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 II, covering games 75-51.
Part II: 75-51
75. Northwestern 54, Michigan 51
Nov. 4, 2000; Evanston, Ill.
The final AP top 10 featured zero Big Ten teams. The league's Rose Bowl representative went 9-3. On the surface, 2000 should have been a forgettable year of Big Ten football. Yet it was actually one of the most watchable and exciting Big Ten seasons ever, with several candidates for this list -- particularly from Northwestern and Rose Bowl-bound Purdue. The game that makes this cut featured endless fireworks, and a Michigan defense that had pitched back-to-back shutouts ended up surrendering over 50 to the Wildcats' crafty spread-option scheme. Zak Kustok passed for 322 yards. Damien Anderson rushed for 226. The Wildcats piled up 654 total yards, and yet they needed a miracle to win.
Down by five with under two minutes left, a Northwestern TD was taken off the board by a penalty, setting up fourth-and-goal at the 12. While being hit, Kustok threw to a wide-open Anderson, who dropped the easiest TD imaginable to seemingly dashing Northwestern's hopes of a victory. Michigan tried to simply run out the clock, but as Anthony Thomas picked up what would have been a game-sealing first down, he dropped the ball, and Northwestern recovered with 46 seconds left at the Michigan at the 26. A few plays later, Kustok found Sam Simmons for an 11-yard TD and the win. A new century had arrived, and as Chris B. Brown wrote in "The Art of Smart Football," Northwestern had provided the "spread offense's coming out party."
74. LSU 33, Kentucky 30
Nov. 9, 2002; Lexington, Ky.
LSU was a year away from winning a national title under Nick Saban, but the end of 2002 did not go smoothly, as the Tigers fell from No. 10 and lost four of their last six games. November 2002 can always be remembered fondly, though, and it will always be nightmare for Kentucky. Trailing by seven after holding LSU to a 19-yard field goal with 6:02 left, Kentucky drove into LSU territory, where Jared Lorenzen launched a 44-yard, game-tying TD to Aaron Boone in double coverage with 2:24 to play. LSU punted, and a Derek Abney return put Kentucky in position for the win, with Taylor Begley connecting on a 29-yard field goal with just 11 seconds on the clock.
Kentucky fans lined the edges of the field. Players dumped the Gatorade bucket over the head of coach Guy Morriss. But LSU wasn't dead yet. Marcus Randall completed a 17-yard pass to Michael Clayton, giving LSU one chance for a miracle from its own 25-yard line. Randall let loose a long ball into a crowd of players. It was tipped forward into the hands of Devery Henderson, who ran the final 15 yards into the end zone as oblivious Kentucky students began tearing down the goal posts on the other end of the field, not realizing that they had just suffered one of the most crushing defeats in football history in what would become known as the Bluegrass Miracle.
73. Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56
Nov. 3, 2001; Oxford, Miss.
Every college football game begins with infinite possibilities. Few actually threaten to be played infinitely. The college football overtime system began at the end of the 1995 season. In 2001, Arkansas and Ole Miss pushed the system to the limits. Regulation ended with a forgettable 17-17 score, and chaos followed. Both teams scored touchdowns on fourth downs in the first overtime. Ole Miss lost a fumble and Arkansas missed a field goal in the second overtime. In the next three OTs, both teams scored touchdowns and both teams missed their mandatory two-point attempts. In the sixth overtime, Eli Manning threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Doug Zeigler, and Charles Stackhouse punched in a successful two-point conversion. Arkansas answered with a Mark Pierce touchdown, and needing a two-pointer to tie, Matt Jones rolled left and found converted defensive lineman -- and future NFL offensive tackle -- Jason Peters in the end zone.
In the seventh and final OT, Arkansas again scored on fourth down, with Pierce running it in from two yards out. Jones completed a two-pointer to Decori Birmingham. From the 25, Ole Miss went on a nine-play drive, converting a fourth down at the seven, then getting a three-yard TD from Manning to Jason Armstead. With the game on the line yet again, Manning's completed two-point pass was short of the goal line, finally ending the biggest marathon in college football history. The next year, Arkansas lost to Tennessee 41-38 in six overtimes. In 2003, Arkansas again experienced seven overtimes, beating Kentucky 71-63. The Kentucky game may have had even more points, but nothing beats the first, the bizarre night at Ole Miss that went from ordinary midseason SEC game to history-making marathon.
72. Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9
Jan. 1, 1991; Miami, Fla.; Orange Bowl
Notre Dame had already ruined a Colorado national championship one year earlier, thumping the No. 1 Buffaloes 21-6 in the Orange Bowl to open the door for another Miami title. In an Orange Bowl rematch, the circumstances were the same. Colorado had climbed back to No. 1 under bizarre circumstances -- a tie vs. Tennessee, a loss to Illinois, the Fifth Down win over Missouri -- putting it in the driver's seat for the national title again, with 9-2 Notre Dame in the role of spoiler. Trailing 9-3 in the third quarter after blocking a Notre Dame PAT, Colorado recovered a fumble, backup QB Charles Johnson -- in for an injured Darian Hagan -- led a drive and Eric Bieniemy scored the go-ahead touchdown.
Trying to run out the clock with under two minutes left in the fourth, the Buffaloes instead had to punt with 1:05 left to Rocket Ismail, one of the most dangerous return men in college football history. "I'm sure [Tom] Rouen will kick out of bounds… he has to," said Bill Walsh, calling the game for NBC. Rouen didn't. Ismail fielded the ball at the nine-yard line, broke tackles, burst into the clear and ran for what appeared to be an iconic 91-yard touchdown to spoil another Colorado title bid. Instead, there was a flag: an illegal block. Ismail's return goes down as the best play that never happened, and Colorado sealed a split national title (with Georgia Tech) with an interception.
71. Ohio State 10, Michigan 10
Nov. 24, 1973; Ann Arbor, Mich.
Long before the College Football Playoff brought selection committees to college football, the Big Ten's athletic directors had to bizarrely act like a selection committee in 1973 at the zenith of the Woody vs. Bo Ten Year War. At that point, only one Big Ten team was allowed to play in the postseason: the conference champion going to the Rose Bowl. The league's no-repeat rule had been abolished -- previously, the Big Ten didn't send the same team to Pasadena twice in a row -- so the season-ending game between Ohio State and Michigan in 1974 acted as a play-in game for the Rose Bowl between two undefeated teams, the No. 1 Buckeyes and No. 4 Wolverines, in a season crowded with national title contenders. The problem? The game turned into a stalemate.
Ohio State led 10-0 at halftime despite having zero first downs in the first quarter. In the third quarter, Michigan kicked a field goal after an OSU turnover on downs, and it tied the game in the fourth when QB Dennis Franklin scored on fourth-and-inches from the 10-yard line. With Michigan trying to drive for the win, Franklin broke his collarbone, and the Wolverines ended up missing two long field goals down the stretch as the game ended in a tie. Ohio State won the athletic directors' vote and went to the Rose Bowl, where it crushed USC to finish second in the AP poll. Michigan ended up sixth. The Big Ten began allowing multiple teams to go to bowls in 1975.
70. Penn State 35, Illinois 31
Nov. 12, 1994; Champaign, Ill.
The 1994 Penn State football team goes down in history as one of the greatest offenses of all time and one of the greatest teams denied a national title. Nothing will ever provide comfort for the latter fact -- poll voters chose Nebraska -- but Penn State would have had no argument had it not pulled off a comeback at Illinois. Falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter against a team like Illinois with this great defense -- led by Dana Howard, Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice -- and coming back would certainly seem to be stunning. But this was no ordinary Penn State offense. The Nittany Lions averaged 47 points per game. Running back Ki-Jana Carter and quarterback Kerry Collins finished second and fourth in the Heisman vote, respectively. Just a couple weeks earlier, they demolished Ohio State 63-14. Eleven offensive players were selected in the next two NFL Drafts, including five first-rounders.
It thus came as no surprise that Penn State chipped away at the Illinois lead, starting and ending with drives nearly the length of the field. With 6:07 left, Penn State trailed by three and got the ball at its own four. Collins methodically directed the Lions down the field before a pass to Bobby Engram at the 10 set up a pair of runs by fullback Brian Milne, who barreled into the end zone to take the lead with under a minute left. An interception in the end zone sealed the game, and the Lions, in their second year in the Big Ten, clinched the Rose Bowl, ran the table and became the last team unfairly denied a share of the national title before the creation of the BCS guaranteed 1 vs. 2 matchups.
