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5. No. 1 Texas 15 … No. 2 Arkansas 14 December 6, 1969
College football’s 100-year anniversary had a showcase game that received unprecedented national hype when it was moved from October 18th to December 6th to give it more of a national audience. Texas had won 18 straight, while Arkansas came in on a 15-game roll, and with weeks of buildup, the game became the focus of the entire sporting world doing a television rating of a 50 share - half the TV sets in the country were tuned in. The game was given even a loftier status when President Richard Nixon, who had said he would name the winner of this game the national champion, dramatically arrived outside of the stadium by helicopter.
Arkansas had a 14-0 lead, and control of the game, going into the fourth quarter. Texas had to get creative, and had to break away from its run-oriented attack, to shake things up.
First, Texas quarterback James Street began the comeback by running for a 42-yard touchdown and converted a two-point conversion.
After a few defensive stops, the Longhorns still needed to rally, but Arkansas kept stuffing the run to force a decisive 4th-and-3 play. With everyone expecting a run, Street connected with Randy Peschel for a 44-yard play, famously known as the 53 veer pass, that would’ve caused a colossal controversy if it didn’t work.
The Longhorns punched it in as Jim Bertelson scored on a two-yard run to tie the game, and the conversion from Happy Feller gave them a 15-14 lead with just under four minutes to play.
Arkansas wasn't finished marching down the field with the outcome almost certain to come down to a game-deciding field goal attempt, but the Longhorns won the game, and the national title, on an interception with just over a minute to play.
Texas went on to win the Cotton Bowl over Notre Dame and finished the season No. 1, but after this game, President Nixon handed over a national championship trophy to Texas. Arkansas lost to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
4. No. 1 Notre Dame 10 … No. 1 Michigan State 10 November 19, 1966
In a strange and game that was equal parts thrilling and disappointing, Notre Dame star quarterback Terry Hanrattay was knocked out after getting crushed in the first quarter by Spartan defensive lineman Bubba Smith. Starting Irish running back Nick Eddy was out entirely after hurting his shoulder getting off the train in East Lansing. Even without their stars, the Irish found themselves tied 10-10 with the ball on their 30-yard line with time to go for the touchdown, or at least a game-winning field goal. But in one of the most controversial coaching moves in college football history, head coach Ara Parseghian elected to run the clock out and take the tie.
There were several explanations.
One theory was that backup Irish quarterback Coley O Brien, a diabetic, was completely run down and couldn’t throw. Parseghian didn’t want to take any chances. The second theory was that after being down 10-0, the Irish totally dominated the second half and didn’t want to make a mistake and give the game away. Ranked No. 1, the hope was to get out with a tie and still end up winning the national title.
The aftermath was a backlash against the Irish as fan disappointment turned into contempt for playing it so safe after Michigan State pulled out all the stops to try and win the game. But Parseghian ended up making the right move.
After throttling USC 51-0, Notre Dame won the national championship while Michigan State ended up second.
3. No. 1 Nebraska 35 ... No. 2 Oklahoma 31 November 25, 1971
Famously called the “Game of the Century,” No. 1 Nebraska, the defending national champion coming in on a 29-game winning streak, was on a collision course all year with No. 2 Oklahoma, with the showdown coming on Thanksgiving day with the entire sports world – an estimated 55 million homes – watching.
Oklahoma stalled on its opening drive, punting away to eventual Heisman-winner Johnny Rodgers, who fielded it on his own 28, broke free through seven Sooner defenders, came up with a brilliant juke, a sensational cutback, and was gone for an electrifying touchdown that became the signature moment in a game full of signature moments.
OU struggled to get going, while the Huskers capitalized on mistakes and fumbles for a 14-3 led. But the Sooners would rally back, taking the lead late in the first half as Jack Mildren caught the Huskers napping on a pass to Jon Harrison in the final seconds. With Nebraska defensive back Bill Kush struggling to put his helmet back on after the previous play, Mildren went back to Harrison for a 24-yard score and a 17-14 lead. It was the first time all year the Huskers were behind.
In the second half, the OU wishbone attack worked, but three fumbles killed promising drives and Nebraska took advantage with quarterback Jerry Tagge using the option, and a few clutch passes to Rodgers, to set up fullback Jeff Kinney for short scores on the way to a 28-17 lead.
Oklahoma rallied as Mildren ran a mix of the option with a few chain-moving passes, and a trick play on a halfback option, for a 31-28 lead with just over seven minutes to play.
With 74 yards to go, Tagge connected on a few key third down passes, scrambled at times using the option, and gave it to Rodgers, who dipped and dove his way on two straight running plays to get down to the 15. It was then up to Kinney, who powered the ball four straight times before finishing with his fourth touchdown run of the game and a 35-31 lead.
