When Deshaun Watson threw a championship-winning touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left to lift Clemson over Alabama in January, one big question was impossible to avoid: Did we just witness the best college football game ever?
We're not content with merely deciding who's No. 1. After ranking the top 100 college football coaches ever last summer, it's time to rank the best 100 games in the 148-year history of the sport. We have done this through months of research that included watching 139 full old games (through the magic of YouTube), watching highlights of countless more games and sorting through hundreds upon hundreds of recaps and clips. Sources that were particularly valuable included 50 Years of College Football (by Bob Boyles and Paul Guido), the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia, Sports-Reference.com, Newspapers.com and the Sports Illustrated Vault.
For a game to be considered, it had to include most or all of the following attributes: 1) close final score; 2) some sort of broader importance; 3) a good ending; and/or 4) unique qualities. There are lots of multi-overtime games. There have been lots of Hail Marys. There are great college football games every Saturday, every year. One hundred is a very small number in this exercise, leading to hundreds of worthy snubs. Tough cuts had to be made, and the biggest question that had to be asked for most games was: Did this mean something in a broader sense beyond just being a good football game?
Note that, with some unavoidable exceptions, we tried to limit specific team seasons to one or two games; specific matchup pairings to two or three games; and specific overall seasons to three or four games. We wanted to find the best or most memorable representations of certain types of games. We didn't want the seventh-biggest comeback or the fifth-best Iron Bowl or the sixth-best game from a recent season. In a handful of cases, we paired two inseparable or similar games together as one entry.
This series ran in four installments of 25. This is Part I, covering games 100-76.
Part I: 100-76
100. Mississippi State 43, Texas A&M 41
Dec. 31, 2000; Shreveport, La.; Independence Bowl
How did you spend New Year's Eve 2001? Maybe you were one of 3.4 million people who watched two four-loss teams in a relentless Louisiana snowstorm. Unlike most games on this list, the outcome was not important. It was, however, a uniquely memorable experience. Shreveport is not a bowl trip to the beach, but teams don't go there expecting to play in frigid, snow-covered conditions that require constant attention to make the yard lines semi-visible. The Bulldogs and Aggies nevertheless delivered one of the greatest non-major bowls ever. There was some sloppiness, but both teams had multiple touchdowns of over 30 yards. Down two TDs in the fourth, the Bulldogs scored twice to push the game into OT, including a three-yard TD pass from Wayne Madkin to Donald Lee with 1:30 left. In overtime, Texas A&M immediately scored on a 25-yard Ja'mar Toombs run, but Mississippi State blocked the extra point, Eugene Clinton picked it up and, as he was being tackled, he lateraled to Julius Griffith, who ran it the length of the field for two. Still needing a TD to win, Madkin punched it in from six yards out on a scramble three plays later to deliver Jackie Sherrill a coaching win over his former team on a wintry southern night nobody involved will ever forget.
99. Oklahoma 31, Oklahoma State 28
Nov. 5, 1988; Stillwater, Okla.
If ever there was a time for Oklahoma State to shed its years of Beldam angst, 1988 was ideal. Barry Sanders had possibly the greatest season in history, rushing for 2,628 yards and 37 TDs. The Cowboys had a veteran QB in Mike Gundy, a star receiver in Hart Lee Dykes and the nation's No. 1 scoring offense. The Sooners weren't as powerful as usual, losing three games in Barry Switzer's final season. The Cowboys had not defeated the Sooners at home since 1966, having gone 1-21 in the previous 22 in the Bedlam series as OU ruled the Big 8. This was the time to turn the tables. The No. 8 Sooners charged out to a 21-7 first-quarter lead on the No. 12 Cowboys, but Sanders was brilliant in bolstering his Heisman credentials, rushing 29 times for 215 yards, and leading OSU to a comeback to lead 28-24 in the fourth. Oklahoma responded, a bizarre fourth-down conversion leading to Charles Thompson's go-ahead option TD run with 2:33 to play. Plenty of time for the nation's most explosive offense. Dykes and Sanders moved Oklahoma State to the red zone, but Garrett Limbrick was called for a personal foul with a minute left, giving the Cowboys a fourth-and-14 on the 34-yard line. The long-awaited win was there for the taking anyway. Gundy rolled right and fired for the end zone, over a defender, to an open Brent Parker … who infamously dropped the pass. It would take another seven tries for Oklahoma State to beat Oklahoma again, and another decade for it to happen in Stillwater. This was imbalanced rivalry angst at its harshest.
