College Football's 25 All-Time Best Rivalry Games

Alex CallosCorrespondent IMay 12, 2013

College Football's 25 All-Time Best Rivalry Games

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    College football has more rivalries than any other sport and over the past 100-plus years, there have been some great rivalry games.

    Many teams have played each other more than 100 times and during that span there have been some thrilling finishes and outstanding games.

    The games on this list are between teams who are historical rivals. It is not necessarily the best 25 games in college football history, but the best rivalry games of all time.

    Here they are. The 25 best rivalry games in college football history.

Honorable Mentions

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    Here are five games that fell just short of making the list.

    Michigan vs. Ohio State: November 18, 2006-This game pitted the top-two teams in the country with a berth in the national championship game on the line. Ohio State came out on top 42-39 in a thriller.

    Texas vs. Texas Tech: November 1, 2008-Texas came into the game No. 1 in the country, but a touchdown by wide receiver Michael Crabtree with one second remaining gave the Red Raiders a 39-33 victory.

    Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia: November 8, 1975-This game was a war as the Backyard Brawl came down to a field-goal in the final seconds, giving the Mountaineers a 17-14 victory.

    Auburn vs. Alabama: December 2, 1972-One of the greatest games in Iron Bowl history was also one of the best comebacks. Auburn trailed 16-0 with ten minutes left in the game, but mounted a dramatic comeback to pull off the upset over No. 2 Alabama. 

    USC vs. UCLA: November 18, 1967-This game was a battle of the top two teams in the Coaches Poll and was close all day long with USC coming out on top 21-20.

No. 25 Florida vs. Miami: September 1, 1984

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    Final Score: Miami 32, Florida 20

    The final score might not indicate it, but this was an excellent game.

    A five-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Kerwin Bell to Frankie Neal gave the Gators a 20-19 lead with only 41 seconds to play. That is when all the drama began.

    Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar quickly got the Hurricanes inside the 20-yard line with 14 seconds to play. A touchdown pass to Eddie Brown put Miami ahead 26-20 with seven seconds.

    A late interception returned for a touchdown by Tolbert Bain made the game look like more of a blowout than it actually was.

    Still, this game kicks off the list at No. 25.

No. 24 USC vs. UCLA: October 20, 1982

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    Final Score: UCLA 20, USC 19

    This historic rivalry has had plenty of excellent games, and near the top of the list is the 1982 battle.

    Both teams came into the game with solid records, and UCLA still had a shot to play in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins were in control until the fourth quarter when USC stormed back from a 20-10 deficit. The Trojans hit a field goal and had the ball at the one-yard line on fourth-and-goal with three seconds remaining, trailing by seven.

    A touchdown pass from quarterback Scott Tinsley to wide receiver Mark Boyer put the Trojans within one and head coach John Robinson decided to go for two. The attempt failed and the Bruins prevailed by a point.

No. 23 Auburn vs. Florida: October 15, 1994

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    Final Score: Auburn 36, Florida 33

    The Auburn and Florida rivalry may not be as well known as a lot of others on the list, but these two teams have a strong dislike for one another.

    No question that the 1994 encounter was the best game of this series. Florida was ranked first in the country, but Auburn came in riding a 17-game winning streak.

    This was a back-and-forth game that appeared to be in Florida's hands as the Gators led by four with less than a minute remaining.

    That was when Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix hit receiver Frank Sanders for an eight-yard touchdown with only 30 seconds remaining. That was enough to allow the Tigers to pull off the upset against the No. 1 team in the nation. 

No. 22 South Carolina vs. Clemson: October 19, 1977

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    Final Score: Clemson 31 South Carolina 27

    This is one of the truly great rivalries in college football and the best game ever played between these two teams took place back in 1977.

    Clemson started out the game on fire jumping out to a 24-0 lead toward the end of the third quarter. That is when things got very interesting as the Gamecocks came back to cut the lead to 24-20 with seven minutes remaining.

    South Carolina got the ball back once again and a touchdown by Philip Logan put them ahead 27-24 with less than two minutes remaining.

    Bad news for South Carolina is they left too much time for Clemson and the Tigers drove down the field—culminating in a 20-yard touchdown reception by Jerry Butler.

    "The Catch" will always be remembered as perhaps the most significant play in this rivalry.

No. 21 Texas vs. Arkansas: October 17, 1987

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    Final Score: Texas 16, Arkansas 14

    This game was once one of the biggest rivalries in college football and the 1987 edition was one of the best in the history of this great rivalry.

