10 of the Greatest College Football Games That Never Happened
Alabama vs. LSU on November 5, 2011 was one of the most anticipated games in college football history.
It is the first time that No. 1 has played No. 2 in a regular season game since Michigan vs. Ohio State in 2006.
The hype leading up to this game was almost incomprehensible. Had there ever been a game in any sport that had so many people talking about a rematch before the first game was even played?
Fans and players typically campaign for a rematch after a game that concluded with uncertainty or controversy. Not before the first meeting.
My initial thought was that we should let this game play out before making plans to see the sequel. Either way, lets be grateful that the two best teams in college football played each other at least once this season.
No sport has left fans, players, sportswriters and coaches wanting to see extra games after season's end more so than college football. The reason isn't typically because they wanted to see rematches of great games, as much as they wanted to see the games that were never played.
1979 USC vs Alabama
USC and Alabama were two of the most dominant teams throughout the 1970s. They squared off four times that decade with each team winning twice. In 1978, USC beat Alabama in the third game of the season by 10 points in Tuscaloosa. Alabama would roll through the rest of the season unscathed and beat top ranked Penn State in the Sugar Bowl in the game that was infamous for their goal-line stand.
Meanwhile, out west USC stumbled once in a loss to Pac-10 newcomer Arizona State and ended the season with one loss as well. Alabama received the AP national championship while USC was awarded the UPI national championship.
One year later, both teams would go undefeated. The only difference was Alabama was also untied while USC had one tie. The blemish on the Trojans' schedule came when a previously unknown quarterback named John Elway substituted as QB during a mid-season game for Stanford and led them from 21 points down to tie Southern Cal 21-21.
Now to the game that could have been. A 1979 matchup between USC and Alabama would have settled the best of five series over the decade, best two out of three over the previous three seasons because Alabama beat USC in 1977, and would have decided who most deserved the title of Team of the Decade.
But it never happened.
1982 SMU vs Penn St
The story of the Pony Express has been well documented. While many programs have been caught cheating and sanctioned throughout college football history, only one was ever given the death penalty: Southern Methodist University.
Bobby Collins' SMU Mustangs were the only undefeated team in 1982 with a record of 11-0-1. Their only blemish was a 17-17 tie to Arkansas on the final game of the regular season. SMU was already on bowl probation so the Arkansas game was the Mustangs last chance to play football that year.
Joe Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions were 11-1 that season and awarded the national championship. In the documentary titled, "The Pony Express' that aired in 2010, Craig James and Eric Dickerson both claimed that SMU was the best team in the country that year. That may be true, but we will never know because 1982 Penn State never played 1982 SMU.
1984 Brigham Young vs Washington or Florida.
I'll often be the first to defend the little guy in college football, but I find it hard to fathom that Brigham Young was the undisputed national champion in 1984.
Led by star quarterback Robbie Brosco, who finished 3rd in the Heisman trophy race that season, BYU won the Associated Press and Coaches Poll national championships that year after defeating a Michigan team with a record of 6-5 in the Holiday Bowl on December 21, 1984.
Washington, at 11-1, and 9-1-1 Florida appeared to be the nation's top two teams that season outside of Provo. I'm sure many fans would have liked to have seen how the Cougars would have stacked up versus the Huskies or Gators, but they didn't get that opportunity.
1990 Georgia Tech vs Colorado
The 1990 season was another in which the Associated Press and Coaches could not agree on the national champion.
Colorado started the season 1-1-1 after tying No. 8 Tennessee in Anaheim, Calif. to start the season and losing to No. 21 Illinois by one point the third week of the season. The Buffaloes would survive the next two weeks with close victories over No. 20 Texas in Austin and No. 12 Washington in Boulder, Colo.
Darian Hagan and the Buffs followed that two week stretch with the infamous 5th down play vs Missouri. Colorado would later defeat No. 2 Nebraska in Lincoln and No. 6 Miami in the Orange Bowl.
The only blemish on Georgia Tech's schedule that season was a 13-13 tie at North Carolina. They also defeated four ranked teams that year including at No. 1 Virginia in the Toe meets Leather game and then the Yellow Jackets defeated Colorado's rival Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl.
I think everybody in the country felt that there should have been one more game played that year. But there wasn't.
1991 Washington vs Miami
This was a super fight between two undefeated teams that never came to be. The Rose Bowl's long time affiliation with the Pac-10 and Big-10 champion was responsible for many of the games that never happened.
The Huskies, led by future NFL players such as quarterback Mark Brunnel, defensive tackle Steve Emtman and center Ed Cunningham, routed everybody on their schedule that season. Some of the more impressive victories were one the road versus No. 9 Nebraska by 15 points and a 20 point victory over #4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. They won the Coaches Poll's National Championship.
Meanwhile, in the complete opposite corner of the country, Miami was on the tail end of their dominant stretch in the late 80s and early 90s when they became known as The U.
The Hurricanes, led by future NFL players Warren Sapp and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, had no problem wrecking every team in sight as well. Two of the impressive victories were a 17-16 win over arch rival Florida State in one of the infamous Wide Right games and a 22 point win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Associated Press awarded Miami with the National Championship.
Maybe somebody should have just asked Nebraska who the best teams were after the 1990 and 1991 seasons considering they lost to all four of the disputed champions.
