40 No. 16 UCLA 41, No. 23 Nebraska 21 (September 14)
39 No. 6 Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (October 5)
Five of Georgia's first six games made this list. The Dawgs were old hands at the dramatic by mid-October, but perhaps the most dramatic, emotional, draining win came against a lesser opponent. After disposing of highly ranked South Carolina and LSU teams and watching the injury bug begin to take some bites out of the offensive depth chart, Georgia went to Knoxville without Gurley, lost backup Keith Marshall and Justin Scott-Wesley, and watched an early 17-3 lead disappear.
Tennessee blocked a third-quarter punt to tie the game at 17-17 late in the third quarter, and after the teams traded touchdowns, the Vols took the lead on a stunning, 13-play touchdown drive that featured two fourth-down conversions. Rajion Neal scored to give Tennessee a 31-24 lead, but the Vols left 1:54 on the clock, and Georgia used 1:49 of it before scoring on an overtime-clinching pass from Murray to Rantavious Wooten.
In OT, Tennessee continued throwing caution to the wind. The Vols got to the Georgia seven, where they ran an end around to Pig Howard. Howard turned the corner, leaped for the end zone ... and lost the ball.
38 No. 9 Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38 (October 12)
There really were so many ridiculous SEC games this year. The week before Ole Miss beat LSU, the Rebels fell via last-second field goal to the Aggies in a game that was wild in the first and fourth quarters and a bit scary in the middle.
Johnny Manziel completed a 35-yard pass to Travis Labhart on the Aggies' first drive, Ole Miss went for it on fourth-and-1 from its 46 on its first drive, and Bo Wallace found Vince Sanders for a 70-yard touchdown late in the first quarter. Manziel tweaked his knee in a non-contact injury late in the first quarter, and though he returned, the pace slowed for a while.
Late in the third quarter, however, things got crazy. Barry Brunetti, Ole Miss' run-first and run-second backup quarterback, found Laquon Treadwell for a 16-yard score to make it 21-17 A&M; then he hit Evan Engram with a nine-yard pass to make it 24-24. Wallace came back in and connected with Treadwell for another score. 31-24. Manziel and A&M responded with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive. 31-31. Running back Jaylen Walton raced for a 50-yard reception. 38-31. Manziel hit Mike Evans for 26. 38-38.
The teams scored 38 points in the first three quarters and 38 in the first 12 minutes of the fourth.
The Rebels blinked, however. They went three-and-out and punted back to A&M with 2:33 left, and the Aggies did what you would expect. Manziel completed two passes and ran to the Ole Miss 32, and three runs later, Josh Lambo booted in the game-winner from 33 yards out as time expired.
37 No. 17 Oklahoma 33, No. 6 Oklahoma State 24 (December 7)
36 SEC Championship: No. 3 Auburn 59, No. 5 Missouri 42 (December 7)
35 Big Ten Championship: No. 10 Michigan State 34, No. 2 Ohio State 24 (December 7)
College football's championship Saturday featured three games that were intense, exciting, and ... not that close. But for impact, this was a hell of a tripleheader.
The day began with Bedlam. Oklahoma visited Stillwater at an underwhelming 9-2 with blowout losses to Texas and Baylor marring conference title hopes and a series of tight wins leaving you to wonder exactly where the Sooners were headed. But they got some help from special teams and fumbles luck in this one. Jalen Saunders returned a punt 64 yards for a score late in the first quarter, and holder Grant Bothun found kicker Michael Hunnicutt for an eight-yard touchdown on a fake field goal in the third. Hunnicutt also made a 39-yard field goal, and OU recovered all three of the game's fumbles. Somehow, despite being outgained by the Cowboys and despite getting virtually nothing from three different quarterbacks -- Trevor Knight (who left the game with injury), Blake Bell, and Kendal Thompson were a combined 10-for-24 for 128 yards heading into the final drive -- OU was close enough to take the lead when Bell and Saunders connected on a seven-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left. OU also scored 16 seconds later when a series of OSU laterals went awry.
OSU's loss opened the door for the Baylor-Texas winner to take the Big 12 title and the Fiesta Bowl automatic bid; the Bears won handily.
As OU-OSU was wrapping up, Auburn and Missouri kicked off in the Georgia Dome. For three quarters, this game was headed for a spot near the top of this list, as the teams delivered haymaker after haymaker. The SEC has long been known as the best defensive conference in the country, but in the conference's showcase game, Gus Malzahn's and Gary Pinkel's offenses combined to gain 1,211 yards and move the chains 52 times. Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates connected for a 38-yard Auburn touchdown, and Missouri responded with a strike from James Franklin to Dorial Green-Beckham. Kony Ealy stripped Marshall, and E.J. Gaines recovered for a Missouri touchdown, and Auburn responded with an easy, 75-yard touchdown drive. At 28-20 late in the first half, Franklin hit DGB again, this time for 55 yards.
