l2018 was one of the chalkiest college football seasons on record, but here’s the thing about college football: it’s massive. Even if the title race only handed us one surprise (a big one, for the record), you could still find chaos, silliness, and compelling football every Saturday if you knew where to look.
And if you don’t believe that, here are 100 games to prove you wrong, not necessarily the 100 most impressive single-team performances, but 100 of the strange, silly, beautiful moments that made the season plenty gripping.
Our countdown begins with a game that wasn’t one of the best games of the year but might be the most memorable. With super fan Tyler Trent in the stands and the No. 2 team in town, the Boilermakers put together an all-time performance, taking a 21-6 lead into the fourth quarter, then throwing on gas.
Rondale Moore’s late catch-and-run was maybe the “It’s just our night” statement of the year.
Man … what? A&M had this game won, midway through the fourth quarter up 10. I didn’t even pull up the score on my phone while in transit. I figured I’d have to write about Gus Malzahn being in serious trouble.
And then A&M didn’t. Two scores in the final 5:14, proving Auburn Jesus was still in our hearts.
Everybody likes a dumb shootout, right? UMass star Andy Isabella scored on receptions of 89 and 61 yards in the first half, but the Minutemen trailed by 14 midway through the fourth. Marquis Young’s nine-yard score with 25 seconds left forced overtime, and in the third extra stanza, Jarell Addo picked off a pass, and Cooper Garcia nailed a field goal to seal a wild win.
Surges and responses. After ASU’s 24-7 run, USC followed with three straight touchdowns. ASU responded with N’Keal Harry’s punt return score and a 45-yard run by quarterback Manny Wilkins. USC’s Tyler Vaughns scored on a 48-yard catch with 35 seconds left, but ASU nabbed the onside kick before another surge could get going.
UTEP was mostly helpless in Dana Dimel’s 1-11 debut, while North Texas went 9-4. But any given Saturday in El Paso …
The Miners scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cut to 27-24, then got the ball back with a chance to win in the final three minutes. This was infinitely more of a game than it was supposed to be.
Kentucky had lost to Florida every year since 1986, but the Gators went into the fourth trailing 21-10. And then things got even less ordinary.
On the last play, Kentucky’s defense recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. It was a wild play that started like this …
… the perfectly weird conclusion to a 31-year streak:
A&T moved up the HBCU dynasties list this season, winning its third black college title in four years. The Aggies also began with a pair of huge wins, handling FCS heavyweight Jacksonville State, then surviving a weather-delayed battle with ECU.
Franklin McCain’s 100-yard pick six allowed the Aggies to weather an early storm, and Elijah Bell’s touchdown catch in the fourth capped a 21-6 run and secured A&T’s third win over an FBS team in as many years.
Any chance David Beaty had of saving his job basically went out the window in Week 1, when his record vs FCS opponents fell to 2-2. KU took a late lead, but Lorran Fonseca’s 44-yard field goal forced overtime, and Chase Fourcade’s run sealed the deal.
By the end of the first week, we had one of the most pinpoint passes we would see all year in Zach Bednarczyk’s fourth-down strike to Jarrett McClenton.
Army wins close games, and Miami (Ohio) loses them. But the RedHawks attempted to buck trends in the second overtime at West Point. It damn near worked.
FAU went a disappointing 5-7 in Lane Kiffin’s second season, losing four Conference USA games by a combined 15 points. This one was maybe the most maddening.
UNT went up 17-0 in Apogee Stadium, but a 24-3 surge gave the Owls a lead. The Mean Green quickly scored twice, but FAU responded to make it 34-31 UNT. Then DeAndre Torrey ripped off a 92-yard run.
One! Two! Three! Four! FIVE overtimes! Early in a 1-11 season, SJSU jumped to a 17-3 lead on a Hawaii that had been smoking hot. Hawaii tied at 24-all early in the fourth quarter, then at 31-31. They missed four straight field goals in overtime, then hit three in a row before SJSU missed a 47-yarder to end this strange war of attrition.
In what turned out to be head coach Neal Brown’s final season, Troy beat another storied power-conference program, sending Scott Frost’s Nebraska to 0-2. Cedarius Rookard’s 58-yard punt return paced a 17-0 Trojan lead, then B.J. Smith’s 26-yard run made it 24-13. It was 24-19 when NU got the ball back with 2:26 left, but on the second play, Will Sunderland stepped in front of a pass to seal the upset.
The next five are the best non-Division I games.
D3’s Wittenberg Tigers started 7-0 before losing to rival Wabash in another top-100 candidate, which cost a spot in the playoffs. Instead, Denison earned the right to get mauled by Mount Union in the first round.
