I have watched many, many college football games in my lifetime. Some were much better than some and some were historic. Some were just plain bad games. Still, I feel to this day that a bad college football game is much better than a good professional game.
Today, I want to tell you about some of them. Each one of them determined a national championship. The first game I will share is without a doubt my all-time favorite college football game. It is:
Alabama 14, Penn State 7
Jan. 1, 1979; New Orleans, La.; Sugar Bowl
No other national championship game stands out to me like the 1979 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The University of Alabama took on Penn State University.
No matter how many titles you credit to the Crimson Tide, one moment more than any stands out as the most iconic: the goal-line stand in the 1979 Sugar Bowl, which allowed Alabama to claim the ‘78 national championship.
With the score 14-7, a Rutledge fumble at the 19-yard line gave Penn State a chance. On second down at the six, Chuck Fusina found Scott Fitzkee, who was just barely stopped by a fantastic goal-line tackle by Don McNeal that deserves as much credit as the plays that happened next.
On third down, Matt Suhey plunged over the top but was stopped at the foot line. Penn State used a timeout and decided to go over the top again: This time, Mike Guman got the ball and was met high by Barry Krauss, short of the goal line.
The goal-line stand propelled Alabama to a split championship with USC, Bryant’s fifth.
Florida State 34, Auburn 31
Jan. 6, 2014; Pasadena, Calif.; BCS National Championship
A significant portion of the college football world wanted to dance on the grave of the Bowl Championship Series as the playoff era was ushered in, but the sixteenth and final BCS title game allowed the divisive system to go out on a high note.
FSU trimmed Auburn’s lead to 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a tremendous final five minutes. Auburn kicked a 22-yard field goal. FSU’s Kermit Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff the length of the field for a touchdown. Auburn responded with a 75-yard drive that ended with Tre Mason’s 37-yard go-ahead TD with only 1:19 left. That left the ball in the hands of the Heisman winner at his own 20, BCS title on the line.
With several completions, including a 49-yard pass in which Rashad Greene slipped through the defense for a big gain after the catch, FSU had the ball at the two with 17 seconds left. Winston dropped back and tossed high to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin, who went up and nabbed the game-winning touchdown to complete a perfect Seminoles season.
Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23
Dec. 31, 1973; New Orleans, La.; Sugar Bowl
Entering the 1973 bowl season, the top six teams in the AP poll all had zero losses: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 6 Penn State also had zero ties, while No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan each had one tie (the latter two against each other).
The UPI still crowned its champion before the bowls, ensuring Alabama a split of the title. However, with Oklahoma on probation and banned from the postseason, the undefeated tilt between Alabama and Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl served as a de facto national title game on a rainy New Year’s Eve at Tulane Stadium. The first-ever showdown between the two historic powers lived up to the hype, despite the fact that Alabama was held to zero yards in the first quarter.
With the help of a 93-yard kick return TD by Al Hunter, Notre Dame led 14-10 at halftime, and the teams proceeded to trade scores. Wilbur Jackson led a big Alabama touchdown drive. After an Alabama fumble, Notre Dame jumped back ahead, 21-17, with an Eric Penick TD run.
In the fourth quarter, Bama QB Richard Todd scored a 25-yard TD on a throwback pass from Mike Stock, but the PAT failed with 9:33 to go.
A big pass from Tom Clements to Dave Casper set up Notre Dame’s go-ahead field goal with 4:26 left, and after a Bama punt, Notre Dame got the ball back at its own one-yard line, trying to run out the clock.
From his own end zone on third down, Clements fooled Alabama and completed a 35-yard pass to Robin Weber that moved the chains and allowed the Irish to run out the clock and claim the national title
Alabama 45, Clemson 40
Jan. 11, 2016; Glendale, Ariz.; CFP National Championship
Alabama fans will remember Jan. 11, 2016, but everyone else will remember what happened a year later when Clemson got its revenge, dethroned the Crimson Tide and won the national title with one second left.
Even though Clemson did not have a chance to win late in the 2015 title game, the first national title between these two remains an all-time great game anyway. Clemson racked up 550 total yards, with Deshaun Watson throwing for 405 and rushing for 73 yards in what would have been regarded as a Vince Young vs. USC like performance had the Tigers prevailed.
Alabama had scored on a couple big plays, but its inability to contain Watson put it under immense pressure. After tying with a field goal early in the fourth quarter, Nick Saban opted for a risk: a perfect Adam Griffith onside kick recovered at midfield. Two plays later, Jake Coker hit an open O.J. Howard for a 51-yard TD. Clemson followed with a field goal, but Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a TD.
Again Clemson responded, but again Alabama answered with a 63-yard Howard catch setting up Derrick Henry’s game-sealing TD with 1:07 left, allowing Alabama to win its fourth national title under Saban despite another late Watson TD.
I could have listed even more games, but space in newspaper will not allow me to continue. I am sure you have some favorite games. As this season comes to a close, remember them and savor the moments you spend watching them.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.