With 5:35 left in the third quarter Franklin found Marcus Murphy for a short touchdown and an unlikely (considering how well Auburn's offense was playing) 34-31 lead, but Auburn just kept rolling. Missouri was able to stay within 45-42 heading into the fourth quarter, but two more Auburn touchdowns put the game away.
Auburn then turned on the TV to watch the Big Ten title game. A Michigan State win would put the Tigers into the BCS title game.
Michigan State won. Eventually. This was another three-act game. The Spartans began perfectly, hemming in the Ohio State attack and connecting on a series of intermediate and long passes (the longest: 72 yards from Connor Cook to Keith Mumphery) and taking a 17-0 lead after 21 minutes. The Buckeyes and their running game took complete control, however, and a six-yard Braxton Miller touchdown run capped a 24-0 run with 5:36 left in the third quarter. And then Michigan State took over again for the final 20 minutes. Up 27-24, the Spartans' stout defense stuffed Miller on fourth-and-two from the MSU 39, and Jeremy Langford scored on a 26-yard run three minutes later to close things out. Mark Dantonio lifted the championship trophy and name-dropped Rich Homie Quan. Auburn headed to Pasadena.
Hell of a day.
34 No. 13 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35 (November 29)
Thanksgiving weekend was so much fun that we almost forgot about the Civil War classic on Friday night, between Thursday's Egg Bowl and Saturday's SEC chaos.
Following that blowout loss to Arizona, it was conceivable that the Ducks might be a little lethargic heading in, but while the game was closer than expected, and while Oregon got a little sloppy, the intensity was where it needed to be. The Ducks simply couldn't shake Mike Riley's squad until the very end.
The Beavers had an answer for just about everything. Three second-quarter scores (two off of turnovers) allowed OSU to turn a 14-0 deficit into a 17-17 halftime tie. From there, the two rivals traded blows. 20-17 OSU. 24-20 UO. 29-24 OSU. 30-29 UO. Oregon State's Victor Bolden scored on a 25-yard run with 1:38 remaining, but the Beavers left too much time on the clock. Oregon needed just nine plays to respond; Marcus Mariota threw Josh Huff's third receiving touchdown of the game with 29 seconds left, and the Ducks held on.
33 Penn State 31, No. 15 Wisconsin 24 (November 30)
"Wait, Penn State did WHAT?"
Amid all the other carnage of November 30 came this gem. Penn State was a 24-point underdog that was fading down the stretch, with wins over only Illinois (barely) and Purdue in its last five games. In his last three games against decent teams, freshman quarterback Hackenberg had completed just 52 percent of his passes with three touchdowns to three interceptions. Welcoming the Nittany Lions to Madison was a Wisconsin squad that had won six games in a row, had beaten its last two opponents (Indiana and Minnesota) by a combined 71-10, and was on the cusp of at-large eligibility for a BCS bowl. Hackenberg connected with Adam Breneman on a 68-yard touchdown just four plays into the game, but Wisconsin took a 14-7 lead toward halftime.
And then Penn State went on a 24-0 run over an 18-minute span. A 59-yard strike from Hackenberg to Eugene Lewis gave PSU a 31-14 lead, but the 9-2 Badgers fought back. They scored 10 points, and when Ficken missed a 31-yard field goal, Wisconsin got one last chance with 31 seconds left. The Badgers completed two passes, but a Hail Mary from the Penn State 41 fell into the arms of PSU safety Ryan Keiser, and the Nittany Lions closed perhaps the most surprising upset of the season.
November 30 was amazing.
32 Navy 58, San Jose State 52 (OT) (November 22)
31 San Jose State 62, No. 16 Fresno State 52 (November 29)
It was easy to get lost in the shuffle on the West Coast, where so many teams were playing crazy game after crazy game. San Jose State joined the party in October, playing in four straight games that were decided by an average of seven points, then closed the season with two epics at Spartan Stadium. First, they allowed Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds to score seven rushing touchdowns; then they played in one of the most ridiculous shootouts on record.
Reynolds scored touchdown No. 1 from 12 yards out, but SJSU led by a 16-10 margin at halftime. Navy scored two touchdowns, the Spartans responded with two of their own, and Navy scored twice more. Reynolds' 20-yard run, touchdown No. 4, gave Navy a 38-30 lead with 2:38 left. But SJSU quarterback David Fales, who threw for 440 yards on the day, dinked and dunked the Spartans back down the field. On the final play of regulation, he connected with Kyle Nunn for a two-yard score, and with no time on the clock, he passed to Chandler Jones for a game-tying two-point conversion.
The teams traded scores for two overtime periods -- Reynolds scored on runs of 25 and seven yards -- but on third-and-goal from the Navy three in OT No. 3, Parrish Gaines picked off Fales. Navy wouldn't need to worry about a field goal; on the Midshipmen's next snap, Reynolds raced 25 yards for a 58-52 win. For the game, Reynolds was four-for-six passing for 46 yards, a touchdown and three sacks ... with 33 non-sack carries for 261 yards and a septet of rushing touchdowns.
