There are plenty of ways for a game to be great — turn-your-brain-off-and-watch-the-scoreboard shootouts, upsets, overtime endurance tests, pure high-caliber athleticism, etc.
To start this annual countdown, then, we’ll do some categorizing.
100. Dec. 22: Idaho 61, Colorado State 50
99. Nov. 26: Pitt 76, Syracuse 61
98. Nov. 12: USF 49, Memphis 42
97. Oct. 22: Middle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45
96. Oct. 8: Oklahoma 45, Texas 40
95. Oct. 6: Louisiana Tech 55, Western Kentucky 52
We begin with some old-fashioned shootouts. The average game featured 58 points in 2016; these six averaged 105.
- Idaho-Colorado State featured a scoreless first quarter on a slick, blue field. Colorado State opened the scoring on a 52-yard pass, and Idaho scored 41 consecutive points over the next 26 minutes. CSU scored six times in the final 17, but the Vandals — departing from FBS following 2017 — were the angrier team.
- Pitt-Syracuse was unique both in the number of points and in the fact that only one team was moving quickly. Syracuse snapped the ball 106 times to Pitt’s 59, but the Panthers couldn’t stop making big plays. Nathan Peterman threw touchdowns of 59, 35, and 79 yards, Quadree Henderson scored on a 66-yard run, and the teams combined to score 12 times in the second half.
- USF-Memphis was a stream: 17 points in the first quarter, 21 in the second, 28 in the third. The third featured four lead changes, and though Quinton Flowers put USF up with a 22-yard burst with 1:46 left, the game wasn’t decided until Memphis failed on three passes from the USF 3 in the closing seconds.
- Before quarterback Brent Stockstill broke his collar bone, Middle Tennessee’s offense was humming. MTSU-Mizzou wild — the Blue Raiders led 34-28 at halftime after four second-quarter lead changes and put the game away with sudden defense.
- Texas-Oklahoma was a slow burn. It was 14-13 Sooners at halftime, then things got wild. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Texas scored on passes of 63 and 45 yards, and OU scored on passes of 42 and 47. Dede Westbrook’s third touchdown put OU up 35-27, and a 93-yard drive made it 42-27. But UT kept scoring, and OU courted disaster when Baker Mayfield fumbled with a minute left.
- WKU would beat Louisiana Tech, 58-44, in the Conference USA title game, a rematch of an October battle that went the other way. In Ruston on a Thursday, Tech erupted for a 49-24 lead and still led by 17 midway through the fourth. But WKU scored, then blocked a punt. The Hilltoppers got the ball back with two minutes left and a chance to win, but an Aaron Brown strip-sack sealed the deal.
94. Sep. 3: Eastern Washington 45, Washington State 42
93. Sep. 10: NC A&T 39, Kent State 36
92. Sep. 17: North Dakota State 23, Iowa 21
Each season also features its share of FCS-related upsets.
First, you had Wazzu’s annual Week 1 FCS loss. Wazzu’s Gabe Marks caught 10 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns, and Luke Falk threw for 418 and four, but they were outdueled by EWU QB Gage Gubrud (474 yards, five touchdowns) and the amazing Cooper Kupp, who not only caught 12 balls for 206 yards and three touchdowns but also rushed twice for 29 yards and completed a 22-yard pass. A 24-7 run gave the Eagles a 10-point lead that held up when WSU recovered an onside kick with 14 seconds left.
A week later in Ohio, the Aggies outgained the Golden Flashes, but thanks to turnovers, trailed 10-0 at halftime. Touchdowns by Leroy Hill and FCS All-American Tarik Cohen drew them even, and the game went to extra time. The teams traded field goals, touchdowns, and touchdowns with failed two-point conversions. But after Kent settled for a field goal in the fourth OT, backup quarterback Oluwafemi Bamiro found Denzel Keyes to finish it.
