Classic matchups and wild bowls between college football’s new conference rivals


Ready or not, realignment is coming. The 2024 college football season will feature the largest power conference shuffle we’ve ever seen, with Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC; Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington joining the Big Ten; Cal, SMU and Stanford joining the ACC; and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah joining the Big 12. We’ve also got Army entering the AAC in football and Kennesaw State jumping up to FBS to join Conference USA.

That’s a lot! And between the destruction of the Pac-12 and the discontinuation of rivalries such as Bedlam (Oklahoma-Oklahoma State), we’re losing quite a bit of connective tissue with this round. Not great. But it’s time to see what kind of connections we can stitch together in response.

Below, then, are the 50 best games college football has seen between teams that will be new (and, in some cases, old) conference mates in 2024. Between matchups like Texas-Texas A&M, Texas-Arkansas, the Holy War (BYU-Utah), Oklahoma-Missouri and Colorado-old-Big 8 mates, we are rejoining some lost conference rivalries. And hey, USC has played just about everyone in the Big Ten in a Rose Bowl at some point. But this list is equal opportunity. It’s not all Texas vs. Arkansas; there’s room for some spicy Stanford-Clemson, Cal-Virginia Tech and Oklahoma-Kentucky action, too.

(Army-Navy will continue as a nonconference rivalry even though both teams are in the AAC, so we won’t count that one in this list. It deserves its own list anyway.)

Is this a weird list? The weirdest I’ve ever made! It’s got Gary Danielson and Craig Morton and FCS playoff games and “BEVO” in grass and Aloha and Sun and Insight Bowls and Richard Nixon and onside kick returns and multiple 2003 Colorado games and Ernie Koy and 15-yard penalties for kicking tees and Bear vs. Bud. But hey, if there’s anything that ties this sport’s history together, it’s oddity. And the occasionally amazing Rose Bowl. This list has plenty of both.

A 7-0 score in the biggest game of the year? A 6-3 bowl game between two teams that would then play another 6-3 game in 2003? We can’t say there’s anything Midwestern about Los Angeles, but with scores like 7-0, 6-3 and 6-3, maybe UCLA has actually been Big Ten all along?


As with Dave Matthews Band and 64-ounce soft drinks, the rest of the world doesn’t quite share the same amount of passion for American football that we do. But you can’t say we haven’t given it the ol’ college try. We’ve sent Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes to Germany, and 34 years ago we sent David Klingler and the run-‘n’-shoot offense to Tokyo for the Coca-Cola Classic. Klingler completed 41 of 70 passes for 716 yards and seven touchdowns, including bombs of 51, 42 and, with 1:32 left in the game, 95 yards. ASU gained 666 yards and scored in every quarter but simply could not keep up.


TCU was in only the second year of its long surge back toward the game’s elite, and Arizona was coming off of its first ever top-five finish, but they were dead even in a storm-delayed Week 2 game early in 1999. The Horned Frogs scored a pair of safeties and took a 25-7 lead early in the third quarter, but they couldn’t contain Arizona receiver Dennis Northcutt, who scored touchdowns of 38, 59 and 30 yards. The last came with 2:10 left, and TCU’s last-ditch comeback drive stalled out near midfield.


A madcap game between two teams that would finish a combined 9-9-2. Future top-five pick and Super Bowl winner Craig Morton ran for one Cal touchdown and threw for two, including a 31-yard jump ball to Jack Schraub to tie the game late. Duke was preparing for a game-winning 30-yard field goal but forgot the kicking tee (a legal thing then). When a coach threw it in from the sideline, the Blue Devils were penalized 15 yards for “coaching from the sideline.” (Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing either.) They then missed the ensuing 45-yarder. Delightful.


Every list needs a little bit of Mike Leach. We expect any memorable Tech game from the 2000s to feature a million yards and a hundred points, but there’s a good reason Tech scored only 26 here: Quarterback B.J. Symons threw picks on the Red Raiders’ first four possessions! And they won anyway! CU predictably took an early 14-0 lead, but Wes Welker’s 58-yard punt return bought Symons some time, and a 13-yard Symons-to-Welker touchdown in the third quarter gave Tech a 19-14 lead. The teams traded TDs, and CU got a late chance to win, but Vincent Meeks picked off Joel Klatt at the Tech 7. Just like a Leach team, winning with defense and special teams.


