The best moment of the 2012 season didn't happen during the game.
Family reunited in Columbia: Rarely does a 35-7 thumping of Georgia in Williams-Brice Stadium get upstaged in pregame, but Sgt. Scott Faile's triumphant return from Kuwait easily did just that.
Tammy Faile and her two children were picked to take the field as the “Military Family of the Game.” Sgt. Faile appeared on the video board with a message that he wished he could watch “the Gamecocks beat up on Georgia. ... Just keep in mind my tour is over soon.”
Once the message ended and Faile actually walked onto the field, to the surprise of a family that sprinted to his side, the game was already over. Easily the best moment of the year for those who watched it live (I was lucky) or those who saw the video online.
Five yards, 15 seconds and a failed fade route. That about explains why Georgia's not in the national title game. The final seconds were good theater as Georgia approached the 5-yard line, down 32-28, and decided not to clock the ball but try a fade to the end zone. Linebacker C.J. Mosley deflected the pass that landed in the arms of receiver Chris Conley at the 4-yard line.
Conley fell to the ground, and his Bulldogs had no choice but to watch the seconds tick off. When the camera panned to coach Mark Richt, he looked dumbfounded.
While most conference championship games disappointed this year, the SEC's game is the gift that keeps on giving.
Johnny Football spins his way through Tuscaloosa for an upset over Bama: Every potential Heisman winner needs a signature moment, and Johnny Manziel's cold-blooded dissection of Alabama's prideful defense became a snapshot in SEC folklore.
Manziel's bobbled-ball-recovery, scramble-to-left touchdown pass in the first quarter was joyous. He kept slithering through Alabama's wide pass rush all day, and when the Tide tried to contain him, he just beat them deep, completing 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards.
This game cemented Manziel's place among the nation's great quarterbacks and also made his subpar second halves against Florida and LSU forgivable.
Fourth-and-1 at Notre Dame: The overtime stuff of Stanford at the goal line personifies Notre Dame's stingy defense that will let you drive the field, but won't let you score touchdowns.
On consecutive power runs from the 1-yard line with Stepfan Taylor, Notre Dame's defense imposed its will. The fourth-down stop was especially controversial; Stanford thought Taylor stretched into the end zone before his knee touched the ground. But officials ruled the play over before he crossed.
This was high theater in a Notre Dame season full of it.
43 points in 18½ minutes: On Thursday night primetime, Oregon's hurry-up offense couldn't have looked faster. The Ducks showed they were a legit title contender by putting up 43 on Arizona State in the first half, punctuating Oregon's trend of first-half beatdowns.
The late-season loss to Stanford derailed what would have been a dizzying display of national title offense.
Both Tennessee and South Carolina players rushed to the field to pray around Lattimore, who suffered ligament damage and a knee dislocation. National support for the All-SEC back continued to grow. The Gamecocks threw a parade for Lattimore in Columbia the next week.
By all accounts, Lattimore's character was as polished as his talent. It showed in this moment.
AJ McCarron's tears: He's a sensitive quarterback. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Apparently orchestrating a touchdown drive in the final minutes in Death Valley evokes genuine emotion.
After leading the Tide 72 yards downfield and throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Yeldon, McCarron was seen crying on the sideline. After the game, he rushed into the stands to hug his dad.
The always-heated LSU-Bama matchup couldn't have had a better script on this night.
Geno's rise: Geno Smith fell off the national map a bit as his numbers dwindled and West Virginia struggled, but for a pocket of September, he was all college football could talk about.
His 656-yard, eight-touchdown torching of Baylor's defense for a 70-63 win will live in YouTube infamy.