Fortunately for SJSU, Fresno State's Derek Carr wasn't much of a runner. Sure, he completed 38 of 50 passes for 519 yards and six touchdowns, but Fales was able to match him almost pass for pass, going 37-for-45 for 547 and six scores of his own. That's 12 passing touchdowns in one game -- seven in the first damn quarter. SJSU led 42-41 at halftime, and when Keith Smith picked Carr off at the SJSU 31 early in the fourth quarter, it represented a service break from which Fresno State couldn't come back. SJSU went up 62-44 and coasted from there.
On average, a team scored about 28 points per game in 2013. In two games at Spartan Stadium, SJSU and a pair of opponents scored eight teams' worth of points.
30 No. 17 LSU 31, Arkansas 27 (November 29)
Some games are just odd. The Arkansas-LSU rivalry has had its share of surprisingly close games and upsets; the Hogs won in 2007, 2008, and 2010, and of the six LSU wins between 2005 and 2013, five have been by seven or fewer points. So the fact that Arkansas was hanging close with LSU wasn't stunning, even though the Hogs entered the game at just 3-8. But this one was still stranger than most.
LSU scored pretty easily on its first two possessions (13 plays, 145 yards) to go up 14-7, but the offense suddenly disappeared. LSU went three-and-out on its final two possessions of the first half, and a Zach Hocker field goal gave the Hogs a 17-14 lead at intermission. Alan Turner picked Zach Mettenberger off to start the second half, and UA kicked another field goal. LSU's Jeremy Hill scored on a 52-yard run, but Arkansas responded with a 15-play touchdown drive to take a 27-21 lead into the fourth quarter.
Arkansas stuffed Hill on fourth-and-two, but Mettenberger had the Tigers driving before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on a 32-yard pass to Jarvis Landry. With No. 2 receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., also out of the game, freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings came in to attempt a rally.
Down 27-24 with 3:04 left, Jennings started a drive at the LSU one, completed a couple of passes, ran to midfield, and, with 1:15 left, found Travin Dural streaking down the left sideline, wide open, for a 49-yard touchdown.
What say you, Zach Mettenberger?
29 Oregon State 51, Utah 48 (OT) (September 14)
Travis Wilson remains one of the 2013 countdown's favorite players. The Utah quarterback was in charge of the offense when the Utes beat Stanford, but his masterpiece came in Week 3 in a comeback against Oregon State. He rushed 13 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns and completed 19 of 33 passes for 279 yards and two scores, and for entertainment he threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Utah started slowly, going three-and-out in its first three possessions. After that, it was the Wilson show: TD, FG, INT for TD, TD, TD, INT, TD, INT, TD, TD, FG.
Oregon State built a 20-7 lead and expanded it to 27-10 on the pick-six, but not even an incredible game from OSU receivers Brandin Cooks and Richard Mullaney (16 catches, 352 yards, four touchdowns) could fend off the Utes. Wilson dove in from nine yards out with 21 seconds left in regulation to force overtime at 45-45, but the magic ran out. In overtime, Utah went three-and-out and kicked a 41-yard field goal; three plays later, Cooks caught a six-yard score from Sean Mannion for a 51-48 win.
28 No. 8 Clemson 38, No. 5 Georgia 35 (August 31)
It was a Week 1 masterpiece between two top-10 teams that have played some pretty big, competitive games through the years, and the big plays began early. After Clemson and Georgia traded three-and-outs to start the game, Clemson's Tajh Boyd capped a nine-play touchdown drive with a four-yard score.
Next play from scrimmage: Georgia's Todd Gurley raced 80 yards down the ride side of the field. 7-7.
Next play from scrimmage: Clemson's Sammy Watkins caught an intermediate pass and took it 77 yards for a touchdown. 14-7.
Georgia responded with a pair of scores to take the lead, but following a sack-and-strip of Dawg quarterback Murray, Clemson tied the game heading into halftime. The offenses picked up steam a bit again in the third quarter, trading scores, but a Georgia miscue on fourth-and-goal from the Clemson two wasted an opportunity, and a pass from Boyd to tight end Stanton Seckinger gave Clemson a 38-28 lead. Murray sneaked in for a short touchdown with 1:19 left, but Clemson recovered the onside kick.
This was a big-players showcase. Boyd completed 18 of 30 passes for 270 yards and three scores, Sammy Watkins caught six for 127. Clemson back Hot Rod McDowell carried 22 times for 132 yards. Murray, meanwhile, completed 20 of 29 for 323, and Gurley rushed 12 times for 154 and two scores. Clemson's All-American defensive end Vic Beasley threw in two sacks, as well, and Clemson secured a win that felt pretty damn big at the time.
