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10 Best College Football Games of the 2010s

Rob Joyce
December 20, 2019 - 2:29 pm
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The decade has less than two weeks left, and we’ve run through all the best games in the four major sports. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the college ranks, where football underwent significant changes. After the 2013 season, gone were the days of the BCS and in came the four-team playoff. We saw one dynasty continue and perhaps another begin.

Upon the thousands of games played in the 2010s, here are the 10 that stood out as the best:

10) Nov. 9, 2019:

Twice this year the AP #1 played the AP #2 in the regular season. The first... left something to be desired, in LSU’s 9-6 snoozer over Alabama. Fast forward eight years, and the Tigers hadn’t beaten their SEC West rivals since. It looked like it was going to be a pounding at halftime, as Joe Burrow and LSU led, in Tuscaloosa mind you, 33-13 at the break.

Of course, the Tide wasn’t done yet. Bama got to within six early in the fourth, but every time the defense needed a stop, Clyde Edwards-Helaire had other ideas. He scored a touchdown to cap a 12-play, 75-yard drive. Then all but iced the game with another score with 1:37 left. Alabama, of course, scored an 85-yard TD on the first play to make it interesting, but LSU finally toppled the Tide 46-41 and is the top seed in the upcoming College Football Playoff.

9) 2017 Rose Bowl:

When cynics out there say bowl games don’t matter outside of the top-four, show them this tape. USC and Penn State gave us one of the best Rose Bowls ever and re-wrote all sorts of records for the game.

The Trojans scored the first 13 points, before the Nittany Lions roared to life and scored touchdowns on seven (!) straight possessions. That 49-35 lead through three, though, wasn’t big enough. USC got a Ronald Jones score with 8:15 left, and tied the game with 1:20 to play on a Deontay Burnett 27-yard reception. Penn State’s attempted response ended in Trace McSorley throwing an interception that Leon McQuay returned into Nittany Lion territory. From there, Matt Boermeester kicked the game-winning 46-yard field goal as time expired for the 52-49 USC win.

8) Nov. 26, 2016:

It’s always big when Ohio State and Michigan play (despite how one-sided it’s become). But not since they were 1-vs.-2 in 2006 had a game between the two meant so much. With the winner all but locking up a playoff spot. Down three in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes missed a 21-yard field goal early in the quarter, but rebounded to make a 23-yarder late in regulation, and for the first time ever the two rivals went to overtime, 17-17.

There, each team scored touchdowns in the first OT, before the Wolverines kicked a field goal to take a 27-24 lead in the second overtime. On a 4th-and-1, facing defeat, Ohio State eschewed a field goal and went for it, with Curtis Samuel picking up a highly controversial first down on the play (ask anyone in maize and blue, and he was short). On the next play, he went 15 yards to pay dirt, giving Ohio State the 30-27 win in a classic.

7) Nov. 16, 2013:

Auburn’s 2013 season is certainly the most memorable of any by a non-champion this decade, and perhaps all-time. Letting a 20-point fourth quarter lead slip away, the Tigers trailed Georgia 38-37 with under a minute to play and faced a 4th-and-18 from their own 27-yard line. Nick Marshall heaved the ball downfield in desperation, and in double coverage neither Bulldog defender could knock it down. Instead, they deflected it into the hands of Ricardo Lewis, who took it in for the improbable game-winning touchdown, the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare”.

It’s the type of finish that you see maybe once in a generation at a school. Of course, the Tigers topped it two weeks later.

6) 2016 National Championship:

Also known as “Alabama-Clemson: Chapter I”, the old guard Alabama (get used to them over the final few games) was in search of a fourth title in seven seasons, going up against upstart and unbeaten Clemson behind Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson. A Tide 33-yard field goal with 10:34 left tied the game at 24, and it was a sprint to the finish from there.

Over the final 10 minutes the two teams would combine for 38 points, including a 51-yard touchdown from OJ Howard and a 95-yard kickoff return for Kenyan Drake, which combined to give Alabama the lead for good. Bama would win it 45-40, but Watson’s individual brilliance – a record 478 yards of offense – would set the stage for the following season.

5) 2018 Rose Bowl:

Admittedly, most of the semifinal games since the inception of the playoff have been... less than enthralling. This was the exception.

A 4:05 affair, Oklahoma let a 31-17 halftime lead slip away against Georgia, as the two teams played to overtime tied at 45. In the first OT they traded field goals, but in the second OT, the Bulldogs blocked Austin Siebert’s 27-yard attempt. Needing only a field goal of its own, UGA did one better, as Sony Michel accepted a direct snap and took it 27 yards to the house for the game-winning score, 54-48. The game saw a combined 1,058 yards of total offense.

4) 2014 National Championship:

The BCS went out with a bang. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman en route to Florida State entering the championship unbeaten, taking on an Auburn team that had a pair of miracle wins to its name. The Tigers opened up a 21-3 lead, before Jameis went to work. He and the Seminoles cut it to 21-20, setting up a wild final five minutes.

An Auburn field goal made it 24-20 with 4:42 left. FSU then took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to the house, giving the ‘Noles their first lead since 3-0. Auburn then marched down the field, capped by Tre Mason’s 37-yard run to give the Tigers the lead back at 31-27 with 1:19 to play. That was too much time for Winston, however. The freshman led a seven-play, 80-yard drive and found Kelvin Benjamin from two yards out with 13 seconds left to give Florida State the national title, 34-31.

3) 2018 National Championship:

Jalen Hurts’ Alabama career was as unique as any college football has ever seen. He won a national championship game on this list (see #5), lost another (still to come) and was on pace for another, with his Tide trailing Georgia 13-0 at halftime. Then Nick Saban did the unthinkable – he turned to his freshman backup whose only prior experience was mop-up duty.

Tua Tagovailoa came in and threw three touchdown passes, leading the comeback to tie the game at 20. For the first time ever the national title went to overtime after Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal at the end of regulation. After Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship started OT by draining a 51-yarder, Tua etched his name into lore. On first down he took a miserable sack. But on second down – 2nd and 26, to be exact – he threw the game-winning strike to DeVonta Smith for the 26-23 victory.

2) 2013 Iron Bowl:

We went through a stretch in which the national championship games from 2016-18 were decided by a combined 12 points, with an overtime sprinkled in. But no game made as much of an imprint on the decade as the 2013 Iron Bowl between 11-0 Alabama and 10-1 Auburn.

The Tigers tied the game with 32 seconds left on a 39-yard Sammie Coates touchdown grab, but Bama got down to the Auburn 38, when all hell broke loose. Chris Davis knocked TJ Yeldon out of bounds and the clock showed :00, but Nick Saban argued a second should be put back on – he won the argument. With a second added, he attempted a 57-yard field goal – and we all know what happened next.

1) 2017 National Championship:

A year after falling just short, Watson and Clemson would get their revenge against Alabama in the best game of the decade. The script was oddly mirrored from the year prior: this time it was one-loss Clemson against unbeaten Alabama, and it was the Crimson Tide that led 24-21 through three quarters, setting up a wild fourth.

The Tigers took the 28-24 lead with a pair of touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 4:38 left. Jalen Hurts led the Tide down the field and took the lead back with 2:07 to play on a 30-yard scamper. Only needing a field goal to tie, Deshaun Watson instead secured his collegiate immortality, leading a nine-play, 68-yard drive that was capped by a two-yard strike to Hunter Renfrow with one second left, hoisting Clemson to the 35-31 win and its first national title since 1981.