When considering the greatest games, one tends to define those quite differently. As a fan, many times what comes to the top of the mind is the greatest games involving the team we have a vested interest in. But, as a College Football enthusiast, we can’t help but broaden our searches. As we put together this list, we look at great battles between top-ranked teams, fantastic finishes, as well as epic back and forth all-out wars. Sit back and take a stroll through memory lane as we take you back to The Best College Football Games in the Last 30 Years.
Catholics vs Convicts
The “Catholics vs Convicts” mantra took on a life of its own in creating the backdrop for the ultimate setting in 1988. Notre Dame was looking for revenge after a 24-0 loss to the hands of the Hurricanes just one year prior. Meanwhile, Miami was dubbed the team of the 80’s came into this contest defending National Championship as well as a 36-game winning streak.
Trailing 31-24, Steve Walsh hit Cleveland Gary for an apparent touchdown only to be ruled a fumble. To this day, both fanbases argue whether it was a touchdown or a fumble. The Hurricanes would recover and score a touchdown late in the game, but the two-point conversion was not successful giving the Fighting Irish a 31-30 victory. Notre Dame would go on to win the 1988 National Championship.
Sugar “Cane” Bowl
Miami as the most dominant team of the 80’s lands here once again as the victors of the best game of the 1989 season. Losing just once this season, with a win in the Sugar Bowl the Hurricanes would once again be crowned National Champions. Meanwhile, Alabama was just trying to play the spoiler role and ruin Miami’s chances.
Through the right arm of quarterback Craig Erickson, Miami broke open a close game at halftime. With Miami leading 20-17, Erickson hit Rob Chudzinski and Randy Bethel to open a 16-point lead. Miami would win the contest 33-25 to claim their third championship in the decade.
The Fifth Down Game
Championships don’t come without fortune. Whether that fortune is through lack of injuries, fortuitous bounces, or in the case of the Colorado Buffaloes in 1990, a fifth down.
Colorado was trailing 31-27 with under three minutes to go and the ball deep in their own territory. The Buffaloes drove the field and first and goal just outside the goal line with 40 seconds remaining. On first down, the ball was spiked. Second down, a run by Eric Bienemy eas stopped short of the end zone. Colorado, heading into an apparent third down, stopped the clock using their final timeout. However, the officials forgot to move the chains indicator to third down. On the next play, Bienemy was again stopped to bring up fourth down. On the ensuing play, Charles Johnson spiked the ball thinking it was third down which would have ended the game. However, fourth down according to the officials but fifth down, in reality, saw Johnson score from a yard out.
After realizing the mistake, the officiating crew deliberated for nearly 20 minutes but ultimately allowing the score to stand. Colorado would use this to win a share of the National Championship on what many consider the biggest officiating blunder in College Football history.
Wide Right 1
An argument could be made that all of the installments of “wide right” could be used in this article. However, for the sanity of our Florida State readers, we settled on this one.
The game was a relative defensive struggle as there were 11 sacks and four turnovers committed by the teams. The Seminoles led 16-7 in the fourth quarter before Miami stormed back to take a 17-16 lead. Kicker Gerry Thomas would miss a 34-yard field goal wide to the right to end the heartbreaking loss for Florida State. To make matters worse for the Seminoles, Miami would go on to win the National Championship in 1991.
Ramma Jamma Championship
This game was a sign of a shift in College Football. The prominence of the SEC began to come into play as they were the first conference to incorporate a conference championship game here in 1992.
Florida, having no chance at a national championship, was playing for the conference title only. Meanwhile, Alabama was undefeated and ranked number two in the country was looking for an opportunity to knock off Miami. After Florida got out to a 7-0 lead, Alabama scored 21 consecutive to get a comfortable advantage. However, Florida would tie the score in the fourth off a pair of touchdown passes. Stealing the momentum, Antonio Langham, returned an interception 24 yards to secure a Crimson Tide win. Following the win, Alabama soundly defeated Miami en route to the National Championship.
The Game of the Century
There was a tremendous build-up for this #1 vs #2 matchup. Florida State came in with Heisman trophy front-runner Charlie Ward and NBC dubbed this as “the game of the century.” This was also the first time that ESPN broadcasted “College Gameday” on location at Notre Dame.
The Seminoles, seemingly being the lesser team for most of the game, found themselves trailing 31-17 in the fourth quarter. Florida State may have had fortune on their side as Ward hit Kez McCorvey for a touchdown on 4th-and-20 after bouncing off a Notre Dame defender. Finally, on Ward’s final pass attempt, Irish defender Shawn Wooden batted down the throw preserving a 31-24 Notre Dame victory. Be that as it may, Florida State would recover benefited by a Boston College upset of Notre Dame the following week to reach the Orange Bowl and defeat Nebraska to win the National Championship.
