College football 2013-14 season in review: Ranking the Top 25 games of the year
12. Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24 (Dec. 7)
Ohio State never felt invincible. Even though it won the first 24 games of coach Urban Meyer’s tenure, it never possessed an air of overpowering dominance quite the way Alabama did. The Buckeyes were the beneficiaries of an underwhelming Big Ten schedule — not an inevitable, robotic death trap that crushed opponents and absorbed their souls.
Still, when Ohio State lost, it came as a surprise. The Buckeyes were in the Big Ten championship, just one win away from a berth in the BCS title game. Michigan State raced to a 17-0 lead. Ohio State stormed back and went up 24-20. Then Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller failed to convert a crucial fourth-and-two in the fourth quarter, and Michigan State tailback Jeremy Langford scampered 26 yards to the end zone to send Sparty to the Rose Bowl.
Meyer took the defeat about as well as most of us would have — in silence, with a sad slice of Papa John’s pizza to ease the pain. Meyer is the everyman. – BG
11. UCF 38, Louisville 35 (Oct. 18)
Before Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson were household names, they were the sparks of an upstart UCF squad that knocked off then-No. 8 Louisville, a team many assumed would cruise to an undefeated season in the weak AAC. Midway through the third quarter against the Knights, everything seemed to be falling into place for Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals, who led 28-7. However, UCF roared back with a rushing score from Johnson and two touchdown passes from Bortles — one to Johnson and a game-winner with 23 seconds left — to stun Louisville at home.
It was instead the Knights who completed an unblemished AAC campaign en route to a Fiesta Bowl victory. – CB
10. South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 2OT (Oct. 26)
The sound was unmistakable. In many other circumstances the resounding cross between a clang and a boing of a football hitting an upright would’ve elicited a snort, a chuckle, a Verne-like chortle. But coming in double overtime – a made kick by Andrew Baggett would’ve forced a third – it was the audible expression of pure pain.
The miss gave Missouri its first loss of the season and ended up muddling the SEC East race until the end of the season. This also was a perfect example of Connor Shaw doing Connor Shaw things, something college football will miss more than it knows now that he’s gone. – MR
9. Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42 (Sept. 14)
Game of the Century, Part II? Plenty of hype surrounded this matchup beginning immediately after Texas A&M’s shocking upset of Alabama in 2012.
This time, the No. 1 Crimson Tide traveled to Kyle Field to take on Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and the sixth-ranked Aggies. Any expectations of a defensive matchup were quelled early as Manziel led A&M to two straight scoring drives to take a 14-0 lead. But the Crimson Tide roared back to score 35 straight points by early in the third quarter.
Ninty-one points and 1,196 yards of offense later, Alabama avenged its 2012 loss despite three fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Manziel. The 42 points allowed by the Crimson Tide were the most in a win in school history, and the legend of Johnny Football continued to grow despite his loss as Manziel compiled 562 yards of total offense. – ZE
8. Georgia 44, LSU 41 (Sept. 28)
As with many games, the storyline entering LSU’s visit to Athens revolved around the quarterbacks. The Tigers’ Zach Mettenberger, a onetime Georgia player who left school in 2010 after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery, was set to square off with his former roommate, Aaron Murray. It was billed as a matchup between two of the nation’s most prolific passers. And boy, did it ever live up to the billing.
Mettenberger went 23-of-37 for 372 yards and three touchdowns. Murray went 20-of-34 for 298 yards with four scores and an interception. There were five ties, four lead changes and 943 combined yards of total offense. Both quarterbacks exchanged strikes so often that I’m a little surprised a montage of highlights from this game isn’t set to an Explosions in the Sky song somewhere on YouTube.
Remember, this happened in early September, before the Bulldogs angered the SEC gods and/or unlocked a centuries-old curse that caused virtually all of their offensive stars to get hurt. But it was beautiful. It also gave someone an excuse to paint a dog like a tiger, which must have prompted one hell of an animal identity crisis. – BG
7. Michigan State 24, Stanford 21 (Jan. 1)
When I grew up I’d always read comics and imagine my own battles between DC and Marvel superheroes. The fun one was always Hulk vs. Superman. No one was going to win that. Everything around the two of them was just going to end up destroyed. It’d probably look something like this year’s Rose Bowl.
Basically that’s what the matchup between Stanford and Michigan State came down to up until that last fourth down play for the Cardinal when they tried one more time to punch the Spartans in the face. It didn’t work. Sparty didn’t budge. Play that game 10 total times, and the score is probably still 24-21, but Stanford and Michigan State win five each. – MR
6. Texas A&M 52, Duke 48 (Dec. 31)
Johnny Manziel entered his Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup with Duke having lost two straight games to close his second regular season as a starter in College Station. By all accounts, Texas A&M’s tussle with the resurgent Blue Devils would be Manziel’s swan song before he embarked on an NFL career. It looked like a sour ending to that career as Duke scored touchdowns on its first five possessions and built a 38-17 halftime lead over the Aggies. But Manziel contributed three second-half touchdowns — including a wild Manziel-ian scoring play in the third quarter — to fuel an A&M comeback and top Duke 52-48.
