Top 10 Best National Championship Showdowns
Every Saturday in college football marks another opportunity for a team to prove its merit against the best that its schedule has to offer. Twelve games later, if your team is left standing without a blemish, you might have a chance to see them play for the brass ring—a national championship.
This season, that honor will fall to both Texas and Alabama, two storied programs with a lot of history and a ton of pride between the two of them.
However, before we commit to the present, let's take one more gander at the past; see what other great national championship games hath wrought.
The list covers 50 years of national title games, and, true to the dominance of certain programs during the 20th century, many are listed multiple times (Texas, Alabama, Nebraska, Miami, etc).
So, without further ado....
10) Penn State vs Georgia, 1983 Sugar Bowl
The Georgia Bulldogs were a high-powered offense coming into this contest with Heisman winning running back Herschel Walker leading the ground attack for the Dawgs.
The Nittany Lions boasted a pretty good offense of their own, and with Todd Blackledge at quarterback they got off to an early 20-3 lead.
The Dawgs cut the lead to 10 by the half and added seven more after a Walker touchdown trimmed Penn State's lead to 20-17. The Lions would answer with a score of their own in the fourth when Todd Blackledge hit Greg Garrity for a 47-yard score, pushing the lead to 27-17.
A nine-yard touchdown pass from Georgia quarterback John Lastinger to Clarence Kay would make it 27-23 Penn State, but there wasn't enough time to overcome the deficit, and Joe Pa finally earned his first national championship.
9) Florida State vs Nebraska, 1994 Orange Bowl
Undefeated Nebraska took on one-loss Florida State in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1994.
The Seminoles were ranked No. 1 in the country and favored by 17 1/2 points over Nebraska.
Both teams featured high-powered offenses with the Cornhuskers averaging 38.3 points and 425 yards per game, while the Seminoles were gashing their opponents for 43.2 points and 548 yards per game.
That said, it was the defenses that took center stage on this night, as both teams struggled to find an offensive groove. By halftime, the score was 7-6, and it didn't seem like either team was going to be able to move the ball as they had hoped.
Early in the fourth quarter, Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips scored on a 12-yard run, making the score 15-13 Noles. Nebraska went for two but failed to convert.
The Huskers defense kept the Noles at bay on the next possession and drove to the FSU 10-yard line, where they would be held and forced to settle for another field goal, giving them a 15-16 advantage with 1:18 left in the game.
On the kickoff, Nebraska sailed the ball out of bounds, giving FSU excellent field position to start. Charlie Ward, that year's Heisman winner, would take over from there, as he drove his team within field goal range, where kicker Scott Bentley would make the score 18-16 with 21 seconds to go in the game.
The FSU sideline went nuts, as both coaches and players celebrating wildly, causing the refs to call an excessive celebration on the team. The 15-yard penalty was assessed on the kickoff and gave the Huskers good field position.
With time winding down, freshman quarterback Tommie Frazier hit tight end Trumaine Bell for 29 yards and put Nebraska in field goal range with no time left on the clock - or so FSU thought.
Referee John Soffey ruled Bell down with one second to go, and Nebraska had a chance to win the game with a 45-yard field goal. The kick by Byron Bennett sailed wide left, and the Noles won the game 18-16, giving Bobby Bowden his first national championship.
Game MVPs: Tommie Frazier (Neb) and Charlie Ward (FSU)
8) USC vs Ohio State, 1975 Rose Bowl
Woody Hayes was enjoying his third straight Rose Bowl appearance, while the John McKay led USC Trojans were enjoying the fruits of their 8-0-1 record for the year.
USC was down late in the fourth, 17-10, but with 2:03 left on the clock, the Trojans found a way to pull out the win and secure their fourth national title under coach John McKay.
Playing for the injured Anthony Davis, running back Alan Carter was key to the game winning touchdown drive, as he powered his way forward for a pivotal first down.
On the next play, quarterback Pat Haden would find his tight end for six, making the score 17-16. Coach McKay opted for the two-point conversion, and, with the play breaking down and time running out, Haden found wide receiver Shelton Diggs in the end zone for the score and an 18-17 lead.
After a failed 62-yard field goal attempt by Ohio State, the Trojans won the game and their fourth national title.
7) Colorado vs Notre Dame, 1991 Orange Bowl
Colorado entered the game with revenge on their mind, as a prior year's loss to Notre Dame in the same bowl cost them a national championship.
The game was a defensive battle, as neither team was able to get much going on offense.
The final play saw Ismail break free for a 92-yard punt return touchdown that would have won the game for the Irish and denied the Buffs their crown yet again. However, a clipping penalty on Notre Dame negated the score, and Colorado won its first and, to date, only national championship with a score of 10-9.
MVP: Charles Johnson (QB), Colorado and Chris Zorich (NG) Notre Dame.