27 Arizona State 32, No. 20 Wisconsin 30 (September 14)
This was a really fun game before the ending, with ASU's Taylor Kelly completing 29 of 51 passes for 352 yards (six to Jaelen Strong for 109) and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon keeping the Badgers close with 15 carries for 193 yards and touchdowns of 80 and one yards. Wisconsin recovered a bungled punt snap in the end zone to take a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, but four Marion Grice touchdowns brought ASU back and gave the Sun Devils a 32-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Wisconsin scored with 3:53 left but missed the two-point conversion; trailing by two, the Badgers got the ball back at their 17. Joel Stave completed a 51-yard pass to Jeff Duckworth to set up a potential game-winning field goal.
And then things got weird.
Officials usually huddle about everything, but nobody thought to huddle and figure out that. They just raced off the field, leaving the Badgers to wonder how the hell they weren't allowed to try a game-winning field goal. There's nothing saying they'd have made the field goal, of course, but ... yeah ... this game won the How Not to End a Game award for 2013.
26 Utah 27, No. 5 Stanford 21 (October 12)
25 USC 20, No. 4 Stanford 17 (November 16)
In 2013, Stanford proved that you don't have to play up-tempo, high-scoring games to be exciting. Six of the Cardinal's 14 games made this list, and these are just the first two of five in the top 30. They were memorable not only because Stanford lost (though that was certainly noteworthy), but how, and to whom.
By October 12, Utah was 3-2. The Utes had played in some exciting games, but Wilson was becoming more error-prone by the week, and the Utes were losing steam. And then Wilson played nearly mistake-free football, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards, two scores, only one pick, and one sack against one of the best defenses in the country. His first pass was a 35-yarder to Bubba Poole (who also rushed for 111 yards), and he completed a 51-yard touchdown to Dres Anderson late in the first half. A series of big runs by Poole and Lucky Radley (yes, Utah had backs named Bubba and Lucky this year, which was also exciting) helped to give Utah a 21-14 advantage at the break, and the Utes tacked on a couple of field goals.
But Stanford responded, of course. Kevin Hogan completed a seven-yard touchdown pass to Devon Cajuste to make the score 27-21, and with under two minutes left, Stanford found itself inside Utah's red zone, plowing away for an inevitable game-winning touchdown.
Well, almost inevitable, anyway.
It was Hogan's first loss as Stanford's starting quarterback.
A month later, Stanford was back in the national title race following a huge win over Oregon. The Cardinal headed a few hours south to face a resurgent USC squad that was playing with life under interim coach Ed Orgeron.
After an early spurt of offense -- USC scored 17 points on its first three drives, and Stanford scored three times in six -- the game remained tied at 17-17 for quite a while. It was a battle of attrition. Stanford drove to the USC 12 but missed a field goal. The Cardinal made it back to the 10, then threw an interception.
A second interception gave USC the ball at its 44 (best field position all game) with 3:02 remaining. The Trojans' offense had long since dried up, but Marqise Lee caught a 13-yard pass on fourth-and-two, Nelson Agholor caught an 11-yarder. USC got close enough for Andre Heidari to try a 47-yard field goal with time expiring. He nailed it, and Stanford was knocked back out of the title race.
24 No. 17 Michigan 41, No. 14 Notre Dame 30 (September 7)
These teams combined to go just 16-10, not at all what we might have expected when they met as top-20 teams for Week 2's capstone. But never mind what came after it; this game was an event. It was just the second night game in the history of Michigan Stadium, in front of 115,109 in attendance, and it the final game (for now) in a long non-conference series between Michigan and Notre Dame. The stakes were high, and while the action was sloppy, it was exciting.
While a friend and I continued to pace around the stadium looking for scalper tickets under $500 each, Michigan was racing to a 10-0 lead on the power of a 61-yard pass from Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon. Notre Dame came back to tie the game early in the second quarter, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse exchange that would repeat. Michigan went ahead 20-13, and following a Blake Countess interception, Gardner and Gallon connected again on a 12-yard score that gave the Wolverines a 27-13 lead at the break.
But 27-13 became 27-20, and 34-20 became 34-27 after the most ill-advised throw Devin Gardner will ever make*, then became 34-30 three minutes later. But with Gardner wearing the No. 98 jersey in honor of Tom Harmon, he played like the old Heisman winner just enough to secure the win. A four-yard touchdown pass to Drew Dileo iced an exhausting win.
* Gardner has thrown, and will throw, plenty of other questionable passes in his career, but I definitively say that this is is worst, simply because there almost literally cannot be a throw worse than this.
In the words of my esteemed editor, TAKE THE SAFETY. That he responded by eventually engineering a touchdown drive (with help from a couple of pass interference penalties) was amazing.
