70 North Carolina 34, Pitt 27 (November 16)
Ryan Switzer says, "Hello, world!"
UNC needed them both, too, blowing a 17-point lead in between returns.
69 No. 24 Duke 27, North Carolina 25 (November 30)
Not even Switzer could slow down Duke's mojo. North Carolina had won five straight, but Duke had won seven straight since the shootout loss to Pitt and was on the verge of a division title. This one featured five lead changes and a special teams touchdown not scored by UNC (DeVon Edwards took a kickoff back 99 yards in the second quarter), and Ross Martin's 27-yarder with 2:22 left was the difference.
68 No. 13 Stanford 24, No. 9 UCLA 10 (October 19)
Stanford had quite a few well-fought games in 2013, so this got lost in the shuffle. But the week after an upset loss to Utah, the Cardinal rebounded in Stanford style.
They took a 3-0 lead into halftime, discovered a sudden burst of offense -- two drives, 116 yards, two touchdowns -- survived a UCLA response, and put it away with a late Tyler Gaffney score. Quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for 227 yards, Gaffney rushed for 171, and the Stanford defense sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley four times and picked him off twice to secure the win.
67 No. 25 Notre Dame 38, Navy 34 (November 2)
Navy, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame played quite the round robin. Navy took down Pitt (24-21), Pitt upset Notre Dame (28-21), and in between, Notre Dame held off Navy amid eight lead changes in the final three quarters.
Navy's offense was its best self; five players rushed for at least 48 yards, and quarterback Keenan Reynolds completed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Matt Aiken to give Navy a 34-31 lead with 8:55 left. Notre Dame got a not-a-freshman game from freshman running back Tarean Folston, who rushed for 140 yards on 18 carries, with his final rush giving Notre Dame the lead with 3:47 left.
But Marcus Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, and Navy quickly worked inside the Notre Dame 40. Another Irish freshman, linebacker Jaylon Smith, stuffed Navy's Shawn Lynch on fourth down with 1:08 left, and the Irish held on.
66 Notre Dame 37, Arizona State 34 (October 5)
A month earlier, Notre Dame held off a much better team with a similar score.
At Jerry World, the Irish took advantage of maybe the quintessential Tommy Rees game. The senior quarterback completed just 17 of 38 passes (bad), but they went for 279 yards (good) and three touchdowns (excellent). He found T.J. Jones eight times for 135 yards, and his 21-yard strike to Troy Niklas gave the Irish a 24-13 lead late in the third.
Of course, this being Rees, he responded to success with a touchdown pass to ASU defender Osahon Irabor. And then he turned 180 degrees again; ASU had tied the game at 27-27, so Notre Dame answered with a 10-play, five-minute field goal drive that included two passes from Rees to Jones. And with 1:44 left, Dan Fox picked off Taylor Kelly and scored from 14 out to seal a roller coaster win.
65 No. 17 Arizona State 38, No. 14 UCLA 33 (November 23)
Act I: Arizona State plays nearly flawless football, dominating the homefield Bruins and taking a 35-13 halftime lead.
Act II: UCLA goes on a 20-3 run in 20 minutes to cut Arizona State's lead to five.
Act III: MAD SCRAMBLE! ASU punts. UCLA misses a 37-yard field goal. ASU punts again. UCLA drives into ASU territory with under a minute left. But two holding penalties and a sack set up a fourth-and-35, and UCLA gains only 16.
ASU blows UCLA out, then holds on for a five-point win.
64 Fordham 30, Temple 29 (September 14)
Poor Temple. Maybe next year the Owls are capping mad comebacks and ringing victory bells.
63 Oregon State 34, San Diego State 30 (September 21)
That SDSU responded by winning eight of its final 10 makes me feel better about putting this on the list, because this was a gutting loss. The Aztecs led, 30-21, with three minutes left, and then bad things happened.
62 Auburn 24, Mississippi State 20 (September 14)
Auburn aced drama class in 2013, to the point where this exciting win over Mississippi State was easy to forget.
These were two lower-tier SEC teams hoping to reach mid-tier status. Mississippi State's offense had vanished in a loss to Oklahoma State, and Auburn had barely hung on to beat Washington State. And with Auburn still figuring out the intricacies of what would eventually become a dominant run game, quarterback Nick Marshall had to pass the Tigers to victory.
He did. Marshall completed 23 of 34 for 339 and two scores (and, yes, two picks and three sacks), and C.J. Uzomah made a great end zone catch of an 11-yard pass with 10 seconds left. Auburn won by four despite getting just 34 rushing yards from eventual Heisman finalist Tre Mason.
61 Utah 30, Utah State 26 (August 29)
Another darling of the list: Utah. The Utes make four appearances, all from early games in which Travis Wilson was still the starting quarterback.
