College Football

Every Top 25 College Football Team's One Shining Moment

Greg WallaceFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Every Top 25 College Football Team's One Shining Moment

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    Florida State and Jameis Winston enjoyed a shining moment in January.
    Florida State and Jameis Winston enjoyed a shining moment in January.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    When the NCAA tournament’s main bracket tipped off this afternoon, all 64 remaining teams were chasing the ultimate prize: an NCAA men’s basketball championship.  

    But only one team can cut down the nets in AT&T Stadium late on April 7, leaving the other 63 teams wondering what went wrong and how they can make the leap to national champions next spring.

    There is one nice consolation prize, however: One Shining Moment. When CBS’ broadcast wraps up, the iconic basketball anthem plays, as it has every year since 1987, showcasing the tournament’s players, fans, highlights, lowlights and emotional moments.

    Players, coaches and fans alike savor One Shining Moment as the coda to the tournament and college basketball season. It is a perfect way to wrap up March Madness. College football doesn’t have a similar capper, but over the years, plenty of teams have garnered shining moments of their own.

    Here are the top 25 shining moments for college football teams, one for each member of the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for the 2013 season.

No.25 Washington

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    Washington owns a proud college football tradition.
    Washington owns a proud college football tradition.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Huskies own a proud college football tradition, earning pieces of national championships in four seasons: 1960, 1984, 1990 and 1991. However, the program only recognizes two: 1960 and 1991.

    The 1960 team went 10-1 and won a national title from the Helms Athletic Foundation.

    In 1991, defense made the difference. Led by Lombardi and Outland winner Steve Emtman, the  No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NFL draft, the Huskies held foes to fewer than 10 points per game and didn’t allow any foe to score more than 21 points in a single game.

    The Huskies’ crowning achievement was the 1992 Rose Bowl. Facing Big Ten champion Michigan, Washington was dominant, clocking the Wolverines 34-14. Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard was held to one catch, and the Huskies’ dual-quarterback system with Mark Brunell and Billy Joe Hobert helmed a very efficient offense.

    Washington was voted No. 1 in the USA Today/CNN coaches’ poll, while Miami was No.1 in the AP poll. In the pre-BCS era, this meant a split national title, but the Huskies’ shining moment was one to remember.

No.24 Vanderbilt

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    Bryant Hahnfeldt's foot is one Vandy fans will never forget.
    Bryant Hahnfeldt's foot is one Vandy fans will never forget.TODD BENNETT/Associated Press

    Vanderbilt’s football history is, shall we say, modest. The Commodores have never won a recognized national championship, although they do have two unrecognized titles in 1906 and 1911.

    Vandy has not won a conference title since sharing the Southern Conference title in 1922 and 1923.

    Since joining the Southeastern Conference in 1932, Vandy has an overall record of 137-388-19, a sterling .261 winning percentage.

    But over the last decade (and especially the last five years), the Commodores have shown signs of life. Before bolting for Penn State in January, coach James Franklin led Vandy to three consecutive bowl games for the first time in its history and back-to-back nine-win seasons and bowl wins for the first time in program history.
    But before Franklin’s arrival, the stage was set by Bobby Johnson. When Johnson was hired from Furman in 2002, the Commodores hadn’t been to a bowl game in 20 years and hadn’t won a bowl game since defeating Auburn 25-13 in the 1955 Gator Bowl.

    Following a pair of five-win seasons in 2005 and 2007, Johnson finally scraped together six wins in 2008, garnering an invite to the hometown Music City Bowl.

    With 3:26 remaining, kicker Bryant Hahnfeldt nailed a 45-yard field goal to give Vandy a 16-14 lead over Boston College, and the Commodores held on for the victory and a signature moment for the program. It clinched Vandy’s first winning season since 1982.

