couch potatoes.

Let's take a look at six of those remarkable stories -- each one from a different conference.

Randy Walker
Randy Walker and Northwestern's spread offense took the Big Ten by storm.

Big Ten -- Northwestern
Before the season began, Sports Illustrated ranked Northwestern 86th in the country. There are only 115 schools playing at the Division I-A level. The Wildcats were tapped for the bottom of the Big Ten barrel.

All they did was win a share of the Big Ten championship, and would be headed for the Rose Bowl if not for a lousy game against Iowa. But the Wildcats' dramatic victory over Michigan might have been the most exciting game this season, which featured great games every Saturday.

Head coach Randy Walker deserves all the accolades he has received for quickly revitalizing this program that Gary Barnett abandoned for the mountains of Boulder, Colo.

Pac-10 -- Oregon State
The Pacific-10 Conference produced several terrific stories: Washington and Oregon both make my list. But the No. 1 overachiever out west is Oregon State and head coach Dennis Erickson. The Beavers are headed to the $13.5 million Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and that helps the bottom line at every Pac-10 school.

Like Northwestern, it's unlikely that Oregon State could have measured up with the elite before the scholarship rules changed. The Northwesterns and the Oregon States of the world give hope to the Indianas and the Cals. If these two schools can make it out of the Big Ten and Pac-10, so can those two.

ACC -- Georgia Tech
Certainly, Florida State was the best team in the conference, but the more impressive story was the performance of Georgia Tech, a year after Joe Hamilton left for the National Football League. Hamilton was one of the most flamboyant and exciting quarterbacks in college football his senior season. And the prevailing wisdom was that the Ramblin' Wreck would fall off without him.

Enter George Godsey, who overcame all the naysayers and drove Tech to a 9-2 record and a second-place finish in the conference. It says a lot about head coach George O'Leary and offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen that they can succeed one year with Hamilton and the next year with Godsey, an entirely different style of quarterback.

As a result of his success, Friedgen was finally offered a head coaching position, which he accepted at his alma mater, Maryland.

Big East -- Miami
Ravaged by NCAA sanctions a few years back, Butch Davis was forced to play shorthanded until this year. Davis deserves credit for righting the Hurricanes' troubled ship and then making his dramatic run towards a national championship. It is not his fault the 'Canes are not playing in the FedEx Orange Bowl, but they still have a chance to win a share of the title if they defeat Florida in the Nokia Sugar Bowl and Florida dumps Oklahoma in the Orange.

It is ironic that Miami is in a position of needing a win, and then the following night a victory from its arch-rivals, the Seminoles.

But my two favorite stories of the year took place in the Big XII and the Southeastern Conferences.

Big XII -- Oklahoma
The job done by Bob Stoops and his staff at Oklahoma is one of the greatest turnaround jobs in the last 25 years. OU had fallen from the pinnacle of college football to the depths of despair under embattled coach John Blake. The Sooners were the laughing stock of the conference. But in his first season, Stoops finished two games over .500 at 7-5, and with Josh Heupel operating at quarterback again in 2000, the Sooners ran the table and now have a chance at the national championship.

The Sooners' October run of burying Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska is one of the greatest 30-day stretches in college football history. Folks in Norman will forever refer to it as "Red October." And Texas fans won't soon forget having 63 points put up against their beloved Longhorns in the annual Red River Shootout.

The Sooners are now four quarters away from capturing the BCS Championship.

In many ways, though, the top turnaround took place in Columbia, S.C.

SEC -- South Carolina
Derek Watson
Derek Watson was one of the reasons South Carolina had a successful season.
Lou Holtz was coming off a winless season and the Gamecocks had lost 21 consecutive games when Lou suddenly waved his magic wand and the slipper miraculously fit. They opened up with a victory over New Mexico State and everyone applauded the end of the long losing streak. But what happened the following week stunned the college football world, when the Gamecocks stopped Georgia. Holtz and his merry band won four straight games to open the season before losing at Alabama.

On Jan. 1, South Carolina will play Ohio State in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. For this team to go from 0-11 to a New Year's Day bowl game is a remarkable story in a season of remarkable turnarounds.

Brent Musburger is a play-by-play announcer for ABC's coverage of college football, and is a regular contributor to

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