In all Manziel chipped in 455 yards of offense and five scores. He announced his intentions to enter the NFL draft a few days later, leaving his rally against Duke as the final impression of the quarterback’s remarkable two-year college career. – ZE
5. Auburn 43, Georgia 38 (Nov. 16)
Nobody expected Auburn to look like a contender in Gus Malzahn’s first season, but a BCS berth was not out of the question for the Tigers by mid-November. That’s when a banged-up Georgia team threatened that possibility against a one-loss Auburn squad on the Plains.
The Tigers’ 27-7 lead had disappeared by the time quarterback Aaron Murray ran in a five-yard touchdown with 109 seconds to play, giving the Bulldogs a 38-37 advantage. Auburn passer Nick Marshall stared down the barrel of a fourth-and-18 situation on the Tigers’ ensuing possession with 36 ticks left. But all Marshall needed was a bit of that Auburn magic.
The quarterback hurled a Hail Mary pass that bounced off of two Georgia defenders and into the outstretched hands of Ricardo Louis, who scampered home for the winning score. The Miracle at Jordan Hare would prove just the first of two unbelievable finishes that lifted Auburn into the BCS title game. – ZE
4. Clemson 40, Ohio State 35 (Jan. 3)
Clemson had never won a BCS game heading into the Orange Bowl against Ohio State. In fact, unpleasant memories lingered from the Tigers’ last visit to Miami Gardens, which resulted in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia after the 2011 season.
But Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins helped reverse Clemson’s BCS fortunes to hand the Buckeyes their second straight loss for the first time under coach Urban Meyer. Boyd accounted for six scores and 505 yards of offense while Watkins set an Orange Bowl record with 227 receiving yards along with two touchdowns.
Ohio State and Clemson combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense in the shootout, and the Buckeyes took a 35-34 lead when Braxton Miller found Carlos Hyde for a score at 11:35 in the fourth quarter. But a Boyd pass to Stanton Seckinger with six minutes to play gave the Tigers a final lead before Miller threw a pick to Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony that sealed the win.
After the game, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said his program had come full-circle from the West Virginia loss. – ZE
3. Ohio State 42, Michigan 41 (Nov. 30)
This game was everything one of the most storied rivalries in college football is supposed to be, for better and for worse.
The good: Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner passing for 451 yards and four touchdowns to finally resemble the dual-threat star who earned a College GameDay segment about his Phineas & Ferb watching tendencies earlier in the season; Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde rumbling for 226 yards and a touchdown, and Miller accounting for 286 total yards and five scores; Brady Hoke and the ghost of Al Borges going for a two-point conversion and the win with 32 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter because a Michigan Man always swings for the fences.
These teams genuinely didn’t like each other, and their matchup was something close to perfect. – BG
2. Florida State 34, Auburn 31 (Jan. 6)
We wanted to keep hating you, BCS. We wanted to send you off into the dark, lonely night, maybe with a funeral that made clear just how much you screwed up. We wanted to make jokes about nonsensical algorithms and the even-less-sensical Coaches’ Poll, because that’s what we do and have been doing for the better part of the past 16 seasons.
But as you so often reminded us, you got it right more often than you didn’t. And you delivered this, the best national championship since Texas topped USC in January 2006 and an unforgettable cap to one of the most widely criticized systems in sports.
You know that old cliché about how the best movies and books start slowly? That was true of the clash between Florida State and Auburn. The Tigers seemed poised to dominate early. The ‘Noles kept things close after converting a key fake punt in the second quarter. Then, by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, there were twists, turns and bunch of Independence Day-sized explosions.
There was Kermit Whitifield’s 100-yard kick-return touchdown. There was Mason’s 37-yard scoring dash. There was Winston’s eventual game-winning drive, which made all of his struggles through the first three quarters immediately forgiven.
After years full of BCS title blowouts, this season came through with a thriller. One that only one game in the 2013-14 campaign had the stuff to top. – BG
1. Auburn 34, Alabama 28 (Nov. 30)
One second. That’s all it took in “football time” to change the course of the season as we knew it. Alabama lined up for a field goal it assuredly wasn’t going to make. The two teams were going to overtime. Everyone could get up, peek around the corner as the kick was short and grab another drink or some pretzel snacks. Except Chris Davis started running. And no one tackled him. Certainly someone is going to tackle him. Umm. Wait. No. &@#%. He’s going to do it. AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH. – MR