No.23 Duke

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    Sean Renfree is one of Duke's best quarterbacks ever.
    Sean Renfree is one of Duke's best quarterbacks ever.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Like Vanderbilt, Duke’s football history is also modest, at least in the modern era. The Blue Devils own 10 Southern Conference titles and seven Atlantic Coast Conference titles, but only one since 1962: Steve Spurrier led the Blue Devils to a share of the 1989 ACC title before leaving for Florida’s greener pastures.

    Duke has not won a bowl game since defeating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.

    But coach David Cutcliffe’s arrival has sparked a football renaissance in Durham.

    Following losing records in each of Cutcliffe’s first four seasons, the Blue Devils broke through in 2012. Facing rival North Carolina on Oct. 20, Duke needed one more win for its first bowl bid since 1994. A fourth-quarter rally gave the Tar Heels a 30-26 fourth-quarter lead, but Duke had one final chance.

    On fourth and 2 from the UNC 5, quarterback Sean Renfree rolled out and found Jamison Crowder over the middle for a leaping five-yard touchdown score with 13 seconds left.

    It clinched the Blue Devils’ bowl bid, which they built on in 2013 with a 10-win season and ACC Coastal Division championship.

No.22 Wisconsin

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    Behind coach Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin found national football prominence.
    Behind coach Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin found national football prominence.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Badgers own 14 conference titles in program history, but had slipped into irrelevance when Barry Alvarez took over in 1990. Following a Big Ten title in 1962, only one of the next five coaches finished his tenure with a winning record. Sadly, the only one who did was Dave McClain, who died suddenly of a heart attack in April 1986.

    Alvarez won 15 games in his first three seasons, but broke out in a huge way in 1993. The Badgers went 10-1-1, winning a share of their first league title in 31 years.

    In the 1993 Rose Bowl, tailback Brent Moss rolled up 158 yards on the UCLA defense and Wisconsin hung on for a 21-16 victory.

    It was a sign of things to come. Wisconsin has won five more Big Ten titles since then and taken a pair of Rose Bowl wins. Without Alvarez, none of it would have been possible.

No. 21 Arizona State

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    John Cooper led Arizona State to a special day at the 1987 Rose Bowl.
    John Cooper led Arizona State to a special day at the 1987 Rose Bowl.Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    Arizona State has a proud football tradition, with 17 league titles in the Border, WAC and Pac-10 combined. The Sun Devils had undefeated seasons in 1957, 1970 and 1975 but one of the program’s proudest moments came in 1986.

    Under head coach John Cooper, Arizona State went 10-1-1 and won the Pac-10 title, making the Rose Bowl.

    Big Ten champion Michigan built a 15-3 lead in the second quarter, but the Sun Devils’ defense stiffened from there and didn’t allow a point the rest of the way, taking the lead for good on Jeff Van Raaphorst’s one-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Hill.

No. 20 Notre Dame

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    In 1988, Miami and Notre Dame played one of the most famous college football games ever.
    In 1988, Miami and Notre Dame played one of the most famous college football games ever.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Fighting Irish are one of college football’s most storied and tradition-rich programs. Touchdown Jesus. Knute Rockne. “Win one for the Gipper.”

    When you say these phrases, and many more, fans instantly think of Notre Dame. The Irish own 11 national championships and 874 all-time wins, with the highest overall win percentage in college football history.

    Before the 1988 season, the Irish hadn’t enjoyed an unbeaten season since 1973, and hadn’t won a national championship since 1977.
    That changed thanks to the 1988 Irish. While Notre Dame clinched the national title with a Fiesta Bowl win over No. 3 West Virginia, one game catapulted the Irish towards that crown.

    On Oct. 15, 1988, Notre Dame took on Miami in what has become known as the “Catholics vs. Convicts” game: Notre Dame was the “Catholics” and Miami the “Convicts.”

    With 45 seconds left, Miami scored to pull within 31-30. At the time, college football didn’t have overtime, and an extra point would have likely resulted in a tie. Instead, Miami coach Jimmy Johnson went for two, and Pat Terrell knocked down Steve Walsh’s two-point pass, ending the No. 1 Hurricanes’ 36-game win streak.