Two months earlier, Wittenberg got the best of Denison in a wild, four-overtime affair. The Tigers bolted to a 35-10 lead. But Canaan Gebele’s 64-yard pass to David Weimar made it 38-30 with nine minutes left, then the Big Red forced overtime in the final minute. In the fourth OT, Wittenberg QB Jake Kennedy sneaked in for a two-pointer that Denison couldn’t match.
What more can you ask for in a championship game? The NAIA Championship was a barn-burner between Morningside of Iowa and Benedictine of Kansas, exploding with three touchdowns in the first six minutes. It was 20-14 Benedictine at halftime, but Trent Solsma and Connor Niles connected for an 80-yard score on the second play of the second half.
Benedictine tied with a touchdown and two-pointer with 5:49 left. The Ravens got the ball back but suffered disaster: a bad snap on a punt set Morningside up in their red zone in the final two minutes. With 1:29 left, it was Solsma to Niles again — 16 yards for the national title.
UMHB scored its second D3 title in dominant fashion, winning its first two playoff games by a combined 102-15 and keeping heavyweights UW-Whitewater and Mount Union mostly at arm’s reach in the semis and finals.
In the quarterfinals, however, the Cru were pushed to their limit. It took one of the best touchdowns of the year …
… and two red zone interceptions late.
Again, what more can you ask of a championship game? To earn VSU’s first title in six years, the Blazers had to survive a track meet that featured 945 yards, eight lead changes, and one of the wildest catches you’ll ever see.
VSU led by 11, but Ferris State kicked a field goal, then scored a touchdown with 40 seconds remaining. The Blazers foiled the two-point pass attempt, champs again.
The best small-school game of the year featured snow and the single greatest drive of the season.
Down 10-0, top-ranked Mankato embarked on a 27-play, 97-yard, 12-minute drive to pull within 10-7, arguably the new longest in the history of football. Running back Nate Gunn rushed 18 times for 68 yards … ON. THAT. DRIVE. On fourth-and-goal, Ryan Schlichte hit Shane Zylstra for the points with 14:10 remaining.
Twelve minutes later, Gunn was rewarded for his work with the winning points. His FIFTIETH carry went 12 yards for a score, and the Mavericks advanced to the D2 semifinals.
The best UK season since the 1970s was nearly even better. Despite getting outgained by 200 yards and moving the chains only eight times in this College Station rock fight, the Wildcats forced overtime with a 40-yard Darius West fumble return in the final five minutes. The magic ran out, as UK’s 43-yard kick hit the crossbar, and Trayveon Williams scored from 10 yards out for the win.
Baylor got to a bowl (it’s higher on this list) and Kansas State didn’t, in part because of this wild fourth quarter — the teams scored 34 in the first 45 minutes, then 37 in the final 15.
KSU scored on two long runs, then BU tied at 27-27 with a 21-yard pass from Charlier Brewer to Denzel Mims. Not two minutes later, Craig Williams’ 21-yard run put the Bears ahead.
KSU needed two minutes to even, but Baylor sliced back through, ran out the clock, and won on a Connor Martin field goal with eight seconds left.
Midway through September, it looked like Hawaii could surge to 11 wins. The Rainbow Warriors were 3-0 and unstoppable offensively, while Army had gotten thumped by Duke.
In a styles-make-fights battle, Army turned the tables with an extremely Army performance (at 6 a.m. local time for players traveling from Hawaii). The Black Knights allowed Hawaii’s explosive (at the time) offense just nine possessions and scored on three straight length-of-the-field drives.
Washington State went 11-2 and reached as high as seventh in the AP, but in September, they were in danger of losing their second straight game until Easop Winston went 89 yards.
You needn’t remember anything but the fact that Feleipe Franks repeatedly shushed his own fans, including after scoring the winning touchdown.
Florida showed it had more than one way to beat a good team, responding to a late deficit with actual offense.
If Dan Mullen gets this program back to college football’s upper echelon, I’ll remember Oct. 6 as the day I thought his program might just be something. It’s been a long time since The Swamp felt like this. It was electric, loud, locked in, and full.
This was shaping up as a silly shootout until a defensive struggle broke out. UNT exploded to a 21-6 lead, then Tech responded with 23-0. The Mean Green scored late in the third quarter but missed a two-point conversion for the tie.
And that made the difference. UNT hit the upright on a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, then Amik Robertson blocked a 46-yarder in the final minute.
Pitt began by getting smoked by Penn State and UCF and giving UNC its only FBS win. The Panthers finished ACC Coastal champions thanks to an out-of-nowhere, five-game conference winning streak. The first of those required overtime.
