The Best CFB Comeback Wins in the Last 10 Years, Part 2

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2021

The Best CFB Comeback Wins in the Last 10 Years, Part 2

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    Doug Benc/Associated Press

    Last year, Bleacher Report looked at a handful of the decade's best comeback wins in college football, and it was a list full of memorable moments.

    But a sport with this kind of dramatic action can't stop at five, can it? There have been many more exciting, frenetic, come-from-behind wins than that.

    Some happened on small stages but were still memory-makers. Others occurred in front of a national audience in big-time bowl battles. The only requirement for inclusion is the comeback had to be at least two touchdowns.

    Sure, massive point barrages warranted major consideration, but overcoming the biggest deficits wasn't the only factor. Major showings in important games played a role too.

    The Houston Cougars appear twice, Texas A&M's forgettable 2011 season makes a cameo, and the USC Trojans hold a spot and nearly had a pair themselves (last year's win over Arizona State narrowly missed).

2011: Houston 35, Louisiana Tech 34

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    Terrance Armstard/Associated Press

    Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, but Houston quarterback Case Keenum had an argument for it. He completed 71 percent of his passes for a gaudy 5,631 yards, 48 touchdowns and five interceptions.

    He also led the Cougars to a 13-1 record, including 8-0 in Conference USA. Southern Miss trounced them in the conference championship game, but coach Kevin Sumlin's team was incredible all year.

    The Cougars used their offensive firepower to rally from a huge deficit and beat Louisiana Tech with 28 straight late points to evaporate a 34-7 late third quarter deficit and stun the Bulldogs 35-34.

    Two of those scoring drives were capped by a Keenum touchdown toss (he had three total), and he showed the type of mettle that made him a finalist for college football's top individual honor. Keenum found Patrick Edwards on a 50-yard score to start the comeback.

    Then after two scoring runs from the Cougars, Keenum threw a scoring strike to Edwards again (32 yards) for the win. It was his fifth comeback victory with less than two minutes remaining and is still the Cougars' largest comeback.

    To think the majority of it happened in the final frame is ridiculous.

2015: Michigan State 42, Baylor 41 (Cotton Bowl)

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    The 2014 Michigan State Spartans may have been coach Mark Dantonio's best.

    Their two losses came against teams (Oregon and Ohio State) that wound up in the College Football Playoff, and the Spartans landed in the Cotton Bowl. Facing another electric offensive powerhouse in Baylor, it looked like MSU wouldn't be able to hang against that kind of octane once again.

    Quarterback Bryce Petty threw all over the Spartans for three quarters in building a 41-21 lead. But then Dantonio's team woke up.

    They stormed back and trimmed the lead to 41-35 in the closing minutes, but the Bears were controlling the ball and running out the clock. The Spartans had a huge special teams play for the final momentum swing, though.

    Chris Callahan's 43-yard field-goal attempt was blocked and returned 36 yards to set up the Spartans in Baylor territory. Connor Cook rebounded from an awful start and showed some big-game heroics.

    He found Tony Lippett for a fourth-down conversion and then hit Keith Mumphrey for the game-tying touchdown with 17 seconds left. The extra point gave Michigan State a shocking win after it was left for dead.

    "Connor did a great job," Dantonio said in his postgame interview on ESPN, according to's Martin Rickman. "When things are on edge he can make plays, and that's what he did."

2015: Houston 35, Pittsburgh 34 (Armed Forces Bowl)

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    Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

    The 2014 bowl season (that trickled into '15) gave us two of the best comebacks of the past decade.

    Not only did the Michigan State-Baylor game happen, but on the next day, Houston capped a terrific postseason with the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in bowl history. They trailed the Panthers by 25 points with 11 minutes left.

    They didn't even need overtime for a 35-34 triumph.

    Greg Ward Jr. capped the comeback with three consecutive scoring tosses. Those included a six-play, 83-yard drive; a six-play, 52-yard drive; and a four-play, 57-yard drive. Two of those went to Deontay Greenberry, and the other was to Demarcus Ayers. A Ward two-point conversion pass to Greenberry clinched it.

    "I mean, I'm standing on the field at times, saying, 'Is this really happening right now?'" Pitt safety Ray Vinopal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Sam Werner. "You're kind of in a sense of disbelief."

    The funny thing is both programs were playing under interim coaches. Pat Narduzzi spent some time in the booth watching the game in person before taking over at Pitt the next year. Tom Herman was finishing up his final year helping to lead Ohio State to a national title as the offensive coordinator.

    But this was one for the ages.

2016: TCU 47, Oregon 41 (3OT, Alamo Bowl)

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    If you want an exciting, memorable bowl game, just slot TCU into the Alamo Bowl.