Wilson was entertaining in an all-or-nothing way, and in this game, he was on the all side. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards and two scores, and it was just enough to survive an onslaught from USU's Chuckie Keeton (31-for-40, 314 yards, two touchdowns, two sacks, and 93 pre-sack rushing yards).
This game had stark shifts in fortune. Utah bolted to a 14-3 lead late in the first, but it was 17-14 USU by halftime and 23-14 three minutes into the third quarter. Utah took a 24-23 lead. USU responded with a field goal. But the Aggies' offense ran out of magic; an untimely three-and-out was sandwiched by two long Utah field goal drives, and the Utes pulled off a 30-26 win on the season's first Thursday night.
60 Ole Miss 27, No. 6 LSU 24 (October 19)
Ole Miss had lost three straight increasingly competitive games against good teams, but with easy wins over Mississippi State and Florida, LSU was looking like LSU again.
So the Rebels gained more than 500 yards on the Tigers and held LSU scoreless well into the third quarter. But a 17-0 lead evaporated, and it looked like we were heading to overtime at 24-24 until Ole Miss rallied one last time.
59 Middle Tennessee 51, Marshall 49 (October 24)
Middle Tennessee did not cap its return to bowl play in impressive fashion -- the Blue Raiders got thumped by Navy, and their reputation was damaged by some cheap shots on Midshipmen in the process -- but the fact that they made a bowl at all was a lovely step forward. And it happened because of this game.
58 No. 19 UCF 23, USF 20 (November 29)
UCF often looked the part of a legitimate top-10 or top-15 team. The Knights won at Penn State, nearly beat South Carolina, won at Louisville, and whipped Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
But there was another UCF, the one that needed breaks to win at Memphis (which barely missed the top-100 cut), needed a miraculous comeback to beat Temple, and dilly dallied against USF for just long enough to scare the hell out of the home crowd.
UCF led by only 13-6 at halftime, but the 2-8 Bulls stunned everybody by taking a 20-16 lead early in the fourth quarter. Nate Godwin picked Blake Bortles off with under seven remaining, but USF couldn't secure more points, and Bortles found Breshad Perriman for a 52-yard score with 4:50 left. USF drove again, but freshman quarterback Mike White was picked off by Jordan Ozerities with 1:20 left to lock up a surprisingly tight win.
57 Tennessee 23, No. 11 South Carolina 21 (October 19)
Connor Shaw came up huge in clutch moments. But the week before he came off of the bench to save the Gamecocks against Missouri, he was sacked four times and completed just seven of 21 passes in Knoxville, then got hurt near the end.
Tennessee's pass defense shined despite a 76-yard touchdown from Shaw to Damiere Byrd, and even after a 17-7 Tennessee lead turned into a 21-17 deficit, the young Vols responded. Michael Palardy kicked a 33-yard field goal with 10:11 left; then, after a lovely 39-yard pass from Justin Worley to Marquez North, Palardy hit the game-winner with time expiring. It was South Carolina's final loss.
56 Fresno State 52, Rutgers 51 (OT) (August 29)
55 Fresno State 41, Boise State 40 (September 20)
54 No. 25 Fresno State 42, Hawaii 37 (September 29)
53 UNLV 39, Hawaii 37 (October 12)
52 Wyoming 59, Hawaii 56 (OT) (November 23)
51 Mountain West Championship: No. 23 Fresno State 24, Utah State 17 (December 7)
The Mountain West portion of the program, presented in chronological order.
Few teams played in crazier games than Fresno State and Hawaii. Fresno State had a tendency to build explosive leads and watch them dissipate, while Hawaii mastered the art of flipping the switch in the fourth quarter. These lent to a series of silly games, even if the results seemed pre-ordained -- Fresno wins, Hawaii losses.
Of course, the fun began with Fresno off-script; the Bulldogs did the coming back against Rutgers, falling behind by 20-7 early and allowing Rutgers to take a 45-38 lead with just over a minute remaining. But the Bulldogs scored 40 seconds later to tie, Rutgers missed a 43-yard field goal at the buzzer (there were more than 200 yards of offense and penalties in the final five minutes of regulation), and after getting within 52-51 in overtime, Rutgers went for two and the win ... and failed.
Three weeks later, Fresno State held a 34-19 lead over Boise State with 16 minutes left, lost it in nine minutes, then scored with two minutes left to take a one-point win. A week after that, Fresno bolted to a ridiculous 42-3 lead with 21 minutes left and watched Hawaii score five touchdowns in 13 minutes and get the ball back twice with a chance to win. But as time expired, Fresno picked off a desperation pass at its goal line.