The week after that, NDSU disposed of Iowa the way the Bison always put away FBS opponents: with patience. Down 21-14 with 3:41 left, they scored on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Easton Stick to Chase Morlock. They went for two and didn’t get it, but no worries. They drove Iowa 10 yards backward in three plays, got the ball with 1:53 left, and needed four plays to drive to Iowa’s 20. With no time left, Cam Pedersen put the game away.
Next, we move to a smattering of overtime absurdity.
91. Sep. 3: Texas A&M 31, UCLA 24
Texas A&M needed to get Kevin Sumlin’s hot-seat season off to a good start. The Aggies seized control with two third-quarter touchdowns and maintained a 24-9 lead with an interception in the end zone. But UCLA drove 64 yards to score with 4:19 left, and after an Aggie three-and-out, UCLA scored on a gorgeous, 62-yard catch-and-run by Kenneth Walker III.
A two-point conversion tied the game, and A&M went three-and-out again. Justin Evans picked off Josh Rosen again, giving A&M one last chance … but the Aggies stalled out at midfield.
In OT, A&M went for it on fourth-and-goal, and Trevor Knight scored on a keeper. UCLA advanced to the A&M 5 but failed on fourth down.
90. Oct. 1: Indiana 24, Michigan State 21
In 2015, Indiana lost five one-possession games. Michigan State won six.
In 2016, the tables briefly turned. State took a 14-0 lead in the third quarter, then IU surged ahead with three touchdown passes, two by Richard Lagow and one to Lagow. State got the ball back with 4:38 left and forced overtime with a 13-play drive.
We assumed we knew where this was going. State moved backward and missed a 49-yard field goal short. Indiana settled for a 33-yard field goal on fourth-and-1, and Griffin Oakes missed it … but State’s Drake Martinez committed a personal foul. Given another shot, Oakes made a 20-yarder.
89. Oct. 7: Tulsa 43, SMU 40
Phil Montgomery’s second season at Tulsa went better than Chad Morris’ at SMU, but we still weren’t sure of the plot lines when the teams met in week 6. Tulsa outgained the Mustangs by 150 yards but kept settling for early field goals.
SMU took an early 14-3 lead, but Tulsa went on a 17-7 run. Both teams took leads in the fourth quarter, and SMU’s Josh Williams hit a 25-yarder as time expired. Williams hit a 22-yarder in OT, but Tulsa QB Dane Evans put the game away with a 14-yard score.
88. Nov. 25: Tulsa 40, Cincinnati 37
In the second of five Tulsa games on the list, this play put the Golden Hurricane down 14-0.
Cincy led 24-7 in the second quarter and 34-24 with under four minutes to go, but a lead is never safe in a Tulsa game. TU scored 10 minutes to force overtime, held Cincy to a 33-yard field goal, then scored a touchdown in four plays.
87. Oct. 1: NMSU 37, UL-Lafayette 31
Now to the double-overtime affairs.
This makes the list for pure creativity. In the first overtime, UL-Lafayette nearly blew the game when Darius Hoggins was stripped at the NMSU 5. Hoggins recovered his fumble and scored.
In the second OT, two bounces went NMSU’s way. UL kicker Stevie Artigue hit the left upright on a 22-yard field goal. Then, on first-and-goal from the UL 1, NMSU’s Larry Rose III fumbled. Teammate Sebastian Anderson jumped on the ball in the end zone, and the Aggies had their second win of the year.
86. Oct. 14: BYU 28, Mississippi State 21
These natural geographic rivals have met just three times, but two were classic. MSU waited 15 years to avenge 2001’s 41-38 defeat (am I selling this?) but came up just short. The Bulldogs missed a field goal on their opening possession, punted from the BYU 38, threw an interception from the BYU 29, and got stuffed on fourth-and-2 from the BYU 31. And in the second overtime, down a touchdown, they failed on fourth-and-9 from the 12.
