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, beginning on July 24, 2017. All four parts are linked below, plus a bonus article on the 10 worst games.
The first part of our countdown includes some of the greatest minor bowl games ever, a salute to Tuesday night MAC football, the first conference championship and a game from 1940 that Grantland Rice said might have been the best he ever saw.
Our countdown continues with a group of classics covering wild endings at the Big House, dramatic regular-season finishes for national title teams, the longest game ever and a pair of Game of the Century stalemates.
The start of the second half of our list features Rose Bowl thrillers, postseason comebacks, the end of college football's longest winning streak and shocking last-minute plays.
The final installment of the countdown is the top 25. From Vince Young's Rose Bowl heroics to the most compelling two-point decision in football history to the Kick Six and a band on the field, these are college football's greatest games.
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For as many great games as there are, there are also plenty of games that make viewers shake their head. They're so sloppy or lopsided that we can't look away. From incredibly lopsided blowouts to 6-4 and 3-2 scores to a rainy punting duel, these are college football's most compelling ugly games.