Ranking the Best Thanksgiving Week Games in CFB from the Last 10 Years

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2020

Ranking the Best Thanksgiving Week Games in CFB from the Last 10 Years

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Thanksgiving is going to have a decidedly different look this year, and that's as true in households as it is across the college football landscape.

    A weekend generally reserved for some of the biggest rivalries in the sport will instead feature a watered-down schedule inevitably filled with postponements and devoid of notable nonconference clashes.

    Seems like the perfect time to do some reminiscing.

    We'll count down the seven best Thanksgiving week games of the last 10 years, with notable entries from the Iron Bowl, the Game, the Apple Cup and the Bedlam Series.

    One important note before we get started: Each matchup was only allowed to appear in the actual rankings once. Otherwise, this would have essentially been a rundown of the best Iron Bowl games of the last 10 years with a few Ohio State vs. Michigan moments sprinkled in.

    Don't worry, though—those secondary selections weren't ignored. They'll be featured among some honorable mentions, and that's where we'll start our walk back through the last decade of memorable football action.

Honorable Mentions

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    Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick
    Nevada quarterback Colin KaepernickCathleen Allison/Associated Press

    Other Games Considered

    • 2010: No. 19 Nevada 34, No. 3 Boise State 31 (OT)
    • 2012: UConn 23, No. 19 Louisville 20 (3OT)
    • 2013: San Jose State 62, No. 16 Fresno State 52
    • 2014: Western Kentucky 67, No. 19 Marshall 66 (OT)
    • 2015: No. 15 TCU 28, No. 7 Baylor 21 (2OT)
    • 2018: No. 6 Oklahoma 59, No. 12 West Virginia 56
    • 2018: No. 25 Iowa State 42, Kansas State 38
    • 2018: Arizona State 41, Arizona 40


    Excluded Because of the One-Per-Matchup Rule

    • 2010: No. 2 Auburn 28, No. 9 Alabama 27
    • 2012: No. 14 Oklahoma 51, No. 22 Oklahoma State 48 (OT)
    • 2013: No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41
    • 2017: No. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14
    • 2019: No. 16 Auburn 48, No. 5 Alabama 45

7. Florida vs. Florida State in 2012

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Final Score: No. 6 Florida 37, No. 10 Florida State 26

    Remember when Florida and Florida State were both regularly ranked inside the Top 10 in the AP poll?

    While the Seminoles have fallen out of the national picture in recent years, this was a matchup of one-loss teams in 2012 when No. 6 Florida traveled to Tallahassee to take on No. 10 Florida State.

    In a matchup of two of the best defenses in the nation, the Gators held a 13-3 lead heading into halftime, but the Seminoles seized control with 17 unanswered points coming out of the break to take a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter.

    Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis hit a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to narrow the deficit. That kicked off an impressive stretch that saw the Gators score 24 unanswered points in less than 11 minutes to reclaim the lead and seal the victory.

    "Our guys understand that it's about all 60 minutes," Florida coach Will Muschamp told reporters. "We just really needed to be patient and wear them down."

    Mike Gillislee (24 carries, 140 yards, two TDs) and Matt Jones (eight carries, 81 yards, one TD) shouldered the offensive load for Florida, while the defense forced five turnovers, picking off Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel three times.

    The win kept Florida's national title hopes alive, though the Gators ultimately ended up in the Sugar Bowl where they suffered a 33-23 loss to Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville.

6. Notre Dame vs. Stanford in 2015

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Final Score: No. 13 Stanford 38, No. 4 Notre Dame 36

    Conrad Ukropina.

    The name might not ring a bell five years later, but during Thanksgiving weekend in 2015, he was the biggest hero in the college football world.

    The third-year kicker had a brilliant season, converting all 67 of his extra points while nailing 18 of 20 field-goal attempts. None was bigger than the 45-yarder he drilled as time expired to give Stanford a two-point victory over No. 4 Notre Dame.

    That capped off a back-and-forth affair that saw eight lead changes in what was a shockingly clean college football game with only one turnover and seven penalties.

    The Fighting Irish did a great job of controlling Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey, limiting him to 113 total yards and keeping him out of the end zone. In a year where he piled up 2,664 total yards and 13 scores, that was no small feat.

    However, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan had one of the best games of his career, completing 17 of 21 passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns.

    On the other side, Josh Adams (18 carries, 168 yards, TD) and DeShone Kizer (16 carries, 128 yards, TD) both ran wild for Notre Dame, but it wasn't enough for the Irish to avoid their second loss of the season.

5. The Bedlam Series in 2010

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Final Score: No. 14 Oklahoma 47, No. 10 Oklahoma State 41

    Oklahoma and Oklahoma State averaged a combined 77 points in their 10 meetings during the 2010s. However, the 2010 edition of the Bedlam Series was tied at just 24 apiece going into the fourth quarter.

    The Sooners settled for field goals on three straight drives to begin the fourth quarter, building a nine-point lead with 5:53 to play. Then things got weird.

    Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden connected with Justin Blackmon on a 15-yard touchdown strike with 4:06 to play, trimming the Cowboys' deficit to two points and setting off a barrage of scoring.

    Just over a minute later, Sooners quarterback Landry Jones hooked up with Cameron Kenney on an 86-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing kickoff, Cowboys return man Justin Gilbert took one back 89 yards for a score.