69. Texas 21, Alabama 17
Jan. 1, 1965; Miami, Fla.; Orange Bowl
In a time when final polls crowned national champions before the bowl games, the impact of a memorable goal-line stand at the Orange Bowl was lessened. After Notre Dame lost to USC, AP and UPI voters had already tabbed Alabama No. 1; nothing that happened on New Year's in Miami could change that, although Arkansas nabbed the FWAA title. Nevertheless, Texas edging Joe Namath in his final college start proved to be massive achievement, at night in front of a prime-time audience on NBC.
The No. 4 Longhorns -- who had lost only by a point to Arkansas -- raced out to a 21-7 halftime lead, led by a 79-yard run by Ernie Koy and a 69-yard TD pass from Jim Hudson to George Sauer. The Tide cut the lead to seven with a Namath TD pass to Ray Perkins in the third, and they added a field goal to get within striking distance. Alabama intercepted Texas at the 34-yard line and drove down to the goal line. After a couple stops, Alabama faced fourth-and-goal, and a hobbled Namath -- who didn't start because of a knee injury but threw for 255 yards anyway -- was stuffed by star linebacker Tommy Nobis and others, ending Namath's college career an inch short of a perfect season.
68. Columbia 21, Army 20
Oct. 25, 1947; New York, N.Y.
During World War II, West Point emerged as one of the most powerful forces in college football history as top athletes flocked to the service academies. From 1944-46, Army went 27-0-1, winning two national championships and two Heismans. With Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis gone in '47, Army took a 3-0-1 record into its Oct. 25 trip to Columbia, ranked No. 6 and still unbeaten in its last 32 contests. The Cadets appeared set for business as usual, building a 20-7 lead in the first half. But Columbia's defense stepped up, and the passing connection of Gene Rossides and Bill Swiacki took over the game. Rossides completed 18 of 27 passes for 263 yards, according to the AP, with eight catches for 138 yards going to Swiacki. Swiacki's diving 28-yard TD catch cut the lead to six in the fourth quarter. Upon getting the ball back, Rossides led another brilliant Lions drive that included another diving catch by Swiacki at the four-yard line, setting up the trying TD by Lou Kusserow and the winning PAT by Ventan Yablonski. Columbia would finish 7-2, ranked 20th in the AP poll. Its unbeaten streak spoiled, Army finished 5-2-2, before going another two seasons without a loss.
67. Texas Tech 39, Texas 33
Nov. 1, 2008; Lubbock, Texas
Forget that fact that the 2008 regular season ended in a convoluted three-way tie in the Big 12 South that resulted in a BCS tiebreaker sending Oklahoma, not Texas Tech or Texas, to the Big 12 championship game and subsequently the national title game. The game of the year happened in Lubbock, when the Mike Leach era reached its peak. The Red Raiders were 8-0 and ranked No. 7 when they welcomed No. 1 Texas in the biggest game in school history. The night proved to be everything that Texas Tech fans -- and fans in general -- wanted it to be. Texas Tech's defense actually got the scoring started with a safety, and the Red Raiders built a 22-6 halftime lead. But Colt McCoy led the Longhorns back, with an 80-yard drive ending with a four-yard Vondrell McGee TD to put Texas ahead 33-32 with 1:29 left.
Graham Harrell, who passed for 474 yards, led Texas Tech on a clutch drive, hitting four passes in a row to the Texas 28. After an incompletion, Texas Tech had eight seconds left. Harrell took the snap and made a risky throw to Michael Crabtree down the sideline with two defenders near him, five yards short of the end zone with the clock winding. Crabtree caught the ball, shed his defender and crossed the goal line with one second left to turn the biggest game in Texas Tech history into its biggest win.
66. Colorado 27, Michigan 26
Sept. 24, 1994; Ann Arbor, Mich.
With two seconds left in the first half and a five-point lead, Kordell Stewart dropped back from his own 44-yard line and launched a Hail Mary to the middle of the end zone, where it was harmlessly intercepted. It turned out to be a test run for what would stun the Big House a couple hours later. It's a game that's remembered only because of its final play, in a season in which Michigan stumbled to four losses. But great endings require a close first 59 minutes, and at the time this was a battle of top-seven teams, featuring a long list of stars headlined by Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam.