23 No. 24 Auburn 45, No. 7 Texas A&M 41 (October 19)
We knew that Auburn was good enough to rally against LSU, and good enough to beat No. 24 Ole Miss at home. But this was the game that made us wonder ... just how good is this team? Because while Texas A&M's defense was problematic (to put it kindly) in 2013, the Aggies still had Johnny Manziel, and Auburn still went to College Station and left with a win.
A&M receiver Mike Evans had another ridiculous day -- 11 catches, 287 yards, four touchdowns -- and Manziel had a Manziel day despite an injury (454 passing yards, 91 pre-sack rushing yards). But Auburn kept up, then surged ahead. A&M held a 24-17 lead at hafltime thanks to three Evans touchdowns, then jumped ahead, 34-24, early in the fourth.
The Auburn run game was wearing on that already shaky A&M D. Auburn drove 75 yards in seven plays to make it 34-31, and after a three-and-out, a long Tre Mason run set up another touchdown and a startling 38-34 lead. Manziel and the Aggies responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive of their own and took the lead back with five minutes left, but there was no stopping the Auburn run game. The Tigers calmly drove 75 yards in 13 plays, and Mason scored on a five-yard run with 1:19 left.
Manziel still had Evans. Completions of 19 and 22 yards quickly got A&M into Auburn's red zone, but the Auburn defense came up big. Dee Ford sacked Manziel on second-and-10 at the Auburn 18, then sacked him again on fourth-and-13 to seal the win
22 No. 5 Stanford 26, No. 3 Oregon 20 (November 7)
It was the most random must-see doubleheader. We headed into Week 11 with five undefeated teams remaining in the national title race and a sixth (Stanford) in good shape with one loss. Three of those six played on an enormous Thursday night that pitted No. 6 Baylor with No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 3 Oregon with No. 5 Stanford. Baylor-Oklahoma was close for about a quarter and a half before the Bears laid the hammer down. The second game was much more interesting.
About 12 months earlier, Stanford had an Oregon problem. The Cardinal had gone 23-3 in Andrew Luck's final two seasons -- 0-2 against Oregon and 23-1 against everybody else. Following Stanford's 26-20 win in 2013, Oregon now has the problem -- 23-1 against non-Stanford, 0-2 against Stanford.
This game was close, then a blowout, then close again. Oregon blew some early chances; the Ducks turned the ball over on downs at the Stanford four, then De'Anthony Thomas was stripped by Shayne Skov at the Stanford five. In a high-pace game, you can overcome missed opportunities. But Stanford's offense was lurching up and down the field, giving Oregon only six possessions in the first three quarters.
Stanford's Tyler Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards, and Stanford didn't miss chances. Four Josh Williamson field goals put the Cardinal up 26-0 early in the fourth quarter, but Oregon finally started to make some noise. Marcus Mariota connected with Daryle Hawkins for a 23-yard touchdown, then Rodney Hardrick returned a blocked field goal to make the score 26-13. Oregon recovered an onside kick and drove for another score with 2:12 remaining.
But the Ducks were out of timeouts and had to attempt another onsider; this time Stanford's Jeff Trojan recovered. Ballgame.
21 Sugar Bowl: No. 11 Oklahoma 45, No. 3 Alabama 31 (January 2)
I still say they didn't deserve to be there.
Oklahoma produced its least-consistent team in quite some time, but late-season wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State gave the Sooners a 10-2 record and sneaked them into the BCS top 15, where they were available to be plucked away for an at-large bid.
Regardless of whether they deserved it, Bob Stoops' squad made the most of the opportunity, to put it mildly.
It started out how we expected, really. Alabama's first two plays covered 68 yards and set up an easy touchdown. Oklahoma's Trevor Knight was picked off by Landon Collins, and five minutes into the game, it felt like a rout was imminent. Next two plays: Gabe Lynn intercepts a long AJ McCarron pass, then Knight finds LaColtan Bester for a 45-yard touchdown. Game on.
It was 17-17 late in the first half when Buster Douglas landed the right uppercut on Mike Tyson. Knight and Jalen Saunders connected on a 43-yard touchdown with 2:59 left, and then, as Alabama went into its two-minute drill, OU blitzed and blitzed, eventually forcing a bad throw that Zack Sanchez picked off. Sterling Shepard scored on a 13-yard run, and OU took a two-touchdown lead into halftime.
On two occasions, Alabama cut the lead to seven points, and this being Alabama, the comeback loomed.
Alabama got one last chance with 56 seconds left. Eric Striker stripped McCarron, and Geneo Grissom reeled eight yards for the game-clinching touchdown. Big Game Bob was back.
20 North Dakota State 24, Kansas State 21 (August 30)
This wasn't much of an upset. North Dakota State was the two-time defending FCS champion, and though Kansas State was the defending Big 12 champion, the team was starting from scratch in terms of both offensive identity and defensive talent. The Wildcats were in major flux, and a salty, sound Bison team -- one that would finish the season a staggering 17th in Sagarin's rankings, ahead of Wisconsin, Arizona State, and Louisville, and barely behind Ohio State -- simply had more going for it on the first week of the season.