98. Michigan State 41, Northwestern 38
Oct. 21, 2006; Evanston, Ill.
It takes special absurdity for a game between 4-8 teams to qualify. It did not save John L. Smith's job. It did not erase the four straight Michigan State losses that had come before -- including a radio-rant-inspiring meltdown against Notre Dame -- and it did not erase the four straight losses that came next. Yet it endures in the record books. Of the thousands of major college football games played, none featured a bigger comeback. Four teams have come from behind from down 31 to win. Nobody has done it from 35, except an otherwise unremarkable Michigan State. In front of less than 30,000 fans at Ryan Field, Michigan State scored first with a field goal. By the time C.J. Bacher threw a five-yard TD pass to Shaun Herbert with 9:54 left in the third quarter, Northwestern had taken a seemingly insurmountable 38-3 lead. But Drew Stanton found Jehuu Caulcrick for a touchdown. A.J. Jimmerson ran in a TD. Ashton Henderson ran in a blocked punt for a TD. Stanton scored from 12 yards out. Down seven, Stanton found T.J. Williams for a nine-yard tying TD. On Northwestern's next play, Bacher floated a pass down the middle that was picked off by Travis Key. The comeback win was remarkably easy from this point: The Spartans ran six times, and Brett Swensen made a 28-yard field goal to win. Even the most forgettable, late-season, bottom-of-the-Big-Ten game can turn into something none of us have ever seen before.
97. Northern Illinois 63, Toledo 60
Nov. 1, 2011; Toledo, Ohio
Toledo 66, Western Michigan 63
Nov. 8, 2011; Toledo, Ohio
It is a Tuesday night in November, and the good people at the Mid-American Conference have decided to bless us with football. Every year, Tuesday and Wednesday MACtion gives us hope that there will be thrilling football on every day of the week in November, but every season of MACtion is now stuck trying to match the lofty standard set on two consecutive Tuesdays at the Glass Bowl in 2011. One week, Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish threw a four-yard TD pass to Perez Ashford with 19 seconds left to cap a quarter that featured six touchdowns in 12 minutes. The next week, Toledo and Western Michigan topped it, again in regulation, this time the Rockets prevailing. Toledo out-gained Western Michigan 804 to 635, rushing for 419 yards and passing for 385. Toledo was involved in multiple 120-point games in an eight-day span, both on Tuesday nights, and we are all indebted to the MAC for providing us with this magic.
96. Iowa 12, Michigan 10
Oct. 19, 1985; Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa was ranked No. 1 with the nation's top scoring offense, led by Heisman candidate QB Chuck Long. Michigan was ranked No. 2 with the nation's top scoring defense. The Big Ten failed to win a national title in the 1980s, so this game represented the peak of the conference in the decade. It proved to be tense from start to finish with a raucous crowd at Kinnick Stadium -- the crowd noise resulted in several stoppages of the game -- witnessing an old-school brawl that would have looked right at home in the 1950s Big Ten, or perhaps in the modern LSU-Alabama series. Jim Harbaugh gave Michigan a 7-6 halftime lead with a Manziel-ian improvisational shovel pass to Gerald White. The Wolverines led 10-9 when Iowa got the ball back with 5:27 left at the 22-yard line. After a shaky start to the drive, Long and Ronnie Harmon pushed the Hawkeyes down the field, all the way to the 13 while bleeding the clock. Kicker Rob Houghtlin had made three of four at that point, and after Bo Schembechler called a timeout, Houghtlin drilled the winning 29-yard kick. The win was lessened by Iowa's two subsequent losses, but the impact of a 1 vs. 2 win for a school like Iowa -- which had been awful in the 1960s and '70s -- can never be taken away.
95. Centre 6, Harvard 0
Oct. 29, 1921; Boston, Mass.
TCU 6, Texas 0
Nov. 18, 1961; Austin, Texas
The most famous 6-0 upset in college football happened way back in 1921, when tiny Centre College stunned national power Harvard. Given the prestige of Harvard, the anonymity of Centre and the lack of respect for southern football at the time, there's no denying how monumental Centre's win was from an institutional perspective. As an all-time great upset, however, on the field, it's a tad overstated. Centre had already established itself as an excellent team under Charley Moran, even going undefeated in 1919. It finished 10-1 in 1921. Harvard, meanwhile, hadn't lost since 1918, but it was about to begin a decline. Centre's win was enormous, but in terms of impacting the results of a season, it does not match what happened 40 years later in Austin.
