10 best college football games of all time

By , Audacy

You'd have to be about 160 years old to have seen every season of college football. So, a list of classic college football games is impossible without some concessions to time.

If the list is more modern, then at least it's largely based on our experience of viewing it. With that in mind, here are 10 of the greatest college football games ever played.

10. The band played on: Nov. 20, 1982, California 25, Stanford 20

Throw in a last-minute drive by John Elway, a field goal, and then a squib kick, five laterals and a touchdown and it has to make any list. But it was much more than that. Stanford’s marching band stomped onto the field prematurely, assuming it had won the game as California extended the play with laterals. Finally, the last player to touch the ball bowled over a trumpet player on his way to the end zone for an improbable victory.

Lord knows if any of this would have counted in today's world of instant replays and do-overs. But that's not the fault of anyone who participated in this surreal slice of football history.

9. Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2, 1987: Penn State 14, Miami 10

Miami out-gained Penn State 445 yards to 162. But the Nittany Lions’ defensive wizardry tricked ‘Canes QB Vinny Testaverde into throwing five interceptions, including the game-sealer to LB Shane Conlin late in the fourth quarter. This may have been a case of a great team basking in too much hype. Most of the football intelligentsia had Miami crushing Penn State and Las Vegas had them favored by at least eight points.

At some point, the sensationalism is too seductive and just the perfect material for a master like Joe Paterno. It cost Jimmy Johnson his second national championship while handing Paterno his second at State College.

8. Catholics vs. Convicts, Oct. 15, 1988: Notre Dame 31, Miami 30

Miami QB Steve Walsh
Photo credit Getty Images

Not a very subtle marquee, but Catholics vs Convicts did fit the national perception of these two powerhouses 33 years ago. To show you how good Miami was back then, it took a blown fumble call plus seven turnovers by the Hurricanes for the Fighting Irish to win this game by one point, which they did because Miami coach Jimmy Johnson decided to go for two points instead of one after a touchdown with 45 seconds left in the game.

That's how much bad mojo had to happen for Miami to blow their 36-game regular season winning streak and a second-straight national championship. Instead, Lou Holtz would go on to win his only national title as coach of Notre Dame.

7. Rose Bowl, Jan. 2, 2017: USC 52, Penn State 49

One of the few games that had no national championship sidebars, this was simply a great football game in the greatest, grandest and oldest bowl game. And there was some serious (and future NFL) talent on the field.

Penn State QB Trace McSorley and USC QB Sam Darnold
Photo credit Getty Images

Penn State had an unfair offense featuring Saquon Barkley, who had 194 yards and two TDs on just 25 carries. They also had Chris Godwin, who had 187 yards receiving and two TDs on just nine catches. Indeed, the teams combined for 56 first downs, over 1,000 yards and 101 points.

Penn State was cruising to a 49-35 lead after three quarters. But they didn't score again, as Sam Darnold (453 yards, 5 TDs) led the Trojans to three scores, including the game-winning field goal from 46 yards just as the seconds ran out.

6. Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, 2007: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, OT

Just a carnival ride of a football game. Consider it was tied, 28-28, with 90 seconds left and there were still four more touchdowns to be scored, all of which came on dazzling plays: from Adrian Peterson's furious 25 yard run to a Boise State wideout tossing a TD to the tight end.

Boise State tied it at 42 and could easily have kicked the extra point to throw this thriller into a second overtime. Instead, they called a Statue of Liberty that baffles the Sooners and ends an instant classic.

5. Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1, 1979: Notre Dame 35, Houston 34

Before he became the king of NFL comebacks and a Hall of Famer nicknamed "Joe Cool," Joe Montana played in an unfairly frigid bowl game in Dallas, with the wind chill at minus-6 degrees. Montana, who was battling the flu and hypothermia, showed his courage and calmness.

Wrapped in blankets and fed chicken soup on the sideline to battle his ailments, Montana watched as Notre Dame stumbled to a 34-12 deficit in the second half. Montana forced himself into the game in the fourth quarter and rallied his team all the way back, tying the game with a short TD pass as time expired. The extra point nudged Notre Dame ahead, 35-34, and started the legend of Joe Cool, a sobriquet he would earn over and over again for the San Francisco 49ers.