Hawaii was only getting warmed up. Consider the UNLV and Wyoming games place-holders. The Warriors trailed San Jose State, 34-14, but battled back to within 10. They trailed UNLV, 36-17, took the lead on a 44-yard touchdown pass with 1:44 left, and lost via field goal at the buzzer. They trailed Colorado State, 35-17, heading into the fourth quarter and lost by just seven. They trailed Navy, 28-14, heading into the fourth quarter and got to within seven.
Then they started playing better in the first three quarters (and still losing). They led San Diego State heading into the final minutes before losing in overtime. They went through about eight lead changes with Wyoming, scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion with 1:18 left to send the game to overtime, and lost. Finally, against Army, they got their first win of the season, jumping out to a 28-7 lead, blowing it all, and winning, 49-42.
A 1-11 season is supposed to be fraught with misfortune and misery. Hawaii might have put together the most interesting one-win season in the sport's history. Congrats, guys!
And then Fresno State tried to blow a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter of the conference title game before holding on with a pair of defensive stands.
50 GoDaddy Bowl: Arkansas State 23, Ball State 20 (January 5)
An underrated gem on the eve of the national title game, this game entertained exactly as you would hope the second-to-last game of the season might.
In windy Mobile, with a backup quarterback and interim head coach (again), ASU upset Ball State amid all sorts of fourth-quarter drama. ASU entered the final stanza up 16-10, but after a BSU field goal, ASU's Qushaun Lee picked off a Keith Wenning pass to the BSU 8, giving the Red Wolves a chance to put the game away. Three plays later, Eric Patterson picked off ASU's Fredi Knighten in the end zone. BSU then embarked on a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Cardinals a 20-16 lead with 1:25 left. No worries! Knighten, a run-first quarter thus far in his career, completed three passes for 50 yards and hit Allen Muse for a 13-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining ... just enough time for Ball State to complete a couple of passes, draw a late-hit penalty, and set up a 38-yard field goal at the buzzer.
ASU blocked it. Ballgame.
49 Fiesta Bowl: No. 15 UCF 52, No. 6 Baylor 42 (January 1)
When the machine starts churning, you assume you know the outcome.
Baylor started slowly in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, and UCF jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. Baylor responded with two scores, and even though the Bears botched a PAT attempt and trailed 14-13, you figured you knew how the rest would unfold. Only, UCF responded with a pair of long touchdown passes and took a 28-20 lead into halftime.
Baylor scored early in the second half to tie, and you figured you knew how the rest would unfold. Only, UCF responded with a pair of touchdown drives to take a 42-28 lead early in the fourth quarter. Baylor responded with a touchdown, and you figured ...
UCF responded with a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, tacked on a field goal, and cruised. Soon-to-be first-round Draft pick Bortles completed 20 of 31 passes for 301 yards and overcame a pair of second-quarter interceptions, plus, he rushed for 93 yards with no sacks.
48 No. 19 UCLA 31, Arizona 26 (November 19)
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey had a solid game, rushing 28 times for 149 yards. Arizona sacked Brett Hundley four times and held UCLA running backs Paul Perkins and Damien Thigpen to 73 yards in 24 carries. Arizona freshman Nate Phillips caught two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Arizona punter Drew Riggleman had a great game. Arizona did quite a bit to beat UCLA in Tucson.
But the Wildcats had no answer for a secret weapon. Freshman linebacker Myles Jack put together a line that would have made the two-way All-Americans of the 1950s jealous: eight solo tackles, one tackle for loss, one fumble recovery, two pass break-ups, and six carries for 120 yards and a 66-yard touchdown. Desperate to breathe life into a lifeless running game, UCLA had given Jack some carries. To say the least, it paid off.
47 No. 5 Missouri 28, No. 21 Texas A&M 21 (November 30)
46 Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34 (OT) (November 30)
Two great games were drowned out by the sound, fury, and aftermath of the Iron Bowl.
First, Georgia began a new era sooner than it wanted to. With senior quarterback Aaron Murray suffering a knee injury in a blowout win over Kentucky, the Dawgs' final regular season game saw Hutson Mason behind center. He did good things (22 completions, 61 percent completion rate, 299 yards, two touchdowns) and less-good things (one interception, five sacks), and Georgia's offense predictably took a while to get rolling.
Georgia Tech held a 20-0 lead late in the first half, but Georgia got to within 20-17 heading into the fourth. And with Todd Gurley (20 carries for 122 yards, four catches for 36 yards, four touchdowns) grinding out yards and points, the Dawgs got the game to overtime, then stopped messing around. Gurley carried four times for 50 yards and two scores, and in the second OT, Ramik Wilson broke up a fourth-down pass to seal the win just as Auburn was about to blow up the universe.