Searching for its first national title, Texas had itself in prime position. It crushed its first eight opponents by at least three TDs each, including Oklahoma. It ascended to No. 1. TCU was 2-4-1. And yet Texas could not score. Three Texas possessions inside the 10-yard line failed to produce any points. All TCU needed was one big play-- like the touchdown run by Centre's Bo McMillin in 1921 -- and it got it, as 6-foot-7 QB Sonny Gibbs faked a run and heaved the ball 50 yards downfield to Buddy Iles, who scored the game's only points in the second quarter. Texas won out and beat Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl. Because of TCU, the national title waited another two years.
94. Stanford 49, Oregon 42
Oct. 20, 2001; Eugene, Ore.
It's one of those games that seems almost lost to history, in a season in which nobody was going to beat Miami anyway. But Oregon blew its chance at the national title with a soul-crushing collapse that is hard to concisely explain. Few games have had more special teams wackiness. It started early with a 75-yard Brian Allen kick return that set up Stanford's first TD. Midway through the third quarter, Oregon's Keenan Howry returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown to put the Ducks ahead by seven. After the teams exchanged turnovers, Stanford threw a 28-yard TD pass, only for Oregon to respond with a 96-yard Onterrio Smith kick return TD. Early in the fourth quarter, Stanford blocked a punt. It turned the ball over on downs at the three-yard line, then blocked another punt, which led to a 24-yard TD pass the next play.
Trailing by a TD with nine minutes left, Stanford opted for an onside kick and recovered it, leading to a TD on fourth down … but the extra point was blocked, so the Cardinal still trailed by one. With Oregon flustered, Joey Harrington was intercepted, setting up Stanford's winning TD drive, capped by a Kerry Carter run with 1:10 left. The second half featured a punt return TD, a kick return TD, a blocked PAT, two blocked punts and a successful onside kick. Oregon's best season ever, at the time, ended with a consolation Fiesta Bowl trip amid BCS controversy. Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham got the Notre Dame job two months later.
93. Oklahoma 29, Ohio State 28
Sept. 24, 1977; Columbus, Ohio
College kickers can be notoriously unreliable, but not every big game ends like Florida State-Miami games. Take the case of Uwe von Schamann, the OU kicker immortalized by his performance in front of 88,119 mostly hostile fans at Ohio Stadium in a fantastic intersectional matchup. The Sooners had opened the year ranked No. 1 but fallen down to third thanks to a tight opening win against Vanderbilt. They traveled to face No. 4 Ohio State and jumped out to a 20-0 lead early, every break seemingly going their way -- including a 33-yard Elvis Peacock touchdown advancing an Oklahoma fumble. But quarterback Thomas Lott left with an injury, and the Sooners' wishbone offense began unraveling, committing six turnovers. Despite losing All-America linebacker Tom Cousineau and quarterback Rod Gerald to injuries, Ohio State scored 28 straight points and appeared to be in control midway through the fourth quarter. The Sooners snapped out of their funk and capitalized on a fumble with a big drive, including a fourth-down conversion thanks to a penalty, and then a fourth-and-goal option pitch to Peacock, who ran it in for the score.
When Ohio State stuffed the Sooners' two-point attempt, Buckeyes faithful celebrated as if the game were over. But von Schamann successfully executed an onside kick, the ball bouncing off an Ohio State player before Mike Babb recovered it. A few plays later, von Schamann trotted onto the field on fourth-and-one with six seconds left for a 41-yard field goal attempt. He had already made two earlier. Woody Hayes used a timeout to ice him. As the crowd chanted "block that kick," von Schamann began egging the fans on, waving his arms to lead the chant. "I guess the crowd was getting to me," von Schamann said afterward. "It would have been embarrassing if I missed it." He didn't. The kick was perfect, and Oklahoma stormed back thanks in large part to the foot of von Schamann, who delivered the Sooners a win in the first-ever meeting between the historic powers.
92. Marshall 64, East Carolina 61
Dec. 19, 2001; Mobile, Ala.; GMAC Bowl
There are not too many bowls, because ruling that the number of bowls needs to be reduced would take away the possibility of nights like Dec. 19, 2001. It would deprive us of the highest-scoring bowl game ever, as NFL quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and David Garrard traded blows in a MAC-Conference USA showdown. East Carolina built a 38-8 lead by halftime after opening the game with two defensive touchdowns. Leftwich ended up attempting 70 passes and throwing for 576 yards, as Denero Marriott caught 15 for 234 yards. After Marshall scored four third-quarter TDs, Leftwich found Marriott for a 30-yard score with 6:15, only for the Thundering Herd to miss the two-pointer and trail by one. The scoring was far from over. East Carolina had a 55-yard touchdown. Marshall kicked a field goal, got the ball back, went on an 80-yard, seemingly game-winning TD drive … and, after all that, missed the extra point with seven seconds left. It would take two overtimes to decide it, with Leftwich tossing an eight-yard pass to Josh Davis to end a roller-coaster night.