The only meeting between these two schools nearly featured a 27-point comeback. With 291 first-half yards in front of a mostly partisan crowd of 80,104, Clemson bolted to a 27-0 halftime lead, but Stanford charged back with three touchdowns from star running back Brad Muster and got a late chance to take the lead. Alas, the Cardinal turned the ball over on downs, and the Tigers survived.


43. No. 13 Arizona 32, Texas Tech 28 (1975)

Arizona was unbeaten and into the top 15 for the second straight year when Tech came to town and… probably should have pulled the upset. Down 21-6 at halftime, the Wildcats battled to tie the game, only for Tech to drive 80 yards with its triple option and take a 28-21 lead right back. The Wildcats responded in kind, with Theopolis Bell catching a touchdown pass with under four minutes left, but they failed on a 2-point attempt. Game over? Nope. Tech punted and committed a pass interference penalty, and Arizona set Lee Pistor up for a game-winning 41-yarder with six seconds left. A desperate Tech kick return attempt went awry, and Arizona added two bonus points with a safety at the end.


One of the cattier editions of the classic rivalry. Texas fans spelled out “BEVO” (the mascot) by pouring chemicals in the Kyle Field grass and rainy conditions turned the field into muddy slop. A Texas regent said the field was a “disgrace” and that “no university which makes any pretense of having a major athletic program would permit any such condition to exist.” Pearls: clutched.

Oh yeah, and Texas finished its first unbeaten regular season in 43 years by overcoming a 13-3 fourth-quarter deficit and scoring the winning touchdown with 1:19 left.


A week after upsetting Notre Dame to move into the AP top five, SMU, always tantalizing and slightly disappointing, welcomed one of Bobby Dodd’s best Tech teams to Dallas. It was a very Dodd result. The Yellow Jackets scored the only points of the first half on a blocked-punt safety (set up by a great quick kick — the 1950s, everybody!), and although a Lon Slaughter touchdown got SMU within range of an upset late, Tech held on.


40. Georgia Tech 18, No. 17 Stanford 17 (1991 Aloha Bowl)

Stanford got off to a much better start in this bowl, but the result was the same as it was against Clemson five years earlier. With 104 rushing yards from Tommy Vardell, Dennis Green’s Cardinal led 17-10 at halftime and almost made it hold up, but Willie Clay ripped off a 63-yard punt return with 1:41 left, setting up Shawn Jones‘ one-yard score, and Jimy Lincoln’s two-point conversion run, with 14 seconds left.

(Instead of this one, I almost chose another down-to-the-wire Stanford bowl game: The Cardinal’s 25-23 Sun Bowl win over North Carolina in 2016, which featured a failed UNC two-pointer with 25 seconds left. Stanford has made its rare ACC encounters count, at least.)


In front of what was, at the time, the largest-ever Autzen Stadium crowd (59,023), Oregon scored one of its biggest-name home wins. Special teams made the difference: Michigan scored on a blocked field goal return, but Oregon scored on both a punt return and a blocked punt return, and after a late Steve Breaston touchdown got Michigan back to within four, the Wolverines’ last-minute desperation drive stalled at the Oregon 41.


About three months after the win over Michigan came another Big Ten battle for Mike Bellotti and his Ducks. Oregon’s Samie Parker caught 16 passes for 200 yards and two scores, but the vaunted Minnesota ground game did its job — 241 rushing yards, led by Laurence Maroney’s 131 — and after two Jared Siegel field goals gave Oregon a 30-28 lead with 4:16 left, a fourth-and-two conversion by Maroney set up a 42-yard Rhys Lloyd field goal with 23 seconds left. Oregon finished the year 1-1 in the Big Ten.


Things have gotten a little trickier for Army recently as head coach Jeff Monken has had to deal with cut-block rule changes, but for a while there, his Black Knights were always good for a couple of wild, back-and-forth contests per year, often against AAC-level competition.

In 2015, against Tulane in a game that featured a 90-yard pass, a 48-yard fumble return and a blocked punt return score, Army charged back from 28-7 down to tie the game with 1:59 left. But the Green Wave drove 59 yards in nine plays and won with a 35-yard Andrew DiRocco field goal at the buzzer.