No. 19 Southern California

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    Reggie Bush made USC one of the best programs of the last decade.
    Reggie Bush made USC one of the best programs of the last decade.CHRIS CARLSON/Associated Press

    Southern California, without question, is one of the nation's most prosperous and storied football programs. The Trojans own 38 league titles and 11 national championships and are widely regarded as having one of the nation's best traditions.

    However, following the 1978 national championship, the Trojans struggled until Pete Carroll took over in 2001. USC quickly regained national prominence, winning a share of the 2003 national title and going wire-to-wire as No. 1 in 2004, including a dominant 55-19 whipping of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, which served as the BCS national title game.

    The BCS eventually stripped that title due to probation and recruiting violations connected with star tailback Reggie Bush, but it can't take the memories from Trojan fans. 

     

No.18 Texas A&M

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    Johnny Manziel was one of college football's most dynamic players while at Texas A&M.
    Johnny Manziel was one of college football's most dynamic players while at Texas A&M.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Texas A&M owns a strong football history with three national titles (in 1919, 1927 and 1939) and 18 conference championships. However, the Aggies slipped into mediocrity following a 1998 Big 12 title under R.C. Slocum’s watch.

    From 1999-2011, A&M won only two bowl games and didn’t finish higher than 19th in the final AP Top 25. That changed quickly under new coach Kevin Sumlin in 2012.

    Sumlin and freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel quickly brought the Aggies back to relevance entering a Nov. 10 visit to No. 1 Alabama. A&M was an underdog, but quickly proved it belonged, building a 20-0 lead. The most famous play was Manziel’s field-crossing, scrambling 10-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Swope, which saw him bobble the ball and elude Crimson Tide defenders before finding Swope open in the end zone.

    Manziel threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns and added 92 rushing yards, and the Aggies had their second win ever over a top-ranked team. It was Manziel’s Heisman moment and the key moment of an 11-2 season that saw the Aggies finish No. 5 in the final AP poll.

No.17 Oklahoma State

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    The 2012 Fiesta Bowl was a breakthrough night for Oklahoma State.
    The 2012 Fiesta Bowl was a breakthrough night for Oklahoma State.PAUL CONNORS/Associated Press

    Oklahoma State has enjoyed periods of success, winning three league titles, including the Missouri Valley title in 1926 and the Big Eight title in 1976. However, the Cowboys have had trouble sustaining success until recently. In 1988, Oklahoma State won 10 games and future NFL Hall of Fame tailback Barry Sanders set a college football record with 2,628 rushing yards, winning the Heisman Trophy.

    One year later, the Cowboys were hit with a major NCAA probation for recruiting violations that stripped 20 scholarships over four years and banned them from live television appearances for two years.

    They didn’t win 10 games again until 2010, compiling a 10-2 record under coach Mike Gundy.

    One year later, the Cowboys broke through to win a Big 12 title, the program’s first league title in 35 years.

    They engaged in a classic Fiesta Bowl shootout against Stanford, eventually taking a wild 41-38 overtime victory that gave the program its first BCS bowl game win. It was truly a special moment for Gundy, and the second of three 10-win seasons in his OSU tenure.

No. 16 UCLA

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    Eric Ball had a day to remember in the 1986 Rose Bowl.
    Eric Ball had a day to remember in the 1986 Rose Bowl.Lennox McLendon/Associated Press

    UCLA owns a proud football tradition. The Bruins own 17 conference titles between the Pac-12, Pac-10 and its predecessors, and play in one of college football’s most storied stadiums in the Rose Bowl.

    But UCLA owns only one national title for its trouble, claiming the coaches’ poll in 1954. However, that year they didn’t even play in the Rose Bowl: the Rose Bowl then had a “no repeat” policy which prevented teams from playing in the game in consecutive seasons, and the Bruins had already been there following the 1953 season.