91. Virginia 33, Florida State 28
Nov. 2, 1995; Charlottesville, Va.
Florida State was a perfect 29-0 against ACC foes since joining the conference. Virginia knew defeat all too well by the time the Seminoles visited in 1995. The Cavaliers had lost to Michigan by one point, North Carolina by five and Texas by one. Ranked 24th in the AP poll, they welcomed No. 2 Florida State to Scott Stadium for a Thursday night showcase. Tiki Barber overcame an early fumble to rush for 193 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown on an option pitch in the first quarter. Despite four turnovers, and despite settling for two field goals in the second, Virginia held onto its lead. It broke only once in the second half, a quick Florida State drive capped by a Dunn touchdown with 6:13 to play. Danny Kanell was intercepted by Percy Ellsworth on FSU's next drive, but the Seminoles got one last chance from their own 20 with 1:37 left.
Kanell completed five passes, including one to Warrick Dunn in which he broke tackles en route to the 12-yard line with 13 seconds. When Kanell spiked it, Virginia was penalized for having too many men on the field, pushing FSU to the six. Some Virginia students prematurely spilled onto the field when Kanell threw a pass away with four seconds on the clock. With its final chance, Florida State ran a direct snap to Dunn, who dived forward toward the goal line but was stopped an inch short by Adrian Burnim and Anthony Poindexter, ending the game as the fans poured onto the field to celebrate FSU's only ACC loss until 1998.
90. Arkansas 53, Ole Miss 52
Nov. 7, 2015; Oxford, Miss.
This was a great game regardless of the ending, with Ole Miss' SEC West title hopes on the line after an earlier win over Alabama. The teams traded scores back and forth, nobody ever leading by more than a touchdown. No. 18 Ole Miss took the lead with 4:55 left. Arkansas answered with a TD with only 53 seconds to play. Ole Miss went for it on fourth down in the closing moments and missed, and a 21-yard Brandon Allen completion gave Arkansas a last-gasp shot for a winning field goal, which was blocked. The block set the stage for one of the craziest sequences ever in OT.
Ole Miss scored in three plays to go up by seven. After a penalty and sack, Arkansas faced fourth-and-25 at the 40-yard line. Allen threw to Hunter Henry short of the first down, and the game appeared to be lost. Henry, while being hit, spun and flung the ball backward to a group of players before hitting the ground. Alex Collins picked it up, ran the other way and somehow sprinted for the flukiest fourth-down conversion you'll ever see. Two plays later, Allen found Drew Morgan for a TD, and Arkansas rolled the dice by going for two. It missed … but Ole Miss was called for a face mask, giving Arkansas another chance. Allen ran it in himself for the miracle win, ultimately sending Alabama to the SEC title game over the Rebels, who still haven't won the SEC since 1963.
College football NEVER disappoints. How did Arkansas pull off this 1st Down? https://t.co/VNr9K99O7r- SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) November 8, 2015
89. Boston College 19, Georgetown 18
Nov. 16, 1940; Boston, Mass.
Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice wasn't exactly immune to hyperbole. So maybe the fact that he wrote, "In many ways it was probably the greatest football game ever played by college or pros," after witnessing Boston College beat Georgetown, 19-18, in 1940 can be easily dismissed. But it shouldn't be. As only he could -- "it was something more than the battle of the mastodon and the mammoth. The mastodons and mammoths were on hand in droves. But so were the eagles and the gazelles." -- Rice described a titanic battle at Fenway Park featuring dazzling displays of both power and speed, and 77 years later, video evidence confirms at least some aspects of a thriller featuring big plays and razzle-dazzle.
It was also a battle of two top-10 teams on unbeaten streaks: The Hoyas had gone 22-0-1 in their previous 23 games, and the Eagles finished 11-0 with a Sugar Bowl win over Tennessee. It launched Frank Leahy to Notre Dame, where he would build one of the most powerful dynasties ever. Before he could do that, Leahy led BC to victory over Georgetown in what Rice called "the greatest all-around exhibition of power, skill, deception and flaming spirit that I have ever seen on a football field for over 40 years."
88. Florida State 24, Clemson 21
Sept. 17, 1988; Clemson, S.C.