The Sooners had one final chance. With the ball on their own 17 and just under two minutes to play, Mildren had Harrison wide open at midfield, but the pass was overthrown. The Nebraska defensive line took over with two sacks to seal the win.
The Huskers would go on to the Orange Bowl and blowout No. 2 and undefeated Alabama 38-6 to win their second straight national title. Oklahoma beat Auburn 40-22 in the Sugar Bowl.
2. No. 2 Texas 41 … No. 1 USC 38 January 4, 2006 Rose Bowl
In one of the greatest games of all-time, with the two teams cranking out 1,130 yards of total offense, Texas came back from down 12 in the final 6:42 as Vince Young ran for an eight-yard touchdown run on fourth down in the final moments to cap off an epic win.
Young completed 30-of-40 passes for 267 yards, and ran 19 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns, but beyond the stats it was his dramatic play in the comeback that made the game such a classic.
The Trojans appeared to have the game well in hand, after Reggie Bush dove for a 26-yard touchdown and Dwayne Jarrett caught a 22-yard touchdown pass to take the lead, and they had the chance to put the game away late and run out the clock, but LenDale White, who had a huge game running for 124 yards and three scores, was stuffed on a fourth-and-one. That’s all Young would need.
Young led the Longhorns on a ten-play, 56-yard drive, culminating the game-winning scramble for a score, after getting them back in the game with a 17-yard touchdown dash with 4:03 to play. USC had one final chance, but the drive stalled and Mack Brown had his first national championship thanks to one of the most memorable performances in Rose Bowl history.
1. No. 2 Ohio State 31 ... No. 1 Miami 24 2OT January 3, 2003 Fiesta Bowl
Ohio State had struggled through the regular season in tight game after tight game, but it was still 13-0 going into the Fiesta Bowl against what was widely thought to be an unbeatable Miami team.
Led by quarterback Ken Dorsey and fellow Heisman finalist, running back Willis McGahee, Miami, the defending national champion, appeared to have way too much speed, way too much talent, and way too much big game experience for the young Buckeyes, a massive underdog.
Both teams moved the ball in the first half, but both missed on several opportunities until Maurice Clarett gave Ohio State a 14-7 halftime lead on his first touchdown run of the game.
The Buckeyes were more than holding their own going into the second half, and they appeared ready to take control of the game after Craig Krenzel connected on a 57-yard pass play to Chris Gamble to get deep into Miami territory.
With OSU knocking on the door, Miami's Sean Taylor appeared to take away all the momentum with a touchdown-denying takeaway, and took off down the field. Just when it seemed like the Canes had their game-changing moment Clarett was able to chase Taylor down, ripped the ball away from behind, and the Buckeyes got the ball back. They made the most of the big play with a 44-yard Mike Nugent field goal for a 17-7 lead.
Miami's offense was starting to get rolling as tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. came up with several big catches, while McGahee was finding his groove. But it was all about to come apart.
McGahee was quickly and decisively blowing past the tiring Buckeye front seven, but just as he was taking over he suffered a gruesome knee injury and was done for the game. Miami couldn't seem to catch a break, as Todd Sievers barely missed a 54-yard field goal that would've tied up the game.
Ohio State couldn't find a way to run out the clock, allowing Dorsey one last drive for a national title, set up by a tremendous punt return by Roscoe Parrish. Dorsey got the Canes close, but they had to settle for a Sievers field goal and overtime.
In the first OT, the Canes scored on a seven-yard touchdown pass to Winslow, and the defense appeared to have come up the national championship stop when Glenn Sharpe broke up a pass in the end zone on fourth down. Miami started to celebrate, but a late flag came out. Sharpe was nailed for a controversial pass interference penalty, and the game was still alive.
The Buckeyes took advantage as Krenzel punched it in for one-yard TD run, and they took the 31-24 lead on a Clarett five-yard touchdown run on their next possession in the second overtime.
Dorsey took a big shot and got his bell rung, being forced to come out on the biggest drive of the year with the Canes needing to get into the end zone. After a few time outs, he was able to come back in and managed to complete a perfect fourth down pass to Winslow to keep the national title hopes alive.
First and goal on the six - pass interference on Chris Gamble to give the Canes first and goal from the one. Jarrett Payton was stopped.
Second and goal. Dorsey couldn't connect with a wide-open Eric Winston.
Third and goal. Stuffed.
It was fourth and the national title from the one. Ohio State got pressure on Dorsey, forcing a prayer of a throw that went nowhere, and the Buckeyes came away with an improbable win and the national title.
- AP No. 1 vs. No. 2 - No. 6-10 Greatest Games
- The List of AP No. 1
vs. No. 2 Games