    So Southern Cal went in the Bruins’ place, taking a loss to eventual national co-champion Ohio State.

    The Bruins have had their share of ups and downs in the last 17 years, but have still managed four 10-win seasons, a pair of Pac-10 titles and a pair of Pac-12 South titles.

    But their last Rose Bowl win came in 1986.

    No. 4 Iowa came in with a 10-1 record, while UCLA was 8-2-1. However, senior tailback Ronnie Harmon (who had fumbled only once in the regular season) fumbled four times. UCLA freshman Eric Ball rushed for 227 yards and tied a Rose Bowl record with four touchdowns, and the Bruins defeated Iowa 45-28. It was one of the greatest moments in Bruins gridiron history.

No.15 Louisville

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    Louisville had a program-defining night in the 2007 Orange Bowl.
    Louisville had a program-defining night in the 2007 Orange Bowl.Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Louisville owns a long football tradition with eight conference championships spread over three leagues (the Missouri Valley, Conference USA and Big East). But the Cardinals have really only become nationally prominent in the last 15 years.

    Howard Schnellenberger pumped life into the program in the mid-80s and led the Cardinals to a Fiesta Bowl win in 1990, but finished his tenure with a sub-.500 record. John L. Smith compiled a 41-21 record and took the Cardinals to five bowl games from 1998-2002, but Bobby Petrino elevated the program to true prominence in a short four-year tenure.

    In Petrino’s second season in 2004, the Cardinals went 11-1, won the Liberty Bowl and finished No.6 nationally.

    2006 was even better. Louisville finished the regular season with only one defeat, a last-second 28-25 loss at Rutgers, and represented the Big East in the 2007 Orange Bowl. There, the Cardinals defeated Wake Forest 24-13, scoring the game’s final 14 points to secure the win.

    It was Louisville’s first BCS bowl win. Less than a week later, Petrino left Louisville to coach the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Seven years later, the prodigal son has returned, and it’ll be fascinating to see what he can do this time around.

No. 14 LSU

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    LSU tailback Justin Vincent had a game to remember in the 2004 BCS Championship Game.
    LSU tailback Justin Vincent had a game to remember in the 2004 BCS Championship Game.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Tigers have a very strong gridiron tradition, owning 17 conference championships in their history, including 14 Southeastern Conference titles.

    They own three national titles, but after their first one in 1958, the Bayou Bengals didn’t return to true national prominence until Nick Saban arrived from Michigan State in 2000.

    Saban quickly restored the roar in Death Valley, winning the 2001 SEC title. In 2003, the Tigers made the BCS national title game, playing in the nearby Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma.

    Defense carried the day, as LSU harassed Heisman Trophy winner Jason White into a 102-yard passing night, completing 13-of-37 attempts. Tailback Justin Vincent ran for 117 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers claimed the No. 1 spot in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, but Southern California was ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press, creating a rare split national championship.

    However, given the length between national championships, it was still a special moment for the Tigers’ program.

No.13 Baylor

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    Baylor and Robert Griffin III had a wild night in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.
    Baylor and Robert Griffin III had a wild night in the 2011 Alamo Bowl.Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Baylor has enjoyed its share of football success, even before Art Briles’ recent successful run. The Bears own eight conference championships, seven in the old Southwest Conference.

    But following legendary coach Grant Teaff’s departure, the program hit a dry spell. 2010 marked the program’s first bowl bid since 1994, and the Bears built on that in 2011 behind dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III.

    In the 2011 Alamo Bowl, the Bears engaged in a classic Texas shootout with Washington. The two teams combined for the highest-scoring regulation game in bowl history, with Baylor taking a wild 67-56 win.

    Griffin III threw for 295 yards and a touchdown, and tailback Terence Ganaway rushed for 200 yards and five touchdowns. It was a sign that Baylor football was back on the national stage.