4. Hail Flutie! Nov. 23, 1984: Boston College 47, Miami 45

As charmed as Miami's season was the year before, that's how enchanted 1984 was for Boston College QB Doug Flutie. He was pulling wins from the jaws of defeat. He was about to win the Heisman Trophy and he somehow beat the defending national champion Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl that November.

On fourth down, at midfield and time expiring, Flutie dropped back to pass. Scrambling all over, Flutie put his whole body into a heave toward the end zone. The ball somehow missed two Miami defenders and fell into the bosom of Gerard Phelan, who cradled the ball as he fell onto his back for a touchdown.

Ever since, whenever you hear "Hail Mary!" you think of Flutie's pass and his delirious dash toward the end zone to celebrate with his teammates. The.play is so vital to college football lore, Flutie's visage was splashed across a box of Wheaties, which later spawned his own line of cereal, called Flutie Flakes.

3. Iron Bowl, Nov. 30, 2013: Auburn 34, Alabama 28

Chris Davis Jr. returns a field goal for a walk-off TD vs. Alabama
Photo credit Getty Images

Some rivalries are simply more special and Auburn vs. Alabama fall under that category. Two teams from the same state, from college towns, jousting for one crown. This series predates the Ford automobile, the first movie theater and the World Series. Alabama has largely carried a paper-thin lead in this series. Thanks to Nick Saban — who is 14-5 vs. his instate rivals — that lead has grown from one game to nine games. All of which made this one, played at Auburn, such a classic.

With a few seconds left, and the ball at midfield, Alabama had a choice: Do they punt and send the game into OT or kick a rather field goal and go for the win? Nick Saban tried a 57-yard field goal to win the game. Alabama's kicker missed three attempts during the game, so Saban tabbed a freshman replacement to boot this one. The thunderous kick looked long and good, but fell just short, into the hands of Auburn's Chris Davis.

He started slowly, then dashed out of the end zone, dodged a few tackles, then found the left sideline and turned on the jets. In all, Davis ran 109 yards for the game-winning, walk-off touchdown, perhaps the greatest ending ever to a televised football game.

2. Orange Bowl, Jan. 2, 1984: Miami 31, Nebraska 30

Nebraska rolled into the Orange Bowl as the top team and a feared football machine under iconic coach Tom Osbourne. They had scored over 60 points in five games that season. But the 11-point favorites were entering a hornet's nest against the upstart Hurricanes, playing at home.

This was the game that put Miami on the map and kickstarted the dynasty that made them "The U," and one play put them there. With little time left, the Huskers scored the second of their two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cut the lead to 31-30. Osbourne was tasked with the toughest  decision of his career: Do you kick the extra point, take the tie, and surely secure the No.1 ranking? Or do you roll some serious dice and go for two points and the outright win?

Osbourne chose the latter. Miami thwarted the two-point attempt, won the game and the national championship, spawning a dynasty that produced countless football luminaries, from the QB in this game, Bernie Kosar, to future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, Ed Reed, Cortez Kennedy, Michael Irvin, and coach Jimmy Johnson.

1. Rose Bowl, Jan. 4, 2006: Texas 41, USC 38

In terms of pure action by great football players, it's hard to beat this one. USC featured the last two Heisman winners, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Texas QB Vince Young thought he should have won instead of Bush. And boy, did Young show his indignity well, with one of the greatest performances in the history of the Rose Bowl, or any bowl.

On top of his 267 yards rushing, Young ran for 200 yards, including the game-winning TD run on a fourth-and-5 from the eight-yard line with 19 seconds left in the game. It ended USC's 34-game winning streak and cost them a third-straight national championship under Pete Carroll, who will be forever questioned for a move at the end.

On fourth-and-2 and the ball around midfield, Carroll decided to go for the first down rather than punt. Texas had no time outs, so punting would have made it almost impossible for the Longhorns to drive the entire field. Carroll gambled, crapped out, and Vince Young ended any conversations about USC as the greatest team of all time.

LISTEN on the Audacy App
Sign Up and Follow Audacy Sports
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Imaegs