Still, what a statement.
it was a 7-7 tie at halftime, which was surprising enough, but things fell apart for NDSU early in the third quarter. Jake Waters found star receiver Tyler Lockett for a 56-yard touchdown on the third play of the second half, then NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen was picked off; KSU scored on a short field and took a 21-7 lead. Game over, right?
NDSU responded, then kept responding. The Bison drove 75 yards in 16 plays to cut the lead to 21-14, then drove the length of the field to kick a field goal late in the third quarter. KSU drove into NDSU territory, but the drive stalled, and the Wildcats punted away with nine minutes left. They wouldn't get the ball back for a while. NDSU uncorked a 25-play, 80-yard, no-margin-for-error-whatsoever drive that ate up 8:30; the Bison converted third-and-11, third-and-2, third-and-7, and third-and-3 before Jensen plunged in from a yard out with 28 seconds remaining. Don't try that at home, kids.
Waters was picked off on KSU's final play, and NDSU ran out the clock on an enormous win. They would go on to win their third straight FCS national title, and head coach Craig Bohl was plucked away by Wyoming in what might have been the best hire of this year's coaching carousel.
19 No. 5 Stanford 31, No. 15 Washington 28 (October 5)
Washington finished with its first nine-win season since 2000, but its biggest sign of progress came in a loss. Facing an early deficit and a killer Stanford defense, the Huskies battled back multiple times in Palo Alto but eventually fell because of one player: Ty Montgomery.
Montgomery returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Then he caught a 39-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the first half to make it 17-7. And after Washington cut the lead to three points late in the third quarter, Montgomery returned another kickoff 68 yards to set up a three-play touchdown drive.
Despite Montgomery's blasts, Washington kept dusting itself off and plodding forward. Bishop Sankey rushed for 125 yards against the stout Cardinal D and got Washington within 24-21 before Montgomery's second long return. And in the fourth quarter, the Huskies forced three consecutive three-and-outs to give the offense a chance. Keith Price connected with Jaydon Mickens for a short touchdown to make the score 31-28 with 2:38 left, and after a Stanford punt, Washington drove to the Cardinal 49 with 1:16 left before a 16-yard reception by Kevin Smith on fourth-and-10, after an outstanding Price scramble, was overturned by replay.
Washington would have almost been in field goal range.
18 New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State 48, Washington State 45 (December 21)
For the second straight season, bowl season began with a silly classic in Albuquerque. Last year, it was Arizona pulling off an improbable comeback over Nevada. Colorado State's comeback over Washington State this time around was perhaps even less probable. Wazzu unloaded on CSU early, a 35-13 lead late in the first half thanks to Connor Holliday's five touchdown passes. At this point, the game was most noteworthy because of a sideline altercation between Halliday and a CSU assistant.
But CSU scored a touchdown with 59 seconds left in the half, forced a quick three-and-out, and kicked a field goal at the buzzer to make it 35-23 at the break. CSU's star running back, Kapri Bibbs, raced 75 yards to make it 38-30 early in the third quarter, but Wazzu's defense came up big, holding CSU scoreless for more than 22 minutes.
It was 45-30, WSU, when things got crazy. Garrett Grayson found Jordon Vaden for a 12-yard score to make it 45-37 with 2:52 left, but after Wazzu gained a first down on the ground, the Cougars needed only a little bit more from the offense to ice the game.
CSU star Shaq Barrett stripped Halliday, but replay confirmed that Halliday was down before he fumbled ... so Barrett just stripped Jeremiah Laufasa on the next play instead. Colorado State recovered and scored eight plays later, then tied the game with a little Statue of Liberty action on the two-point conversion.
We weren't done. You see, WSU decided to go ahead and complete the collapse by fumbling the ensuing kickoff. Jared Roberts nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to steal a stunning win. In the first 29 minutes of each half, Wazzu outscored CSU, 45-27. In the final minute of each half, CSU outscored Wazzu, 21-0.
17 No. 11 Michigan 28, Akron 24 (September 14)
Michigan wasn't very good in 2013. Akron was better than it had been in quite a few years. But on September 14, Michigan was 11th in the country, and the Zips were the Same Old Zips, and this game took on Upset Of The Year potential.
It was also just a damn good game. Michigan scored on three big plays -- a 46-yard pass from Devin Gardner to Devin Funchess, a 36-yard Gardner run, and a 33-yard Gardner-to-Jehu Chesson connection -- to go up 21-10 in the fourth quarter. But Justin March picked Gardner off and scored from 27 yards out to make it 21-14. Ten minutes later, Kyle Pohl hit sophomore Tyrell Goodman from a yard out on third-and-goal to give Akron an improbable lead. Michigan immediately responded with a four-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, but Akron had 2:49 left and almost took advantage. Passes of 24, 21, and 14 yards and a 19-yard rush set Akron up inside the Michigan 5, but on fourth-and-three with five seconds remaining, a desperation pass was just a hair too long.
