The season's opening night ended with an embarrassing punch, and the curtain closed with a game-ending injury to one of the game's top players. In between, college football's biggest news included a homicide and replacing abusive coaches. The sport at times got mean and ugly. The 2009 season came with its usual share of twists, stunts and blitzes -- all by Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Temple rose. Oklahoma fell. The Civil War was its most rosy, Boise State finished perfect, and Alabama was a worthy king of the mountain. Here's a look back at five story lines from 2009 and a hopeful look at this year.
LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT SEASON
National Top 10
3. Boise State
7. Miami, Fla.
8. Ohio State
10. Southern California
Big 12 North
1. Nebraska No Suh, but plenty of defense returns
2. Missouri Gabbert is top QB in division
3. Kansas State Thomas is league's top runner
4. Colorado Time running out on Hawkins
5. Iowa State Can Cyclones continue the momentum?
6. Kansas Program in new-coach, new-QB adjustment mode
Big 12 South
1. Texas BCS game gave glimpse of future with Gilbert at QB
2. Oklahoma The Landry Jones era got a one-year head start
3. Texas Tech QBs return, but how will the offense change?
4. Oklahoma State Time to start winning big games
5. Texas A&M Johnson could be league's top QB, but defense is huge question
6. Baylor Robert Griffin to the rescue.
Coaches on hot seat
Dan Hawkins, Colorado
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
Three improvements for college football
Mandatory cross-BCS-automatic-qualifier conference scheduling. Two games each for teams from the Big 12 against the SEC, Pac-10 against the Big Ten and ACC against the Big East.
Upgrade officiating. The gripes this season were loud and public in the SEC and Pac-10, loud and private in the Big 12 and everywhere else. There are no easy answers here. I like a national approach: Eliminating conference affiliations and having all officials trained and assigned by a central organization, to end the perception of regional bias. But fans also need to get a grip: No more calling the homes of officials.
Notre Dame to the Big Ten. It's the easiest of expansion options.
1. The punch
Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount packed a punch in the opening game against Boise State. Rather, in the aftermath. His right to the jaw of Byron Hout knocked the Boise defensive end to the ground. Blount's seasonlong suspension lasted until November. He got back on the field in the regular-season finale against Oregon State.
2. The tragedy
Hours after Connecticut's victory over Louisville on Oct. 17, Huskies junior cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death near the school's student union, where a dance had been held. The team carried Howard's No. 6 jersey to all remaining games and proudly displayed it during Connecticut's bowl victory over South Carolina.
3. The return volley
The BCS, hammered in the court of public opinion throughout its existence, named administrator Bill Hancock as its first executive director to champion the status quo. Also on board the BCS pep squad was former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer.
4. The schools' intolerance
Three coaches lost their jobs because of the alleged mistreatment of players. Kansas' Mark Mangino was the first to go, resigning and taking a $3 million settlement. Next came Texas Tech's Mike Leach, fired after a parental complaint about how a player had been treated. Then South Florida's Jim Leavitt in similar fashion. Mangino coached with Leavitt at Kansas State and Leach at Oklahoma.
5. The defense
Running back Mark Ingram was wonderful, and his Heisman winning speech goes in the time capsule. But cage-rattling defense defined Alabama, and it gave the Tide its first national championship since 1992. Bama's defense knocked out Texas quarterback Colt McCoy early, returned an intercepted shovel pass for a touchdown just before halftime and ended the Longhorns' comeback hopes with a sack and a fumble recovery. This was a Nick Saban special.
THREE BIGGEST SURPRISES
Nine straight victories for the Owls made them the talk of the nation.
Picked to finish last in the WAC by coaches, the Vandals won eight, including a thrilling bowl game over Bowling Green.
The Hawkeyes battled injuries from the preseason on but managed a 9-0 start and a BCS game victory, 24-14 over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
THREE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
1. Red River rivals' injuries
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford in the first game; Texas' Colt McCoy in the last. It's hard to weigh which was more crushing.
2. Men of Troy
From being a favorite to continue its dominance to fifth place in the Pac-10.
3. Cotton Bowl opponents
Mississippi and Oklahoma State. They started in the top 10 and got off to nice starts. But national and division hopes faded, and they were left to commiserate with each other in Jerry World.