    With Texas trailing 14-10 and less than two minutes remaining, the Longhorns drove down the field, but faced a fourth-and-10 on the Arkansas 32-yard line.

    After a few more plays, including a fourth down conversion, the Longhorns were on the 18-yard line with four seconds remaining and had one final chance to pull off the miracle.

    Quarterback Brett Stafford dropped back to pass and hit wide receiver Tony Jones with a pass over the middle. He came down with the ball even after being hit by defensive backs Steve Atwater and Anthony Cooney. He held on and so did Texas for the 16-14 victory.

No. 20 Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss: November 2, 1992

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    Final Score: Ole Miss 17, Mississippi State 10

    Even though these two teams have not been as good as some of the others on the list, the rivalry game in 1992 pitted two 7-3 squads.

    Despite six turnovers by Ole Miss in the first half, the Rebels were still in the game and led 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter.

    A turnover on the three-yard line gave the Bulldogs the ball back with less than two minutes to go and only eight yards left to tie the game. A pass interference gave Ole Miss a first-and-goal at the two-yard line. 

    The Ole Miss defense held, and that series became known as "The Stand" among Rebel faithful.

No. 19 USC vs. Notre Dame: Novemer 25, 1978

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    Final Score: USC 27, Notre Dame 25

    The first game of this historic rivalry to make the list took place back in 1978 and was one of the best games these two teams have ever played.

    USC dominated the first three quarters, leading 24-6 heading into the final 15 minutes.

    That is when Joe Montana took over. The Notre Dame quarterback led the Fighting Irish on two touchdown drives to make it 24-19.

    Notre Dame got the ball back with less than two minutes remaining and Montana once again led the team on a touchdown drive to put Notre Dame ahead 25-24 with only 40 seconds left.

    After a controversial fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass, USC was granted a second life and kicker Frank Jordan banged in a 37-yard field goal to give the Trojans the victory.

No. 18 Ohio State vs. Michigan: November 22, 1969

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    Final Score: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

    Even though this game did not come down to the final seconds, it makes the list because it was one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

    Ohio State came into the contest riding a 26-game winning streak as the defending national champions. Michigan was a great team, but nowhere near as talented as the Buckeyes.

    After Ohio State took control early with a touchdown on its second drive, Michigan responded and took a 7-6 lead due to a missed extra point by Ohio State. This was the first time Ohio State had trailed all season long.

    Michigan took control of the game 24-12 by halftime and that was how it ended.

    The Wolverines forced seven turnovers in the game. Those turnovers were clearly the difference in this one.

No. 17 USC vs. Notre Dame: October 15, 2005

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    Final Score: USC 34, Notre Dame 31

    A game that will forever be known as the "Bush Push," this was certainly one of the greatest games in this storied rivalry.

    With USC trailing 31-28 and less than two minutes remaining, quarterback Matt Leinart completed a fourth-and-nine at his own 26-yard line to wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. Jarrett scampered all the way down to the 13-yard line—setting up some serious drama.

    The Trojans were at the two-yard line with only seven seconds remaining and Leinart appeared to be stopped just short of the goal line. However, running back Reggie Bush pushed him from behind into the end zone for a controversial 34-31 victory.

    The "Bush Push" will live in infamy for years to come.

No. 16 Florida State vs. Miami: October 12, 2002

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    Final Score: Miami 28, Florida State 27

    This is the first of many Florida State vs. Miami games on the list, but unlike many of the others, this one had a slightly different ending than those in past years.

    Coming into the game, Miami was riding a 26-game winning streak and also the defending national champions. Floria State was 5-1 and coming off a loss to Louisville.

    A Miami touchdown with just over five minutes remaining gave the Hurricanes a 28-27 lead. Florida State received the ball one final time with just over two minutes to go and drove down the field with a chance to win the game.

    Kicker Xavier Beitia tried a 43-yard field goal to win the game and, unlike a lot of others in the rivalry, this one ended up wide left.

    Yet another devastating loss for the Seminoles.

No. 15 USC vs. UCLA: November 17, 1990

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    Final Score: USC 45, UCLA 42

    This was a back-and-forth game throughout and the Bruins took a 42-38 lead on a Kevin Smith touchdown run with slightly over a minute remaining.

    A few long passes after starting off the drive slowly put USC at the UCLA 25-yard line with 26 seconds left to play.

    A jumping catch by USC wide receiver Johnny Morton with 16 seconds to play put USC ahead 45-42 and the Trojans were able to hold on after a Hail Mary fell incomplete.

    This game will go down as the greatest in the history of his inter-city rivalry.