Later, on the doorstep of an SEC East title, Missouri leaned on its defense to get past Johnny Manziel in a tense night game. A&M took a 14-7 lead into halftime, and Missouri responded with just about a perfect third quarter, scoring twice and holding the Aggies to about 50 yards. But a banged-up Manziel engineered a game-tying drive early in the fourth quarter.
Both offenses stalled until Henry Josey, in what would become his final home game, took a third-and-one handoff with 3:34 remaining and burst up the middle for a 57-yard touchdown. A&M went three-and-out and punted, Mizzou got the requisite first down it needed to run out the clock, and the Tigers won the East.
45 No. 11 Georgia 41, No. 6 South Carolina 30 (September 7)
Injuries and other various plot twists changed the meaning of this game over time. Instead of Georgia seizing the SEC East with a Week 2 win over its biggest division competition, it was just a fun win for a Dawgs team destined to struggle through injury after injury.
That said, it really was fun. Georgia took a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter, but SC responded with two touchdowns in two minutes, thanks in part to a muff by Georgia punter Collin Barber. The teams traded touchdowns and went to halftime tied at 24-24. Gurley took over and helped give the Dawgs a 34-24 lead, but on the last play of the fourth quarter, Mike Davis ripped off a 75-yard run of his own to set up a short touchdown for the 'Cocks. No worries: Murray had Justin Scott-Wesley.
There's speed, and there's that.
44 Boston College 34, Virginia Tech 27 (November 2)
Andre Williams had 29 carries for just 97 yards, due to the Virginia Tech defense, easily one of the best in the country. But turnovers were preventing the Hokies from pulling away -- BC two third-quarter takeaways into 10 points and a 17-17 tie -- and eventually, Williams got his moment. His legs took him away from Tech defenders so quickly that they almost left his body behind.
43 Penn State 43, No. 18 Michigan 40 (OT) (October 12)
At some point, game length becomes a substitute for greatness. Penn State's victory over Michigan was more ordeal than classic, but it became gripping television nonetheless.
Michigan trailed 21-10 at halftime and went on a 24-3 run out of the break, but Christian Hackenberg plunged in on a quarterback draw to find overtime, and the OT periods took on a level of human drama rare to sport. It was gut-wrenching.
First, PSU's Sam Ficken missed a 40-yard field goal, meaning Michigan needed only to gain a few yards to set up Brendan Gibbons for a game-winner. The Wolverines gained two yards in three plays, and a 45-yard field goal was blocked. The teams traded field goals in the second overtime. PSU's Allen Robinson lost a fumble in the third overtime, but Gibbons missed a 33-yard field goal. Gibbons made a 40-yarder in the fourth overtime, but PSU said, "enough of this," converted on a fourth-and-one, and finally scored the game-winning touchdown. Michigan gained 26 yards in 14 overtime plays, blew two chances to secure the win, and eventually fell.
To put it politely, Brian Cook was not impressed with Al Borges' play-calling.
42 Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (OT) (November 16)
Northwestern's season in no way went according to plan. After a 4-0 start and tough losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin, things just slipped away. First came a slow start and a 20-17 loss to Minnesota, then another slow start and 17-10 overtime loss to Iowa. The Wildcats started quickly at Nebraska but lost via Hail Mary (yeah, that one's coming), but through all of the disappointment, the defense still drove Northwestern to a 9-3 lead after three quarters against Michigan.
Northwestern held Devin Gardner to an atrocious 3.9 yards per pass attempt (including sacks) for the game, but the offense couldn't get rolling. Michigan kicked a field goal to get to within 9-6, then pulled off one of the more improbable game-tying field goals you'll ever see as time expired. Slide, Drew Dileo, slide!
It took three overtimes for Michigan to finally put away the increasingly demoralized Wildcats.
41 No. 15 Baylor 35, Kansas State 25 (October 12)
Leave it to Bill Snyder to draw up the Beating Baylor blueprint. Heading into their game with Kansas State, the Bears' offense was playing at a historical, ridiculous level. In their first four games, they averaged 780 yards and 71 points per game; they were coming off of a 73-42 win over West Virginia that saw them gain 864 yards. 864 yards!
Kansas State just about cut that total in half.
In his first road start, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty completed just 12 of 21 passes, and star running back Lache Seastrunk gained just 59 yards in 12 carries. Kansas State dictated the tempo and hogged the ball; run-first backup quarterback Daniel Sams had a wonderful day in the process, gaining 199 yards and scoring three times on 30 carries. But KSU blew a couple of opportunities, turning the ball over on downs on its first possession and missing a field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Given time to get its bearings, Baylor's offense pulled off three plays that turned the game: a 93-yard pass to Tevin Reese, a 72-yard pass to Antwan Goodley, and a 54-yard pass to Reese. Baylor averaged just 4.1 yards per play on its other 55 snaps, but the three big scores helped the Bears survive.