When Florida State visited Death Valley in 1988, it was only the fourth time the two programs had met. At the time, Florida State was a dominant independent, while Clemson was the king of the ACC. In a few years, Florida State would join the ACC, causing the Tigers to go 20 years between league titles. In '88, both teams were trying to keep national title hopes alive, and they gave a preview of the divisional rivalry we know now. It was a game of big plays, capped by perhaps the greatest fake punt call ever. Clemson scored first on a reverse pass touchdown from receiver Chip Davis to Gary Cooper. Florida State's Chip Ferguson threw a 40-yard touchdown to Dexter Carter. Clemson scored to cap a 99-yard drive. Florida State answered with an electric 76-yard Deion Sanders punt return. The Seminoles took a lead after a 37-yard pass to Bruce LaSane at the one-yard line. Clemson tied it with a 19-yard Tracy Johnson TD after a fourth-and-one conversion early in the fourth quarter.
The game was pushed to legendary status because of a call by Bobby Bowden: On fourth-and-four at its own 21-yard line, Florida State faked a punt, the snap going to Dayne Williams, who slipped the ball to LeRoy Butler, who raced 78 yards all the way down to the one-yard line on what will live forever as the Puntrooskie. After some timing and officiating confusion, Florida State's Richie Andrews kicked a 19-yard field goal for the win.
87. Nevada 34, Boise State 31
Nov. 26, 2010; Reno, Nev.
Chris Petersen had already gone undefeated twice, and Boise State brought a 24-game winning streak, a No. 4 BCS ranking and hopes of getting a title shot or a Rose Bowl bid to Reno on Black Friday. The Broncos dominated Nevada early, leading 24-7 at halftime, only to endure heartbreak in a big-play game that came down to missed field goals. Nevada, ranked No. 19 with only one loss, trimmed Boise State's lead to 24-21 on a 44-yard Rishard Matthews touchdown with 13:01 left. After a Boise State punt, Nevada marched down the field in 15 plays before settling for a 23-yard field goal to tie. The Broncos answered immediately: Doug Martin broke off a 79-yard touchdown on a short screen pass. Nevada responded with a 14-play, 79-yard, clock-bleeding drive that ended with Colin Kaepernick's TD pass to Matthews with 13 seconds to play. It proved to be plenty of time for Boise State.
From his own 37 with nine seconds left, Kellen Moore fired downfield to a diving Titus Young, who made a spectacular catch at the nine-yard line. Boise State called timeout with one second left. Senior kick Kyle Brotzman was forced to wait because of a review of the previous catch. His 26-yard field goal just barely missed, wide right, sending the game to OT, where he lined up for a 29-yard field goal and just barely missed, again, wide left. A few plays later, Nevada's Anthony Martinez drilled a 34-yard field goal, delivering a win to Nevada and crushing the BCS dreams of Boise State. The Broncos ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl. TCU got the Rose Bowl bid.
86. Michigan State 16, Ohio State 13
Nov. 9, 1974; East Lansing, Mich.
Michigan State 28, Ohio State 24
Nov. 7, 1998; Columbus, Ohio
Historically, the late-November Michigan game is supposed to decide the fate of national-title-contending Ohio State teams. Michigan State occasionally disrupts those plans. In 1974, the 4-3-1 Spartans hosted No. 1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes might have remained unblemished had the game lasted one second longer. Two long second-half TDs gave the Spartans the lead, including an 88-yard TD by Levi Jackson with 3:30 left. Ohio State drove all the way to the goal line but was stuffed inches short in the final moments. The clock winded down as the pile was cleared, and officials ruled that time had run out before one last snap that resulted in OSU's Brian Baschnagel with the ball in the end zone, giving the Spartans a big upset that dropped the Buckeyes from No. 1 to No. 4.
Twenty-four years later, Nick Saban's Spartans were 27-point underdogs when they traveled to meet the No. 1 Buckeyes. A long Joe Germaine touchdown pass and a Spartans fumble allowed Ohio State to build a 17-3 first-quarter lead. They failed to score an offensive touchdown the rest of the game, with their one TD coming on a 73-yard pick-six by Damon Moore in the third quarter. Michigan State settled for five field goals, but it sprung to life with a 23-yard TD pass from Bill Burke to Lavaile Richardson in the third quarter and a three-yard Sedrick Irvin touchdown in the fourth. Germaine lost a fumble that set up Michigan State's final field goal with 9:25 left. Ohio State converted a fourth down, then was faced with another with under four minutes left. The Buckeyes were stuffed deep in Spartans territory. They got another shot, getting the ball back and driving to the 15-yard line, but Germaine's fourth-down pass was intercepted by Renaldo Hill, clinching a shocking win for the Spartans that dashed Ohio State's BCS hopes.