16 No. 9 Georgia 44, No. 6 LSU 41 (September 28)
Unfortunately for the Dawgs, this classic win isn't the last Georgia game on the list. But it was still spectacular, both for the back-and-forth action and for making us wonder what had happened to SEC football.
Two weeks after outlasting South Carolina, Georgia's offense was tasked with keeping up with a third-down machine in Zach Mettenberger, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham Jr.. Mettenberger completed passes of 10, 25, 25, 39, and 48 yards on third-and-long to extend drives, but thanks to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray's own heroics, the Dawgs survived.
We didn't have to wait long for fireworks. Kadron Boone caught two first-quarter touchdown passes (his only two catches of the game) to give LSU a 14-7 lead, but a touchdown from Murray to Chris Conley made it 14-14 after 15 minutes. A 55-yard bomb from Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan gave Georgia a 27-20 lead late in the third quarter, but LSU responded with a 39-yard shot from Mettenberger to Landry.
Things were only beginning to heat up. Beckham muffed a punt, and Murray found Michael Bennett for a 21-yard score to give Georgia the lead. LSU tied it when a big Mettenberger-to-Landry strike on third down set up a short touchdown run. Morgan nailed a 38-yard field goal with 8:09 left, but on consecutive passes, Mettenberger connected with Beckham for 25 yards (on third-and-22, no less), Landry for 14, Landry for 12, and Beckham for 27 and a touchdown. 41-37, LSU.
It took Georgia six plays to respond. Justin Scott-Wesley, the hero of the South Carolina win, scored on a 25-yard pass with 1:47 left, and the ensuing LSU drive stalled at midfield. Mettenberger finished 23-for-37 passing for 372 yards, but his final four passes fell incomplete, and that was the difference.
15 Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35 (August 29)
One day into the 2013 season, and we already had a classic. Obviously it's impossible to know anything about stakes or expectations in Week 1, but this was just a plain fun conference game.
Ole Miss took a 10-point lead early on, but Vanderbilt responded with a perfect second quarter. Two Jordan Matthews receptions set up a short touchdown run to make it 10-7, and after an Ole Miss three-and-out, Matthews caught a 55-yard scoring bomb. Vandy scored again to go into halftime up 21-10, but Ole Miss kept up its pursuit. It was 28-17 when Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace sneaked in from three yards out; a one-yard sneak with 9:05 left gave Ole Miss a 32-28 lead.
Despite getting hit hard enough to vomit late in the third quarter, a dehydrated Matthews kept coming back in the game. And on fourth-and-18 with 2:09 left, he caught a 42-yard desperation from Austyn Carta-Samuels:
Carta-Samuels found tight end Steven Scheu for a 34-yard score on the next snap, and with 1:30 left, an all-but-dead Vandy team had the lead back.
Two plays later, Ole Miss led again. Jeff Scott took an option pitch wide left, hit the corner with speed, and weaved his way 75 yards for a stunning touchdown. Ole Miss almost left too much time on the clock, as Vandy crossed midfield with 30 seconds left. But Cody Prewitt picked off Carta-Samuels, and Ole Miss survived a thriller.
14 Rutgers 55, SMU 52 (OT) (October 5)
For pure, unadulterated, back-and-forth silliness, the game of the year might have taken place in Dallas on October 5. Rutgers jumped out to a 21-0 lead, SMU cut it to 21-14, and then Rutgers laid the hammer down. The Scarlet Knights scored on two easy, long drives to take a 35-14 lead into the fourth quarter, but no lead was safe in an SMU game all year, whether the Mustangs or their opponents held it.
The comeback began with a 17-play drive and a nine-yard touchdown pass from Garrett Gilbert to Jeremy Johnson. Chase Hover missed the PAT, and the score was 35-20. After a couple of punts, SMU took over at its 6-yard line, and Gilbert found JaBryce Taylor for a 69-yard gain. Four plays later, it was 35-27 with 3:38 left. SMU attempted an onside kick, Rutgers gained eight yards in three plays, and decided to go for it on fourth down and seal the win. Savon Huggins was stuffed. SMU ball.
It got weirder. Naturally, SMU sliced down the field in four plays for a touchdown. Then Gilbert completed the most ridiculous two-point pass you'll ever see.
This didn't officially even count as one of the 70 -- seventy -- passes Gilbert threw that day. (He completed 45 official ones for 484 yards and five touchdowns.)
With 1:14 left, the game was tied. And three plays later, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova fumbled near midfield. SMU had a chance to win in regulation but couldn't.
OT No. 1: SMU scored a touchdown in four plays, and Rutgers scored in nine. 42-42.
OT No. 2: Nova got sacked twice, then completed a miraculous, 29-yard touchdown to Leonte Carroo on third-and-24. SMU responded. 49-49.
