Sign-stealing and the arrival of Coach Prime: Top 10 college football moments of 2023

College football had plenty of moments that fueled our fandom in 2023, from dramatic finishes to a playoff controversy to a coach we couldn't look away from. Here are the top 10 moments of 2023.

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Ohio State loses to Georgia in CFP the second 2023 begins

We may as well start with the first instant of the year, which is almost exactly when Ohio State's 50-yard field goal try sailed wide left in the closing seconds of the College Football Playoff semifinal in Atlanta.

The kick landed as the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2023, and it would have won it for the Buckeyes. Instead, Georgia won 42-41 and went on to hoist the title a week later.

Timing can't get any more dramatic than that.

Michigan caught stealing signs, Jim Harbaugh pays the price

The sign-stealing scandal was the biggest lightning-rod issue in the sport this year by a lot. Everybody has a strong opinion on the matter.

The saga has been well-documented. Michigan analyst Connor Stalions allegedly orchestrated an elaborate scheme where he arranged for people to attend games of future Wolverines opponents and record their play signals, which is against NCAA rules.

Stalions eventually resigned, and the Big Ten punished head coach Jim Harbaugh for the last three games of the regular season in response.

Did Michigan get off light? Or did the Big Ten rush the decision to punish the program because of pressure from rival schools? It depends on who you ask, but emotions will continue to run high on the issue that won't go away anytime soon.

Michigan beats Ohio State for third straight year

And while the sign-stealing hoopla grabbed all the headlines leading up to "The Game," the focus shifted back to football when Michigan took down its hated rival Ohio State, 30-24, in a matchup with massive stakes Nov. 25.

The victory helped propel the Wolverines to a Big Ten title and a third straight CFP appearance, while the Buckeyes and head coach Ryan Day are stuck in a non-playoff bowl game after another gut-wrenching loss to their nemesis.

Jim Harbaugh somehow gets the last laugh even though he didn't coach the game as he was serving out his second three-game suspension of the year.

The collapse of the Pac-12

Perhaps the sport's most impactful day of the year happened off the field.

On Aug. 4, Oregon and Washington decided to leave for the Big Ten, triggering a mass exodus from the rest of the Pac-12 as teams scattered to the Big 12 and ACC.

By the end of the day, it was clear the 108-year-old conference was all but finished. Only Washington State and Oregon State will remain in the league after the summer of 2024, but the Pac-12 as we know it is gone forever.

Welcome to the new world of college sports.

Coach Prime and Colorado take over

In his first month as an FBS head coach, Deion Sanders whipped the entire nation into a frenzy when his Colorado Buffaloes started the season with three straight wins.

Sanders took over a program coming off a disastrous 1-11 season, but immediately surprised critics when his team loaded with transfer players rattled off victories over TCU, Nebraska and Colorado State.

BOULDER, CO - SEPTEMBER 09: Colorado head coach Deion Sanders interacts with fans prior to the home opener game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday, September 9, 2023 at Folsom Field in Boulder, CO.  (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Coach Deion Sanders and his Colorado Buffaloes took the college football world by storm early in the season. (Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Colorado ascended to No. 19 in the AP poll and no one could take their eyes off Coach Prime's squad.

Reality eventually hit and the Buffs lost eight of their last nine to finish the season 4-8, but that doesn't change the fact that Sanders injected untold excitement and attention to a program that has been irrelevant for decades.

Ohio State beats Notre Dame's 10-man defense

One of the biggest games early in the season included possibly the most chaotic finish.

Then-No. 6 Ohio State pulled off a dramatic 17-14 comeback win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame on Sept. 23 in South Bend when Chip Trayanum ran for the winning touchdown with 1 second on the clock.

What made the play even more dramatic was the fact that Notre Dame only had 10 defenders on the field, which was a miscue that Irish head coach Marcus Freeman later admitted he knew about but chose not to risk a penalty by entering a late substitution.

It was a brutal mistake for a Notre Dame team that came painfully close to a signature win.

Texas beats Alabama in Tuscaloosa

One of the first truly eye-popping results of the season came in Week 2 with the Longhorns knocked off mighty Alabama 34-24 on Sept. 9 in Bryant-Denny Stadium, a place where the Crimson Tide almost never lose in the Nick Saban era.

TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA - SEPTEMBER 09: Quinn Ewers #3 of the Texas Longhorns reacts after defeating Alabama Crimson Tide 34-24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 09, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It was an early sign this season that "Texas is back" might not be a sarcastic phrase after so many years of mediocrity for the program.

Fast forward a few months and that win ended up being a critical data point to push the Big 12 champion Longhorns into the CFP field.

Alabama ends Georgia's three-peat dreams

After that loss to the Longhorns, some doubt started creeping in about the Crimson Tide and whether they were still the same national power they'd been for the last decade-plus under Saban.

A few shaky wins later, Alabama got rolling behind quarterback Jalen Milroe and it all culminated in a monumental 27-24 win Dec. 2 over the two-time defending champion Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC title game.

The win not only snapped Georgia's 29-game win streak, it rocketed the Tide up into the playoff field. It seems rumors of Alabama's demise were greatly exaggerated.

Florida State's season derailed by Jordan Travis injury

In hindsight, the Seminoles' playoff hopes were shattered the moment star quarterback Jordan Travis went down with a serious leg injury Nov. 18 against North Alabama.

Travis was hurt when he was trying to scramble for extra yardage early in the game, and he was carted off the field with an air cast on his leg.

He had a fantastic season up to that point, and although FSU's offense took a clear step back in his absence, the team continued to win all its games, including the ACC title game against Louisville.

But despite a perfect 13-0 record and a conference crown, the Seminoles were left out of the playoff field in a decision that left FSU leaders furious.

CFP reveals most controversial field yet

That brings us to the CFP committee's boldest decision in its 10-year history.

The four-team playoff was revealed the morning of Dec. 3 as Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama made the field. That meant a pair of teams with one loss, Texas and Alabama, made it over undefeated Power Five champion FSU.

The committee said it made the decision largely because of FSU's visible dropoff following the Travis injury, but it left many to wonder what kind of precedent was being set up leaving out a power conference team with a perfect record.

Others argued it would be wrong to hold a playoff without the SEC champion (Alabama) involved. The good news is the playoff field expands to 12 teams starting next season, and it will include autobids for conferences like the ACC.

But that likely doesn't provide any comfort for Florida State fans, players or coaches.