85. Texas 15, Oklahoma 14
Oct. 11, 1958; Dallas, Texas
Even if a year doesn't end up going as well as hoped -- after rising to No. 4, Texas lost three of its last five games -- it's still possible to look back fondly on a season that includes ruining the national championship dreams of a rival. A year after Notre Dame ended Oklahoma's record-setting winning streak, the Longhorns prevented the Sooners from rebounding to win yet another title. They did it with a two-point conversion after their first touchdown, in the first season in which two-point conversions were legal ("The difference was that new extra point rule, and I still don't like it," Texas coach Darrell Royal said afterward). They did it with uncharacteristic passing behind Vince Matthews. They did it despite a mind-boggling second Oklahoma touchdown in which, after a turnover on downs, Texas fullback Mike Dowdle had the ball swiped from him by Jim Davis, who ran it in for a touchdown.
Down by six late after struggling on offense in the second half, Texas turned to Matthews, who completed six passes for 56 yards on the final drive, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald, including a fourth-down conversion. On third down at the seven-yard line, Bobby Lackey took the snap and tossed a jump pass into the end zone for Bob Bryant, then added the go-ahead PAT and the game-sealing interception. Royal beat his mentor Bud Wilkinson, ended a six-game Texas losing streak in the rivalry and started an eight-game Longhorns winning streak.
84. Baylor 50, TCU 48
Sept. 2, 2011; Waco, Texas
Baylor 61, TCU 58
Oct. 11, 2014; Waco, Texas
Realignment and the demise of Texas created an opening at the start of a new era in the Big 12. Baylor had been a perennial last-place team after the collapse of the Southwest Conference. TCU played years of lousy football and wandered the non-power leagues after losing the SWC, jumping from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West before being elevated to the Big 12 in 2012. But as a new decade began, Baylor in particular would embark on a run of some of the craziest offense-heavy games we've ever seen, many of which could be candidates for this list. TWo games in a reinvigorated rivalry with TCU stand out the most.
In the 2011 opener on a Friday night, the Bears topped the defending Rose Bowl champions in a wild game in which they blew a 47-23 fourth-quarter lead, fell behind by a point and kicked the game-winning field goal with 1:04 left. Robert Griffin III threw five TD passes and launched a Heisman campaign. Three years later, in new McLane Stadium, top-10 teams battled, this time with TCU blowing a three-TD fourth-quarter lead as Baylor kicked a 28-yard field goal with no time left to win after a fourth-and-three stop, in a game that led to both teams going 11-1 and both teams getting left out of the playoff.
83. Auburn 36, Florida 33
Oct. 15, 1994; Gainesville, Fla.
The best-remembered game from Florida's 1994 season was the "Choke at Doak," a regular-season finale in which the Gators blew a 31-3 fourth-quarter lead at Florida State and settled for a deflating tie. However, given that it was a tie featuring teams that already had a loss, in a season in which both Nebraska and Penn State finished unbeaten, and given that they'd play a rematch in the Sugar Bowl, let's focus on the game that knocked the Gators from the ranks of the unbeaten in first place. On Oct. 15, neither Nebraska nor Penn State was No. 1. That honor belonged to Florida, which had crushed five teams to that point. The Gators hosted unbeaten No. 6 (and postseason ineligible) Auburn and saw their dreams of a first national title first derailed by Bobby Bowden's son, Terry.
Auburn took an early lead on a phenomenal diving TD catch by Thomas Bailey, and the Tigers led 22-14 at halftime. Injuries and turnovers plagued Florida, and Steve Spurrier benched Terry Dean for Danny Wuerffel, who threw three second-half touchdown passes. But a Wuerffel interception gave Auburn the ball at its own 45-yard line with 1:20 left. On fourth-and-10, Patrick Nix tossed a 14-yard completion to Thomas Bailey to convert. Another big throw got Auburn to the eight. On first-and-goal with 36 seconds left, Nix dropped back and lobbed an off-balance throw for Frank Sanders, who climbed higher than the defender to haul in the go-ahead touchdown in front of a stunned crowd at The Swamp. The elder Bowden humiliated Florida later in the season, but Terry dealt the pivotal first blow.
82. Syracuse 32, West Virginia 31
Nov. 21, 1987; Syracuse, N.Y.
