25 Most Electrifying College Football Games of 2012

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIDecember 17, 2012

25 Most Electrifying College Football Games of 2012

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    Looking back at the 2012 college football season, there are roughly 35 games that truly stand out as meaningful, entertaining and important. For the list of 25, you will notice that almost all of them had conference championship implications, some had national championship implications and some were simply great games that weren't decided until late in the process.

    Adrenaline-inducing matches between college football powerhouses are exactly what bring us back to the table month after month, season after season. There are few feelings like watching a game that lasts until the last second (or overtime, of course), especially if the underdog wins or overachieves in its loss.

    From the marquee season opener to the conference championships, here are the 25 most electrifying college football games of the 2012 season.

25. Oregon Ducks at USC Trojans

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    The Oregon Ducks entered this game with an 8-0 record and only one major defensive accomplishment, which was a shutout against the Arizona Wildcats early in the season.

    This game electrified both sets of fans because USC's offense finally looked good and Oregon's offense proved that it could outgun some of the most talented players in the nation.

    Oregon emerged victorious and had a firm grasp on a berth in the national championship game at 9-0. Two high-flying offenses gave us a combined score of 113 points and an entire evening of entertainment in the process.

    Final Score: Oregon 62, USC 51

24. Texas A&M Aggies at Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    Texas A&M played its postponed game against Louisiana Tech in Week 7 (as opposed to Week 1), and the shootout was one of the best of the year.

    While the play was called back for a penalty, Johnny Manziel began his Heisman campaign with a feat that has yet to be duplicated this season: Following a turnover, Manziel stripped the ball from a Bulldog, another Bulldog recovered it, and Manziel threw off the original ball-carrier and chased down the second.

    That's right, a quarterback made two impressive defensive displays in one play. "Johnny Football" emerged as one of the most talented players in the game, and he instantly became a player to watch.

    At the time, nobody figured he'd have a true shot at the Heisman in his freshman season.

    Final Score: Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57

23. Nebraska Cornhuskers at UCLA Bruins

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    Nebraska and UCLA was one of the best battles of the week, as many programs were still shaking the summer rust off against FCS or lower-tier FBS squads.

    Nebraska was in the hunt for the Big Ten title from the beginning of the season, and UCLA wasn't really on the map in the Pac-12. (Last season's Pac-12 title game appearance was due to the fact that USC was disallowed from participating.)

    UCLA established itself as a threat to any team by taking down the 'Huskers against expectations. UCLA was expected to be improving, but not nearly this quickly.

    This electrified Pac-12 and UCLA Bruins fans, because it meant that UCLA had at least an outside shot at the Pac-12 title.

    Final Score: UCLA 36, Nebraska 30

22. Clemson Tigers at Florida State Seminoles

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    Thanks to Virginia Tech completely dropping its season, this was the only ACC heavyweight battle of the season, and the victor would emerge with a shot at a national title. While both offenses put on a show, Florida State's defense certainly proved that it might be able to do just enough to make it to Miami in January.

    Florida State took down the Clemson Tigers, and the Seminoles looked more than just good by hanging almost 50 points on Clemson that night. Florida State fans were elated to find their team well inside the AP Top 10 after this win.

    Final Score: Florida State 49, Clemson 37

21. West Virginia Mountaineers at Texas Longhorns

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    By the time West Virginia met Texas, the Mountaineers had already made waves in the Big 12. West Virginia had proved itself to be devoid of defense, though, and Texas was expected to get a narrow victory via its own defense.

    West Virginia took down a perennial Big 12 powerhouse when it beat the Texas Longhorns, and the nation took notice. After dropping Texas, the Mountaineers were up to 5-0 with wins over two ranked teams out of their new conference.

    Final Score: West Virginia 48, Texas 45

20. Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Though this game was not as close as the one on the previous slide, the game was far more electric. The Texas vs. West Virginia matchup was full of mistakes by both teams, and the result was more due to Texas losing than it was the Mountaineers winning.

    In this game, however, the defenses refused to do anything after the first quarter. That's saying a lot, because the score at the end of the first was 14-14. As the game progressed, the defenses could not find a way to even slow the opposing offenses down, and the score evidenced that.

    One of the most exciting games of the Big 12 season featured Geno Smith taking over the Heisman race with a performance of over 650 passing yards and eight touchdowns. The amazing thing was that the game was still undecided halfway through the fourth quarter.