Michigan quickly erased the halftime deficit, with a Tyrone Wheatley TD and a 65-yard pass from Todd Collins to Amani Toomer. Up 26-14 early in the fourth, it could have put the game away, but it lost a fumble in the red zone. After Stewart lost a fumble on his way to the end zone, Colorado got the ball back, and Salaam scored to cut the lead to 26-21. Michigan recovered the onside kick, but Colorado got the ball back with 14 seconds left. Stewart completed a pass, and Colorado lined up at its own 36-yard line with six seconds left, needing a miracle. Stewart dropped back, and from his own 27, he let loose a legendary bomb that was tipped at the goal line to a falling Michael Westbrook, who corralled it for the shocking game-winning Hail Mary.
65. Michigan State 27, Michigan 23
Oct. 17, 2015; Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan has plenty of experience with gut-wrenching defeats at the Big House, whether it was Kordell Stewart's Hail Mary or Appalachian State's blocked field goal. What happened in 2015 was the type of sequence nobody could predict. It was Jim Harbaugh's debut, against a Michigan State team that would win the Big Ten and go to the playoff and had won six of seven in a rivalry series historically dominated by the Wolverines. The game wasn't necessarily pretty, but the Spartans cut the Wolverines' lead to two with a 74-yard completion setting up a one-yard TD with 8:56 left. After three punts, Michigan State failed to convert a desperation fourth-and-long, and the game appeared to be over. Michigan couldn't quite run out the clock, though.
With 10 seconds left, Michigan faced fourth-and-two at the MSU 47 and just wanted to get the punt away, kill time and pin the Spartans back. But Blake O'Neill mishandled the snap, picked it up and tried to kick it while being spun around. Somehow, the ball popped straight into the hands of Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson, who got a block and reached the end zone as time expired for the shocking game-winning points in front of a truly shocked Big House crowd. It was a surreal scene as the Spartans celebrated in the end zone around Watts-Jackson, who fractured his hip while scoring perhaps the most memorable touchdown in Michigan State history.
64. Auburn 17, Alabama 16
Dec. 2, 1972; Birmingham, Ala.
It's hard to imagine that a special teams feat in the Iron Bowl managed to top what David Langner and Bill Newton accomplished in 1972, but only something like the Kick Six could do it. Still, what happened 41 years before it won't be forgotten, either. Alabama had mostly controlled the rivalry under Bear Bryant, but Auburn won in both '69 and '70, and it entered the '72 showdown with a No. 9 ranking and an 8-1 record, hoping to derail the national title hopes of the unbeaten No. 2 Crimson Tide. Alabama led 16-3 -- one of its PATs was blocked -- in the fourth quarter, when Auburn turned the tide with the same game-changing sequence twice.
Newton blocked a punt and Langner picked it up and ran in for a touchdown with 5:30 left. Four minutes later, Newton blocked another punt and Langner picked it up again and ran it in for the score. If that wasn't enough, Langner recorded the game-sealing interception, giving Auburn a memorable victory in what will always be known as the "Punt, Bama, Punt" game.
63. UCLA 14, Michigan State 12
Jan. 1, 1966; Pasadena, Calif.; Rose Bowl
Ten years after Michigan State beat UCLA 17-14 in one classic Rose Bowl, the two teams met again in Pasadena in another down-to-the-wire thriller. This time, Michigan State entered the game as the heavily favored UPI national champion, although, for the first time ever, the final AP poll would be released after the bowls. The Spartans entered the game ranked first in both polls, while the Bruins were fifth, owning a 7-2-1 record, which included a 13-3 loss at Michigan State on Sept. 18. In the rematch, UCLA controlled most of the game thanks to a pair of TD runs in the second quarter by sophomore QB Gary Beban, who would win the Heisman two years later, the second TD coming after a surprise onside kick.
The Spartans finally got on the board in the fourth quarter with two big plays, including a 38-yard Bob Apisa TD run, but the two-point attempt failed. Michigan State's comeback continued with a blocked punt by All-American Bubba Smith, setting up a Steve Juday TD with 31 seconds on the clock. Needing two for the tie, Apisa was stopped short by the much smaller Bob Stiles, who knocked himself out in the process of securing a memorable upset. While Michigan State was still recognized as national champions, Alabama vaulted to the top of the AP poll by beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
62. Tennessee 28, Arkansas 24
Nov. 14, 1998; Knoxville, Tenn.