Syracuse had not finished a season ranked in the AP poll since 1961, and it was coming off a forgettable 5-6 campaign. Against a weak schedule, winning a national title in a season in which Miami also went undefeated was impossible, but Syracuse nevertheless felt jilted in the Sugar Bowl when its perfect season was marred by a tie after Auburn coach Pat Dye opted for a 30-yard field goal to even the score at 16 on the last play rather than going for a touchdown from the 13-yard line. It was a result made more galling to Syracuse fans because of what happened in the regular-season finale against West Virginia.
The fourth quarter featured a combined 36 points, and West Virginia had taken a seven-point lead with under two minutes left. Perfect record on the line, Syracuse drove 74 yards, as Don McPherson threw a 17-yard TD pass to Pat Kelly with 10 seconds left. Not content to tie, coach Dick MacPherson put the undefeated record on the line and went for two, and Michael Owens -- who had scored a 65-yard TD early in the fourth quarter -- ran it in on an option pitch to push Syracuse to 11-0. The Orangemen ended up No. 4, their best finish since winning the 1959 national title.
81. Notre Dame 14, Iowa Pre-Flight 13
Nov. 20, 1943; South Bend, Ind.
Two of the strongest teams in college football history met at the height of World War II. Notre Dame lost Heisman Trophy winner Angelo Bertelli to active duty during the season, and Bertelli was replaced by Johnny Lujack, who would miss two seasons because of the war, then return to win the 1947 Heisman. Iowa Pre-Flight, meanwhile, was the U.S. Navy training school at the University of Iowa, featuring an all-star team of sorts that included some professionals, as eligibility rules were relaxed during the war. Both teams entered their Nov. 20 meeting undefeated, with Notre Dame ranked first and Iowa Pre-Flight second. Both teams had a game left -- Notre Dame would lose to Great Lakes Navy -- but this was the de facto national championship. Notre Dame had already defeated then-No. 2 Michigan and two teams, Army and Navy, that had been ranked No. 3.
The Seahawks led 7-0 at halftime after the Fighting Irish ran out of time on a drive to the goal line, and they took a 13-7 lead, with a missed PAT, early in the fourth. Notre Dame answered with the winning 55-yard drive, as national rushing leader Creighton Miller barreled into the end zone for a TD. With a PAT, a stop in the red zone, a missed Seahawks field goal and a fourth-down stop, the Irish finished off a tense victory that gave them a national title despite what would happen in the final game.
80. Alabama 28, Florida 21
Nov. 26, 1992; Birmingham, Ala.; SEC Championship
When Alabama shut out Auburn in the Iron Bowl to secure an 11-0 regular-season record, it ordinarily wouldn't have had to worry about a thing until the bowls. This season, however, marked a new era. With the addition of South Carolina and Arkansas and the split of the SEC into two six-team divisions, the conference decided to become the first Division I conference to stage a championship game, which for two years was played at Alabama's former home-away-from-home, Legion Field. The Sugar Bowl against No. 1 Miami would have to wait.
The Crimson Tide led by 14 in the third quarter thanks to three Jay Barker TD passes, but Florida stormed back, tying the game with 8:01 left as Alabama's offense collapsed with a lackluster running output. After a series of punts, Florida got the ball at its own 21-yard line, hoping to drive for the upset. Instead, Antonio Langham jumped in front of a receiver and intercepted Shane Matthews, taking it 27 yards to the house to put Bama back on top with 3:16 left. There have been many instances of conference title games wreaking havoc on favorites' national title hopes. In the first one, Alabama made the big play to avoid such a fate and went on to crush Miami and win its first post-Bear Bryant championship.
79. Georgia Tech 41, Virginia 38
Nov. 3, 1990; Charlottesville, Va.
Two years before Florida State joined the ACC, other teams still had a chance. In early November 1990, Virginia had the No. 1 ranked team in the country -- the only time it's ever been in the AP top five -- and a Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Shawn Moore. Little did anybody know that the real national championship contender was the visiting team that day at Scott Stadium. Georgia Tech hadn't had much national relevance since the days of Bobby Dodd, had started unranked and had tied UNC a couple weeks earlier, making it No. 16 at the time of this game. The result, though, was an ACC classic that sent the teams in opposite directions.