85. Oct. 15: Western Kentucky 44, Middle Tennessee 43
The week before MTSU’s win at Mizzou, the Blue Raiders nearly survived an even longer shootout at home against shootout master WKU. In a game with seven lead changes, WKU kicked an 18-yard field goal with five seconds left to force overtime. While the kick-the-can-down-the-road approach often fails, it didn’t here. MTSU scored in the second OT, but Canon Rooker’s PAT attempt was blocked. Anthony Wales scored on a one-yard plunge, and WKU advanced.
84. Oct. 22: Hawaii 34, Air Force 27
After the most incredible set of road trips in college football history, Hawaii turned its season around. This double-OT thriller in Colorado Springs got them back to 4-4.
Neither team ever led by more than seven points, and after a 25-yard pass from Dru Brown to Marcus Kemp put UH up in the second overtime, Jalen Rogers intercepted a fourth-down pass in the end zone to secure the upset.
83. Sep. 3: Wyoming 40, Northern Illinois 34
Two OTs aren’t enough? What about three? This felt like an upset at the time. It turned out to be an upset averted.
Overtime was a captivating mess. NIU lost a fumble at the Wyoming 2, then Wyoming missed a 37-yard field goal wide left. The teams traded TDs, then it was NIU’s turn to miss a 38-yarder. QB Josh Allen scored from seven yards out to give Wyoming the final advantage … at about 3 a.m. ET.
82. Oct. 15: Central Michigan 34, Northern Illinois 28
About six weeks later, NIU almost played the same game. The Huskies tied late in regulation, then split a scoreless first overtime and traded TDs in the second.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the final result was similar, too. CMU blocked a 34-yard field goal, then Cooper Rush hit Tyler Conklin for a 25-yard score.
81. Nov. 12: UNLV 69, Wyoming 66
Wyoming wasn’t done with overtime silliness either. Before securing the division with a win at San Diego State, the Cowboys slipped up in Sin City.
Down 13 in the fourth quarter, they scored twice in 102 seconds, gave up a 76-yard touchdown run, then scored on a 19-yard pass from Josh Allen to Tanner Gentry to force OT as time expired.
But after trading touchdowns in the first two OTs, Allen was intercepted by Torry McTyer, and backup Rebel kicker Nicolai Bornand nailed a 40-yarder.
80. Sep. 24: Tulane 41, UL-Lafayette 39
If three OTs aren’t enough, here’s a superfecta. Each team scored three touchdowns in four OT periods. In the fourth, following a seven-yard touchdown pass from Glen Cuiellette to Terren Encalade, Cuiellette hit Kendall Ardoin for a two-point conversion. UL responded with a 22-yard Elijah McGuire touchdown, but a conversion pass failed.
79. Oct. 22: UTEP 52, UTSA 49
Five? Do we hear five overtimes? UTEP and UTSA went to overtime tied at 28. Things got awkward in the fourth OT — the Miners lost a fumble at the UTSA 2, and the Roadrunners missed a 42-yard field goal — and in the fifth, UTSA hit a field goal and Warren Redix caught a six-yard touchdown pass for the win.
UTEP won the battle, but UTSA won the war. The Miners lost three of their next four games, while UTSA hammered North Texas and Middle Tennessee to creep toward bowl eligibility.
78. Sep. 3: BYU 18, Arizona 16
Hey, Jake Eldroyd. How would you like your first collegiate field goal attempt to be a game winner on the road? Sound good?
77. Oct. 5: Arkansas State 27, Georgia Southern 26
This was in the bag for Southern. The Eagles were up 23-10 thanks to long touchdowns by L.A. Ramsby and Myles Campbell, and they had scored on five of their last six possessions. The option attack that sputtered at times? Looked fantastic.
And then it didn’t. ASU’s Warren Wand cut the lead to 23-17 with a 55-yard score, and the Red Wolves got the ball back with 2:41 left and a chance to win. Mission accomplished. Justice Hansen rushed for 18 yards on fourth-and-16, then completed four passes, including the game-winner to Omar Bayless with nine seconds left. Southern’s last five possessions: three-and-out, field goal, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out.