If it wasn't wild enough that Tennessee won its first national title since 1951 the year after Peyton Manning's college career ended, the Vols put together their undefeated run in the first year of the BCS with a season that had shades of 2013 Auburn's flair for the dramatic. In the first two weeks, the Vols beat Syracuse on a field goal after a fourth-down pass interference call, and they beat Florida in overtime. The craziest game came later in the season, against an 8-0 Arkansas that was viewed skeptically by pollsters and rated No. 7 in the BCS. Led by Clint Stoerner, Arkansas jumped out to a 21-3 first-half lead with the Tennessee offense floundering. The offense woke up, but the Vols still trailed 24-20 in the fourth quarter when Arkansas punted with three minutes left. The snap flew over the head of the punter, who kicked the ball through the end zone for a safety. After the free kick, Tennessee quickly turned the ball over on downs around midfield. Arkansas tried to run the clock, but on second down, Stoerner got tangled up with a lineman, fell down and dropped the football. The Vols recovered and had another chance. It proved easy: Travis Henry -- who rushed for 197 yards -- ran down Arkansas' throat, going over the top at the goal line with 28 seconds left for the win.
61. Ohio State 20, Arizona State 17
Jan. 1, 1997; Pasadena, Calif.; Rose Bowl
Ohio State coach John Cooper had actually won a Rose Bowl more recently than the Buckeyes when they met the Sun Devils to end the 1996 season. Ohio State hadn't won a Rose Bowl since the 1973 season; Cooper had won it as coach of Arizona State in 1986. A decade later, Cooper foiled the national title hopes of his former employer. Arizona State went to Pasadena with an 11-0 record and a No. 2 ranking. Unbeknownst to Arizona State at the time, No. 1 Florida State would lose the Sugar Bowl the next day to No. 3 Florida, which would have opened the door for an unbeaten ASU to claim the title. Alas, the Sun Devils came up short.
Ohio State hit big plays, including a 72-yard TD pass from Joe Germaine to Dimitrious Stanley, but after a blocked field goal, Jake Plummer scrambled 11 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:40 left. Ohio State responded -- and was aided by two pass interference penalties -- setting up Germaine's five-yard TD pass to David Boston to put OSU ahead by three. The PAT was blocked, giving Arizona State a glimmer of hope to get into field goal range. Plummer pushed Arizona State to the 47, then completed a pass to Lenzie Jackson. But time expired before he got down, dashing the Sun Devils' title dreams.
60. Penn State 27, Nebraska 24
Sept. 25, 1982; State College, Pa.
Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne were both still searching for their first national championship, and both had loaded rosters. Their 1982 meeting didn't directly determine the national champion, but it might have decided it. The No. 2 Cornhuskers visited Beaver Stadium and the No. 8 Nittany Lions for an early-season showdown that went to the final seconds. Penn State led 21-7 in the third quarter, but a Mike Rozier TD and a field goal cut the lead to four. Penn State had a chance to potentially put the game away, converting a fourth-and-one at the 23 with 7:13 left, but on the next play, a Todd Blackledge pass was intercepted in the end zone. The ensuing drive could have been legendary for Nebraska: The Cornhuskers marched 90 yards, capped by Turner Gill's go-ahead TD with 1:18 left. After a sloppy half, Penn State -- with the help of a favorable call -- put together its own legendary drive.
On fourth-and-11, Blackledge completed a 12-yard pass to Kenny Jackson. A couple plays later, Blackledge passed down the sideline to Mike McCloskey, who was ruled to have caught it at the two-yard line with nine seconds left, even though close inspection of a replay would show that he was likely out of bounds. Blackledge then ran a play-action and tossed the ball into the end zone to a diving Kirk Bowman on another close call for the winning touchdown. Bowman's only two catches all season were touchdowns against Nebraska. The Huskers didn't lose the rest of the year. Penn State lost the next game to Alabama but rallied down the stretch and beat No. 1 Georgia for the national title in the Sugar Bowl.
59. Maryland 42, Miami 40
Nov. 10, 1984; Miami, Fla.
Frank Reich's football career would be known for a comeback even if he had not replaced an injured Jim Kelly and led the Bills back from down 35-3 against the Oilers in the playoffs in the largest comeback in NFL history. Back in 1984, Reich was quarterbacking Maryland but dealing with a shoulder injury when the Terrapins visited then-No. 6 Miami (the game before the Doug Flutie Hail Mary). Stan Gelbaugh started for the 5-3 Terps, and Miami stormed out to a 31-0 lead at halftime. Reich came off the bench and ended up leading one of college football's greatest comebacks.