No.12 Ohio State

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    Maurice Clarett and Ohio State took a stunning 2002 national title win.
    Maurice Clarett and Ohio State took a stunning 2002 national title win.TED S. WARREN/Associated Press

    Ohio State is one of the nation’s most storied programs. The Buckeyes have seven national titles and 36 league titles, including an incredible 34 Big Ten titles. Ohio Stadium is one of college football’s most venerable stadiums, and the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is considered by many as college football’s best rivalry.

    But 2002 was truly special. The Buckeyes hadn’t won a national title since 1970 when they faced off against Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which was also the BCS national title game.

    The ’02 Buckeyes were defense-first, and regulation ended in a 17-17 tie. In the first overtime, Miami took a 24-17 lead and appeared to stop the Buckeyes on fourth and goal in the end zone. But the Hurricanes were flagged for a controversial pass interference call, and quarterback Craig Krenzel scored a game-tying touchdown.

    In the second overtime, freshman tailback Maurice Clarett scored a five-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes the lead for good, and Ohio State held on for a stunning 31-24 double-overtime victory. No matter how it looked, Ohio State had a national title.

No. 11 Stanford

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    The 2011 Orange Bowl was a special night for Stanford's program.
    The 2011 Orange Bowl was a special night for Stanford's program.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Cardinal has a longstanding football tradition, with 14 league titles and a pair of national championships (in 1926 and 1940).

    Under David Shaw, Stanford has won back-to-back Pac-12 titles and made the Rose Bowl both seasons, winning the game in 2012. However, the Cardinals’ highest national ranking since 1940 came under Jim Harbaugh.

    Harbaugh took over a program which had gone 16-40 in its last five seasons under Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris and quickly restored a winning tradition. The Cardinal went 4-8 and 5-7 in his first two seasons, but took an 8-5 record and Sun Bowl bid in 2009.

    2010 was truly special. The Cardinal finished the regular season 11-1, with the only loss to BCS runner-up Oregon. They faced off against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and demolished the Hokies 40-12. Stanford finished No. 4 in the final BCS poll.

    The Orange Bowl was Harbaugh’s final game. He left to become the head coach of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, but left Stanford fans with a great memory.

No.10 Central Florida

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    Blake Bortles and Central Florida dismantled Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
    Blake Bortles and Central Florida dismantled Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Knights are newcomers to college football’s highest level, having only been a FBS/Division I-A program since 1996. Their biggest moment, therefore, is easy to find and recent.

    Last fall, UCF took the new American Athletic Conference by storm, posting an 11-1 record with its only loss coming to South Carolina, which finished in the top 5 in the final national polls.

    That earned the Knights their first-ever BCS bowl bid and they didn’t disappoint.
    Behind junior quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 15 Knights dominated Baylor offensively, taking a 52-42 win over the No. 5 Bears.

    Bortles completed 20-of-31 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns and added 93 rushing yards and a touchdown. It was a special night for the Knights, and the biggest win in program history.

No. 9 Oregon

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    Oregon won its first Rose Bowl in 95 years in a shootout over Wisconsin.
    Oregon won its first Rose Bowl in 95 years in a shootout over Wisconsin.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Over the past decade, Oregon has become known for fast-tempo, fast-break football. But the Ducks also have past success to draw on, with 11 league titles in their history.

    2010 marked the Ducks’ closest brush with a national title, as they went 12-0 and fell to Auburn on a last-second field goal in the BCS National Championship Game.

    The 2011 season was also special. Oregon hadn’t won a Rose Bowl since 1917, but qualified after beating UCLA in the first-ever Pac-12 title game.

    In the 2012 Rose Bowl, the Ducks faced Wisconsin and engaged in a classic shootout. Wisconsin led 38-35 going into the fourth quarter, but Oregon shut out the Badgers, scoring the game’s final 10 points for a hard-earned 45-38 win and the program’s first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years.

