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10. No. 1 USC 42 … No. 2 Wisconsin 37 Jan. 1, 1963 Rose Bowl
The No. 1 ranked Trojans led the No. 2 Badgers 42-14 in the fourth quarter on the way to an apparently easy, dominant win, but Wisconsin mounted one of the great rallies in Rose Bowl history to turn the game into a classic.
The Badger defense stiffened, while the offense became unstoppable scoring 23 straight points in the furious comeback attempt. UW quarterback Ron Vanderkelen threw for a Rose Bowl and school-record record 401 yards, with wide receiver - and future athletic director - Pat Richter catching eleven passes for 163 yards.
With 1:19 to play, Richter made his final grab, making a 19-yard touchdown catch to help pull the Badgers within five, but the onside kick was recovered by USC to snuff out the comeback attempt. Even so, up until the 2006 Texas win over USC, this was considered to be the most exciting Rose Bowl ever. The 79 combined points were a Rose Bowl record that stood for 28 years.
USC head coach John McKay needed this win and the big season to help him keep his job after going 8-11-1 in his previous two years. Not only did the Trojans win the Rose Bowl, but it also turned McKay, who stated he didn't want to be known as the coach who choked away the big game, into a legend. Led by McKay, USC went on to dominate college football over the following twelve years winning four national titles and going to eight Rose Bowls. Wisconsin followed this up with a disappointing 5-4, season, and then suffered ten straight losing seasons and 13 in the next 14. The Badgers didn't get back to the Rose Bowl until the end of the 1993 season, beating UCLA in a 21-16 classic.
9 . No. 2 Alabama 14 … No. 1 Penn State 7 January 1, 1979 Sugar Bowl
Legendary college football broadcaster Keith Jackson called it the greatest game he had ever seen.
The No. 1 Nittany Lions were on a 19-game winning streak highlighted by a high-powered offense led by All-America quarterback Chuck Fusina, and a defense that allowed 97 points all year. The Penn State D ranked No. 1 in the nation, and played like it holding down Alabama's offense in check.
Both teams struggled to score, with Bama QB Jeff Rutledge starting off the scoring with a perfect pass to Bruce Bolton for a 7-0 lead. But Fusina brought the Nittany Lions right back, tying the game on a touchdown pass to Scott Fitzgee. Just when it seemed like the offenses were going to start to work, the defenses did their job.
The Tide got a spark as Lou Ilkner returned a punt 62 yards to the Penn State 11, leading to an eight-yard touchdown run from Major Ogilvy for a 14-7 lead.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Penn State was within range to tie the game after recovering a Tide fumble on Bama 19. Fusina moved the offense down to the one and an almost certain game-tying score, but the Alabama defense was hanging on.
On third down, Matt Suhey was able to only get a half a yard, forcing Paterno to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the six-inch line.
Mike Guman tried to dive up the middle, but Bama linebacker Barry Krauss came up with the stuff – immortalized by an iconic Sports Illustrated cover - and the Tide had a goal line stand for the ages.
The Nittany Lions appeared to have one final shot when Alabama shanked a punt in the final moments, that would've given up the ball on the 30, but they were nailed with a penalty for having twelve men on the field and the ball went back to the Tide. The Bama defense played finished the game holding Fusina to only 163 yards and picked him off four times, and while the Penn State defense was great, the Tide running game worked with Tony Nathan running 21 times for 127 yards.
This was supposed to be Joe Paterno's chance to finally win the national title, but it didn't happen. AP named Alabama the national champion, while the Penn State loss allowed USC to win the UPI national title. Penn State finished fourth, and Paterno wouldn't win a national title until the 1982 season.
8. No. 2 Miami 17 … No. 1 Florida State 16 November 16, 1991
The Hurricanes had ruined FSUs national title hopes in three of the previous four years, and this was supposed to be the season that Bobby Bowden had the right team at the right time to put it all together.
The top-ranked Seminoles hosted the hated second-ranked Hurricanes, and it looked like it would be all Miami as Gino Torretta easily marched the offense early to take an early lead on a two-yard Stephen McGuire touchdown run. FSU looked like it would come back quickly as Casey Weldon hit Amp Lee with a 51-yard pass down to the Miami two-yard line, but the Miami defense made an early statement.
The Hurricanes hadn't given up a touchdown in the first half in any game, and they stiffened when needed, forcing the Noles settle for a Gerry Thomas field goal. After a Miami turnover, the FSU offense went right back to work getting it to the goal line again, and this time it finally scored on a fourth down touchdown run by Paul Moore. Thomas hit the extra point – this was significant.
Miami turned the ball over three times in the first half, but its defense saved the day time and again as FSU only held a 10-7 halftime lead. On the opening drive of the second half, Weldon - and backup Brad Johnson for a few snaps – cranked out yet another long drive, but once again settled for a Thomas field goal that just barely got through instead of a game-controlling touchdown.
