100. Wake Forest 3, Boston College 0 (Oct. 10)
Consider this a place-holder.
2015 saw more than its share of brutal offense. While the national average gave us about 57.3 combined points, 49 games gave us fewer than 30 and a lucky 11 gave us fewer than 20. This was the peak of what I’ll optimistically call defense-heavy football. UConn 7, Tulane 3. Vanderbilt 10, Mizzou 3. Mizzou 9, UConn 6. Georgia 9, Mizzou 6. Florida State 14, BC 0. Duke 9, BC 7.
Games like this take you hostage. You are watching nothing but punts and dropped passes and awful offensive line play, but you keep checking back because the game could swing at any moment.
Wake-BC was exciting in its own right, and produced this:
99. South Dakota State 41, Kansas 38 (Sept. 5)
As exciting as it was mortifying. FCS SDSU took a 31-7 lead just 18 minutes in, but the Jayhawks pecked back. KU got the ball back at its own 41 with 39 seconds left and a chance to tie or win. But then …
98. Northern Illinois 32, Toledo 27 (Nov. 3)
97. Western Michigan 35, Toledo 30 (Nov. 27)
Toledo did almost everything right in Matt Campbell’s final season before leaving for Iowa State. The Rockets knocked off two power conference opponents (Arkansas, Iowa State), finished with a lovely bowl win over a pretty good Temple, and laid waste to nearly everybody in between. Nearly.
Despite a lofty final ranking of No. 21 in S&P+, the Rockets were unable to secure their first MAC West title since 2004 because they couldn’t finish off two rivals.
In Tuesday-night MACtion against rival NIU, Toledo led 17-7 early and 27-19 in the fourth quarter, but NIU took the lead on a two-yard Joel Bouagnon run with two minutes left. Boomer Mays picked off a pass on the first play of the ensuing drive.
Three and a half weeks later, Toledo still had a chance to win the West. But PJ Fleck’s peaking Broncos surged ahead, scoring right before and after halftime. Toledo cut WMU’s lead to 35-30 with a minute left, but WMU recovered the onside kick.
Toledo was the best team in the MAC, except when it counted most.
96. Utah 24, Michigan 17 (Sept. 3)
We forget about this as the two faded in the second half of the season. But at the midway point, Utah was undefeated and fourth in the polls, and one-loss Michigan was 12th and rising.
Jake Rudock would turn out to be a decent quarterback for Michigan, but he struggled in Salt Lake. His first of three interceptions cut off an early scoring drive, and his last was returned for a touchdown. This ended up making the difference in a dead-even game.
95. Western Kentucky 41, Louisiana Tech 38 (Sept. 10)
This was a chase Louisiana Tech nearly won. WKU played in a series of anxious affairs before catching fire, narrowly beating Vanderbilt and Tech and falling to Indiana. This was the wildest of the three.
The Hilltoppers jumped out to a 21-3 lead, but Jeff Driskel and the Bulldogs made a statement. They cut the lead to 24-17, then 27-24, then 38-31. WKU always remained a step ahead. The final damage: 79 points, 1,169 yards, 15 penalties, three turnovers, quite a few defensive havoc plays, and a Thursday night adrenaline rush.
94. Arkansas 24, Tennessee 20 (Oct. 3)
93. Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24 (Nov. 7)
Tennessee set the drama bar high, as you’ll see later. It got crazy enough that these two games were overshadowed.
Against Arkansas, the Vols built their customary double-digit lead with two early touchdowns. Arkansas took a 24-17 lead in the third, and after a UT field goal, the Vols’ defense kept trying to give the offense a shot to win. Jalen Reeves-Maybin blocked a short field goal, then Tennessee stuffed a fake field goal attempt. But Arkansas’ defense shut things down, and the Hogs held.
A month later, Tennessee built the customary big early lead (17-0 late in the first half), until South Carolina’s offense came alive. Two Gamecock touchdowns in one minute tied the game at 17. Aaron Medley’s 27-yard field goal gave UT a 27-24 lead in the fourth, but SC got one last chance.
But the script changed on Perry Orth's final completion.
92. Nebraska 36, Southern Miss 28 (Sept. 26)
The Golden Eagles, 4-32 from 2012-14, would finish 9-5 and win the Conference USA West, but on September 26, they fell to 2-2 following a mad comeback in Lincoln. Nebraska dominated the first half but kept settling for field goals, and though the Huskers led 29-7 heading into the fourth quarter, USM was close enough to make things tense.