Down by six in the fourth quarter, Reich launched a deep ball that was tipped to Greg Hill in stride, and Hill raced for a 68-yard TD with 5:29 lead to put Maryland ahead. That was hardly the end. Miami fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Maryland quickly scored again to turn a 31-point deficit into an eight-point lead that it now had to hold onto. Maryland intercepted Bernie Kosar, but it botched a punt snap, giving Miami the ball at the 18-yard line with 1:50 left. Kosar threw a touchdown pass to Eddie Brown. Needing two to tie, Kosar threw to Melvin Bratton, who was tackled short of the end zone. Maryland returned the onside kick to the one-yard line, where it ran out the clock on an improbable comeback and late-game role reversal.
58. Ohio State 42, Michigan 39
Nov. 18, 2006; Columbus, Ohio
It felt like the biggest game in Big Ten history. The Buckeyes and Wolverines had met in so many high-profile battles over the years, but this was the first time they met as No. 1 and No. 2. The game was played the day after the death of legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler. It was a late afternoon kickoff in Ohio Stadium instead of the traditional early slot, meaning that it finished under the lights. The two teams put on a show, with a Heisman-winning performance from Buckeyes QB Troy Smith, who passed for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Thanks to a big second quarter that included a 52-yard Beanie Wells TD run, a 39-yard Ted Ginn TD catch and an Anthony Gonzalez TD with 20 seconds left, Ohio State was able to operate with a cushion most of the second half, despite a stretch where it tried to fumble away the game.
The Buckeyes had answers when they needed them, Antonio Pittman following a 10-point Michigan run with a 56-yard TD, then Smith throwing a 13-yard TD to Brian Robiskie to cap an 83-yard drive with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter. Michigan got a TD and two points with 2:16 left, but Ohio State ran out the clock and went on to the BCS title game. There was a push for a rematch, but the Buckeyes ended up getting crushed by Florida instead, lessening the big-picture impact of what was still a classic rivalry duel.
57. USC 20, Notre Dame 17
Nov. 28, 1964; Los Angeles, Calif.
After a disastrous 2-7 record in 1963, Notre Dame hired Ara Parseghian, who immediately turned around the team's fortunes. The Fighting Irish climbed to No. 1 by November and entered their season finale at 6-3 USC with a 9-0 record, a win away from the national championship. For half the game, it looked to be an easy task, as Notre Dame led 17-0 after two quarters behind Heisman winner John Huarte. But Mike Garrett, the 1965 Heisman winner, got USC on the board with a third-quarter TD, and USC was bailed out by a Notre Dame fumble and a penalty that took away a touchdown.
Craig Fertig tossed a 23-yard touchdown to Fred hill to cut the lead to four, and USC got the ball back with 2:10 left and a chance to win. On fourth down at the 15 yard line with 1:43 to play, Fertig passed to Rod Sherman for the winning score, as the Trojans' comeback crushed Notre Dame's title hopes. The Irish were actually named National Football Foundation champs, but they don't claim the title, which is split between Alabama (AP/UPI) and Arkansas (FWAA).
56. Ohio State 30, Michigan 27
Nov. 26, 2016; Columbus, Ohio
From 2004-15, Ohio State went 10-1 against Michigan as the Wolverines struggled to maintain national-power status. There were close games, but the Buckeyes owned the rivalry. However, the arrival of Jim Harbaugh signaled the possible beginning of a new Ten Year War, as Michigan sought to restore former glory and catch up to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. After an easy Ohio State win in 2015, the 2016 season offered the first mega Meyer-Harbaugh showdown. Both had a loss -- Ohio State at Penn State; Michigan at Iowa -- but the Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 and the Wolverines No. 3 in the playoff top 25, making this feel like an all-or-nothing affair even though Penn State would win the Big Ten. The Michigan defense dominated most of the game, but with Ohio State trailing by 10 in the third quarter, a Wilton Speight INT set up a Mike Weber TD run to cut the lead to three. Michigan punted on its next three drives, and while Ohio State missed a 21-yard field goal with seven minutes to go, it got another shot and capped a 77-yard drive with a 23-yard field goal to send the rivalry to OT for the first time. That's where the game truly became a classic.