All throughout the game, the Miami linebacking trio of Jesse Armstead, Michael Barrow and Darren Smith kept the Seminoles from blowing the game wide open, and they held yet again after another good FSU drive stalled. After a third Thomas field goal, the Noles were up 16-7 with 14:22 to play and with the defense doing a strong job of keeping the Cane offense under wraps.
Miami's Carlos Huerta connected on a 45-yard field goal to make it a one score game, and after getting the ball back late, the offense came up with its national title play, as Torretta connected with Horace Copeland on a 4th-and-6 pass to set up a Larry Jones touchdown, a Huerta extra point, and a 17-16 lead.
The Noles furiously marched back, converting on a fourth-and-one to keep the game alive to get within scoring range. Weldon took a shot at the end zone resulting in a pass interference and putting the ball on the Miami 18 with :53 to play with FSU down one. After one running play and spiking the ball to stop the clock, Thomas came on to an attempt a 34-yarder for the win. FSU's other kicker, Dan Mowrey, normally kicked the long field goals, but Bowden chose to go with the hot hand - or foot - in Thomas.
Set up on the left hash mark, the ball went up, and Florida State started to celebrate, but the ball went wide right.
Had the game been played the year before, Florida State would've won as the width of the goal posts had been narrowed before the 1991 season. Miami went on to share the national championship with Washington, while Florida State wouldn't lose again. The following year, Mowrey pushed a last-second game-tying field goal attempt wide right against the Canes.
7. No. 2 Notre Dame 31 … No. 1 Florida State 24 November 13, 1993
All the pieces were in place for the Seminoles. They had beaten Miami; they had a superstar quarterback in Charlie Ward who would go on to win the Heisman; and they had already beaten five ranked opponents with relative ease.
All of it was simply and appetizer for the main course: The showdown in South Bend.
The No. 2 Irish weren't supposed to be in a position to be in the hunt for the national title, but behind a surprisingly fantastic year from unheralded quarterback Kevin McDougal, who was playing only because star recruit Ron Powlus broke his collar bone before the season, the Irish were smack dab in the middle of the chase.
Both teams had 16-game winning streaks helping to hype the game to impossible-to-live-up-to standards, but the game was worth it.
Notre Dame, behind the 122 yards from Lee Becton, dominated the Seminoles at times with its physical style, but Ward had an answer.
Down 31-17 and seemingly out of it with 1:39 to play, Ward hit Kez McCorvey on 4th-and-20 for a touchdown pass that first bounced off Irish safety Brian McGee. The FSU defense held giving Ward one last shot.
In just three plays, Ward got the offense down to the Irish 14 with three seconds to play.
With one final shot, Ward rolled out and threw to the end zone – not seeing a wide open Matt Frier in the end zone - but his pass was batted down and the Irish came away with the thrilling win.
The following week, the Irish were shocked by Boston College and went on to finish the season second while FSU won the rest of its games and beat Nebraska for the national title.
6. No. 1 Army 0 … No. 2 Notre Dame 0 November 9, 1946
It was supposed to be an offensive shootout in Yankee Stadium with both teams averaging over 30 points per game, but instead, it became one of the most famous defensive standoffs in college football history.
Notre Dame had a chip on its shoulder after being outscored by a combined score of 107-0 in the previous two games against Army, spawning the emergence of the SPATNC - The Society for the Prevention of Army's Third National Championship, a student group that sent taunting postcards to Army head coach Earl "Red' Blaik every day leading up to the showdown.
Army marched six times inside the Irish 30- yard line, but Notre Dame held tough time and again leading to empty trip after empty trip. But the Army defense was also up to the task, as QB/DB Arnold Tucker came up with three interceptions, including one that wiped out Notre Dame's best scoring threat of the day.
The Irish, led by star quarterback Johnny Lujack, only got across midfield three times, but the defensive effort, also led by Lujack, got better as the game went on, except for one defining play that saved the tie, and the season.
Following Tucker's big pick inside Army territory, Mr. Inside, Doc Blanchard, took off around the right side and he appeared to have smooth sailing to the end zone, but he was barely tripped up by a game-saving tackle by Lujack to keep the game scoreless.
Neither team had the upper hand as the Irish gained a mere 219 yards, while the Cadets were held to 224. Led by Blanchard, and Mr. Outside, 1946 Heisman Trophy-winner Glenn Davis, the Cadets went on to finish the season unbeaten to complete a three-year unbeaten streak going 27-0-1. Notre Dame finished the season No. 1 in the AP poll. Army finished second.
- AP No. 1 vs. No. 2 - Top
Five Greatest Games
- The List of AP No. 1
vs. No. 2 Games