Pitt jumped to a 27-17 lead over an eventual 10-win Syracuse before a 17-0 run. The Panthers scored 10 points in the final eight minutes to force overtime, finally putting the game away with a Darrin Hall touchdown run and an immediate interception.
The second win of Pitt’s division-clinching streak was even wilder. Duke held four different double-digit leads, but the Panthers caught fire over the last 16 minutes. Alex Kessman hit field goals of 48 and 54 yards. No overtime was necessary, though.
Memphis averaged 7.7 yards per play and got touchdown runs of 78 and 59 yards from the great Darrell Henderson. Navy fumbled three times, went 6-for-17 on third downs, and trailed by 12 late.
No matter! Memphis fumbled four times itself, setting up a short-field touchdown to make it 21-16. After a Memphis punt came a vintage Navy drive: 13 plays, seven minutes, and the winning points on a three-yard keeper by Zach Abey.
Symmetry. Almost exactly a decade after Michael Crabtree stunned Texas with a legendary touchdown at the front right pylon, the Longhorns retaliated with a touchdown at the same spot on the same field. It was even the same damn play call, four verts.
There are enough wacky shootouts in the Big 12 that it’s easy to lose track. An ISU-OSU refresher:
- ISU’s freshman quarterback Brock Purdy debuted with an astounding 18-for-23 for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
- ISU eased to a nine-point lead and expanded to 40-28 late in the third.
- OSU made its predictable comeback with scores from Justice Hill and Tylan Wallace.
- Didn’t matter because Purdy and Tarique Milton connected for a 60-yard touchdown with six minutes left. ISU held on for the upset and, with Purdy behind center, would go 7-1 to finish the regular season after a 1-3 start.
BYU out-Wisconsin’d Wisconsin and scored its second Power 5 win of September when UW’s kick sailed wide.
The next five games on the list are the five greatest terrible games of the year. Or maybe the worst good games? Either way, they were close, compelling, and mind-blowing.
Arizona needed a Territorial Cup win to secure bowl eligibility in Kevin Sumlin’s first season and took a 40-21 lead into the fourth. ASU scored twice, then the silly began.
Khalil Tate threw an incredibly ill-advised interception, ASU kicked a field goal, J.J. Taylor suffered an unforced fumble, and ASU took the lead on an Eno Benjamin run. Arizona still had a chance, driving into ASU territory in the final minutes.
But they ran down the clock and settled for a long kick. The 45-yard attempt sailed wide right. Herm Edwards 1, Sumlin 0.
A season’s worth of mind-numbing plot twists, a soaked Will Muschamp, and a sad mascot.
Maybe the worst Rutgers team in a generation
+ maybe Mark Dantonio’s ugliest offense
= the most predictable slog of the season.
Quarterbacks went 28-for-62 for 282 yards, four interceptions, and two sacks. AND YET, you had to keep watching because Rutgers — 1-10 Rutgers! — led until Cody White’s run with four minutes left.
Team A gained 499 yards and had 11 drives end in opposition territory.
Team B gained 285 yards and had five drives end in opposition territory.
Team B won.
I blogged a post about this game’s 19 dumbest moments. A few readers felt it was one detail short. Let’s make that right.
The ninth INT — which nearly ended the Cheez-It Bowl but wouldn’t have counted, because TCU’s SID got tangled up in a yard marker, though the sequence still set up the winning kick attempt that DIDN’T involve the old pre-icing kicker switcheroo — included 330-pound Jake Curhan running down 218-pound Jawuan Johnson. May Curhan’s name ring throughout the Cheez-It Bowl’s halls forever.
Michigan State won a pretty compelling game and knocked Penn State out of Playoff contention. It wasn’t pretty in any respect, but the game was more dramatic and suspenseful than anything else, and MSU at least ran a nice fake punt to set up one score.
In retrospect, this almost feels like an upset. Utah State charged to 11 wins and a top-25 finish, while Michigan State limped from preseason No. 11 to 7-6.
But the first Friday produced a stupendous, back-and-forth battle either way. The Spartans led 27-14 when USU’s Gaje Ferguson scored on a pick six, and Darwin Thompson gave the Aggies a 31-30 lead with five minutes left. But an acrobatic catch by Felton Davis set up a Connor Heyward touchdown, and USU’s last-ditch drive stalled.
This wasn’t the most amazing bowl season ever, but it still produced a few humdingers, including the next six games.