Two Nick Mullens-to-Casey Martin touchdowns got the Eagles to within 29-21, and after Nebraska responded with a score, so did USM. It was 36-28 when Southern Miss blocked what would have been the game-clinching field goal with 29 seconds left. Mullens and Martin connected twice to get Southern Miss into Nebraska territory, but Freedom Akinmoladun sacked Mullens on the final play to save the Cornhuskers.
91. Western Michigan 45, Middle Tennessee 31 (Dec. 24)
The Bahamas Bowl is growing a reputation. After its 2014 debut resulted in the seventh-best game of 2014 and one of the wildest endings you’ll ever see, Middle Tennessee and Western Michigan scored on plays of 46, 62, and 44 yards in the 2015 game’s first four minutes, and the first quarter ended with an 80-yard WMU touchdown pass.
It was 17-17 after the first quarter, and things picked back up late. WMU scored on a 68-yard touchdown pass, MTSU tied at 31-31 with a 29-yarder, and WMU put the game away with two late Jamauri Bogan touchdowns. The final was not indicative — the only time a team led by more than seven points was in the last five minutes.
90. Missouri 20, BYU 16 (Nov. 14)
Missouri was an offensive debacle in what ended up being Gary Pinkel’s final season, with injuries at running back, suspensions and youth at quarterback, and a mortifying line. But after scoring just 25 points in their previous four games, the Tigers perked up in Kansas City.
The timing couldn’t have been better. A few days after Mizzou players had threatened a boycott as part of racial protests and barely 24 hours after Pinkel had announced his cancer diagnosis and retirement, the Tigers scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, first on a Drew Lock pass to J’Mon Moore (one of the boycott’s organizers), then on a short Tyler Hunt run. It resulted in quite a post-game interview.
89. Memphis 37, Ole Miss 24 (Oct. 17)
Ole Miss finished as hot as anyone outside of Tuscaloosa. The Rebels won five of their final six and came within a desperation lateral of winning the SEC West. They won 10 games for the first time since 2003 and took the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1969.
At the midway point, they were a bit of a mess. And two weeks after getting trounced at Florida, they ran into a buzzsaw named Paxton Lynch.
Memphis’ quarterback threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns, and after Ole Miss took a 14-0 lead, the Tigers outscored the Rebels, 37-10.
88. Virginia 44, Syracuse 38 (Oct. 17)
Some games fly under the radar. Syracuse and UVA entered a combined 4-6, and both would ditch their coaches about a month after. But they combined for this partial gem in Charlottesville.
All hell broke loose in the second and fourth quarters. Syracuse’s Antwan Cordy kicked off a 35-point second quarter with a fumble return touchdown, Virginia’s Wilfred Wahee returned another fumble for 32 yards, and Syracuse scored twice in the final 62 seconds of the half to take a 21-14 lead. It was 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but UVA sent the game to overtime with a 25-yard Ian Frye field goal at the buzzer.
In overtime, Syracuse scored in five plays, then Virginia responded with a 36-yard pass from Matt Johns to Canaan Severin. The teams needed four plays to score two more touchdowns, but the game turned when Syracuse’s Eric Dungey took a third-down sack in the third OT. UVA’s Jordan Ellis scored to give the Hoos the win.
87. LSU 45, Auburn 21 (Sept. 19)
86. LSU 19, Texas A&M 7 (Nov. 28)
Les Miles was going to be fired. And then he didn’t get fired.
85. UTEP 50, New Mexico State 47 (Sept. 19)
NMSU led UTEP, 30-16, heading into the fourth, and then things got silly. The Miners tied with a touchdown pass and a 64-yard Jaquan White punt return. NMSU took another 14-point lead in about five minutes, but UTEP would force overtime with an eight-play, 98-yard drive in just 79 seconds.
In OT, Ryan Metz found Cedrick Lang for a six-yard score and a very unlikely win. Metz and Mack Leftwich threw for 76 yards in the first three quarters and 194 in the fourth and OT.
84. Georgia 23, Georgia Southern 17 (Nov. 21)
Georgia finished 10-3 in Mark Richt’s final season, but he was canned just the same.
At the time, this felt like Richt was coaching to keep his job, and his Dawgs survived one hell of an upset bid.