No.8 Clemson

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    Danny Ford led Clemson to its only national title in 1981.
    Danny Ford led Clemson to its only national title in 1981.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Clemson football has a long and storied history from the Danny Ford era to the recent resurgence under Dabo Swinney’s watch. The Tigers own 18 conference championships in their history, 14 in the ACC.

    But it is impossible to argue with the program’s finest moment.

    In 1978 Ford, then an unknown assistant under Charley Pell, took over the program after Pell left for Florida.

    He quickly took the Tigers to a new level, and the 1981 season was truly special. Using a defense-first brand of football, Clemson finished the regular season 11-0 and earned an Orange Bowl bid against Nebraska.

    The Tigers fell behind early 7-3, but quickly built a 22-7 lead on a Cliff Austin touchdown run and Homer Jordan’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Perry Tuttle.

    Clemson held on for a 22-15 win that clinched the national title, which is still the program’s only national crown to this day.

No. 7 Alabama

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    George Teague's strip of Miami is one of Alabama's most famous plays ever.
    George Teague's strip of Miami is one of Alabama's most famous plays ever.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Alabama might be the nation’s most tradition-rich, storied program. The Crimson Tide owns 27 conference championships and 15 national championships, and plays in 101,821-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium.

    It is hard to pick out just one moment from the Crimson Tide’s history, but one in particular does stand out.

    In 1992, Alabama had a 13-year national title drought going when it compiled a 12-0 record, winning the Southeastern Conference title and earning a Sugar Bowl date against undefeated Miami.

    The Crimson Tide was a decided underdog, but dominated the Hurricanes in a 34-13 victory, intercepting Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta three times.

    The game’s most famous play came when Alabama defensive back George Teague caught Miami wideout Lamar Thomas from behind on what looked like a long touchdown pass, stripping the ball from behind and running the other way. Thomas’ strip was negated by an Alabama offsides penalty, but it was one of the most famous moments in program history.

No. 6 Oklahoma

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    Bob Stoops has led Oklahoma back to national prominence.
    Bob Stoops has led Oklahoma back to national prominence.Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Oklahoma is synonymous with college football tradition. The Sooners own seven national titles and 44 league championships, and are recognized as one of the nation’s top programs.

    Still, after Barry Switzer’s controversial departure in the late 1980s, the program struggled with no league or national titles until Bob Stoops took over in 1999.

    Stoops, formerly Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator at Florida, quickly changed that. He led the Sooners to an unbeaten record in 2000, earning an Orange Bowl bid against Florida State.

    There, Oklahoma was dominant defensively, shutting down the Seminoles in a stunning 13-2 victory.

    It was the Sooners’ greatest football moment of the last 30 years, and a truly special night for Oklahoma in south Florida.

No. 5 Missouri

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    Missouri and Shane Ray enjoyed a special season in 2013.
    Missouri and Shane Ray enjoyed a special season in 2013.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Missouri has a solid football tradition, owning 15 conference championships (12 in the old Big Eight).

    Longtime coach Gary Pinkel led the Tigers to a 12-2 record and No. 5 BCS finish in 2007, but a 5-7 record in the program’s first SEC season in 2012 led to some grumbling from fans.

    That changed last fall. The Tigers ran to a special 12-2 season, with the only SEC regular-season loss coming in overtime to South Carolina, 27-24. Auburn ran past Mizzou 59-42 in the SEC title game, but the Tigers still had a Cotton Bowl showdown with high-powered Oklahoma State.
    Mizzou trailed 31-27 with 5:04 left, but scored the game’s final 14 points, including Shane Ray’s 73-yard fumble return score to seal the win with 55 seconds left. It wasn’t a BCS win, but it was still a moment and a season to savor. The Tigers finished No. 5 in the final BCS poll.