This was a boulder picking up speed. There were 10 scores, and eight produced lead changes, including six in the second half. The Bearcats finally sealed their 11th win — a hell of a turnaround for second-year coach Luke Fickell — when Michael Warren scored with 89 seconds remaining and James Wiggins picked off a pass at midfield.
OSU can lure anyone into a shootout, and Mizzou was happy to oblige. But in a game that featured 1,139 yards and 54 first downs, late defense made the difference. First, Mizzou’s Cam Hilton picked off two passes to help charge back from 35-19. But OSU’s Enoch Smith and Jarrell Owens stuffed a third-and-1 Mizzou rush and forced a Tiger field goal, which was blocked; then, on fourth-and-1 from the OSU 9 with a minute left, and Kolby Peel chased Drew Lock down short of the sticks.
Before Butch Davis came to FIU, the Panthers’ best season was an 8-5 2011. They matched that in his first year, and in his second, they went 9-4. The last win: this back-and-forth Bahamas Bowl. FIU spotted an explosive Toledo a 10-0 lead, then rallied on the back of Anthony Jones, whose third rushing touchdown iced the win.
Oh, an important fact about Jones: HE’D BEEN SHOT IN THE HEAD IN SEPTEMBER.
“Everybody would come to the hospital and they kept saying to me, ‘Man, you’re a lucky dude, you’re a lucky dude,’” Jones said. “And every time somebody said I was a lucky dude, my mom corrected them fast. That’s the only time she got mad. She kept saying, ‘No, my baby’s not lucky. He’s blessed.’ And then I thought about it, and realized, she’s right. Things could have been so much worse.”
Wazzu had never won 11 games before. Given a chance to change that in the Alamo Bowl, the Cougars bolted to a 21-7 lead thanks to two Gardner Minshew touchdown passes and a touchdown run. ISU came back, nailing a 50-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer, then scoring 10 unanswered.
The Birmingham Bowl featured 71 points, 907 yards, and five lead changes, but all of the excitement was packed into the last 75 seconds, when:
- Memphis scored a touchdown.
- The Demon Deacons retook the lead with 41 seconds left on a keeper by Jamie Newman.
- With 34 seconds left, a failed squib gave Memphis the ball at its own 39.
- Memphis’ Riley Patterson made a 38-yard field goal.
- But it didn’t count, because Wake iced him.
- So Patterson made another, but a false start nullified it.
- Then Patterson missed a 43-yarder, giving the Deacs the win.
Georgia Southern won 10 games this year with a new coaching staff. The previous staff won two last year. That’s because Georgia Southern has the most inarguable blueprint in the entire sport, now and forever: if you love the triple option, it will love you back. It will express this love via hundreds of rushing yards that bludgeon opponents into mush.
Do not believe the lies about the triple. It can come from behind, and it can do so quickly.
The triple option loves you. Love it back or else.
Northwestern scored a few unlikely wins on its way to a Big Ten West title, but the Wildcats suffered an unlikely loss as well. Down 21-3 at halftime, Akron went on a stunning, 36-7 run that included THREE defensive scores: a 97-yard pick six by Alvin Davis, a fumble recovery in the end zone by Aaron Gilbert, and then another Alvin Davis pick six. That … is pretty hard to duplicate.
The Zips had never beaten a Big Ten team since before the Zips or the Big Ten existed.
Every fan base deserves happiness at least once a season, right? Oregon State’s only FBS win came the hard way.
After a 75-yard Travon McMillan run opened the second half, Colorado led 31-3. The Buffaloes kicked back, relaxed, and … got swamped by a 31-3 run. Jake Luton hit Trevon Bradford for a 10-yard score with 29 seconds in regulation, then scored in OT after a blocked PAT, clinching FBS’ second biggest point spread upset of 2018 (No. 1 is higher on this list).
The Sooners came in as an offensive juggernaut. The Red Raiders came in with starting QB Alan Bowman injured, and he would not finish the game due to a partially collapsed lung. But backup QB Jett Duffey didn’t look like a backup against Oklahoma’s defense.
While it never really felt like Oklahoma was in jeopardy of losing, due to the ease with which its points came (the Sooners passed for 363 and rushed for 323), it was yet another sign that Kyler Murray was going to have to keep scoring all year long.
The first of two big comebacks by UCF over Memphis, though this one had a much closer final.
Memphis led a couple times in the first half — 20-7 and 30-14 — but the Knights scored 17 unanswered.
Memphis had a chance for a winning field goal deep in UCF territory. But in the final 30 seconds, a Memphis motion penalty required a clock runoff.
What’s better than a rivalry game that goes to overtime?
A rivalry game that goes to overtime and ends with a fight.