On second thought, nah, I would rather have watched Miami play Washington and Colorado play Georgia Tech.
1993 Auburn vs Notre Dame
This is the only year on my countdown in which an undisputed national champion isn't even one of the teams mentioned in The Game That Never Happened.
Florida State went 12-1 that season and was awarded the National Championship in both the Coaches Poll and the Associated Press. The Seminoles only blemish that season was to Notre Dame on November 13th in a regular season game that featured the top two ranked teams in the country.
After defeating the Seminoles, the Fighting Irish couldn't hold on to their top spot after they lost their final regular season game 41-39 to Boston College.
Meanwhile, one college football team suffered zero losses that season. The Auburn Tigers went 11-0 and had impressive victories on the road versus No. 4 Florida and at home versus the defending national champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tigers, however, were on probation that season and were not bowl eligible.
In this poll, there is a head-to-head tiebreaker for teams with the same amount of losses. So even though the Seminoles claim the 1993 championship, the great game that never happened was Auburn versus Notre Dame.
1997 Michigan vs Nebraska
This was the last year in which the Big Ten and Pac-10 Rose Bowl affiliations could prevent their conference champions from playing in the BCS national championship game. Sure enough, it created a great game that was never played.
The Wolverines had future NFL superstars on each side of the ball. Charles Woodson won the Heisman trophy, while the Rose Bowl MVP at season's end went to quarterback Brian Griese.
Notable victories that season for the Wolverines included wins over ranked teams such as Colorado, Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Washington State in the Rose Bowl.
Nebraska had quite the impressive 1997 campaign as well. Ahman Green, Vershan Jackson and Sheldon Jackson are three of the numerous 1997 Cornhuskers that would eventually play on Sundays. Some of the Husker's impressive wins in 1997 included victories versus Washington, Kansas State, Texas A&M and the Tennessee Volunteers led by quarterback Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl.
This was the last year that the Rose Bowl could deny their champion a chance to play in the national championship game. That must mean that this list should end now because the top two teams would settle it on the field without controversy from 1998 on. Right?
2003 LSU vs USC
This was the first, and as of now, the only year to result in a split national championship during the BCS era. It was also the first split national champion during the age of social media and message boards, so there was more online debating after this season ended than in years past. To put it mildly.
USC was led by several future NFL players, including offensive stars Matt Leinart, Steve Smith, Mike Williams, Reggie Bush and Lendale White. The Trojans only loss of the season was a triple overtime loss to Cal. Impressive wins that season included victories versus Auburn, Washington St and Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
LSU had no lack of talent on their 2003 squad as well. The Bayou Bengals were led by future NFL players like Michael Clayton, Chad Lavalais and Devery Henderson.
The Tigers only loss that season was at home to Florida, while picking up impressive wins versus Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia twice and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
I think there are still several people in Southern California and south Louisiana trying to organize a game between these two teams.
2004 Auburn vs USC
One year later, similar result. By season's end, people were arguing whether the SEC West's Tigers or USC was the best team in the country.
Although there wasn't as much online debate this season because both of the national championships were awarded to USC, these two teams were undefeated and more dominant than the teams that didn't play in 2003.
The Trojans had many of the same players from the 2003 squad, and a defense that included Keith Rivers, Lofa Tatupu and Matt Grootegoed. The Trojans had impressive victories that season versus Virginia Tech, Cal, Arizona State and Oklahoma in the national championship game.
The 2004 Auburn Tigers had a star-studded squad as well. On offense, the Tigers were led by future NFL players such as Jason Campbell, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown. On defense the TIgers were led by Carlos Rodgers and Junior Rosegreen. The Tigers 2004 campaign included impressive victories versus LSU, Georgia, Tennessee twice and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
The teams may have played in 2002 and 2003, but 2004 would have been a superfight for the ages.
2008 USC vs Texas Winner Versus Utah vs Florida Winner
This season ended with Tim Tebow's Florida Gators defeating Sam Bradford's Oklahoma Sooners in a low scoring game that didn't live up to the hype. A few days earlier, a USC team lead by current NFL stars Mark Sanchez, Clay Matthews Jr, Brian Cushing and Rey Mauluga pummeled Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
At first I thought that the great game that was left to be desired that season was USC vs Florida, but upon further evaluation, I think there were a few other match-ups at seasons end that could have been instant classics.
Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and USC all ended the season with one loss. The BCS' bizarre formula decided that Florida and Oklahoma were the two best teams by season's end, even though Texas beat Oklahoma. But as Bob Stoops pointed out several times in press conferences after the final BCS standings were announced, a one-loss Texas Tech team also beat Texas.
Utah, still a member of the non-AQ Mountain West Conference at the time, ended the season undefeated. Normally I wouldn't think that a non-AQ qualified to be involved in the discussion, but the way that Utah manhandled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl justifies their right to be involved.
Whether or not Alabama wanted to play in that game is debatable. It is a fact, however, that Utah beat Alabama more soundly than Florida did.
So there you go. A four-team playoff would have yielded another great game that was never played.
Maybe someday college football will incorporate this playoff concept. The only down side to that is there will be far fewer great games that won't be played. And we will have nothing to argue about.