Two years later, Army rushed for 534 yards, North Texas threw for 386, and Army overcame four separate second-half deficits only for the Mean Green’s Trevor Moore to knock in a 39-yarder with five seconds left. May we get a few more of these with the Army now in the AAC.


Underdog Purdue jumped on visiting Washington in front of a crowd of 60,102, thanks primarily to the fleet feet of future college football commentator Gary Danielson. He completed only 1 of 9 passes but rushed for 213 yards as Purdue burst out to a 21-0 lead. But Washington’s Sonny Sixkiller overcame four picks to lead the Huskies back, and they took their first and only lead of the game with a 25-yard Steve Wiezbowski field goal with two minutes left.


The newest member of FBS was a new member of FCS not too long ago, too. In just their third year of football existence, the Kennesaw State Owls — and their Turnover Plank, of course — beat future Conference USA mates Liberty and Jacksonville State on their way to the FCS quarterfinals, where a third future peer proved too much. Jeremiah Briscoe threw three touchdown passes, and the Bearkats led by as much as 17, but the deficit was only seven when KSU got one last chance. The Owls drove to the SHSU 11, but a fourth-and-5 option pitch was stuffed. SHSU advanced.


The game was fun enough. Ole Miss’ Deuce McAllister ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run, Oklahoma’s Josh Heupel set an Independence Bowl record with 390 passing yards, the Sooners charged back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to take a late 25-24 lead, and Les Binkley’s 39-yard field goal at the buzzer won it.

My favorite part, however, was driving through Oklahoma City the day after the game and listening to sports talk radio callers complaining about the Sooners’ loss, with one of them talking about how OU was “settlin’ for mediocrity” by not firing first-year coach Bob Stoops after a 7-5 season.

I wonder what that guy thought about the Sooners winning a national title 12 months later.


32. No. 9 Washington 21, No. 16 Maryland 20 (1982 Aloha Bowl)

There are a lot more important things you could do with a time machine if you had the chance, but imagine going back to Christmas Day 1982 in Honolulu and telling Maryland and Washington fans congregating at the inaugural Aloha Bowl that, 40 years later, their teams would be conference mates? Imagine explaining all the dominoes that fell for that to happen?

The only Terrapins-Huskies game to date was lovely, by the way. Maryland’s Boomer Esiason threw two touchdown passes, but Washington’s Tim Cowan threw three, the last one to Anthony Allen with six seconds left.


31. No. 10 Utah Utes 13, No. 11 TCU Horned Frogs 10 (2008)

The Mountain West was basically a power conference in the late-2000s, and this game between top-15 teams had major BCS bowl implications. Both teams boasted brilliant defenses, and even with Andy Dalton (TCU) and Brian Johnson (Utah) at QB, the teams could combine for only 23 points. TCU scored the first 10, but after two field goals, Utah scored the last seven on a nine-yard pass from Johnson to Freddie Brown with 47 seconds left. Robert Johnson picked Dalton off at the Utah 15 with four seconds left, and Utah ended up in the Sugar Bowl.


30. No. 6 LSU Tigers 45, No. 9 Texas Longhorns 38 (2019)

We had no idea what awaited either of these teams — that LSU would roll to 15-0 with quarterback Joe Burrow completing one of the greatest seasons of all time, or that Texas would stumble to 8-5 after a top-10 finish the year before. All we knew at the time was that this game was 60 minutes of nonstop fireworks.

29. No. 7 Michigan 38, No. 9 Washington 31 (1993 Rose Bowl)

A year after Washington wrapped up a national title campaign with a 34-14 Pasadena pummeling of Michigan, the Wolverines got their revenge and wrapped up a strange, unbeaten campaign (9-0-3) of their own. Sophomore Tyrone Wheatley capped a 1,300-yard season by rushing 15 times for 235 yards and scores of 56, 88 and 24 yards. The second Elvis Grbac-to-Tony McGee touchdown of the day gave Michigan a 38-31 lead with 5:29 left, and it held up.