No. 14 Notre Dame vs. Michigan: September 20, 1980

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    Final Score: Notre Dame 29, Michigan 27

    This is one of the most storied rivalries in college football and the 1980 contest was the best in the history of the rivalry.

    The teams were not very highly-touted coming into the game and Notre Dame led 26-21 before a Michigan touchdown and a failed two-point conversion put the Wolverines ahead 27-26 with 41 seconds remaining.

    That set the stage for the Fighting Irish as quarterback Blair Kiel drove the team to the 34-yard line with four seconds remaining.

    A 51-yard field goal by Harry Oliver squeaked through the left corner and gave Notre Dame the dramatic win.

    Oliver had missed an extra point earlier in the game, but certainly redeemed himself with this kick.

No. 13 Florida State vs. Miami: October 3, 1992

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    Final Score: Miami 19, Florida State 16

    Yet another excellent game in this storied rivalry. The Hurricanes came out on top in this one.

    A safety put Miami on top 19-16 and Florida State had one final chance to send the game into overtime.

    With a minute and a half to play, Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward moved the offense down the field and, with eight seconds left, kicker Dan Mowery came in to attempt a 39-yard field goal to tie the game.

    He had already made three field goals on the day, but the fourth one sailed wide right. The exact same result Mowery and the Seminoles suffered a season ago.

No. 12 Ohio State vs. Michigan: November 24, 1973

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    Final Score: Ohio State 10, Michigan 10

    In what is perhaps the greatest rivalry in college football, this is the only game on the list that ended in a tie. There was a lot on the line here as both teams came into the game undefeated with a Rose Bowl berth on the line. The Buckeyes were the No. 1 team in the nation and the Wolverines were No. 4.

    Ohio State took a 10-0 lead into the locker room and after Michigan tied the game, quarterback Dennis Franklin was knocked out with a broken collarbone.

    Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler was afraid to pass the ball down the stretch, choosing three running plays before attempting a 58-yard field goal.

    Kicker Mike Lantry missed.

    He received another shot, but missed again from 44 yards out and the game ended in a tie. Certainly a hard one to swallow for the Michigan fans as Ohio State went on to win the Rose Bowl over USC.

No. 11 Alabama vs. Auburn: November 30. 1985

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    Final Score: Alabama 25, Auburn 23

    There are a lot of thrilling games that have been played in this rivalry and this one might just be the best of the bunch.

    Auburn scored a touchdown with less than a minute to go and took a 23-22 lead. A failed two-point conversion gave the Crimson Tide a chance to win the game in regulation with a field goal.

    Alabama converted a fourth-and-four on its own 12-yard line to keep the game alive and was still well in its own territory with 21 seconds remaining. A long pass to the Auburn 35 gave the Crimson Tide a chance for a 50-yard field goal attempt with six seconds remaining.

    Kicker Van Tiffin made his fourth field goal of the game to give the Crimson Tide the victory. Known as "The Kick," this game will forever be remembered by Crimson Tide fans and never forgotten by the Auburn faithful.

No. 10 Florida State vs. Miami: September 16, 1991

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    Final Score: Miami 17, Florida State 16

    Yet another game in this thrilling rivalry, as the Hurricanes came out on top in this one.

    The Seminoles trailed 17-16, but made a nice drive down the field in the closing minutes. A pass interference put the ball at the Miami 18-yard line with under a minute to play.

    Gerry Thomas came in to try a 34-yard field goal in the closing seconds. He hit the ball solid and it appeared to be on its way through the upright.

    It made a little turn right and just missed going in. Wide right once again.

    The width of the goal posts had been narrowed before the 1991 season. Had they been left as they were, the Seminoles would have come out on top.


No. 9 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma: November 25, 1971

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    Final Score: Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31

    Known by some as the "Game of the Century," this battle was the best in this storied rivalry. It pitted the defending national champions in Nebraska, which was the top team in the country, against Oklahoma—which was rated No. 2.

    Nebraska led 28-17 entering the final quarter. That is when things got interesting. Oklahoma fired back and took a 31-28 lead with just over seven minutes remaining.

    A Nebraska touchdown with two minutes to go put Nebraska ahead 35-31 and sealed the victory for the Cornhuskers—preserving their No. 1 ranking.

No. 8 Florida State vs. Miami: October 7, 2000

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    Final Score: Miami 27, Florida State 24

    Both teams were in the top 10 coming into the game and a Chris Weinke touchdown pass gave the Seminoles a 24-20 lead in the final minutes of the game.