    Final Score: West Virginia 70, Baylor 63

19. USC Trojans at Stanford Cardinal

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    USC entered the season as the favorite to end the SEC's national-title streak. The first test was presumed to be against the Stanford Cardinal, but the Cardinal had lost Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener to the NFL draft. That meant that the test should not have been that difficult to pass for the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.

    Stanford's defense decided that USC was not going to win, and it made that evident by holding the mighty Matt Barkley to only 14 points. This electrified fans of any Pac-12 team other than USC, and it especially put some juice into the Stanford Cardinal fanbase.

    Final Score: Stanford 21, USC 14

18. South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Tigers

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    The South Carolina vs. Clemson game was one of two major SEC vs. ACC matches of rivalry weekend. (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech was a much bigger mismatch than either of the other two.)

    South Carolina had everything to gain by beating Clemson in the Palmetto State Championship, and South Carolina ended up landing in the Outback Bowl against Michigan by not losing to the Tigers.

    South Carolina's season was marred only by a pair of losses to BCS Top 10 teams, LSU and Florida. The win over Clemson gave the Gamecocks a shot at yet another 11-win season.

    Final Score: South Carolina 27, Clemson 17

17. Michigan Wolverines at Ohio State Buckeyes

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    The 2012 edition of "The Game" yielded more entertainment value than any statistician would have predicted. While it could have been a blowout in either direction, depending on which version of either team showed up, both teams brought true rivalry-weekend quality performances and played a close game.

    It wasn't an overtime thriller or a game that ended on a last-second field-goal attempt, but it was certainly one of the best games of the week and definitely deserving of a spot on this list.

    Ohio State finished the season 12-0 by defeating the Wolverines, and it could still earn the AP national championship if Alabama barely beats Notre Dame in Miami later on. (A blowout would clearly earn the title for 'Bama, and a Notre Dame win would earn the Irish every national championship available to be awarded.)

    Final Score: Ohio State 26, Michigan 21

16. Florida Gators at Florida State Seminoles

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    The other great SEC vs. ACC match of rivalry weekend was the battle between the two once-national-championship hopefuls out of the Sunshine State.

    Florida and Florida State took each other on in what was a battle for the BCS. If Florida State beat the Gators, there was a great shot at a major bowl, and a Florida win guaranteed a spot in the BCS picture.

    Florida State entered the fourth quarter with a 20-13 lead and what looked like momentum. Of course, momentum only means something if you think it means something, and Florida responded by outscoring the Seminoles, 24-6, in the final period to wrest the win from the hands of Florida State.

    Final Score: Florida 37, Florida State 26

15. Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at Arkansas Razorbacks

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    By far, the most electrifying win in Louisiana-Monroe's history came in 2012 against the then-No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks. The Warhawks showed up to play football, and the Razorbacks just showed up to...well, nobody knows what that was.

    The mighty SEC West Division power could not stop the Warhawks from putting hit after hit on quarterback Tyler Wilson, and he was eventually knocked out of the game. After the signal-caller was pulled from the game, it was left in the hands of the head coach.

    There was only one problem with that: The head coach was John L. Smith. Arkansas did well to manage overtime against the better-prepared Warhawks, but that's not saying a lot for a perennial SEC contender.

    Final Score: Louisiana-Monroe 34, Arkansas 31 (OT)

14. Oregon State Beavers at UCLA Bruins

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    Oregon State's second upset of the season came one week after the first, and this time it was against the eventual Pac-12 South Division champion. UCLA hosted the Beavers but could not find a way to counter the Oregon State attack.

    The Beavers put a field goal on the board roughly five minutes into the game, and they never looked back. UCLA would put together a decent attempt at a comeback in the fourth quarter, but it could only manage to pull within seven points with under two minutes left. UCLA never held the lead in the match.

    Final Score: Oregon State 27, UCLA 20

13. Wisconsin Badgers at Oregon State Beavers

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    In the Pac-12, there are nationally recognized names, historically recognizable names and names that mean almost nothing to the crowd of football fans under the age of 25.

    Oregon State fell into the last category until the season opener against Wisconsin in Week 2. (The original season opener against Nicholls State was postponed.) Oregon State put itself on the map in a big way by holding the legendary Montee Ball to only 61 yards on 15 carries and zero touchdowns.

    Oregon State fans began to taste hope. As mentioned in the previous slide, the Beavers got it against UCLA the next week.

    Final Score: Oregon State 10, Wisconsin 7

12. Big Ten Championship: Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers

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    The Big Ten Championship featured divisional-champion Nebraska against divisional third-place Wisconsin. Since Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible for the postseason, the Badgers got to go instead.