28. No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers 38, No. 6 UCLA Bruins 31 (1999 Rose Bowl)

27. No. 9 Wisconsin 21, No. 14 UCLA 16 (1994 Rose Bowl)

After 31 years away, Wisconsin finally earned a long-awaited Rose Bowl bid in 1993, and despite the game taking place in UCLA’s home stadium, Badger fans swarmed the Rose Bowl. They watched their team (a) do Wisconsin things and (b) get some breaks. They recovered all seven of the game’s fumbles — at one point in the second quarter, famed announcer Keith Jackson said, “Somebody needs to stick a fork in that [football]. It’s walking around.” — and they ground out 250 rushing yards, 158 from Brent Moss. A fourth-quarter score from quarterback Darrell Bevell provided the winning points in the school’s first ever Rose Bowl victory.

They earned their second five years later against the same opponent. UCLA was better and less mistake-prone, but Wisconsin had Ron Dayne, who rushed for 246 yards and a Rose Bowl record four touchdowns. Cade McNown and UCLA kept up for a while, but Jamar Fletcher’s 46-yard pick six in the fourth quarter all but put the game away.


26. No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats 13, No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners 7 (1951 Sugar Bowl)

Bear Bryant vs. Bud Wilkinson! It doesn’t get much bigger than that. Wilkinson’s Sooners had already wrapped up their first AP national title and rode a 31-game win streak into New Orleans, but Bryant’s best UK team ended the run. Future college football hall-of-famer Babe Parilli threw his 22nd and 23rd touchdowns of the season as Kentucky took advantage of OU miscues and seized a 13-0 lead in front of 83,000. The Sooners fought back, but fumbles and a pesky Wildcats front spoiled their trip.


25. No. 3 USC Trojans 14, No. 2 Michigan Wolverines 6 (1977 Rose Bowl)

The 1970s played out pretty consistently for the Big Ten: Either Ohio State or Michigan wins the conference, then loses to the Pac-10 champion (usually USC) in the Rose Bowl. In this one, USC’s star running back Ricky Bell got hurt early, but future star running back Charles White subbed in, rushed for 114 yards, and scored a seven-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to create the winning margin. Two years later, White rushed for 120 and scored again (though he probably fumbled before crossing the goal line) as USC beat the Wolverines, 17-10.


24. Colorado 45, No. 17 TCU 42 (2023)

With everything that happened with Deion Sanders’ Colorado after this game — a 3-0 start, celebrities on the sideline, a complete collapse to 4-8 — it’s almost easy to forget just how wild last year’s season opener in Fort Worth really was.

Shedeur Sanders threw for 510 yards, four different CU receivers gained at least 117 yards (and one of them, Travis Hunter, also had an acrobatic interception), TCU’s Emani Bailey gained 164 on the ground, and TCU nearly took control with a 21-7 second-half run. But Sanders’ third TD pass (to Jimmy Horn Jr.) gave the Buffs the lead with 7:36 left, and when TCU scored just 36 later, CU went right back down and scored on Sanders’ fourth TD pass (to Dylan Edwards). One late stop, and CU was 1-0.


23. Texas A&M 30, No. 1 Oklahoma 26 (2002)

In 2000, Texas A&M gave Oklahoma one of its only challenges as the Sooners rolled to the national title: They led 31-21 with eight minutes left before a Quentin Griffin touchdown and a Torrance Marshall pick six saved OU’s unbeaten season.

Two years later, the Aggies got their revenge. OU was unbeaten and No. 1 once again, and the Sooners jumped to a 10-0 first-quarter lead as well. But Reggie McNeal, subbing in for a struggling Dustin Long, played the game of his life. He rushed for 89 yards, and while he completed just eight passes, that included touchdowns of 61, 40, 17 and 40 yards. With the Aggies nursing a late lead, they first forced a turnover on downs, then picked off Nate Hybl to seal the upset.

(Bob Stoops was pretty good at revenge, too. The Sooners would beat A&M 77-0 the next year in Norman.)


22. No. 4 SMU Mustangs 7, No. 6 Pittsburgh Panthers 3 (1983 Cotton Bowl)

Maybe the two most physical teams in the country finished the 1982 season with an absolute slobberknocker. Pitt limited the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James to 181 yards on 41 carries, and SMU limited Pitt’s Dan Marino to 19 of 37 passing and an interception. But with the Panthers leading 3-0 in the fourth quarter in rain and sleet, two huge Lance McIlhenny-to-Bobby Leach completions, one for 20 yards and one for 42, set up McIlhenny’s game-winning option keeper. Blaine Smith picked off Marino in the end zone, and the single touchdown made the difference.