    A Ken Dorsey touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey with only 46 seconds to play gave Miami a 27-24 lead.

    The drama was just beginning as Florida State got into field-goal position with a chance to force overtime on the game's final play.

    A 49-yard field goal attempt was wide right, of course, and the Hurricanes prevailed in one of the most thrilling matchups this rivalry has ever seen.

No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia: November 6, 1999

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    Final Score: Virginia Tech 22, West Virginia 20

    Virginia Tech came into the game undefeated and headed for the national championship game.

    West Virginia was struggling mightily at 3-5. That did not stop the Mountaineers from nearly pulling off the upset of the season.

    After a touchdown and a fumble recovery, West Virginia had the ball trailing 19-14 with less than two minutes remaining. It did not take long for a touchdown to put West Virginia ahead 20-19 with just over a minute left on the clock.

    A failed two-point conversion left the door open for Michael Vick. A 24-yard scamper by Vick in the closing seconds set up the game-winning field goal, which Shayne Graham nailed.

    "The Miracle in Morgantown" will never be forgotten.

No. 6 Nebraska vs. Missouri: November 8, 1997

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    Final Score: Nebraska 45, Missouri 38

    Seems like every game has a nickname. This one is known as "Flea Kicker," and is possibly the best rivalry game in Big 12 history.

    The Cornhuskers trailed 38-31 with just seven seconds remaining and the ball at the Missouri 12-yard line. Quarterback Scott Frost fired a pass into the end zone that was broken up by Missouri defensive back Julius Jones, but stayed in the air long enough for wide receiver Matt Davison to make the diving catch and send the game into overtime.

    Nebraska went on to win the game in overtime, and while it was not quite like the "Immaculate Reception," it was not too far off.

No. 5 Michigan State vs. Michigan: November 3, 2011

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    Final Score: Michigan State 26, Michigan 24

    This is one of the most intense in-state rivalries, and the best game the two teams ever played took place back in 2001.

    With the Wolverines leading 24-20 and just over two minutes remaining, Michigan State took over with one final chance. The game appeared to be over before a pass interference call on the Wolverines on fourth-and-16 gave the Spartans a second chance.

    Michigan State got down to the 2-yardline and quarterback Jeff Smoker spiked the ball to stop the clock with one second remaining. Some say the clock ran out, but the Spartans received one more play and Smoker hit running back T.J. Duckett on somewhat of a prayer to win the game on the final play—much to the chagrin of the Michigan faithful.

    The game will forever be remembered as "Clockgate."

No. 4 Georgia vs. Florida: November 8, 1980

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    Final Score: Georgia 26, Florida 21

    The video here speaks for itself as this was one of the craziest endings in college football history.

    It all went down with Georgia trailing 21-20 and slightly more than a minute to go. There were 93 yards of real estate to cover and it was third-and-10.

    Wide receiver Lindsay Scott caught a short pass and broke a few tackles before taking it 93 yards to the house for the winning score.

    Running back Herschel Walker had 238 yards rushing in the game for Georgia.

No. 3 Miami vs. Florida State: October 4, 1987

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    Final Score: Miami 26, Florida State 25

    This was the game that helped propel this rivalry into what it was throughout the '90s and into the 21st century.

    It featured Deion Sanders going against Michael Irvin and was dominated by Florida State at the beginning before a late Miami rally capped off by an Irvin touchdown put Miami up for good.

    The Seminoles drove down the field and scored a touchdown with less than a minute remaining, but head coach Bobby Bowden decided to go for two. The attempt failed causing the Seminoles to fall short by just one point.

    The significance of the game here is what makes it so high on the list.

No. 2 Texas vs. Arkansas: December 6, 1969

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    Final Score: Texas 15, Arkansas 14

    Known by some as the "Game of the Century," this is considered to be one of the best games ever played at the college level.

    It pitted the No. 1 Texas Longhorns against the No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks.

    Texas trailed 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter. The Longhorns put together two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to take a 15-14 lead with under four minutes remaining after a high snap on the extra point almost forced a tie. 

    A Texas interception as Arkansas was driving with less than a minute to go sealed the Longhorns fate and helped propel Texas to the national championship.

No. 1 Stanford vs. California: November 20, 1982

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    Final Score: California 25, Stanford 20

    No question what the top game on this list is. Known affectionately as "The Play," this game is the most historic in college football history.

    With Stanford leading 20-19, the Cardinal appeared well on their way to victory. They kicked the ball off with just a few seconds remaining and we all know what happened from that point on.

    No doubt, this game will live on forever as the greatest in college football history.