OT No. 3: SMU had to settle for a field goal, and after a holding penalty, Rutgers' Justin Goodwin carries twice for 30 yards and scores the game-winner.
Rutgers could have just held on in regulation, but what fun would that have been? An easy win wouldn't have gotten this game into the top 20, just like SMU making every PAT would have deprived us of the greatest two-pointer ever.
13 Cotton Bowl: No. 8 Missouri 41, No. 13 Oklahoma State 31 (January 3)
12 Orange Bowl: No. 12 Clemson 40, No. 7 Ohio State 35 (January 3)
The final doubleheader of the season was about as good as we could have hoped. The games began just a half-hour apart, which made for some DVR'ing or channel-flipping, but both were worth the trouble.
First, the Cotton Bowl. An intense, mistake-filled game between old conference mates turned into a classic in the fourth quarter. Missouri led, 17-7, at halftime, thanks in part to a couple of long runs from backup quarterback Maty Mauk; Oklahoma State was completely shutting down Missouri's passing game with Michigan State-esque physical coverage, but Missouri's own defense was snuffing out challenges just the same.
In the third quarter, a couple of sloppy Mizzou turnovers gave OSU a path back into the game. Jhajuan Seales caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Clint Chelf after one fumble, and Ben Grogan tied it with a 25-yard field goal after another. Then, either the defenses gave out, or the offenses just clicked.
Missouri drove 60 yards in six plays and scored on a 25-yard Henry Josey run. 24-17, Mizzou. OSU went 75 yards in eight plays and scored on a beautiful, 23-yard run by Chelf to the right pylon. 24-24.
After pass interference nullified a Tyler Patmon interception, Missouri drove 47 yards, and Andrew Baggett, scapegoat of one of the top 10 games on this list, curled in a 46-yard field goal with room to spare. 27-24, Mizzou. Tracy Moore made a lunging, 41-yard catch third-and-4, and Desmond Roland carried a Mizzou defender for two yards into the end zone. 31-27, OSU.
On third-and-nine from the OSU 43, Mizzou's James Franklin, in easily his worst game of the year, stepped up and hit Dorial Green-Beckham open down the left sideline for 27 yards. Josey scored from 16 yards out on the next play. 34-31, MU, with 3:08 left.
OSU converted a huge fourth-and-seven with an over-the-middle pass to Marcell Ateman, and Chelf ran for 23 yards on third-and-10. But on third-and-seven at the Mizzou 23, an All-American made the play that sealed the game.
Meanwhile, in South Florida, Ohio State and Clemson were taking the opposite approach: play three epic quarters, then watch things get sloppy late. Both quarterbacks -- Clemson's Tajh Boyd, then Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- scored on long touchdown runs in the first quarter, and a 34-yard pass from Boyd to Sammy Watkins gave Clemson a lead the Tigers would hold onto for most of the half. But Ohio State found a rhythm late in the second quarter, first scoring on a 57-yard pass from Miller to a wide open Jeff Heuerman, then scoring on a short Miller run with 12 seconds left. The Buckeyes scored again midway through the third quarter, and after a mostly rocky start, they held a 29-20 lead.
Clemson still had Watkins, though. The junior, playing in his final college game, caught 16 passes for 227 yards, and his 30-yard score after an Ohio State fumble brought the Tigers to within two. Three plays later, Jayron Kearse picked off a Miller pass; Martavis Bryant made an athletic catch of a Boyd lob from the Ohio State three, and Clemson held a 34-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Ohio State drove 75 yards for a 35-34 lead, and Clemson did the same, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 6:16 left.
From there, things got silly. Miller was sacked and stripped by Bashaud Breeland. Clemson recovered, but on third-and-13, Boyd threw an interception to C.J. Barnett. Ohio State had one last chance, but Miller was picked off by Stephone Anthony over the middle. Ballgame.
Four teams combined to score 147 points, but in the end, defensive players decided the games.
11 No. 17 UCF 39, Temple 36 (November 16)
This was a patently ridiculous game, even without the catch.
A 1-7 team hosted a 7-1 team in one of the biggest BCS-conference mismatches of the year, and the 7-1 team needed all 60 minutes to put the Owls away. The Knights led by one, 22-21, after a wild second quarter, but a 75-yard touchdown pass from P.J. Walker to Robby Anderson put Temple ahead in the third quarter, and an 80-yard touchdown drive put the Owls back ahead with just 2:04 left.
Such a perfect call. "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH."
We weren't done. To its credit, Temple wanted nothing to do with overtime and actually tried to score in the final minute. To its detriment, Temple had to punt after a pair of sacks. UCF got the ball back with 19 seconds left, and Blake Bortles found Rannell Hall as open as could be for a 64-yard gain. Shawn Moffitt kicked a game-winning 23-yard field goal, and somehow UCF won in regulation.
The AAC wasn't overflowing with quality teams, but wow, was there drama.