21. No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners 26, No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers 24 (1968 Orange Bowl)

Unbeaten Tennessee didn’t get a shot at top-ranked USC because the Trojans were playing Indiana in the Rose Bowl. (Indiana in the Rose Bowl! The 1967 season was an odd one.) Instead, knowing that USC had already won earlier on January 1, the Vols had to face an inspired Oklahoma team in Miami. Winners of seven in a row, the Sooners charged to a 19-0 halftime lead. Tennessee finally responded. A 24-7 run brought the Vols back, and when Jack Reynolds stuffed OU quarterback Steve Owens on a fourth down, UT had one last chance to win. But with seven seconds left, Karl Kremser’s 43-yard field goal sailed well wide. Game: Sooners.

By the way, can we mandate that for any game these teams play moving forward, OU has to wear its crimson jerseys and Tennessee has to wear its orange ones? Because these are some pretty highlights.


20. No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks 14, No. 1 Texas Longhorns 13 (1964)

Texas was the defending national champion and riding a 15-game winning streak when Arkansas visited Austin and stifled the UT offense. Future Arkansas head coach Kenny Hatfield gave the Hogs a 7-0 lead with an 81-yard punt return, and the Hogs led 14-7 when Texas’ Ernie Koy scored with 1:27 left. Not wanting to settle for a tie, Texas’ Darrell Royal went for the win, but the two-point pass fell incomplete. Arkansas would go unbeaten and claim a share of the title instead of the Horns. And a year later, the Hogs would win another thriller, 27-24, in Fayetteville to extend their own win streak to 17.


19. No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners 28, No. 18 Missouri Tigers 27 (1975)

Missouri was the upset king of the 1970s, taking down Nebraska (four times), Notre Dame (twice), Ohio State, Alabama and USC … but never Oklahoma. The Tigers came close four times in five years but couldn’t get the job done.

The 1975 game might have hurt the worst. Trailing 20-7 in the fourth quarter, Mizzou ripped off 20 straight points to send the home crowd into delirium. But All-American running back Joe Washington exploded for a 71-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1, then dove into the end zone for a two-point conversion. Mizzou got two opportunities to win at the end, but Tim Gibbons, who missed at PAT earlier in the quarter, badly missed field goals of 40 and 54 yards.


18. No. 17 UCLA Bruins 50, Northwestern Wildcats 38 (2005 Sun Bowl)

You’ll rarely see a stranger bowl. (It’s funny how many times we say that about a Sun Bowl.) Northwestern parlayed a pair of pick sixes into a 22-0 lead just 11 minutes in, but a 36-0 UCLA run gave the Bruins a comfortable lead. Northwestern cut the deficit to 36-31 with 2:29 left, but Brandon Breazell returned an onside kick attempt 42 yards for a score. Northwestern scored again with 24 seconds left … and Breazell returned another onside kick for another score!! Even by Sun Bowl standards, this was wild.


17. Texas 27, Texas A&M 25 (2011)

It was the end of a disappointing regular season for two six-win teams, but with Texas A&M leaving for the SEC the next year, this one was for all-time bragging rights. (Or, as it turned out, bragging rights until late 2024.)

A&M raced to an early 13-0 lead, but touchdowns via a trick play and a pick six got Texas going, and they stormed to a 24-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter. After Randy Bullock’s third field goal made it 24-19, A&M’s Ryan Tannehill found Jeff Fuller for a 16-yard score to give the Aggies the lead. But they missed the two-point conversion, and that loomed large because Texas had Justin Tucker. A key personal foul penalty got the Horns to near midfield, and a 25-yard scamper by Case McCoy put them in Tucker range. He nailed a 40-yard field goal at the buzzer.


15. Kansas Jayhawks 52, Colorado Buffaloes 45 (2010)

You just never know when college football is going to create something magical. These two conference games remind us that you always have to pay attention just in case. In 2004, Colorado and K-State had combined to go just 9-9 when they met, but they put together the nuttiest fourth quarter you’ll see. KSU scored three touchdowns in the final 9:12 and tied the game twice, but Ron Monteilh somehow got wide open against a K-State prevent defense and scored on a 64-yard pass from Joel Klatt with five seconds left. It was such a shocking win that CU fans rushed the field … after beating a 4-5 team.

