College football 2013-14 season in review: Ranking the Top 25 games of the year
Another season has come and gone, so now we enter the long wait till next fall when the drama of a fresh college football season can begin anew. But before sinking into despair at the thought of the coming months, take some time to appreciate all that was incredible about the 2013-14 season. SI.com has ranked the 25 best games of the season.
Though any ranking on the subjective category of “best” undoubtedly ignites controversy and debate, these 25 offer an ideal combination of drama, importance and memorability — basically, everything the Iron Bowl represented. The rankings are filled with the moments that brought you to the edge of your seat or, in some cases, entirely off your seat in a fit of exuberance and disbelief.
Without further adieu, the top 25 games of the college football season:
25. Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41 (Oct. 19)
In retrospect, this game embodied SEC football in 2013. It was a shootout from the opening kickoff. It went back-and-forth until the final moments. And ultimately, Auburn emerged, winning this one after running back Tre Mason plunged across the goal line for the go-ahead five-yard touchdown with 1:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Johnny Manziel racked up 492 yards of total offense and five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing). Mike Evans made 11 catches for 287 yards and four scores. It wasn’t enough.
Every season has a few discernible turning points, moments that help explain why the season played out the way it did. This was one of them. After the game, Mason told reporters, “We did something a lot of people didn’t think we could do.” For Auburn, it was only the beginning. – Ben Glicksman
24. Clemson 38, Georgia 35 (Aug. 31)
A loss in this opening-weekend matchup could have spoiled the BCS title hopes of either Clemson or Georgia. That’s why this non-conference meeting in Death Valley was tabbed as the best game of college football’s first weekend. It lived up to the hype.
Tajh Boyd backed up his ACC Preseason Player of the Year designation by passing for three touchdowns and running for two more in the Tigers’ win. Clemson’s defense did solid work on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray down the stretch, as well, holding the passer without a touchdown while picking him off once. Murray was also sacked four times.
The win stifled offseason concerns that the Tigers couldn’t build on BCS expectations by hanging tough in big moments. “In games like this, it’s always five or six plays that you’ve got to make,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters after the victory. “And we did.” – Zac Ellis
23. Georgia Southern 26, Florida 20 (Nov. 23)
If there was ever a game to epitomize the struggles of the Florida Gators in 2013, this was it. Florida dropped to 4-7, falling out of bowl eligibility for the year with its first-ever loss to an FCS opponent.
But beyond that, it was how the Eagles beat the Gators that was significant: with zero passing yards. So basically Jeff Monken’s team went General Sherman on Will Muschamp’s crew, marching yard by yard until Muschamp’s face twisted into an expression usually reserved for sucking on a lemon for three straight hours. – Martin Rickman
22. Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30 (Oct. 5)
It’s safe to say the narrative of this game has changed significantly in the three months since the Buckeyes and Wildcats squared off in Evanston on a rainy October night.
At the time, the narrow outcome – Ohio State trailed for much of the contest and only secured its victory when Northwestern, trailing by four, failed to convert on fourth-and-1 for the Ohio State 34 with 2:43 remaining – seemed to validate a previously undefeated Northwestern’s hopes of competing for a Big Ten title. Now, the Buckeyes can instead look back with relief that a Wildcats squad that wouldn’t win another game until Nov. 30 didn’t derail their season.
What was valid both then and now was the intensity of the battle between the Buckeyes and Wildcats, as the two traded the lead seven times. Ultimately Ohio State’s ground game was too much. Carlos Hyde racked up 168 yards and three scores on the ground, including what proved to be the game winner. – Colin Becht
21. Penn State 43, Michigan 40 4OT (Oct. 12)
No one seemed to want to win this one until Bill O’Brien made the call to go for it on fourth-and-1 rather than settle for a field goal and a fifth overtime. After Penn State and Michigan traded scoreless first and third overtimes in between a pair of field goals in the second extra period, O’Brien sent running back Bill Belton to the right side for a three-yard gain to move the chains on fourth down. Three plays later, Belton found a hole from two yards out for the game-winning score to send Happy Valley into a frenzy.
Had it not been for Christian Hackenberg and his exceptional crew of wide receivers (including a phenomenal catch at the one-yard line by Allen Robinson) racing the Nittany Lions 80 yards down the field in less than half a minute, Penn State wouldn’t have even seen overtime. – CB
20. Stanford 31, Washington 28 (Oct. 5)
Was Washington the real deal? That was the question heading into this October Pac-12 matchup. The Huskies started the season 4-0 but hadn’t faced a serious test until meeting the Cardinal in Palo Alto. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery made it a tougher challenge for Washington by accounting for 290 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including a 99-yard return on the game’s opening kickoff.