No. 4 South Carolina

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    South Carolina and Steve Spurrier had a special day in Orlando on Jan. 1, 2012.
    South Carolina and Steve Spurrier had a special day in Orlando on Jan. 1, 2012.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Until recently, South Carolina’s gridiron history was, shall we say, checkered. The Gamecocks have only two league titles in their history, taking the 1933 Southern Conference title and the 1969 ACC title. Their first bowl win came in the 1995 Carquest Bowl.

    But outspoken coach Steve Spurrier has built something truly special in Columbia. After winning between six and eight games in each of his first five seasons, Spurrier and the Gamecocks won nine in 2010 and truly broke through in 2011.

    The Gamecocks finished 10-2 and earned a bid to the 2012 Capital One Bowl against Nebraska, where they dominated the Cornhuskers, 30-13.

    It marked South Carolina’s first-ever 11-win season and clinched the program’s first-ever top-10 finish in the final polls. It was no fluke: South Carolina has followed that up with two more 11-win seasons and Capital One Bowl wins, establishing itself as a national power.

No. 3 Michigan State

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    Connor Cook and Michigan State had a special day at the 2014 Rose Bowl.
    Connor Cook and Michigan State had a special day at the 2014 Rose Bowl.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Spartans have been a strong Midwestern football power, earning 10 league titles (eight in the Big Ten) and six national championships (1951, 1952, 1955, 1957 and 1966). But one of their greatest moments came last fall. Under coach Mark Dantonio’s watch, the Spartans ran up a 12-1 regular season record, with the only loss coming to Notre Dame.

    In the Big Ten title game, they ended Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak, denying the Buckeyes a spot in the BCS National Championship.

     And in the Rose Bowl, the Spartans, a defense-first, run-oriented team, faced their mirror image in Stanford.

    Connor Cook’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Tony Lippett with 13:22 left broke a 17-17 tie, and MSU held on for a hard-fought 24-20 win over Stanford. It was the Spartans’ 13th win of the season, setting a school record for victories. It was only the Big Ten’s second Rose Bowl win since 2000, and a truly special moment for Michigan State football.

No. 2 Auburn

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    Michael Dyer's heads-up run helped Auburn clinch a BCS title.
    Michael Dyer's heads-up run helped Auburn clinch a BCS title.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    In football-mad Alabama, Auburn has traditionally taken a backseat to tradition-rich rival Alabama. But the Tigers have had plenty of special moments of their own.

    Auburn owns 14 league titles in its history, including eight in the Southeastern Conference.

    But no year was as satisfying as 2010. Behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, Auburn had an unbeaten regular season, highlighted by a Newton-led comeback from a 24-0 second-quarter deficit at Alabama.

    Auburn faced off against fellow unbeaten Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship, and while the two teams were known for offense, defense ruled in the Arizona desert.

    With time running down, freshman tailback Michael Dyer rolled off an apparent tackle for a 37-yard gain, setting up Wes Byrum’s final-play field goal that lifted Auburn to a 22-19 victory.

    It was anything but easy, but Auburn had a BCS national title to savor in spectacular fashion.

No. 1 Florida State

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    Freshman Jameis Winston proved his worth on college football's biggest stage.
    Freshman Jameis Winston proved his worth on college football's biggest stage.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Florida State began its program in 1947, but the Seminoles have established themselves as one of college football’s true national powers. The Seminoles own 17 league titles (14 in the ACC) and three national championships. Coach Bobby Bowden owns 377 career victories, putting him atop college football’s all-time victories list ahead of Joe Paterno.

    But the Seminoles’ true “shining moment” came in January. Behind freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, as well as great defense, Florida State fashioned an unbeaten regular season and earned a date against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.

    Following a back-and-forth fourth quarter, Auburn took a 31-27 lead with 1:19 left, but Winston had one drive left. A fourth-down pass interference call in the end zone gave Florida State life, and Winston connected with a leaping Kelvin Benjamin for a two-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left for a wild 34-31 win.

    It was truly a special moment for Florida State, and for college football at large.

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