Six years later, it was CU’s turn to suffer a shocking defeat. The Buffs had lost seven conference games in a row, and Kansas had lost 11 when the two met in Lawrence in November 2010. KU suffered an absolute no-show for three quarters: Colorado led 45-17 early in the fourth quarter. But then James Sims scored, and 90 seconds later Johnathan Wilson did the same. Tyler Patmon returned a fumble for a touchdown, and suddenly it was 45-38. Sims scored again with 4:30 left, and we were somehow tied. And with 52 seconds left, Sims scored again, from 28 yards out, to give the Jayhawks a wildly unexpected win. They wouldn’t win another Big 12 game for three more years, but at least they made this one count.


14. No. 7 Purdue 14, USC 13 (1967 Rose Bowl)

The Big Ten’s “no repeats” rule, banning teams from back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, created awkwardness in the 1960s. In 1966, a brilliant Michigan State team romped through the Big Ten, but the conference sent a two-loss Purdue team to Pasadena. In turn, the Boilermakers would win the conference the next year with a better team, but Indiana would go instead.

While Indiana couldn’t make the most of its first Rose Bowl bid, however, Purdue most certainly did. USC stifled Bob Griese and the Boilers’ passing game, but two short Perry Williams touchdowns gave Purdue a late 14-7 lead; a 19-yard play-action pass from Troy Winslow to Rod Sherman brought USC within a point with 2:28 left, but George Catavolos picked off a two-point pass, and a last-gasp USC drive came up well short. Purdue scored its first and, to date, only Rose Bowl win.


13. Utah Utes 41, BYU Cougars 34 (2005)

12. No. 21 BYU 33, Utah 31 (2006)

The Holy War rivalry doesn’t really have ebbs and flows — only long waves. From 1896-1971, Utah went 41-8-4 against BYU, basically clinching a forever lead in the series. But from 1972-92, LaVell Edwards’ BYU turned the tables and won 19 of 21. More recently, Utah has won nine of 10 since 2010.

The only time this series was really up for grabs on a year-to-year basis was from 1993-2009, but damn near every game in that span was a classic, from back-to-back 34-31 wins for Utah in 1993-94 to back-to-back comebacks for BYU in 2000-01.

The peak probably came in the perfect back-and-forth of 2005-06. In Provo in 2005, Utah bolted to a 24-3 halftime lead, but two Curtis Brown touchdown runs and two John Beck touchdown passes brought BYU back. The Cougars tied the game with 4:50 left in regulation, but on the second play of overtime, Utah’s Travis LaTendresse torched double coverage and caught a 25-yard touchdown pass. BYU went four-and-out, and the road team won. Just as it would the next year.

BYU got off to an infinitely better start in 2006, but a 14-0 first-quarter lead turned into a 24-14 fourth quarter deficit before Beck got rolling again. His third touchdown pass of the game made it 27-24 Cougars with 3:23 left before Utah responded with a two-minute touchdown drive of its own. It was 31-27, but there was just enough time for one more plot twist. On the final snap of the game, Beck drifted left waiting for someone to get open, then had to scramble back to his right under pressure. After a full 10 seconds with the ball, Beck threw back across his body to a wide open Jonny Harline in the left corner of the end zone. Ballgame.


11. No. 5 Texas Longhorns 21, No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide 17 (1965 Orange Bowl)

The 1963 national champion beat the 1961 and 1964 champ with big plays. Ernie Koy’s 79-yard run and George Sauer’s 69-yard catch-and-run staked Texas to an early lead, and while game MVP Joe Namath’s two TD passes got Bama back into the game, the game started and ended the same way: with a Texas goal-line stand.


10. No. 19 Oklahoma 31, No. 23 Tennessee 24 (2015)

Act 1: Tennessee scores 17 points in the first 18 minutes to take a commanding lead in front of a delirious home crowd in Knoxville.

Act II: After struggling for most of the game, first-year OU starter Baker Mayfield throws two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to force overtime at 17-17.