The Huskies still outgained the Cardinals 489 to 279, rallied from 10 points down and faced an opportunity to tie or take the lead on their final possession. But officials overturned a Keith Price completion on fourth down that would have kept Washington’s last-ditch drive alive, and the Huskies turned the ball over on downs to close the contest. The win was Stanford’s 12th straight at home and solidified the fifth-ranked Cardinal’s spot as a legit threat for the Pac-12 title. – ZE
19. Fresno State 41, Boise State 40 (Sept. 20)
For years and years, Boise State was unshakeable under Chris Petersen. The Broncos hadn’t lost to the Bulldogs since 2005 and had won 11 of the last 12 meetings coming in.
So even though this ultimately wasn’t Boise State’s year (it finished 8-5), the game against Fresno State turned out to be arguably the best Friday night game of the season. The Broncos climbed out of a big hole to take a 40-34 lead, but Derek Carr did what he’d do often in 2013 – he made a bunch of throws and put Fresno State back on top.
The Bulldogs were poised to be the last BCS buster had it not been for a Nov. 29 loss to San Jose State; this game would’ve been a fitting handoff. – MR
18. Colorado State 48, Washington State 45 (Dec. 21)
Whether down by 22 late in the second quarter or down by 15 with less than three minutes to play, Colorado State never seemed to have much of a chance at winning the New Mexico Bowl. Instead, the Rams didn’t even need overtime to do so.
After Colorado State cut the deficit to eight with 2:52 remaining, linebacker Shaquil Barrett forced a fumble that led to a Kapri Bibbs score with 27 seconds remaining. Donnell Alexander then narrowly tipped the pylon on a Statue of Libery handoff to tie the game on the two-point conversion.
Misfortune struck Washington State again as Teondray Caldwell coughed up the ensuing kickoff, leaving just enough time for Jared Roberts to boot a game-winning 41-yard field goal. – CB
17. USC 20, Stanford 17 (Nov. 16)
The image of Coach O swinging the Trojan sword at the end of this one perfectly encapsulates the USC season after Orgeron became interim coach.
Football was suddenly fun again in the Coliseum, and every week was a surprise. The Trojans had to relearn what it felt like to be themselves, and Orgeron navigated that like a new age therapist helping a divorced individual remember life before marriage. And we all got to feel like we were a part of the reclamation. – MR
16. Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24 (Dec. 7)
Bedlam more than lived up to its name on a frigid afternoon in Stillwater. Needing one last win to lock up a Big 12 title and a BCS berth, Oklahoma State seemed to have the realization of its dreams in sight when Desmond Roland broke the plane from a yard out with 1:46 left to give the Cowboys a 24-20 lead.
Instead, Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell, who began the day as the Sooners’ third-stringer, engineered a near-perfect two-minute offense, guiding Oklahoma 66 yards to the end zone with 5-of-8 passing for 57 yards on the drive. Bell found Jalen Saunders for a seven-yard score with 19 seconds remaining to propel the Sooners to the road upset, which later earned them a berth in the Sugar Bowl. – CB
15. Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30 (Sept. 14)
Looking back, this ending still doesn’t make a lot of sense. Eighteen seconds remained in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin trailed Arizona State by two points. Badgers quarterback Joel Stave took the snap at the Sun Devils’ 13-yard line, bolted left, took a knee and gently placed the ball down in the center of the field to set up a field goal. Then, well, the game abruptly ended.
The root of the confusion: Arizona State claimed Stave’s move was a fumble. Several Sun Devils players tried to pounce on the ball, draining the clock as the referees pointed and signaled and generally did things other than facilitate Wisconsin’s next play. By the time Stave and company scurried back to the line of scrimmage, it was too late. Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30. Final.
The rest of the game was great, too, if markedly less controversial. Melvin Gordon broke an 80-yard touchdown run. Marion Grice ran for four scores. More than anything, though, this game gave us the indelible image of Sun Devils defensive tackle Will Sutton sprinting the length of the field in pure, unbridled celebration. He was crazed, confused, chaotic and elated. Madness. Perfect. – BG
14. Auburn 59, Missouri 42 (Dec. 7)
The SEC title game was a matchup of dream seasons. Auburn had somehow put its winless SEC campaign in 2012 behind it and survived with only a single loss in the SEC West. Missouri, meanwhile, had taken advantage of a wide-open SEC East and reeled off 11 regular-season wins.
But the matchup in the Georgia Dome was all about Tre Mason. The eventual Heisman finalist set SEC title game records for rushing yards (304), carries (46) and touchdowns (four) as the Tigers sunk Missouri and all but clinched a spot in the BCS title game thanks to Ohio State’s loss that same night.
The supposed “team of destiny” appeared destined for a championship only one season after winning three total games. – ZE
13. Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31 (Jan. 2)
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Alabama was supposed to be angry, roll over an overmatched Sooners team and head into the offseason still steaming because of the Iron Bowl result, ready to seek and destroy everything in its path in 2014. The actual result seems like some kind of Nyquil-induced dream.
Trevor Knight didn’t really throw for four touchdowns and make the Crimson Tide defense seem mortal, did he? Did we all just imagine Bob Stoops turning the corners of his mouth up like Disney’s Stitch, learning how to smile for arguably the first time?
The shocking Oklahoma win also induced an unforgettable Alabama fan reaction. – MR