    A mere 17 seconds later, the momentum swung back to the Oklahoma sideline when Jones hit James Hanna for a 76-yard touchdown strike that put the Sooners back up nine.

    The Cowboys tacked on three more points with a Dan Bailey field goal with 36 seconds left, but they failed to recover the onside kick. That put an end to a thrilling quarter of football that saw a combined 40 points put on the board.

4. The Apple Cup in 2012

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Final Score: Washington State 31, Washington 28 (OT)

    The 2012 season was a largely forgettable one for Washington State. The Cougars went 3-9 in Mike Leach's first year as head coach and were still rebuilding a program that had hit bottom.

    However, that year's Apple Cup was one for the ages.

    The Huskies seemingly took control of the game with a pair of Bishop Sankey rushing touchdowns in the third quarter to build a 28-10 lead going into the final 15 minutes.

    While Washington State rushed for just 19 yards as a team, running back Carl Winston punched in three rushing touchdowns, including a pair of scores in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. WSU followed the second score with a two-point conversation, trimming the deficit to three points with 7:26 left to play.

    The two offenses went quiet before the final points of regulation came in the form of a 45-yard field goal from Cougars kicker Andrew Furney to knot things up.

    He delivered again in overtime with a 27-yard game-winner, capping off the improbable comeback and giving the Cougars their only conference win of the year in the regular-season finale.

3. The Highest-Scoring Game in FBS History in 2018

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Final Score: Texas A&M 74, No. 8 LSU 72 (7OT)

    If you're an LSU fan, this was brutal.

    If you're a fan of literally any other college football team, or of the sport of college football in general, or even if this was literally your first time ever watching a football game, this was absolutely incredible.

    A record-tying seven overtimes.

    An FBS-record-setting 146 total points.

    And to think the game almost never made it past the fourth quarter.

    Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond appeared to throw the game-ending interception on the Aggies' final drive, but the play was overturned when it was determined his knee was down in the backfield following a poor snap. A few plays later, time seemed to expire as Mond tried to spike the ball to stop the clock. But officials put one second back on the clock, and Mond found Quartney Davis in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to tie things up at 31.

    Little did anyone realize the scoring had just begun.

    Both teams kicked field goals in the first overtime, scored on three-yard runs in the second overtime, scored on 25-yard passes with two-point conversions in the third overtime, kicked field goals in the fourth overtime, scored touchdowns while failing to convert for two in the fifth overtime, and scored touchdowns while successfully converting for two in the sixth overtime.

    Finally, in the seventh overtime, LSU failed to convert its two-point try following a Joe Burrow rushing touchdown. The Aggies then scored on a 17-yard pass from Mond to Davis, and Kendrick Rogers caught his third two-point conversion pass of the night to secure the victory.

    What a game.

2. The Game in 2016

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Final Score: No. 2 Ohio State 30, No. 3 Michigan 27 (2OT)

    One of the longest-standing rivalries in college football. Two teams staked to spots inside the Top Three in the AP poll. A spot in the College Football Playoff up for grabs. There was no way this game was going to live up to the hype.

    Then it did.

    Michigan held a 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter, but its final four possessions of regulation ended in three punts and an interception, opening the door for the Buckeyes to climb back into the game.

    A Mike Weber rushing touchdown with 1:06 to play in the third quarter trimmed the lead to three points. As the fourth quarter wound down, the Buckeyes went on a 13-play, 77-yard drive, culminating in a 23-yard field goal from Tyler Durbin to send the game to overtime.

    Both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime, but the Wolverines had to settle for a field goal in the second overtime.

    It looked like that would be enough when Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett appeared to be stopped short on a 4th-and-1 attempt on the Buckeyes' subsequent drive. However, it was called a first down on the field, and the call stood upon review.

    "That was not a first down," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters. "I'm bitterly disappointed with the officiating today."

    A 15-yard rushing touchdown from Curtis Samuel on the next play gave the Buckeyes the victory and capped off a thrilling, if controversial, installment of one of the greatest rivalries in the sport.

1. The Iron Bowl in 2013

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Final Score: No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

    The 78th edition of the Iron Bowl gave us one of the most memorable moments in recent sports history.

    A Google search reveals that the "Kick Six" even has its own Wikipedia page with over 3,000 words dedicated to that moment.

    That's a big reason why this game was an easy choice for the No. 1 spot.

    An undefeated and No. 1-ranked Alabama team entered the game eyeing a national title, while No. 4 Auburn had suffered an earlier loss to LSU but could still play its way into the title picture with a win over Alabama and another victory in the SEC Championship Game.

    A 99-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper gave Alabama a 28-21 lead with 10:28 left in the fourth quarter before the two offenses went cold.

    Both teams followed with a turnover on downs, Auburn punted and Alabama had a 44-yard field-goal attempt blocked. Finally, the Tigers finally broke through with a seven-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a 39-yard touchdown strike from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates, tying the score with 32 seconds to play.

    A first down on Alabama's ensuing drive set up a 57-yard field-goal attempt for Adam Griffith, but he left it short. Auburn punt returner Chris Davis fielded it in the back of the end zone, and with 0:00 showing on the clock, he took it the length of the field for a game-winning touchdown.

    That knocked Alabama out of the SEC title game and out of the national title picture the year before the current playoff system was introduced. Auburn won the conference title game to clinch its spot in the BCS Championship Game, which it lost 34-31 to Jameis Winston and Florida State.


    All stats and game information courtesy of Sports Reference.