After Iowa established itself as maybe the team to beat in the Big Ten West, it lost three games by a combined 12 points. Here’s the second one, and the third is next.
The Boilermakers took a 35-23 lead on third-quarter David Blough-to-Terry Wright touchdowns (including an 82-yarder). Before they could pull away, two Iowa touchdowns in two minutes gave the Hawkeyes a sudden lead. It lasted until the final eight seconds.
That’s one hell of a way to win your division.
The Pac-12’s best hope for reaching the Playoff ended in overtime.
This was 24-24 entering the fourth, and both teams missed potential game-winning field goals. In overtime, UW’s Peyton Henry hit a chip shot, which left the door open for the host. They walked through — CJ Verdell’s score gave new head coach Mario Cristobal his first win over a top-10 team.
WVU came to Stillwater ranked seventh, harboring dark horse national title hopes, and laid waste to the host in the first half.
OSU cut the lead to 34-31 in the fourth, but it was seemingly over when Will Grief rushed for a score on fourth-and-goal to put WVU back up 10.
Nope. Taylor Cornelius made it 41-38 with five minutes left, and a pass to Tylan Wallace made it 45-41 in the final minute. Too much time! WVU raced to the OSU 14 with two seconds left, but A.J. Green broke up the final play.
OSU needed that WVU win to reach bowl eligibility because the Pokes had let a similar lead slip through their hands in Waco two weeks earlier.
Baylor cut OSU’s lead to three with a Jalen Hurd touchdown, and when the Cowboys attempted to seal with a fourth-down conversion in Baylor territory, Chris Miller sacked Taylor Cornelius. About 90 seconds later, Denzel Mims caught the winner.
At 6-1, Wazzu was thinking this could become a special season, but major goals required a second straight win in Palo Alto. Done.
Eventually. Stanford led 28-14, but Wazzu’s offense is relentless. Gardner Minshew completed 40 of 50 passes for 438 yards, including with Tay Martin and Renard Bell in the fourth for a 38-31 lead. Stanford tied with 1:25 left, way too much time for Minshew.
The next few games come from the lower half of Division I. Here are the top 10 games from FCS. We start with a stunner.
Morgan State has one of the prouder histories in the MEAC but has struggled for traction. Maybe this game will help.
Fresh off wins over Jacksonville State and ECU and dominance of Gardner-Webb, A&T welcomed MSU to town. The Aggies took a 13-10 lead late, but a 51-yard Alex Raya field goal tied. And after A&T missed a 43-yarder, Raya trotted back out and sealed the upset of the Celebration Bowl dynasty at the buzzer.
Towson, ranked 10th, scored a touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first half, recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and nailed a 50-yard field goal at the buzzer to go up 18-6.
The No. 21 Blue Hens cut it to 28-27 by the end of the third, then took the lead with eight minutes left. Shane Simpson put the Tigers back ahead with two minutes left, but Dejoun Lee returned the kickoff inside the Towson 40.
That made Pat Kehoe’s job pretty easy. He completed two passes to Joe Walker, then hit Vinny Papale for the go-ahead points. It wasn’t done, though! Simpson then ripped off a big kick return, and one play later, the Tigers were inside the Delaware 20. That’s where things ended. Tom Flacco’s last two passes fell incomplete.
When you lead 27-6 in the third quarter, you don’t expect to lose.
When you lead 27-20 with three minutes left, you don’t expect to lose in regulation.
Furman pulled it off, though, with help from one of the costliest safeties you’ll ever see.
- There were 1,219 yards and 58 first downs.
- Bryant returned kickoffs for touchdowns to open and in the last five minutes.
- Howard’s Jequez Ezzard had five catches for 211 yards and two first-half touchdowns. Howard’s Caylin Newton (yep, still Cam’s brother) completed 17 passes for 373 yards, and his backup, JP Petricca, completed his only pass for 61 yards and a touchdown.
- Bryant’s Brenden Femiano, Vincent Nisivoccia, and Daniel Adeboboye combined to rush 29 times for 246 yards.
- Howard twice trailed by double digits, including a 49-35 margin.
- The teams combined for five touchdowns in the final stanza, including a Dedrick Parson score with 35 seconds left. But a two-point rush failed, and Bryant held on.
Youngstown State was in the FCS finals as recently as 2016. Butler doesn’t award scholarships. At one book, Butler was a 37-point underdog.
Butler beat Youngstown State, scoring three times in the final 10 minutes to land a shocking upset.
EWU would make the FCS finals against North Dakota State, but the Eagles nearly tripped up against Dan Hawkins’ UC Davis in the quarterfinals. They had beaten the Aggies by 39 points just a few weeks earlier, but Ulonzo Gilliam’s shovel catch-and-run and the two-point conversion made it 29-28 Aggies.