6) Notre Dame vs. Alabama, 1973 Sugar Bowl
The game itself was billed as the "Game of the Century" and pitted two legendary coaches against each other—Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian.
Both Bryant and Parseghian entered the game with undefeated teams, and their historic programs were meeting for just the first time in college football history.
Alabama, for their part, was looking to put a cherry on the top of their season with a national title, having already been given the No. 1 ranking. Notre Dame, despite being undefeated, was ranked No. 4, and Ara was looking to make a statement about his team's legitimacy.
The game itself featured six lead changes and ended when Notre Dame kicked the go ahead field goal with 4:26 remaining in the game. The outcome might have been different if Bama had made their PAT during the prior possession, but their misfortune became Notre Dame's gain, as the win catapulted them over Alabama and gave them the national championship that year.
5) Ohio State vs Miami, 2003 Fiesta Bowl
They were ranked No. 1 in the country and sought their second national championship in as many years—not to mention, they were on a 34-game winning streak and seemingly unbeatable.
Ohio State, for their part, entered the game with an understated quarterback and a better than advertised defense, and they came to dethrone Goliath despite being an 11 1/2 point dog.
The game would take two overtimes to decide, and a controversial pass interference in the first overtime would overshadow an eventual win by the Buckeyes.
Pictured above is the late Sean Taylor sitting alone and dejected following the Canes' loss.
Although the referee who made what is now referred to simply as "The Call" was later proven to be correct, the debate as to whether or not there ever was pass interference on the play still rages on.
Game MVPs: Mike Doss (S) and Craig Krenzel (QB), both of Ohio State
4) Penn State vs Alabama, 1979 Sugar Bowl
Penn State entered the game slightly favored over the Tide. The contest was billed as a clash of titans, pitting Alabama's offense against Penn State's defense.
The affair was close throughout with neither team giving an inch for the better part of three quarters. The Tide did manage to get seven in the second, but for the most part they were kept honest by the Penn State defense.
Late in the game, with the score 14-7, the Lions recovered an Alabama fumble and managed to drive within 10 yards of the score. That's when what has become known as "The Goal Line Stand" (pictured) took place.
It was fourth and goal from the one-foot line, and Penn State chose to run it with Matt Guman. However, Barry Krauss and Murray Legg met Guman head-on and stopped him cold, ending the threat and securing the title for the Tide.
3) Alabama vs Texas, 1965 Orange Bowl
The Texas Longhorns were not favored in this game. The Crimson Tide, after all, had rolled over every opponent that they had faced up to that point in the season, and there was no reason to believe that would not continue.
In the first-ever night game played in the Orange Bowl, the Longhorns would upset the Crimson Tide 21-17 despite a signature performance by senior quarterback Joe Namath.
Namath was suffering through a knee injury but still managed to lead his team to a near victory. Most notably, a quarterback sneak that fell short of the goal line late sealed the win for the Horns.
Namath took home MVP honors, but the Horn's took home the victory.
2) USC vs Texas, 2006 Rose Bowl
Both USC and Texas came into the game undefeated, and USC, thanks in large part to Heisman winner Reggie Bush, was favored in this game. The Trojans were riding a 34-game winning streak and looking to take home their third straight national title.
Vince Young and his team had other plans for that night, as they played smart on both sides of the ball, forcing turnovers at key points in the game and making the most of offensive opportunities.
But the night would belong to Vince, as he made the biggest run of his career on a 4th-and-8 with just 19 seconds to go. The result was a touchdown and a national title for the Texas Longhorns, the first for Mack Brown.
Young was named MVP, and the game is considered by many to be one of the greatest ever.
1) Miami vs Nebraska, 1984 Orange Bowl
Nebraska entered the game as a 10 1/2 point favorite over the Canes. The Cornhuskers were touting a Heisman winner in tailback Mike Rozier, an Outland Trophy winner for offensive lineman, Dean Steinkuhler, and an All-American in quarterback Turner Gill.
Miami was good, but no one figured that they were on the level of Nebraska. After all, this was a team that only three-years prior couldn't give tickets away to their football games.
Well, the answer as to whether or not the South Florida upstarts could hang with the big boys came early, as Miami jumped out to a 17-0 lead over Nebraska.
Tom Osborne, true to his offensive genius, found a way to respond in the second, starting with the fumberooski, a play in which the quarterback "fumbles" the ball only to have a teammate "recover" it. Steinkuhler ran the play back for the score.
By the fourth-quarter, the score was 31-24 Miami, and the Cornhuskers were driving. Quarterback Turner Gill marched his team down the field for the score and made it 31-30 Miami.
Osborne decided to go for the win instead of the tie, and the gamble proved costly, as Miami stopped the two-point conversion to win the game and its first ever national championship.
The game itself established Miami as a force in college football, as they went on to win three more titles in the next seven years.