A 62-yard fumble return by Caleb Williams gave GS a 14-7 lead, and a 48-yard field goal made it 17-14 Eagles in the fourth. But Marshall Morgan hit a 43-yard field goal, and Georgia snuffed out a late drive near midfield. In overtime, Jordan Jenkins stuffed L.A. Rambsby on fourth-and-1, and Sony Michel’s 25-yard touchdown run won the game.
83. Ohio State 34, Indiana 27 (Oct. 3)
82. Michigan 48, Indiana 41 (Nov. 14)
Indiana went to its first bowl in eight seasons and rewarded head coach Kevin Wilson with a contract extension. But a breakthrough season was defined by dramatic losses, four of which made this countdown (Nos. 34 and 29).
In Week 5, defending champion Ohio State nearly went home with its first loss in 13 months. Indiana took a 17-13 lead, and then things got nutty. Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 65-yard run, and the Buckeyes took a 27-17 lead. Indiana responded with a field goal, but Elliott’s 75-yard score made it 34-20. Just 21 seconds later, IU’s backup quarterback, Zander Diamont, scored on a 79-yarder. And with time running out, Diamont drove IU into OSU territory. The Hoosiers finished nine yards short.
A month later, IU got even closer to a marquee win. Jim Harbaugh’s fading Michigan couldn’t stop Jordan Howard. IU’s running back carried 35 times for 240 yards, and his 24-yard romp gave Indiana a 34-27 lead with 2:52 left. Michigan drove to the Indiana 1 with time expiring, but IU pushed the Wolverines back … until Rudock hit a five-yard score on fourth-and-goal.
In the second overtime, Indiana had its own fourth-and-goal but failed to convert.
81. Western Michigan 41, Central Michigan 39 (Oct. 10)
Fleck and WMU were flailing when the Broncos hosted CMU. Fresh off of a breakthrough season, they were 1-3 with blowout losses to Georgia Southern and Ohio State. They would finish by winning seven of nine, but they had to hold on for dear life against the Chippewas.
WMU led 34-16 early in the third quarter, but three CMU scores cut the lead to 34-32.
Up two with 8:24 left, WMU did something amazing. If you can’t stop the other team’s offense, just sit on the ball. WMU converted a third-and-9, third-and-2, and fourth-and-2, and killed the clock with a 15-play drive. In a game loaded with explosive plays, WMU won by playing keepaway.
80. Washington State 37, Rutgers 34 (Sept. 12)
79. Washington State 45, Arizona 42 (Oct. 24)
Washington State is well-represented on this countdown (Nos. 57, 52, 49, and 27).
Fresh off of an upset loss to Portland State, the Cougars saved their year with a cross-country trip and a dramatic comeback. They led host Rutgers, 20-6, but the Scarlet Knights surged ahead in crazy fashion. Janarion Grant returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter, then took a punt 55 yards for another and a 34-30 RU lead with 1:31 left.
To close out a nightmarish special teams performance, WSU was stuffed at its 10 on the ensuing kickoff. No worries. Luke Falk capped a 478-yard performance by driving WSU 90 yards in 10 plays. He found Keith Harrington for what appeared to be the winning score, but replay showed that Harrington had stepped out of bounds. Falk rushed for a first down, then hit River Cracraft for the official game-winner with 13 seconds left.
Six weeks later, Falk threw for 514 yards and five touchdowns in Tucson, but the reeling Wildcats matched the Cougars nearly score for score. WSU led 38-21 but needed a fourth and final touchdown pass from Falk to Gabe Marks with 2:03 left to ice the game. UA scored again, but WSU recovered the onside kick and survived after 1,114 yards and about seven hours of game time.
78. Auburn 27, Jacksonville State 20 (Sept. 12)
This made more sense as the season went on. Somehow voted the preseason SEC favorite, Auburn would finish 7-6; JSU wouldn’t lose again until the FCS final against North Dakota State.
At the time, this was a stunner. Still ranked sixth in the country, Auburn fell behind JSU, 20-13, after a late touchdown run. Auburn lost a fumble with three minutes left, but a conservative JSU went three-and-out and gave the Tigers one last chance.
Jeremy Johnson found Melvin Ray for a 10-yard score with 39 seconds left, Peyton Barber scored on a tough four-yard run in overtime, and a desperate fourth-down pass from Eli Jenkins to Josh Barge hit the turf. JSU outgained Auburn by 37 yards but came up seven points short.
77. Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 21 (Sept. 26)
You want to face Arkansas in September. For the second straight year, the Razorbacks converted a slow start into a fast finish, but in Week 4, a second straight loss to A&M dropped Arkansas to 1-3 and appeared to put Bret Bielema on the hot seat.
Arkansas took a 14-13 lead and extended it to 21-13 in the fourth. Arkansas killed six minutes with a long drive, but it finished with no points, and A&M tied with a five-play, 85-yard drive. Myles Garrett stripped Brandon Allen with a minute left, but Arkansas found extra life when A&M missed a 38-yard field goal at the buzzer.
It was delaying the inevitable. Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk connected on a 20-yard score in overtime, and De’Vante Harris broke up a fourth-down pass. A&M survived Arkansas in OT for the second straight year.
76. Ohio State 42, Virginia Tech 24 (Sept. 7)
The game was fine. it was close for a while despite Braxton Miller going off, but Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer got hurt, and Ohio State pulled away.
But the intro to this Monday night contest let us know the season had officially begun.
75. TCU 28, Baylor 21 (Nov. 27)
Perhaps the offseason's most anticipated game of the year, it lost its luster due to injury and a couple of losses. Still, both were ranked in the top 20, and the game wasn’t decided until a fourth-and-1 stuff by TCU in the second overtime. That’s the positive spin.
The negative: the game was played in a nightmarish combination of monsoon conditions and a mid-30s temperature, and the teams combined for seven turnovers (five from Baylor), 23 punts, and under four yards per play. And a year after Baylor survived 2014’s most highlight-packed game (No. 1 on the 2014 countdown), TCU it by attrition.
74. Utah 35, BYU 28 (Dec. 19)
73. Appalachian State 31, Ohio 29 (Dec. 19)
Those complaining that bowl season wasn’t fun just didn’t start watching soon enough. While it’s true that the games in the December 30 to January 1 range weren’t entertaining, those on the opening Saturday provided plenty of punch.
Arizona survived New Mexico, Louisiana Tech surged past Arkansas State, and Appalachian State’s double comeback over Ohio in the Camellia Bowl and Utah’s rivalry survival over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl were unique.
It’s rare to find a game on this countdown that includes a 35-0 first-quarter lead.
BYU began with an incredible five turnovers in 16 plays, Utah scored twice on interception returns, and the Utes needed to gain 65 total yards to score five touchdowns in the first 11 minutes.
The Cougars rallied. It was 35-7 at halftime and 35-14 at the end of the third quarter, and Tanner Mangum’s four-yard touchdown run cut Utah’s lead to 35-28 with 3:23 left. The BYU defense needed one more stop. Joe Williams plunged for three yards on third-and-1, and Utah survived.
That night in Montgomery, Ohio and Appalachian State saved their fireworks. Thanks to two ASU turnovers, Ohio scored 17 points in 71 seconds to take a 17-7 lead into halftime, and Jovon Johnson’s 45-yard strip-and-run made it 24-7 heading into the fourth.
Thanks to two Ohio turnovers, ASU surged ahead with three touchdowns in under two minutes. The Mountaineers were suddenly in control until Johnson stuffed Marcus Cox for a safety with six minutes left. Ohio took the free kick, killed four minutes, and kicked the go-ahead field goal with 1:47 left.
And then ASU drove down for the game-winning field gaol. Zach Matics, so good all year, had missed two kicks in the first quarter, but he nailed a 23-yarder at the buzzer, and ASU finished 11-2.
72. Washington State 20, Miami 14 (Dec. 26)
Credit Miami for staying in the game even though many of its players hadn’t seen snow before. The second Saturday of bowl season was highlighted by Wazzu taking a 20-7 lead in a traditional El Paso blizzard, then holding on.
Miami cut the deficit to 20-14 with 13 minutes left and got two chances to win. But Robert Barber forced a fumble at the WSU 4 with 4:30 left. And 90 seconds later, a Miami trick play went awry; Shalom Luani picked off a pass from running back Joe Yearby at the WSU 15 with 2:58 left.
71. Memphis 53, Cincinnati 46 (Sept. 24)
After an 8-0 start, the Tigers lost four of five and lost head coach Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech. But they were one of the biggest stories of the first half, and this Thursday night gave the Tigers control of the AAC.
It was marred by a scary injury to Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, but UC backup Hayden Moore threw for 557 yards and four touchdowns. Two long passes to Max Morrison tied the game at 46-46 in the fourth quarter, but Memphis capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with Sam Craft’s three-yard touchdown, the game winner.