The Eagles deployed a masterful two-minute drill. Eric Barriere scrambled for 29 yards, then threw to Nsimba Webster to the UCD 35. Sam McPherson took it from there.
If you’re a fan of video game football, Davidson was the team for you. The Wildcats scored at least 40 points in eight of 11 games and allowed at least 35 in nine, winning a 91-61 contest over Guilford.
This shootout gave you not only points, but points in every way:
- Davidson rushed for 789 yards to USD’s 69.
- USD threw for 556 yards to Davidson’s 63.
DAVIDSON RUSHED FOR AN FCS-RECORD 789 YARDS AND LOST. They led 31-7 just 18 minutes in, but Anthony Lawrence threw touchdowns of 59, 30, 71, 42, 20, 99, and 20 yards. Davidson went back ahead, 52-49, with 2:38 left, way too much time for Lawrence. He needed only 55 seconds to put the Toreros back ahead for good.
With nothing to play for, Holy Cross found itself down 31-5. But whatever the Crusaders’ flaws were this year, a lack of fight was not one.
Holy Cross blocked two punts for scores in the fourth to get within 31-25. With three minutes left, they embarked on a 10-play, 74-yard drive and took a lead on Miles Alexander’s run with 42 seconds left. One interception later, Holy Cross finished an exciting 5-6 instead of a moribund 4-7.
Imagine leading your hated (and ranked) rival 22-0, then watching that fritter away. Imagine watching said rival take its first lead, 29-25, with two minutes left. Imagine driving all the way back, nearly scoring on second-and-goal, scoring on third-and-goal only to find out your opponent had called time out … and losing a fumble at the goal line with 10 seconds left.
Jax State QB Zerrick Cooper (who, in one alternate universe, relieved Trevor Lawrence late in Clemson’s national title win) threw for 417 yards, including this ludicrous dime in 2OT with a choice FCS playoffs seed on the line:
But three extra innings later at the home of the Atlanta Braves, the biggest play in Kennesaw State history arrived — an interception, powered by university president Turnover Plank.
BYU led 27-7 with 16 minutes left. Utah looked at its watch and said, “Okay, time to win.”
After one touchdown in the Utes’ first 45 plays, they scored four in their next 19. And after 15 first downs in the first three quarters, BYU generated two in the fourth.
After having its program canceled, UAB came back from the dead in 2017, immediately winning at a higher level. The culmination: a Conference USA title win in Murfreesboro over an MTSU that had defeated UAB by 24 points just a week earlier.
Better yet, the Blazers spotted the Blue Raiders a 13-3 lead. A three-touchdown second quarter gave UAB the lead at half, and after MTSU struck back, Nick Vogel hit a field goal with 3:23 left.
Death, taxes, NIU winning the MAC. The Huskies scored their fourth title of the decade by coming from behind against the best Buffalo team ever. Powered by a pair of Tyree Jackson-to-Anthony Johnson touchdown passes, UB took a 29-10 lead. But the Bulls seemed unable to shift back out of cruise control.
Charge, the Huskies did. D.J. Brown scored on a 28-yard reception, then Spencer Tears scored his second incredible touchdown reception of the evening early in the fourth. And after UB punted for the fifth straight possession, it was Marcus Childers-to-Brown once again.
You watched this scrum for the Las Vegas Bowl instead of Pitt getting pummeled or Northwestern playing sports, right? No set of circumstances could better make the case that the Mountain West title game should shut down Championship Saturday, rather than competing directly against the ACC’s and Big Ten’s time slot. This snowy battle on the blue deserved the final Saturday spotlight.
2018 was good for Purdue. The Boilers recorded an all-time blowout of Ohio State, kept their sought-after coach, signed a great recruiting class, etc. But they suffered some gut-wrenching losses, too.
Against Wisconsin’s struggling backup quarterback Jack Coan, Purdue led most of the way, taking a 27-13 lead early in the fourth. But Coan started to make plays. In two drives, he went 6-for-7 for 105 yards and two touchdowns to Danny Davis to tie out of nowhere. And in overtime, the Badgers went back to leaning on Jonathan Taylor. The sophomore finished with 321 yards, the last 17 on the final play.
Mizzou went on a 24-3 run, but Purdue caught back up. Mizzou scored 10 straight, then Purdue did the same. Mizzou got the ball last, and that made the difference.