Ohio State scored a TD. On fourth-and-goal at the five, Speight connected with Amara Darboh for a tying TD to force a second OT. After Michigan settled for a field goal, Curtis Samuel nearly lost yardage on a quick third-and-nine pass, danced around, reversed field and somehow picked up eight yards. On fourth-and-one, Meyer went for it, and J.T. Barrett kept the ball and picked up the first down by a mere inch - a spot Michigan fans will forever groan about. The next play, Samuel burst into the end zone for a 15-yard TD. Just like 2006, Ohio State went on to get embarrassed in the postseason, but this was an overtime rivalry ending for the ages.
55. LSU 28, Florida 24
Oct. 6, 2007; Baton Rouge, La.
LSU 30, Auburn 24
Oct. 20, 2007; Baton Rouge, La.
This was the 2007 college football season, the craziest of all seasons, and, fittingly, Les Miles was at the center of it all. The Tigers played two triple-OT games as the No. 1 ranked team in the country … and they lost both. The second was the final week of the regular season against Arkansas, and yet the chaos elsewhere allowed LSU to vault to No. 2 and get a BCS title shot against Ohio State, which it took advantage of to become a two-loss national champion. It would not have happened without October magic in Death Valley, two games sandwiched around the loss at Kentucky. On Oct. 6, No. 1 LSU hosted No. 5 Florida and pulled off a wild four-point win over Heisman winner Tim Tebow. LSU's night included a fourth-and-one TD run by the backup QB, a fake field goal to set up a touchdown in the third quarter, an interception off a Florida receiver's helmet following a missed field goal, a fourth-and-three TD pass by Matt Flynn and two fourth-down conversions on an eight-minute drive to set up Jacob Hester's winning TD with 1:09 left.
Two weeks later, after dropping to No. 5, LSU fell behind Auburn by one with 3:21 left. It slowly made its way down the field in response, not seeming to worry about the clock. On third-and-seven at the 22, needing a field goal to win with one timeout left, LSU let the clock run … and run … and run. Instead of playing it safe for the field goal, Flynn dropped back and fired a pass deep into the end zone for Demetrius Byrd, who came down with it for the touchdown. With one second left. Had anything gone wrong, the clock would have expired and LSU would have inexplicably blown its chance. Instead, Miles' strange wizardry worked to perfection yet again.
54. Alabama 33, Ole Miss 32
Oct. 4, 1969; Birmingham, Ala.
In 1969, Ole Miss had a superstar in Archie Manning, ready to put on a show in a revolutionary regular-season prime-time telecast on ABC against Bear Bryant and Alabama, one that didn't start until 8:30 p.m. CT because it had to air after "The Lawrence Welk Show." The Rebels opened the season in the top 10. Alabama would end up flailing to a 6-5 record. And yet Ole Miss couldn't quite get it done despite a legendary performance by Manning that would have felt more at home in 2017 than 1969. By the time the night was over, Manning accounted for an unthinkable SEC-record 540 total yards. He also broke SEC records for completions (33), pass attempts (52) and passing yards (436), and he rushed for 104 yards and accounted for five total TDs.
With Ole Miss leading 32-27 in the fourth quarter after Manning led a three-play, 64-yard go-ahead TD drive in 28 seconds, Alabama faced fourth-and-goal at the 14-yard line as the day neared midnight. Scott Hunter, whose 300 passing yards were overshadowed by what Manning did, found George Ranager for the winning TD with 3:42 left. Ole Miss lost, but under the Legion Fields lights, Manning's performance is still rightfully remembered as one of the most jaw-dropping in SEC history.
53. Nebraska 24, Miami 17
Jan. 1, 1995; Miami, Fla.; Orange Bowl
The pressure on Nebraska couldn't have greater. Eleven years earlier, the Cornhuskers had blown a national title with a missed two-point conversion in the Orange Bowl against Miami. One year earlier, they lost the national title to Florida State on a missed field goal in the Orange Bowl. Now, they had another shot, ranked No. 1 in both polls ahead of fellow unbeaten Penn State, which would win the Rose Bowl the next day. No. 3 Miami proved to be a formidable hurdle. In his first game since September because of blood clots, Tommie Frazier started at QB for Nebraska but was replaced by Brook Berringer after an early interception. Thanks to big TD catches by Trent Jones and Jonathan Harris, Miami led 17-7 in the third quarter. Nebraska got a safety, but it continued to miss opportunities: It fumbled in Miami territory, then threw an interception in the end zone after a botched punt snap.
