College Football’s 10 Most-Hyped Games of All Time

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No sport does big games like college football. With just a small handful of matchups per season, one loss can result in the ruination of your quest for a national title — of course, the biggest games typically involve the top teams in the nation. The drama is only heightened if the matchup involves two bitter rivals, such as USC and UCLA, who are battling over regional bragging rights and recruiting territory, the latter of which determines how long a program remains a national power. The games listed below have been the most anticipated in college football history because of the aforementioned reasons. In the context of their eras, each was truly thought to be the "Game of the Century."

  1. Notre Dame 18, Ohio State 13 (1935)

    Considered the original "Game of the Century," the 5-0 Irish faced off with the No. 1 Buckeyes before a then-record crowd of 81,018 in Ohio Stadium — OSU officials said that they could've seated 200,000. It was the first time the two powerhouses had met, so a lofty battle was sure to ensue. Favored by many writers, OSU took a 13-0 lead into the fourth quarter. With fewer than three minutes remaining, down 13-6, Notre Dame drove downfield, setting up a 33-yard touchdown pass from Andy Pilney to Mike Layden. The onside kick was recovered by OSU, seemingly ending the game. But, with the less than a minute remaining, tailback Dick Beltz fumbled the football, and Notre Dame recovered. Pilney completed a 30-yard run, but had to be carried off the field due to a knee injury. Bill Shakespeare, an Ohio native, replaced him, and proceeded to toss the game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass.

  2. Army 0, Notre Dame 0 (1946)

    Ranked No. 1, Army was prepared to fight No. 2 Notre Dame to preserve its spot atop the polls and continue its 25-game winning streak. The game was expected to resemble the classics of years past, as each team featured a high-powered offense and Heisman-caliber players — Army fullback Doc Blanchard won the Heisman the previous season, Army halfback Glenn Davis would win it that season, and Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack would win it the next season. Of course, the game unfolded the opposite as expected, finishing in a 0-0 tie. Remarkably, Blanchard and Davis were held to just 79 yards, an incredible feat by the Notre Dame defense. Despite the fact that both teams finished the season undefeated with a tie, Notre Dame was declared the nation champion by the Associated Press.

  3. Notre Dame 10, Michigan State 10 (1966)

    After suffering through a bit of a down period by their standards, the Irish were poised to once again become college football's preeminent program. Michigan State, the defending national champ, simultaneously held No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the polls, with Notre Dame holding the other No. 1 and No. 2 spots. State impressed early in Spartan Stadium, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, while knocking out Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty. Second-stringer Coley O'Brien stepped in and threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to halfback Bob Gladieux, reducing the margin to a field goal at the half. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Joe Azzaro's 28-yard field goal tied the game, but, a few minutes later, he missed a 41-yard go-ahead attempt following an interception. When Notre Dame got the ball back with 1:10 remaining, coach Ara Parseghian opted to play it conservatively, run out the clock, settle for the tie, and maintain his team's No. 2 ranking.

  4. USC 21, UCLA 20 (1967)

    Led by Heisman favorite quarterback Gary Beban, UCLA was the top team in the nation according to both polls. The Trojans, with the unstoppable OJ Simpson in the backfield, were the Bruins' biggest potential roadblock on the path to the national championship. A heated cross-town rivalry, the pair battled to a 14-14 tie entering the fourth quarter. As expected, UCLA's star came through — despite being hurt — tossing a touchdown pass to Dave Nuttall, but the extra point was missed. Simpson responded with a career-defining, highlight-reel 64-yard touchdown run in which he weaved through numerous Bruins defenders. The extra point gave USC the lead, which it held until the end. The Trojans — not the Bruins — finished the season ranked No. 1 in both polls.

  5. Texas 15, Arkansas 14 (1969)

    The presence of President Richard Nixon — and a group of accompanying protestors — signified the importance of this "Game of the Century," which pitted the No.1 Horns against the No. 2 Hogs in Razorback Stadium. The winner would capture the Southwest Conference championship, a Cotton Bowl berth, and possibly the national championship. Trailing 14-8 with 4:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, Texas converted on a surprise 44-yard play-action pass from James Street to Randy Peschel on fourth-and-three. Halfback Jim Bertelsen finished the drive with a game-tying touchdown, and the extra point put Texas on top for good. Half of the nation's television sets tuned in to the game on television, a statistic on par with Super Bowl ratings today. Texas beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl and was awarded the national championship.