The Miracle at Michigan
This is a game that almost needs no introduction. It’s hard to do a search of great College Football games and not have this one at the top of the list.
The “Spoiler” Game
Arguably, the best rivalry in College Football makes its first appearance. However, this was not supposed to be one of the better installments of “The Game.”
The Buckeyes were staring a possible National Championship in the face while Michigan was an inconsistent team in 1995. However, those roles would be reversed as Tim Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards in a 20-17 upset that knocked Ohio State out of National Championship contention.
Arizona State was the surprise team of 1996. They exploded on the scene after an eyebrow-raising defeat of Nebraska earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Ohio State was still trying to recover from the heartbreaking loss against Michigan in the next to last game of the regular season.
The game went back and forth in what was one of the best Rose Bowl games ever played. Jake Plummer orchestrated a late come from behind to drive to put the Sun Devils ahead 17-14 with just over a minute remaining. But, the Buckeyes would have the last laugh Joe Germaine hit David Boston for a five-yard score to preserve a 20-17 win for Ohio State.
The Flea Kicker
Much like Miami was the team of the 80’s, Nebraska was becoming the team of the 90’s. After back to back National Championships in 1994 and 1995, the Cornhuskers were prohibitive favorites again in 1997.
However, being a favorite comes with a cost. That cost means you get everyone’s best shot. A better shot was not fired at Nebraska than what Missouri provided on this day. The Huskers, trailing 38-31, had possession at the Missouri 12-yard line with seven seconds remaining. Scott Frost threw the ball to receiver Shevin Wiggins in the end zone. The ball immediately shot down to the ground and struck a Tiger defender in the foot and popped back in the air. Then, as Wiggins was pulled to the ground, his leg popped up, kicking the ball into the air for the second time as Cornhuskers receiver Matt Davison made the catch in the end zone for a touchdown to force overtime and the eventual Nebraska victory. Nebraska would go on to win their third National Championship in four years.
The Miracle Fumble
Okay, Razorback fans, feel free to turn away. There is nothing logical or soothing that could be said to erase this memory from your mind. And, Vol fans, feel free to bask in the glory of your gift.
Ahead 24-22, with less than two minutes remaining, Arkansas needed just one first down to end the game. In one of the most inexplicable turnovers in football history, Clint Stoerner took the snap, stumbled and lost control of the ball turning it over to Tennessee. Travis Henry would score with 31 seconds left to take an improbable 28-24 Tennessee win. The Volunteers would still that momentum to win the National Championship.
The Kicker Did It
Football players typically just don’t like kickers. Many reasons can be attributed to this, but often times it can be because one play can determine an outcome in which they took no part in before. That was the case as Michigan defeated Alabama 35-34 in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
This game, perhaps, officially kicked off the storybook of Tom Brady. He threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns while erasing two 14-point deficits in the contest. After Brady tossed his final score, Alabama returned the favor but a missed PAT preserved the 35-34 Wolverine triumph.
The Return of Sooner Magic
As chronicled through these years, championships are not won without major forks in the road. Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for Oklahoma in 2000 came at the hands of Texas A&M and the infamous “12th man.”
Oklahoma had ascended to the top ranking in quick order under second-year man, Bob Stoops. With the Sooners trailing 31-21 late in the game, the Sooners got a score to bring the game to within three. Then, a bit of “Sooner Magic” ensued as Torrance Marshall returned an interception for a score to secure a 35-31 victory. The Sooners would go on to win their seventh national championship.
The Longest Football Game
This is the only game in our countdown that has two teams that aren’t ranked. However, after the longest NCAA football game in history, few could argue its spot here.
It’s hard to say that a 58-56 game, not a high scoring game, but this was more of a defensive struggle than most realize. At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 17. However, both teams would slug it out in seven overtime periods to get the game in the 50’s. But, Arkansas would win the contest in the seventh overtime period as an Eli Manning two-point conversion was no good allowing Arkansas win by two.
Great teams seem to find ways to win. Whether it happens through making the tough plays at the end of the game or spurring on a miraculous finish there are certain teams that have a knack for ripping victory from the jaws of defeat. This was certainly the case for LSU in 2002.
In one of the most improbable and confusing plays in history, LSU defeated Kentucky 33-30. Even Tiger fans could admit that the victory was improbable with one final play from their 18-yard line. LSU quarterback, Marcus Randall, let fly a bomb that actually ended up about 25 yards short of the end zone. But, the ball was deflected into the air that landed in the arms of receiver Devery Henderson whom just needed to allude one Wildcat en route to the end zone. Fans had stormed the field to celebrate a Kentucky victory, which was all for not after the shocking Tiger win.