College Football's Five Greatest Games Since the 80s

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College Football's Five Greatest Games Since the 80s
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

This weekend will provide us with some of the great rivalry games (USC vs. Notre Dame/Texas vs. Oklahoma) in college football. But, before we look ahead, let’s take a look back and revisit some of the great games that have been played in the last 30 years. Participating in a great game often defines a collegiate program. The five games that I have highlighted are debatable, but they have stood the test of time and have transcended the sport.

1. Texas 41-USC 38 January 4, 2006

This is arguably the greatest BCS title game in its controversial history. The excitement for this matchup had been building since the summer, as USC and Texas traded the 1-2 spots in the poll all season. Both teams came into the Rose Bowl with undefeated winning streaks, the Trojans were riding a 34-game streak and the Longhorns had won 20 straight contests. The game had star power as all three 2005 Heisman Trophy finalists (Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Vince Young) played in this contest. With a five point lead, all SC had to do was run the clock out and they would have earned back-to-back national championships. Instead, FB LenDale White was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on fourth down and that gave the Longhorns one last chance at glory. It would become the drive that made Vince Young a legend in Texas. Aided by a Southern Cal face mask penalty, Texas was looking at a fourth and five from the Trojan eight. Young took the snap and weaved his way through the defense for the game-winning touchdown.

2. Ohio State 31- Miami 24 OT January 3, 2003

Coming into the contest, the defending national champ Miami Hurricanes were heavy favorites to defeat the inexperienced Ohio State Buckeyes and secure back-to-back titles. Their defense was dominating, as the Buckeyes didn’t record a first down until late into the opening quarter. Finally, Ohio State got their feet underneath them and tied the game at seven just before half. Down ten points, RB Willis McGahee provided a spark to get the Canes back into this BCS Championship contest. But that was short-lived, as he suffered a devastating knee injury that kept him out of the remainder of the game. Miami QB Ken Dorsey orchestrated a late scoring drive to send the game into overtime. Both teams traded scores in the first overtime, then much-heralded Buckeye freshman tailback Maurice Clarett took over and scored the go-ahead score in the next overtime period. That would be enough, as Ohio State’s front seven pressured up the middle and negated the Canes from scoring. With that the Buckeyes became unlikely National Champions.

3. Florida State 18-Nebraska 16 January 1, 1994

Nebraska was the forgotten team of the ’93 season, as all of the media attention was centered on Florida State and Notre Dame. The final regular season poll had the Huskers No. 1 after the Seminoles lost at South Bend, and a week later, the Domers lost to Boston College on a last second field goal. The stars of the game were both defenses, as they held in check the offensive explosiveness of Nebraska’s QB Tommie Frazier and Heisman winner Charlie Ward of Florida State. They traded field goals until Husker freshman sensation Lawrence Phillips scored a touchdown to cut the Noles lead at 15-13 with three minutes left to play. Bobby Bowden’s whole career has been highlighted by either a missed field goal or a last second made field goal from the opposing team. It was fitting that his first National Championship came down to a field goal attempt. After K Scott Bentley put the Noles up 18-16, a celebration penalty gave Nebraska excellent field position to mount a comeback. Uncharacteristically, Frazier completed a pass over the middle as the scoreboard clock expired, but the game officials overruled and placed one second back on the clock. This gave the Huskers one last chance to secure a victory, but their 45-yard field goal attempt was hooked badly.

4. USC 34-Notre Dame 31 October 15, 2005

There was a football resurgence taking place on the campus of Notre Dame led by highly-touted first-year coach Charlie Weis. USC came into the contest ranked  No. 1, defending national champs, and riding a 27-game winning streak. The game was a dead even contest, as neither team could extend their lead by more than a touchdown. With five minutes left to play, the Irish marched downfield in eight plays that culminated with QB Brady Quinn TD run for a 31-28 lead. On the next possession, the Trojans faced a fourth and nine with their season on the line. QB Matt Leinart called an audible at the line of scrimmage and threw a perfect pass to WR Dwayne Jarrett for 61 yards. With the clock ticking, a key moment in the drive was Leinart losing the ball out of bounce near the Irish goal line. It stopped the clock and gave USC one last shot at a victory. Ignoring the coaches instructions to spike the ball, Leinart called his own number and got across the goal line with a little assistance from Reggie Bush that became known as “The Bush Push.”

5. Boston College 47-Miami 45 November 23, 1984

This game was moved to Friday after Thanksgiving in order to showcase eventual Heisman Trophy winner QB Doug Flutie to a national television audience. He was going against the defending national champs Miami Hurricanes inside the famed Orange Bowl. And he didn’t disappoint, as Flutie picked apart their defense for 34-46 476 yards, 3 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD and one miracle ending for the ages. Trailing by four points with 30 seconds remaining in the contest, Boston College started from their own 20 yard line. Flutie completed his first pass out to the Canes 48 yard line. After an incompletion, BC was down to one last play. After receiving the snap, Flutie scrambled to avoid a sack and then suddenly stopped to throw the ball downfield. The pigskin flew 63 yards into waiting arms of WR Gerard Phelan for an improbable Eagle victory.

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