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Biggest college football stories of 2023: The Year of Deion Sanders; Pac-12 fades away

College football in 2023 was in many ways the end of an era. 

With the four-team College Football Playoff entering its final hurrah and the Pac-12 conference disappearing in a flash, the 2023 college football season will be remembered for years to come. 

In between rivalries that are set to go by the wayside as conference realignment takes hold, and star players jump from team to team via the transfer portal, a handful of stories stand out. 

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Let’s take a look at five storylines that gripped the sport during 2023.

Love or hate him, Deion Sanders was the talk of the sport in 2023.

“Coach Prime” burst onto the scene late in 2022 as the Colorado Buffaloes looked for a spark to jump-start the program after a 1-11 season.

His hire immediately put Colorado back in the national conversation after just one 10-win season over the last 21 years.

In February, Sanders pulled in the 21st-ranked class and a top-five transfer portal class, according to 247Sports. Sanders signed two five-star recruits, a first in the history of the program.

Throughout the spring and summer, Sanders’ methods for infusing the roster with talent caused controversy as loads of players either departed the program via the transfer portal or were forced out. 

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Following Colorado’s Spring Game in April, 18 players entered the transfer portal, bringing the total number to enter the portal since Sanders took the job to 41, according to The Athletic.

Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi blasted Sanders for his roster overhaul, telling 247 Sports in May that “Coach Prime’s” methods looked “bad on college football coaches across the country.”

By the time September rolled around, it was time to play the game on the field, and Sanders’ roster responded in a big way.

The Buffaloes upset TCU on the road before defeating Nebraska and Colorado State. Boulder, Colorado, was the epicenter of college football as Sanders was hailed as the next great head coach in the sport.

And then Colorado came crashing back to earth. The Buffaloes lost eight of their last nine games, including six straight losses to end the season.

Sanders now turns his attention back to infusing the roster with talent via the portal and high school recruits.

Georgia’s celebration of its back-to-back national championships quickly turned tragic as two members of the program lost their lives in a car crash hours after a parade and ceremony at Sanford Stadium.

Georgia offensive lineman Devin Willock, 20, and Chandler LeCroy, 24 – who was a member of the recruiting staff – were killed in the crash.

Willock was a passenger in an SUV that crashed in Athens around 2:45 a.m. local time, police said. The vehicle was traveling in the outside lane of the road when it left the roadway and struck two power poles and several trees, according to authorities.

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According to FOX 5 Atlanta, Willock was dead at the scene. LeCroy, who was the driver, was taken to the hospital where she later died, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jalen Carter, who was selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in March in connection to the January crash.

College football as it has been known for decades came to a screeching halt in August. 

In late July, Colorado announced it would leave the Pac-12 after the 2023-2024 season and head to the Big 12. The Buffaloes joined UCLA and USC in departing the “Conference of Champions,” kicking off the destruction of the once-storied conference. 

Just over a month later, the 108-year-old conference was essentially no more as Utah, Arizona and Arizona State joined Colorado in the Big 12, and Oregon and Washington left for the Big Ten. 

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Stanford and Cal finished off the great escape by joining the ACC in early September, leaving Washington State and Oregon State to an uncertain future. 

“It’s really, really sad to see,” legendary college football coach Dennis Erickson told the Palm Beach Post in August. “The thing that upsets me the most, besides the conference falling apart, [are] the reasons for it. You got all these presidents that talk about academics and talk about loyalty, and the bottom line is they move because of one thing: money.

“It had nothing to do with education. It had nothing to do with players. It had nothing to do with the school. It had to do with money.”

Washington State and Oregon State will operate as a two-team conference in 2024 with six games each against Mountain West opponents. 

Of all the stories during the 2023 college football year, the Michigan sign-stealing scandal was the one that seemed to completely envelop the sport for a few weeks.

In October, the NCAA notified Michigan that the program was under investigation for alleged sign-stealing. Connor Stalions, who was at the center of the controversy, resigned after being initially suspended with pay during the investigation. 

Michigan is accused of impermissible, in-person scouting of opponents going back as long as three seasons, according to the Associated Press. 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE SPORTS COVERAGE ON FOXNEWS.COM

In November, after reports surfaced that Big Ten coaches held a video call with Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti urging him to take action against Michigan, the conference came down on coach Jim Harbaugh

The conference announced that Harbaugh would not be allowed to coach for the remainder of the 2023 regular season after it said that Michigan “has been found in violation of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy for conducting an impermissible, in-person scouting operation over multiple years, resulting in an unfair competitive advantage that compromised the integrity of competition.”

Michigan sought an injunction and temporary restraining order, but Harbaugh later agreed to accept his three-game ban. 

Michigan continued to roll even without Harbaugh, going 3-0 with an interim coach on the sidelines before Harbaugh returned for the Big Ten Championship Game. 

The Wolverines face the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP semifinal. 

The Seminoles went 13-0 and won the ACC title. 

No undefeated Power Five conference champion had ever missed out on the College Football Playoff. But there’s a first time for everything. 

One-loss Alabama defeated Georgia in the SEC title game, bumping the Crimson Tide ahead of Florida State for the final CFP spot and setting off weeks of debate and anger. 

FSU missed out on a chance to play for a championship because of a season-ending injury to quarterback Jordan Travis. The CFP committee said Florida State was a “different team” without Travis, thus giving them a reason to vault Alabama into the fourth playoff slot. 

It didn’t go over well in Tallahassee. 

“I am disgusted and infuriated with the committee’s decision today to have what was earned on the field taken away because a small group of people decided they knew better than the results of the game,” head coach Mike Norvell said.

“What is the point of playing games? Do you tell players it is OK to quit if someone goes down? Do you not play a senior on Senior Day for fear of injury? Where is the motivation to schedule challenging non-conference games? We are not only an undefeated P5 conference champion, but we also played two P5 non-conference games away from home and won both of them.”

“I don’t understand how we are supposed to think this is an acceptable way to evaluate a team.”

The CFP moves to a 12-team format in 2024.

Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.

Follow Fox News Digital’s sports coverage on X and subscribe to the Fox News Sports Huddle newsletter.

 

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