Act III: Mayfield runs for one score and throws to Sterling Shepard for another, then Zack Sanchez picks off Josh Dobbs to clinch a stunning win. “One of the more special wins, maybe my favorite of all of them,” according to Bob Stoops.


9. Cal Golden Bears 52, Virginia Tech Hokies 49 (2003 Insight Bowl)

There are few things better than a turn-your-brain-off popcorn flick in bowl season, and Virginia Tech and Cal gave us one of the best ones on record. Can I interest you in 1,081 total yards? How about a 394-yard performance from Cal’s Aaron Rodgers? Or Tech’s Bryan Randall outdoing him with 398 yards and four scores? Or Tech’s DeAngelo Hall tying the game with a 52-yard punt return with 3:11 left? Both teams led by 14 at one point, but Cal had the ball last, and Tyler Frederickson’s 35-yard field goal at the buzzer made the difference.


8. No. 6 Oregon 45, No. 9 Wisconsin 38 (2012 Rose Bowl)

Oregon’s first Rose Bowl win came in 1917 over Penn. The Ducks had to wait 95 years for another one, and they made it memorable. De’Anthony Thomas exploded for touchdowns of 91 and 64 yards, and the Ducks gained 621 total yards, but they couldn’t shake Wisconsin. Russell Wilson threw for 296 yards, Montee Ball rushed for 164, and the teams went score for score. Neither team led by more than seven points all game, but down seven late, Wisconsin blinked. Jared Abbrederis lost a fumble with 4:06 left, and after a long pass to Nick Toon with two seconds left, the Badgers couldn’t quite get another snap off.


7. No. 3 USC Trojans 17, No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes 16 (1980 Rose Bowl)

Ohio State began the 1979 unranked after the famous firing of Woody Hayes. But Earle Bruce’s Buckeyes climbed the polls all season and, at 11-0, needed only a win in Pasadena to secure their first national title in 11 years.

They just couldn’t figure out how to stop Charles White. In front of a crowd of 105,526, White rushed 39 times for a Rose Bowl record 247 yards, and his one-yard score with 1:32 left gave the Trojans the win — and gave Alabama the national title — in an incredible big-play affair.


6. No. 9 USC Trojans 52, No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions 49 (2017 Rose Bowl)

There were no real national title implications at play here — both USC and Penn State had suffered multiple early losses before picking up steam and winning their respective conferences. But that didn’t stop the teams from putting on one of the best popcorn flicks of the 2010s.

USC went on a 20-7 run in the game’s first 20 minutes, but Penn State scored four touchdowns in six minutes — including a 79-yard Saquon Barkley run and a 72-yard Chris Godwin catch-and-run — to take a 42-27 lead out of nowhere. Barkley’s third touchdown made it 49-35, but the fourth quarter belonged to USC. The Trojans tied the game at 49-49 with 1:20 left, and after PSU’s Trace McSorley got a little too aggressive and threw a deep interception, USC’s Matt Boermeester hit a 46-yard field goal as time expired.


5. No. 1 USC 42, No. 2 Wisconsin 37 (1963 Rose Bowl)

Oh look, another USC Rose Bowl win! I guess that’s kind of a theme here. After the 0-0 tie between Army and Notre Dame in 1946, college football had to wait an almost inexplicable 16 years for another No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle. It came in the Rose Bowl, as John McKay’s first great USC team met Milt Bruhn’s last good Wisconsin squad.

It nearly featured the greatest rally of all time. Pete Beathard’s fourth touchdown pass of the game gave USC a dominant 42-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, but Wisconsin scored 23 points in 10 minutes. A 19-yard pass from Ron Vander Kelen (who was 33-for-48 for 401 yards in a 1963 football game) to Pat Richter made it 42-37. USC recovered the ensuing onside kick, and even though Wisconsin came achingly close to blocking a punt on the final play of the game, the Trojans survived.


4. Texas 26, No. 6 Texas A&M 24 (1998)

The game basically began with one of the most famous runs in college football history, Ricky Williams’ 60-yarder that set the all-time career rushing record.