    Wisconsin proceeded to make the most of the opportunity by sending Montee Ball on a 200-plus-yard manhunt for the end zone. He found his target three times, and the Badgers found the end zone 10 times in 60 minutes.

    Ball electrified the nation with his performance, and if you checked into the game even just once, you probably witnessed exactly why. Wisconsin secured its third straight Rose Bowl appearance, and that has not been done since the Michigan Wolverines did it 40 years ago.

    Final Score: Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31

11. Pac-12 Championship: UCLA Bruins at Stanford Cardinal

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    UCLA lost to Stanford so badly the week before this game that some thought it was possibly a thrown game to avoid playing Oregon here in the conference title game. (Personally, I suspected that but was reserving the article idea to use if UCLA demolished Stanford the second time to avoid starting a riot or three...or losing credibility, as Simon seems to have done.)

    What happened instead was a great game that was decided by a field goal in the fourth quarter. Stanford kicked it with over six minutes left, and the rest of the game was defense. At every turn, a simple score could change the face of the Rose Bowl, and that puts a tension on any game that's well worth the ticket price.

    Final Score: Stanford 27, UCLA 24

10. Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame entered the season unranked with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. As the season wore on, the Big Ten portion of the schedule appeared weaker and weaker, but the other major matches looked the opposite.

    The Stanford win was the first time that Notre Dame beat somebody who actually had a signature win. Stanford had already knocked the USC Trojans off the pedestal when Notre Dame hosted the Cardinal.

    Notre Dame had already made a splash in the headlines by this point in the season, but this was the game that gave Irish fans true hope for more than "just" a BCS bowl. This gave them hope for a shot at the crystal football.

    There was a logjam of undefeated squads in front of them, but they could make it with a little luck...

    Final Score: Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13 (OT)

9. Michigan Wolverines vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (Neutral Site)

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    Michigan vs. Alabama was the talk of the offseason. Wherever you turned, there were minor discussions about South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt and even less-lengthy discussions about Boise State vs. Michigan State.

    Other than those two change-of-pace topics, the subject was the Wolverines vs. the Crimson Tide. Who was going to blow out whom? Was it going to be an overtime thriller? Nobody knew, but the anticipation gave the game a larger-than-life feel.

    When the game got underway, the only downside was that Fitzgerald Toussaint was not suiting up for the Wolverines.

    This was the marquee game of the first week since last season's national championship. There are few games more electric than that all season, and we'll get to those games right now.

    Final Score: Alabama 41, Michigan 14

8. Alabama Crimson Tide at LSU Tigers

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    Alabama's overall performance against the LSU Tigers left something to be desired. However, 'Bama's strike at the end of the first half took less than a minute, and it put them in a commanding 14-3 lead.

    LSU returned the two touchdowns over the second half, and the Tigers were ahead of the Tide with just over a minute left for Alabama to answer. Oregon and Kansas State were looking like national-championship favorites for about 60 seconds.

    A.J. McCarron led a game-winning drive in 43 seconds that put the Tide up by four points for good. The season was saved...or was it?

    Final Score: Alabama 21, LSU 17

7. Florida State Seminoles at NC State Wolfpack

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    Florida State was in control of its own destiny entering this game. While the Seminoles did need a little luck to get into the national title game, a Top Five ranking was certainly nothing to sneeze at. (Especially now that we know how the rest of the contenders' seasons played out.)

    Florida State just had to maintain focus and play at 100 percent for the rest of the season to get at least some healthy consideration for the national championship.

    What happened was a game that was cut into almost every other college football game being aired on ESPN at that moment. NC State orchestrated a lead-stealing drive that put the outcome in the hands of a Florida State offense that had only managed 16 points so far in the game.

    Florida State's national championship hopes were dashed, but NC State had new life breathed into its home field with the stunning win.

    Final Score: NC State 17, Florida State 16

6. Kansas State Wildcats at Baylor Bears

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    When Kansas State rolled on over to Baylor for this game, it was the BCS No. 1. (We will cover how that happened on a later slide.) Baylor was nursing a 4-5 record at the time and theoretically shouldn't have been in the game.

    As mentioned earlier, Baylor had proved its offense against West Virginia. Although the Mountaineers had a horrific defense, it was eye-popping to see the Baylor Bears keep up with the then-Heisman favorite Geno Smith.