Oh yeah, and this:
Watching this unfold on the internet was incredible, as thousands of people realized together that it had been 11 years to the day since we saw App State beat a Big Ten power on the conference’s personal TV channel. The sequel ended infuriatingly — with what seemed like poor management to squander a winning field goal, then with an unnecessary throw to the end zone that got picked in overtime — but it was a blast.
That we didn’t yet know future Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield had one of the best teams in the country, or that PSU wouldn’t be anything much this year, only made it better.
Chris Creighton has brought a competitiveness that EMU has lacked since the 1980s. But his Eagles have been cursed, losing 11 one-possession games in the last two seasons.
They managed to pull one off against an explosive Toledo, sprinting to a huge lead and holding on.
It was 28-6 after three quarters, 28-13 four minutes later, then 28-20. The Eagles went for it on fourth-and-1 from their 42 with 1:52 left, but Toledo stuffed ‘em and scored. The two-point pass failed, though.
Just as we all expected (not really), Baylor and Vanderbilt combined for one of the most gaudy yardage performances in postseason history, a Texas Bowl barnburner.
The 1,241 between the Dores and the Bears nestles right behind two other Baylor performances on the all-time bowl records list.
I’ve never been a fan of giving the losing team the MVP award, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn probably should have won it.
Matt Rhule is angling Baylor to be the changeup in the Big 12, a team that’ll pop your spread-out defense in the mouth with the I formation. If the Bears keep moving forward, remember the Texas Bowl as a huge step.
Texas couldn’t stop big QB Taylor Cornelius from running at key moments, and then THE COACHES ENDED UP SQUABBLING.
Florida State took a 20-7 lead into the locker room, and the Noles made that 27-7 in the third quarter.
Talk about defying odds, huh?
For three quarters, every score resulted in a lead change. Later, Myron Gailliard’s score gave the Mustangs a 23-14 lead; pending the PAT, they’d be up 10 against a struggling offense. But Jarvis Polu blocked the PAT, and Jarid Ryan returned it for two points to keep the lead at seven. Six minutes later, CJ Williams bolted 52 yards to send the game to overtime.
After Navy scored a touchdown, SMU did the same and had the choice to go for two and the win. Head coach Sonny Dykes seized the opportunity … with a video game play he and his staff found on Google.
Willie Fritz was hired to steady a forever unstable Tulane, and in his third season, he brought the Green Wave to their third bowl in 20 years. Thanks to a down-but-feisty Navy, that almost didn’t happen.
Tulane led 21-6, and things got dicey in a hurry. Navy scored, forced a three-and-out, then immediately scored again on a gorgeous, 73-yard pass from Zach Abey to Malcolm Perry. With 3:44 left, Tazh Maloy’s plunge gave the Midshipmen a 28-21 lead.
Tulane struck back, and Fritz had no interest in overtime.
Sometimes it’s like a streak has become sentient. No matter what the score is, no matter how much time is left, the streak finds a way to keep itself alive.
In Blacksburg on Thanksgiving weekend, a couple of streaks conspired against UVA. First, the Cavaliers hadn’t beaten rival Virginia Tech since 2003. Second, the Hokies hadn’t missed a bowl since 1992.
Both eventually stayed alive, but they had to go to great lengths.
With 12 seconds to go, Old Dominion trailed WKU by a touchdown.
With nine seconds to go, the score was tied as ODU kicked off.
Ah yes, the game that broke Booger McFarland.
You can’t blame the former defensive tackle for hating a game that featured teams scoring at a basketball rate. They scored touchdowns on 14 of 24 possessions, and the Sooners only won because of defensive touchdowns. This was EXHAUSTING.
Bedlam might be one of college football’s most one-sided rivalries, but not for lack of trying. Oklahoma State, still in need of one more win to reach bowl eligibility in a wacky year, put together its best effort of the season.
It was almost enough. OU led 34-21 in the second quarter (lol), but three Chuba Hubbard touchdowns brought it even at 41-41. OU took the lead back, but Tylan Wallace’s touchdown got OSU to within one.
Mike Gundy tried to wreck OU’s Playoff hopes with a single two-point conversion.
You wanna talk about the power of the in-game adjustment? On the road and on the ropes, the Buckeyes said, “what if we made the whole offense out of screens?” And it worked to devastating effect. On the go-ahead drive, the Buckeyes steamrolled down the field as Dwayne Haskins rapidly came into his own.
And then, with the game on the line — OH MY GOD WHY DID YOU DO THIS, PENN STATE?
Sigh. Coaches are smart. Sometimes they outsmart themselves.
Sports are intensely cruel sometimes. One of Week 4’s biggest games was a statement opportunity for Oregon and first-year head coach Mario Cristobal over what we thought was a top-notch Stanford.