Somehow, the game got even better from there. Texas took a 23-7 lead on a Kwame Cavil touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but the Aggies — who would upset Kansas State to win their first Big 12 title a week later — scored 17 points in six minutes. Randy McCown’s one-yard plunge made it 24-23 A&M with 2:20 left, but that gave Major Applewhite too much time. After a series of short completions, he again found Cavil for 25 yards, and with five seconds left, Kris Stockton knocked in a 24-yard field goal and ended any national title hopes the Aggies had.


3. No. 5 UCLA Bruins 14, No. 1 Michigan State Spartans 12 (1966 Rose Bowl)

One of those perfect games, with perfect weather and huge stakes, that the Rose Bowl has provided so many times through the years. UCLA had lost only once since a season-opening 13-3 defeat at Michigan State, and the Bruins came prepared for revenge against the top-ranked Spartans. After a short Gary Beban touchdown, UCLA got the ball back with a surprise onside kick, and Beban scored again.

Those 14 were just enough. MSU’s big running back, Bob Apisa, scored on a 30-yard touchdown run with 6:13 left, but a two-point pass attempt — a very progressive strategy for the mid-1960s! — failed. Hall-of-famer Bubba Smith partially blocked a UCLA punt, and with 31 seconds left, quarterback Steve Juday scored to make it 14-12. State had to go for two points and the tie, and thanks to No. 2 Arkansas and No. 3 Nebraska both losing their bowl games, a tie might still be enough to win the national title. Alas. Apisa took an option pitch, but Jim Colletto got him by the shoulders and tiny Bob Stiles briefly knocked himself unconscious, stopping Apisa short of the goal line. As with USC’s win over Ohio State in 1980, a Rose Bowl upset gave Alabama the national title.


2. No. 1 Texas 15, No. 2 Arkansas 14 (1969)

For one of the first times in the sport’s history, television manipulated the schedule a bit in 1969. Knowing that Texas and Arkansas would both be top teams that fall, ABC convinced the schools to move their huge head-to-head meeting to the end of the regular season. Sure enough, both teams went unbeaten, and they were the top two teams in the country when they met, with President Richard Nixon in attendance, in one of the true Games of the Century in Fayetteville.

Big college football games are special no matter what. But sometimes they manage to exceed expectations. Arkansas took a 14-0 early in the third quarter, but one of the best fourth quarters of all-time awaited. James Street raced 42 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Texas coach Darrell Royal, having decided before the game that he wanted to avoid a tie at all costs, elected to go for two. Street got in, and it was 14-8. Arkansas nearly put the game away with a lovely 73-yard drive, but quarterback Bill Montgomery got too aggressive and was picked off by Danny Lester in the end zone when a field goal would have done just fine. The Horns were still down six when Right 53 Veer Pass forever entered the college football lexicon. On fourth-and-3 from the Texas 43, Street went long to a well-covered Randy Peschel, who reeled in the 44-yard pass and set up Jim Bertelsen’s tying touchdown and Happy Feller’s game-winning PAT. Tom Campbell picked off Montgomery in the final minute, and Nixon declared Texas the national champion after the game. (Joe Paterno, head coach of fellow unbeaten Penn State, wasn’t too happy about that.)


1. No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs 54, No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners 48 (2018 Rose Bowl)

Even in the College Football Playoff era, the Rose Bowl has been able to create magic. And even with last-second title winners in 2017 and 2018, this semifinal game might still be the best thing the CFP has produced.

I mean, come on.

OU threatened to run away with the game in the first half, with two Rodney Anderson touchdowns and a trick play touchdown pass to quarterback Baker Mayfield driving a 31-14 lead. But long touchdown runs by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel brought Georgia back, and the Dawgs took their first lead early in the fourth quarter. OU rebounded, scoring on a Mayfield touchdown pass to Dimitri Flowers and a 46-yard fumble return by Steven Parker, but another Chubb score sent the game to overtime.

After the teams traded field goals in the first OT possession, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert missed a 27-yard chip shot. Just one play later, Sony Michel raced down the left sideline and sent Georgia to the national title game.

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Georgia tops Oklahoma in 2OT thriller

In the highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever that featured six lead changes, Sony Michel scored four times including the game-winner to overcome Baker Mayfield’s big game in double overtime.

This run of realignment might have been awfully strange, but we get to reminisce about this game anytime OU and Georgia play. I’m cool with that.





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