  6. Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31 (1971)

    Before the Big 8 became the Big 12 and Oklahoma and Nebraska joined separate divisions, the rivalry between the two accomplished programs produced some historic matchups, the most memorable of which occurred in 1971. Nebraska, the defending national champion, was ranked No. 1, and Oklahoma was ranked No. 2, coasting on a 20-game winning streak. After Oklahoma's first possession of the game, next season's Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers put Nebraska on the scoreboard first with a 72-yard punt return. The Huskers' claimed a 14-3 lead, but relinquished it when the Sooners scored two touchdowns before the half. It was a back-and-forth affair, with Nebraska claiming the final lead on a 74-yard drive that ended with tailback Jeff Kinney's touchdown, his fourth of the game. At the time, it was the highest-rated college football game of all time. Nebraska went on to win its second consecutive national championship with a convincing win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

  7. Penn State 14, Miami 10 (1987)

    They were two teams that couldn't have been more different. Miami represented the glitz and glam of its city, and Penn State represented the conservative nature of its coach, Joe Paterno. The buildup during the days before the nation championship game was intense — Miami arrived to the pregame steak fry in army fatigues, and defensive tackle Jerome Brown tried to lead a walkout after John Bruno, Penn State's punter, made a Jimmy Johnson hairspray joke. On the field, the Canes outgained the Nittany Lions by 283 yards, but gave the game away with seven turnovers, five of which were interceptions from Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde. With 3:07 remaining in the game, Testaverde started a drive that encroached into Penn State territory. They made it all the way inside the five-yard line, but a sack pushed Testaverde back, and on fourth-and-goal, he tossed his final interception to linebacker Pete Giftopoulos, his second of the game, completing the upset.

  8. Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24 (1993)

    Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz were two of the more colorful coaches of the era, a major reason why both were able to attract top-flight talent. Florida State, ranked No. 1, was led by eventual Heisman-winner Charlie Ward, who did everything in his power to guide his team to victory. Down 31-17 with 1:39 left in the fourth quarter, Ward connected with Kez McCorvey on fourth-and-20. A strong defensive stand on the Irish's possession gave the Noles the ball with enough time to tie it. Ward drove the ball to Notre Dame's 14-yard line, but his final pass was knocked down. Previously ranked No. 2 , Notre Dame took FSU's place atop the polls. But that only lasted a week, as Boston College pulled off a memorable upset in South Bend the following Saturday, allowing FSU to go on to win the national championship.

  9. Texas 41, USC 38 (2005)

    At the time, USC was the two-time defending national champion (according to the AP, at least), having reeled off 34 consecutive victories. Led by previous season's Heisman winner Matt Leinart and that season's Heisman winner Reggie Bush, the Trojan offensive was one of the most talented in history — though Texas led the nation in points scored. Although the Horns were the underdog, they boasted an impressive road victory over Ohio State and they demolished most of their Big 12 opponents. The Horns took a 16-10 lead into the half, and the teams alternated leads in the third quarter. The Trojans appeared to pull away in the fourth, when Bush made a 26-yard touchdown run and Dwayne Jarrett caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Matt Leinart. But the final 6:42 belonged to Vince Young, who first completed a 69-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown run. The Trojans attempted to end the game — and keep the ball out of Young's hands — by going for it on fourth-and-two, handing the ball off to their star of the game, LenDale White. It failed, and Texas took over their 44-yard line. Young led them downfield, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-five, giving the Horns their first national title in 35 years.

  10. Ohio State 42, Michigan 39 (2006)

    Never before had the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry meant so much, as it was the first time the teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at the time of the matchup. The winner would not only claim bragging rights, but a chance to compete for the national championship. Ohio State benefitted from playing in front of the home crowd, and went into the half with a 28-14 lead. Two Buckeyes turnovers in the third quarter enabled the Wolverines to claw back. Mike Hart scored two touchdowns, making the score 35-31, but Heisman winner Troy Smith demonstrated his worth by completing an 83-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie. Michigan, refusing to be put away, responded with an 81-yard drive and touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Tyler Ecker. Exhausted from the physical toll of the shootout, Michigan's defense was unable to stop Ohio State on its final possession, and time ran out. It was an effort that would've made Bo Schembechler, who died a day earlier, proud, and even caused some pollsters to wonder if the Wolverines deserved a second shot at the Buckeyes in the national championship game. As it turned out, Florida was selected instead, and the Gators proceeded to defeat the Buckeyes in Glendale 41-14.

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