The Ducks did almost everything right. They outgained the Cardinal by 126 yards, generated 10 more first downs, and overcame an 80-yard fumble return to lead 31-28. All they needed was one more first down, and CJ Verdell tried to make that happen.
The rest of the game was preordained. You already knew Stanford would win in overtime.
A series that used to determine the SEC West has become even better in the 2010s. Now it determines the first NARRATIVE of each SEC season. Sometimes the resulting storylines are baseless (Auburn losing to LSU in 2013 and ending up in the national title game), and sometimes Les Miles gets fired in September.
Against Miami, we confirmed Ed Orgeron’s team wasn’t bad. Here we figured out it was resilient, even Miles-lucky. We also got to meet Cole Tracy, whose parents have a full bar in their house, installed as if they knew their son would one day win games for LSU at the last second.
For whatever reason, Syracuse’s Dino Babers looks like he has Clemson’s number. The massive upset last year in the Carrier Dome was about to repeat in Death Valley. Following a shaky performance against Texas A&M, it felt like Clemson was slipping into the country’s second tier.
But Brice did this … and nothing else mattered.
Lawrence and Clemson quickly realized their elite potential. Only one team scored more than 16 points against them the rest of the way — and it wasn’t even Alabama.
The best example of how it’s always the players who redeem college football.
Ohio State had spent months in the news for bungling abuse allegations against an assistant coach, Maryland for failures leading to the post-workout death of a player. The people in charge of these programs highlighted some of the worst things about this sport.
So considering the hellish year facing Maryland’s players, it was exciting to watch them go blow-for-blow with an elite opponent. It was exciting to watch Dwayne Haskins continually push back. It was painful to watch Maryland miss an open man on what would’ve been the winning conversion, but cool to see Haskins win a game he deserved to win, whether all the powerful people above him did or not.
Northwestern had all of the good Big Ten karma. The Wildcats found themselves down 28-14 in the fourth quarter, and the only reason they were that close was because of a fumble return score. Nebraska held every edge and led by 10 with 2:30 left.
And Northwestern won in overtime.
In a game that would eventually clinch a rematch in the Big 12 title game, Tom Herman’s Texas Longhorns did almost everything right for three quarters. With a short-yardage offense that kept OU’s explosive attack off the field, and with help from turnovers, Texas found itself ahead 45-24 heading into the fourth quarter. The Horns had outgained the No. 1 offense by 70 yards.
OU needed 10 plays to gain 178 yards and tie the game. Heisman winner Kyler Murray hit Lee Morris for a touchdown and exploded 67 yards down the sideline for a one-play drive. After another punt, Trey Sermon gained 57 yards in three plays for another score. Rattled, Texas had 2:38 to respond. The Horns used almost every second in setting up freshman Cameron Dicker.
This seemed for three quarters like a comfortable statement win for the eventual national champions. But things got weird. With barely two minutes left, after cutting Clemson’s lead to 28-20, the Aggies fell victim to one of the sport’s most controversial rules, fumbling into the end zone for a touchback. But the Aggies got another chance to tie and drove 49 yards in just three plays to score. They still had to make the two-point conversion, though.
Since this unpaid amateur sporting event was a $54.99 pay-per-view, 32,000 people were only able to watch a Playoff team and its Oakland A’s quarterback struggle into overtime against the U.S. military’s maddening underdog offense thanks to a Twitch streamer who also agreed to show the internet his feet. Any sentence the human brain can conceive, college football can make real.
The Tide can be beaten. Clemson just beat the brakes off of them. Lesser teams like Ole Miss and Texas A&M have snatched wins. But there is a massive difference between those and Georgia beating Alabama through six of eight quarters in the calendar year.
Kirby Smart’s Georgia was supposed to be something more than a fluke or out-of-conference rival. Georgia was supposed to supplant the dynasty by building a bigger palace for one of Nick Saban’s best former assistants.
The Bulldogs still have little to show after coming so insanely close twice. So far, no matter how promising, they are still just the SEC’s latest imitation. (Oh, and the Jalen Hurts thing was cool.)
We fall in and out of love with this sport a lot. There’s so much at which to marvel, and there’s so much at which to rage against. We’ll say it’s fitting that the best football game of 2018 was as frustrating as it was amazing.
Bad calls … 50/50 calls … great calls that we thought were terrible until the next day … premature Gatorade baths … clutch plays and mistakes … all in a game that just refused to end, with a week-long postgame fight controversy that raged even after the game tied the FBS record for OT periods and set a new mark for points.
We had to work as hard as ever to love this sport in 2018. But A&M and LSU did a lot of that work for us.