76. Nov. 5: Florida State 24, NC State 20
NC State played six games decided by one possession, winning three and losing three. This is not the Wolfpack’s only appearance on the countdown. But this one was pretty bitter.
State led 13-10 at halftime and extended the lead to 20-10 late in the third quarter. But FSU’s Dalvin Cook scored on the last play of the third quarter, and State missed out on three chances to potentially put the game away. The Pack advanced into FSU territory three times in the fourth quarter but scored no points. And Deondre Francois’ 19-yard pass to Travis Rudolph with 3:09 left made the difference.
75. Sep. 23: Eastern Michigan 27, Wyoming 24
EMU went to its first bowl in 29 years, and this wacky game served as a mission statement. The Eagles overcame two pick sixes (and two other interceptions) to take the lead with a 15-yard Ian Eriksen run with 95 seconds left.
The lead held up, but the game was almost as noteworthy as what happened after: EMU students engineered a peaceful protest following the discovery of racist graffiti on campus.
74. Oct. 20: Boise State 28, BYU 27
One of the strangest games of 2016. Boise State outgained BYU by 249 yards, but thanks to five turnovers, the Broncos still needed special teams help to pull out the win.
First, you had one of the worst fake punts imaginable, a fourth-and-19 BYU attempt out of its own end zone.
Then, more importantly, a blocked field goal with 10 seconds left.
Oddly, BYU got the ball back after the block, but a Hail Mary fell short as well.
73. Sep. 10: Utah 20, BYU 19
What’s better than a Holy War? A Holy War that ends with a "Screw overtime, let’s try to win it right here" two-point conversion.
72. Dec. 30: Stanford 25, North Carolina 23
71. Dec. 29: USF 46, South Carolina 39
70. Dec. 28: Northwestern 31, Pitt 24
69. Dec. 28: Utah 26, Indiana 24
68. Dec. 28: Kansas State 33, Texas A&M 28
67. Dec. 27: Army 38, North Texas 31
66. Dec. 26: Boston College 36, Maryland 30
There are a lot of bowls. We know this. Plenty of people say there are too many, in fact.
I have a different take, however. The more bowls you’ve got, the more wacky bowls you’ve got. The postseason produced three of the top four games of the year, but it also produced this batch of delights.
The Sun Bowl between Stanford and North Carolina ended on a walk-off sack near the goal line.
Solomon Thomas (90) with the walk off sack. Incredibly quick and disruptive on tape. Going to be a really good 4-3 LDE, can rush inside too. pic.twitter.com/X29kllEOXX— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 5, 2017
In the Birmingham Bowl between USF and South Carolina, the Gamecocks went on an 18-0 run to send the game to overtime only to watch USF score on the first play. On fourth-and-6 from the USF 8, Mike Love sacked Jake Bentley to secure a later-than-intended Bulls win.
The Pinstripe Bowl between Northwestern and Pitt featured some key Panther injuries, but it also gave us 243 rushing yards from Justin Jackson, and oh man, it almost gave us a hell of a game-tying touchdown.
The Foster Farms Bowl between Utah and Indiana gave us a pair of fourth-quarter lead changes, a bunch of havoc plays, and a game-winning Andy Phillips field goal with 84 seconds left.
The Texas Bowl between Kansas State and Texas A&M gave us two huge K-State touchdowns — a 79-yard pass and a 52-yard run — and a late red zone stand by the Wildcats. KSU has now won its last game against each FBS Texas school.
The Heart of Dallas Bowl gave us a 24-7 Army lead and a 24-7 North Texas run. Army scored on its overtime possession, and North Texas went four-and-out.
Finally, the wackiest of the early bowls was maybe the least likely. SB Nation deemed the Quick Lane Bowl between Maryland and Boston College the least watchable game of bowl season; instead, it gave us four scores of 49 yards or more, a throwback pass, a long string of Maryland plays inside the 20, 23 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery touchdown.
BC went up 36-13 early in the third quarter, then had to hold on for dear life as Maryland scored the next 17. But the comeback stalled.