Frazier returned to the game and led Nebraska on a tying TD drive that included a two-point conversion with 7:38 left. After Miami QB Frank Costa missed a wide-open receiver on third down, Nebraska got the ball back at its own 42-yard line. A 25-yard Frazier run sparked the drive, which was capped by Cory Schlesinger's 14-yard TD run with 2:46 left. Nebraska's defense did the rest, and after 21 years of close calls, Osborne got the first of what would be three national titles in a remarkable four-year run.
52. Alabama 32, Georgia 28
Dec. 1, 2012; Atlanta, Ga.; SEC Championship
The greatest SEC title game essentially decided the national championship. Given how Notre Dame performed a month later with the national title on the line, it can be safely assumed that Georgia would have won, had it gotten to Miami. But this is a story of 21st century Georgia against Nick Saban, and everybody could predict how this ends: an agonizing missed opportunity for the Bulldogs, and yet another set of titles for Bama. Alabama had been knocked on its heels the previous month by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M -- in another classic that just missed this list -- but it rose back up to No. 2 to meet No. 3 Georgia in what amounted to a playoff semifinal. The two sides delivered a well-played thriller, at least after a scoreless first quarter.
With Alabama leading 10-7 at halftime, Georgia got off to a hot second-half start, including 55-yard blocked field goal return to go up by 11. The teams traded TDs, with Georgia going ahead 28-25 in the fourth quarter. That set up the offensive play of the game: With 3:15 remaining, Amari Cooper got a step on his defender streaking downfield, and AJ McCarron delivered a perfect 45-yard touchdown strike for the lead. After two punts, the ball was in Aaron Murray's hands, Georgia's title hopes on the line. He completed five passes, two over 20 yards, including a 26-yard pass to Arthur Lynch at the eight-yard line with 15 seconds left. Instead of spiking the ball, Murray let a few seconds go by, took the snap and threw short of the end zone to Chris Conley, who caught the ball and fell down at the five. With no timeouts left, the clock ran out. Alabama was still king, as it would go on to win its third national title in four years. The Mark Richt era at Georgia never recovered.
51. Army 0, Notre Dame 0
Nov. 9, 1946; New York, N.Y.
LSU 9, Alabama 6
Nov. 5, 2011; Tuscaloosa, Ala.
They were two of the most hyped games in the history of college football, massive 1 vs. 2 rivalry showdowns between historically great teams with absurdly deep rosters with clear national championship implications. They were both evenly matched for the duration of the games, a sense of nervous energy hanging over the proceedings from start to finish with the knowledge that one single play or one single bounce could decide the outcome of the game and the national championship at any moment.
They were also touchdown-free slogs with results that ended up having no actual impact on the national title.
No. 1 Army vs. No. 2 Notre Dame featured four Heisman Trophy winners (Army's Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard; Notre Dame's Johnny Lujack and Leon Hart). Both teams were bursting with high-profile players, including four of the top five finishers in that year's Heisman race and five consensus All-Americans. Yankee Stadium was packed with 75,000 fans to witness a Game of the Century as life began returning to normal after the end of World War II. The game proved to be a scoreless stalemate, with several Army threats coming up short and Notre Dame being stopped on fourth down at the goal line rather than kicking a field goal. After throwing an interception, Lujack made the play of the game, a touchdown-saving tackle in the open field to stop Blanchard, who was rarely stopped in such situations. Army stayed at No. 1 after the tie, but its disappointingly close win over Navy allowed Notre Dame to vault to No. 1 in the final poll and claim the national title.
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama featured a nearly unmatched collection of NFL talent, leading two historically great defenses. Unfortunately, the tone of the game was set early, when Alabama missed three field goals. Both teams had two turnovers. Both teams made two field goals in regulation. In overtime, Alabama missed a 52-yard attempt after a penalty and a sack, and LSU capitalized, as Drew Alleman hit a 25-yard kick for the win. Because of Oklahoma State's loss to Iowa State, Alabama finished No. 2 in the BCS standings, and it proceeded to make five field goals in a 21-0 demolition of LSU in a rematch for the national title.