NCAAF
May 11, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

The 10 Greatest College Football Games Ever

Is there a sport that’s had more incredible moments than college football? It certainly helps that we get about 50 games every week during the season, plus nearly that many bowl games at the end of the season.

The atmosphere for every big-time college football contest is almost surreal, which only adds to the drama and intensity of the game. In fact, the phrase “Game of the Century” has been used to describe over a dozen college football games. To be honest, there are dozens of games that could be mentioned among the best games ever played.

Check out our ranking of the 10 greatest college football games ever to see where Vince Young's victory over USC, the 2013 Iron Bowl and Doug Flutie's hail mary rank on the list. 

10. 1982: Cal 25, Stanford 20 — "The Play"

This might not be one of the best-played games of all-time, sure, but it had one of the strangest and most memorable endings of any sporting event, which is enough to make our list.

It’s worth remembering that these two schools are hated rivals, so Stanford having a one-point lead with four seconds left was a big deal for the Cardinal. However, it wasn’t meant to be after Cal created a miracle series of five laterals that led to a game-winning touchdown while members of the Stanford band mistakenly rushed the field.

“The Play,” as well as the play-by-play call from Joe Starkey, make for an iconic and unforgettable moment in college football history.

9. 1994: Florida 31, Florida State 31 — "The Choke at Doak"

This game is remembered as one of the great collapses in college football history. The Gators raced to a 31-3 lead on the road against their bitter in-state rivals. But the Seminoles eventually woke up, scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 31.

Both teams got the ball one more time after FSU tied the game with 1:45 left on the clock, but the Gators went nowhere while the ‘Noles ran out of time.

Florida State celebrated as if they won the game while the Gators were despondent. With no overtime, the game ended in a tie. Fortunately, these two squads met again at the Sugar Bowl, which Florida State won 23-17.

8. 2017: Clemson 35, Alabama 31

This game is a more recent classic, but one that has the chance to stand the test of time. A year after Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 to win the National Championship, the Tigers got their redemption.

The Crimson Tide led by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, but Heisman Trophy-winner Deshaun Watson rallied the Tigers. After falling behind 28-24, Alabama recaptured the lead 31-28 with 2:07 left on the clock. But that was just enough time for Watson to work his magic, connecting with Hunter Renfrow with one tick left on the clock to give Clemson a 35-31 win and a National Championship.

7. 1991: Miami 17, Florida State 16 — "Wide Right I"

This was a battle between the top two teams in the nation, and there wasn’t much separating these two bitter rivals on this day in 1991. Scoring was at a premium with the Seminoles settling for a touchdown and three field goals to take a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Miami was finally able to respond with 10 straight points to take a 17-16 lead with a little over three minutes left.

Florida State had a chance to win it late with a 34-yard field goal attempt from Gerry Thomas, who was 3-for-3 on the day. But Thomas missed wide right, kicking off (pun intended) a common theme of missed field goals that now help to define this rivalry. The Hurricanes survived and went on to win the National Championship.

6. 1988: Notre Dame 31, Miami 30 — "Catholics vs. Convicts"

This was one of the most hyped regular-season games in college football history, as it was widely known as the "Catholics vs Convicts" game. Even the coaches bought into the hype, as Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz told his team before the game: “You save Jimmy Johnson's ass for me!”

At the time, the Hurricanes had won their last 36 regular-season games and were fresh off a National Championship the previous season. The game was filled with uncharacteristic mistakes by Miami and several controversial calls by the referees. The ‘Canes were close to overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, but a two-point conversion with 45 seconds left failed to give the Irish a one-point win.

The battle ended up being a de-facto National Championship Game, as Notre Dame ran the table to win the title with Miami finishing No. 2 in the rankings.

5. 1984: Miami 31, Nebraska 30

Despite taking a loss in the Orange Bowl, the Cornhuskers deserve a ton of credit. Nebraska fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter but kept fighting back, eventually scoring a touchdown with less than a minute to play to make it a 31-30 game.

If Nebraska coach Tom Osborne had kicked the extra point, the Cornhuskers would have remained undefeated and likely would have won the national championship, as they were ranked top-ranked team coming into the game. However, Osborne went for two points and the win, only to see the Hurricanes get a stop and win the game. That lone play catapulted Miami from No. 5 to No. 1, giving the 'Canes the National Championship over Nebraska.

4. 1984: Boston College 47, Miami 45 — "Hail Flutie"

This game ended with one of the most improbable Hail Mary conversions ever. Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie spent the final six seconds of the game scrambling around the backfield before the 5-foot-10 passer unfurled a 64-year touchdown against the wind that ended up in the hands of Gerard Phelan, who was behind the Miami defense at the back of the end zone.

Even before that moment, the game was an incredible shootout between Flutie and Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar. The Hurricanes took a 45-41 lead with just 28 seconds left, but Flutie and the Eagles needed just three plays to set up the final play.

With 472 passing yards, the game likely sealed the Heisman for Flutie with the final pass being credited with the creation of the term “Heisman moment.”

3. 2013: Auburn 34, Alabama 28 — "Kick Six"

This game will forever be remembered for its incredible ending. Auburn cornerback Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100-plus yards for the famous “Kick Six.” But that was just the tip of the iceberg in this game.

The No. 4 Tigers entered with only one loss while Alabama was undefeated and the top-ranked team in the nation. This Iron Bowl meeting served as a play-in game for the SEC Championship Game. Auburn trailed by two touchdowns in the second quarter, only to tie the game at 28 with just 32 seconds left.

Everyone thought this game was headed to overtime, which also would have made for an instant classic. But Nick Saban pushed to get one more second on the clock so Alabama could attempt a 57-yard field goal. As we know, the kick missed and Davis did the rest, creating pandemonium in Jordan-Hare Stadium and giving us perhaps the most memorable and unlikely ending in college football history.

2. 2007: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 

Nobody saw this one coming. Despite going undefeated, nobody in their right mind took Boise State that seriously ahead of a meeting with the mighty Oklahoma Sooners.

The Broncos started fast, only to squander an 18-point lead. When Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky threw a pick-six with 62 seconds left to give Oklahoma the lead, it looked over. But Zabrasnsky rallied the Broncos, who executed a hook-and-ladder on 4th and long for the game-winning touchdown.

The Sooners then scored on the first play of overtime, another punch in the gut to the Broncos. However, Boise State answered with a touchdown and then ran the Statue of Liberty play on the two-point conversion, completely fooling the Oklahoma defense while Ian Johnson ran it in for the win.

Somehow, Johnson topped that miraculous ending by proposing to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, during his postgame interview. Even in hindsight, everything about this game almost feels like a dream; that’s how crazy it was.

1. 2006: Texas 41, USC 38

It doesn’t get much better than this game. For starters, it was the BCS National Championship Game for the 2005 season. It was also played between two storied programs in the Rose Bowl. On top of that, the game included the last two Heisman Trophy-winners (Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush) playing for USC and that year’s Heisman runner-up (Vince Young) leading Texas.

More importantly, the game more than lived up to the hype in a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair. Of course, it’s all about the ending when Young scrambled for the game-winning touchdown on 4th down with 19 seconds left. Young finished the game with 467 total yards to help snap USC’s 34-game winning streak and bring the Longhorns a championship.

Photo: Getty Images