    Then watch the fireworks.

    The biggest drama happened after the 2015 season when No. 15 Oregon was torching TCU 31-0 at halftime thanks to senior quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who looked unstoppable. But when Adams took a hit to the head, it was another quarterback's turn to step into the spotlight.

    That signal-caller happened to be wearing purple. Little-known backup Bram Kohlhausen stepped in for Trevone Boykin, who was arrested and suspended in the days leading up to the game after a fight outside a bar. Kohlhausen completed 28 of 45 passes for 351 yards and two scores.

    He led TCU back for a 47-41 win in three overtimes just two months after his father died of cancer. He celebrated with his mom afterward.

    "I just gave her a hug and started crying with her. I'd love for him to be here and watch this happen, but I know he's watching upstairs," he told reporters. "This will be one I'll tell my grandkids. This is a night I never thought would happen. I dedicate it to [Boykin]. He showed me how to play like I did tonight."

    It was a storybook game, and coach Gary Patterson's team did a similar thing two seasons later, falling behind 21-3 against Stanford before rallying for a 39-37 win. Let's try to schedule the Horned Frogs in that game every year, shall we?

2016: Tulsa 48, Fresno State 41 (2OT)

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    GARY KAZANJIAN/Associated Press

    Long before the Tulsa Golden Hurricane shifted to a grind-it-out style, Philip Montgomery's team was an offensive juggernaut that went 10-3 with a high-flying attack in 2016.

    The squad needed every one of the weapons in its arsenal to overcome a lopsided early-season deficit against Fresno State.

    The Bulldogs seized an unreal 31-0 lead in 20 minutes, and though they wound up 1-11 and 0-8 in the Mountain West, they didn't look like it early on that September day. Then the Golden Hurricane turned things around, and it was a microcosm of two seasons heading in different directions the rest of the game.

    "I wouldn't say necessarily that we let off the gas, but our energy just kind of died down for whatever reason," Fresno quarterback Chason Virgil told the Fresno Bee's Robert Kuwada.

    Tulsa stormed back to close the gap to 31-21 by halftime and took the game into double overtime, where Montgomery's team eventually won. It remains the largest comeback in school history, and it's one the 2020 Golden Hurricane can appreciate, since they were cardiac kids all year.

    Quarterback Dane Evans threw four touchdown passes and ran in the game-winning 18-yard touchdown.

2017: USC 52, Penn State 49 (Rose Bowl)

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    There aren't many bigger stages than the "Granddaddy of Them All," which, of course, is the Rose Bowl normally featuring the Pac-12 champion against the Big Ten champion.

    That is, if neither of those teams is in the College Football Playoff.

    After the 2016 season, neither USC nor Penn State made the final four, but both programs were full of exceptional players. Trojans signal-caller Sam Darnold was capping a fantastic freshman year, and Trace McSorley took the Nittany Lions to an outstanding season.

    They met in Pasadena, and sparks flew.

    The teams combined for 101 points and 1,040 yards, but USC kicker Matt Boermeester drilled a 46-yarder for the game-winner as the Trojans capped a 52-49 comeback. USC (10-3) trailed 49-35 with nine minutes remaining, but Darnold had plenty of heroics left.

    He passed for 453 yards and five touchdowns in an incredible win that was magnified by the stage.

    Franklin told reporters afterward: "That game doesn't really define us. I wouldn't be any more proud tonight sitting here with a win … after what might have been the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever."

2020: Kansas State 38, Oklahoma 35

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Speaking of the Kansas State Wildcats, they haven't captured the same magic in the Chris Klieman era that they had in Bill Snyder's heyday. 

    They have had Oklahoma's number, though.

    The Wildcats have upset them in each of the past two seasons, and the 2020 game was especially shocking. The Sooners were ranked No. 3 and coming off an impressive opening win. Instead of another Big 12 coronation, though, the Wildcats made them work for the conference title.

    Yes, the Sooners rallied and turned into one of college football's hottest teams to close the year, but they looked like their old defenseless selves in that game. Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson threw for 334 yards and a touchdown and scored three times on the ground.

    Even so, OU had a 35-14 lead late in the third quarter before the furious rally. Thompson had two scoring runs and then Nick Allen blocked a punt, before Deuce Vaughn scored from 38 yards out to tie the game. Then they kicked a late field goal to show they were far from four-touchdown underdogs.

    The Sooners' four turnovers didn't help them, and it was a smack in the face to young quarterback Spencer Rattler, who rebounded from that performance to have a great season. It was Kansas State's first-ever road win against a Top Three team in the Associated Press poll.