    Baylor's Nick Florence and Terrance Williams teamed up to destroy any hopes Kansas State once had of making it to Miami. It's one thing to drop a game, but to lose that badly to an unranked team with a losing record is the type of thing a squad can't overcome. (Oklahoma State proved that last season against Iowa State.)

    Fans of Notre Dame were over the moon for the loss, as it placed the Irish firmly in second place in the BCS, as long as they could just keep winning.

    Final Score: Baylor 52, Kansas State 24

5. Stanford Cardinal at Oregon Ducks

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    Kansas State and Oregon were taking on Baylor and Stanford, respectively, at the same time. As Kansas State was clearly falling to the Bears, Oregon was having more than a little trouble with Stanford.

    Oregon scored first, but Stanford eventually answered. Oregon scored again, and Stanford again answered. As the game went into overtime, the stadium was thick with tension. If Oregon could simply pull off the win, it would be a Notre Dame vs. Oregon national championship as long as both teams could win out.

    All Oregon had to do was win in order to keep the SEC out of Miami and far away from a seventh national title in a row. What happened was horrifying for any anti-SEC fan to watch: Stanford pulled off the three-point win in overtime and put the national championship back into the hands of the SEC.

    Alabama, Florida and Georgia were all now standing behind the Irish for the national title, and there were a limited number of scenarios that left all three of those teams on the outside of the stadium in January.

    Final Score: Stanford 17, Oregon 14 (OT)

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Oklahoma Sooners

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    Notre Dame's "on-the-radar" win against Stanford has already been covered, but that was a long time ago in the slideshow. The Oklahoma game was far more exciting for college football fans. Leading up to this game, there was a ton of talk about Oklahoma's home-field advantage, the Sooners' record and their talent level.

    Notre Dame supposedly had no chance against the Sooners, but it was understood that a win in Norman would solidify their ranking near the top of the BCS. Notre Dame, as usual, took all the "you can't possibly do this" chatter and turned it into something you could barely call a win.

    A win is what Notre Dame got against Purdue, Pittsburgh and Stanford (among others). What happened to Oklahoma was a beatdown. Irish fans now weren't just hopeful to make the title game, they were hopeful to win it.

    Final Score: Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 13

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish at USC Trojans

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    Notre Dame yet again showed up to a game it was originally not supposed to win, this time against USC in California. The only reason the Irish were considered competitive with USC was the fact that Matt Barkley would not be the starting quarterback for the Trojans.

    You can debate the quality of the win all you want, but it was a win. The Irish put up goal-line stands, offense and defense all night long. Every time Notre Dame won a little battle in the game, you could hear the Irish smiling.

    The bigger battles produced cheers, and the outcome produced tears of joy for the first time in about 20 years. Notre Dame became the only eligible undefeated team with this win, and there was now nothing standing between the Golden Domers and the date in Miami with, well, whoever was going to be there.

    Final Score: Notre Dame 22, USC 13

2. Texas A&M Aggies at Alabama Crimson Tide

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    This games comes in at No. 2 on the list, and rightly so due to the following:

    1. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman with his performance in this game. (And did not screw his campaign up for the rest of the season, of course.)
    2. The SEC was knocked out of the title picture.
    3. Nobody had to hear about how great Alabama was for a few days.

    Alabama finally lost a game due to its lackluster performance on defense, and everyone from South Bend, Ind., to Eugene, Ore., was thrilled with the outcome.

    This game signaled the end of the SEC's reign of terror and grip on the crystal football. Finally, there were three undefeated teams at the top of the rankings, and none of them were from the SEC.

    That, combined with the fact that the game came down to a potential final Alabama drive that was thwarted by a penalty, puts this game solidly at No. 2. Every anti-Alabama and anti-SEC fan was ecstatic to see the Tide fall.

    Final Score: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24

1. SEC Championship: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Not only was this the most electrifying game of the season, it was also one of the most electrifying games in recent memory. It was most certainly a football game that even the most casual fan could enjoy.

    After Georgia got out to an early 7-0 lead, there were five lead changes in the match. Alabama and Georgia engaged in a true chess match that featured a lot of piece capturing. The final play of the game was a dual-fade to the end zone by Georgia's Aaron Murray.

    Murray's pass was tipped, and it landed in the hands of the faded receiver that was standing four yards short of the end zone. He slipped and fell in-bounds, and time expired before Georgia could get another play off.

    Georgia fell four yards short of an appearance in the national championship game, and it took every second of the 60 minutes for this game to be decided.

    Final Score: Alabama 32, Georgia 28