Led by Shawn Moore and Herman Moore, Virginia climbed to a 28-14 halftime lead, but the Yellow Jackets scored TDs after a fumble and a fourth-down conversion to tie. While Herman Moore hauled in a 63-yard TD catch to go up by seven, the Yellow Jackets answered. The teams traded field goals, UVA's a missed opportunity after another big Herman Moore catch. With the last possession, Georgia Tech's Scott Sisson hit a 37-yard field goal for the win, making the Cavaliers one of four AP top-five teams to lose on that Saturday in a chaotic season. Virginia tumbled to 8-4. Georgia Tech enjoyed a stunning rise capped by a 45-21 win over Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl to get voted No. 1 in the coaches poll and share the national title with Colorado.
78. Tennessee 34, Florida 32
Dec. 1, 2001; Gainesville, Fla.
Either the Gators or Volunteers represented the SEC East in each of the first 10 conference championship games. Each also won a national title in that span. Florida often got the best of the Volunteers, going 7-3 from 1992-2001, but Phillip Fulmer was able to deliver Steve Spurrier a devastating parting gift. Traditionally played in September, the Tennessee-Florida game was moved to Dec. 1 because of the attacks of Sept. 11. By that point, both teams were 9-1, with Florida ranked second in the BCS and Tennessee sixth. The SEC East title was at stake, and with it, hopes of playing for the national championship. Florida quarterback Rex Grossman was also trying to win the Heisman. The Vols managed to crush all those dreams.
Tennessee jumped out to a 14-0 lead, only to throw it away in the second quarter, as the Gators stormed back with 20 straight points to lead at halftime. But the Vols' Travis Stephens rushed for 226 yards, and his 35-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter pushed the Vols back on top. The Tennessee defense was in bend-but-don't-break mode, giving up 362 passing yards to Grossman but holding Florida to field goals four times. With Tennessee leading by one in the fourth quarter -- it missed a two-point attempt earlier -- Stephens broke off a 68-yard run to set up a short touchdown. The extra point gave Tennessee an eight-point lead. After a couple punts, Florida got the ball back with five minutes left. Grossman found Carlos Perez for a two-yard touchdown with 1:10 on the clock. The Gators needed two more points to force overtime, and Grossman's pass fell incomplete. When Tennessee recovered the onside kick, Florida's championship hopes ended. The Gators ended up beating Maryland in the Orange Bowl. Grossman lost the Heisman to Eric Crouch. Spurrier left for the Washington Redskins. Tennessee lost to LSU in the SEC title game and ended up … in the Citrus Bowl, where Spurrier had famously said that you can't spell Citrus without "U-T." Maybe the Head Ball Coach got the last laugh after all.
77. Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31
Nov. 18, 2011; Ames, Iowa
Ames feels like a strange place for the BCS to go down in flames, but a Friday night at Jack Trice Stadium nevertheless stands out as a big reason for the creation of the College Football Playoff. LSU had out-kicked Alabama, 9-6, in a 1-vs.-2 battle two weeks earlier, allowing undefeated Oklahoma State to jump to No. 2 in the BCS, in prime position for a title shot. Instead of rival Oklahoma -- who it would crush the next week -- Oklahoma State's biggest obstacle turned out to be middling Iowa State. The Cowboys were 28-point favorites, and they took a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. But Iowa State clawed its way back with two TDs and a field goal. With a minute left, Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp lined up for a 37-yard field goal, but his attempt for the win missed, sending the game to OT. Both teams scored in the first period. In the second, Brandon Weeden was intercepted by Ter'Ran Benton on the first play, setting up a Jeff Woody touchdown to give Iowa State one of its biggest wins ever and dash Oklahoma State's title hopes, as the BCS chose an ugly Alabama-LSU rematch for the national title. Seven months later, conference commissioners voted in favor of a four-team playoff.
76. USC 16, Notre Dame 14
Nov. 21, 1931; South Bend, Ind.
College football's greatest intersectional rivalry began in 1926 with the first of two 13-12 Notre Dame wins in the teams' first five meetings. USC lost four of the first five battles, but in its first trip to South Bend -- two prior Notre Dame "home" games were in Chicago -- the Trojans earned as important of a win as they've ever had. They were 6-1, traveling to face a Fighting Irish team that hadn't lost since the 1928 USC game in Los Angeles. The Irish were 25-0-1 in their previous 26 games, but this was the first season under Hunk Anderson after Knute Rockne's tragic death in a plane crash. The rivalry tide soon turned to the Trojans. Down 14-0 in the fourth quarter, the Trojans put together two touchdown drives. While the first PAT missed, they got a final chance to take the lead, and Johnny Baker made a field goal for three points and the win. It capped a furious 16-point fourth-quarter rally that sent USC to its first unanimous national championship, plus a second in 1932.