10 best games of the 2016 college football season
- Ohio State-Michigan and Clemson-Louisville combined high stakes and fantastic finishes to create two of the most memorable games of the college football season.
Every college football season has its moments. The ones that leave fans glued to the television screen and shake up everything we thought we knew. The ones that we’ll remember long after the season has ended. The ones that will help get us through the long off-season.
Sometimes the stakes are high. Other times, it’s just an incredible back-and-forth game with a wild finish. And occasionally both come together for a truly memorable performance. After 16 weeks of drama, here are the games that have stuck with us the most. We looked back over the entire season to pick the 10 greatest games of the year.
No. 10: North Carolina 37, Florida State 35
Despite trailing from midway through the first quarter on, Florida State appeared poised to steal a victory when redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois guided a 75-yard drive and capped it with a touchdown run to put the Seminoles ahead 35–34 with 23 seconds left. Mitch Trubisky proved that was just too much time. The North Carolina signal-caller, who gashed Florida State for 405 yards on the day, drove the Tar Heels to the Seminoles’ 37-yard line, where kicker Nick Weiler, who had previously never made a field goal longer than 49 yards, sailed his 54-yarder just far enough to clear the crossbar for the upset. — Colin Becht
No. 9: Wyoming 34, San Diego State 33
Wyoming’s turnaround under third-year head coach Craig Bohl was one of the season’s underrated stories, and the Cowboys head coach got his best win despite a last-ditch Hail Mary that was initially ruled incomplete and then overturned before by a two-point conversion stop.
Wyoming’s 34–33 survival combined the palpitations of the two-minute drill, the unease of a long replay review and a predictably freezing night in Big Sky country. It was also the night that probably knocked San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey—the second-leading career rusher in NCAA history—out of the Heisman Trophy running as he only mustered 76 yards on 17 carries.
The two met in the Mountain West Conference championship game weeks later and played another thriller, with the Aztecs prevailing 27–24. — Gabriel Baumgaertner
No. 8: Oregon 30, Utah 28
As the Ducks’ slinked to a 4–8 record to miss a bowl game for the first time since 2004, they offered their fans a brief reprieve from the frustration that defined their season. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert connected with wide receiver Darren Carrington in the back of the end zone to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive and put the Ducks up by two points with two seconds remaining in regulation. While Carrington’s grab may have looked routine at first glance, his balance, body control and footwork on the play is nothing short of incredible.
The win scuttled the Utes’ Pac-12 South championship hopes, but unfortunately for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, it wasn’t enough to save his job. The Ducks fired Helfrich and have since replaced him with former South Florida coach Willie Taggart. — Chris Johnson
No. 7: Pittsburgh 43, Clemson 42
In one of the most stunning results of the season, Pitt knocked off Clemson in Death Valley to end the FBS’s longest home winning streak. Down by eight in the fourth quarter, the Panthers picked off a pass from Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson near the goal line, returned it 70 yards and scored four plays later on a rushing touchdown from star tailback James Conner. Pittsburgh couldn’t convert the two-point conversion to tie the game, but the Panthers got the ball back after stuffing Clemson tailback Wayne Gallman on a fourth-and-one. Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt (yes, that’s his name) atoned for a missed extra point earlier in the game by nailing a 48-yard-field goal for a one-point win. — CJ
No. 6: Army 21, Navy 17
Army entered the matchup with a 14-game losing streak to its nemesis, including several lopsided finishes. This time, head coach Jeff Monken’s triple-option attack bested counterpart Ken Niumatalolo’s in an upset few anticipated. The Black Knights kept Navy off-balance most of the game behind quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who had reportedly left the program earlier in the season, and several big catches from—wait for it—wide receiver Edgar Allan Poe. The cadets rushing the field after the long drought was one of the more joyous scenes of the season, even if President-elect Donald Trump said the game “wasn’t necessarily the best football.” — GB
No. 5: Arkansas 41, TCU 38 (2OT)
This game appeared to mean a lot more at the time, but even in hindsight it was still a wildly entertaining matchup. In a clash of styles between Arkansas’s physicality and TCU’s tempo, the Razorbacks struck early, shutting out the Horned Frogs in the first half and carrying a 20–7 lead into the fourth quarter. But Kenny Hill and TCU’s offense came alive late, and it took a two-minute drill from Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen in just his second start and a two-point conversion (on a wide receiver reverse pass to Allen) to tie the game. The Razorbacks seized momentum with a blocked last-second field goal and prevailed in double overtime as Allen carried Horned Frogs defenders into the end zone. — CB
No. 4: Texas 50, Notre Dame 47 (2OT)
Another matchup that seemed far more consequential at the time, it was still an incredible game, even if it wasn’t proof that Texas was back. The back-and-forth affair—Texas took a 28–14 lead only to fall into a 35–31 hole—went to overtime only because Notre Dame’s Shaun Crawford returned a blocked extra point with 3:29 remaining. Tyrone Swoopes’ game-winning touchdown run in the second overtime was the high point of the Longhorns’ season and the start of a very long campaign for the Fighting Irish. — CB
No. 3: Tennessee 34, Georgia 31
This one can be summarized concisely: Dueling Hail Marys!
Both teams would plummet due to injuries and generally forgettable play after this thriller in October, but the final 30 seconds of Tennessee and Georgia’s matchup in Athens was the best SEC game of the season … even if the SEC East offered hardly any good football all year. — GB
No. 2: Clemson 42, Louisville 36
A primetime bout between top-five teams lived up to its billing. The No. 3 Cardinals pushed the No. 5 Tigers to the brink on their home field, as Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson added more legitimacy to his Heisman Trophy campaign while putting up 457 total yards and three touchdowns on one of the nation’s top defenses. Not to be outdone, Clemson counterpart and fellow Heisman contender Deshaun Watson completed 20 of his 31 throws for 306 yards with five touchdowns (though he did toss three interceptions). The game swung on a fourth-and-12 play in the final minute of the fourth quarter: Cardinals wide receiver James Quick was pushed out of bounds one yard short of a first down, securing a pivotal win for the Tigers. — CJ
No. 1: Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)
Seldom do hyped rivalry games meet their lofty expectations. This year’s edition of The Game wasn’t just the best game of the season, it was arguably the best regular-season game of the past decade. From Michigan’s staunch defensive line play to Ohio State’s fourth-quarter comeback to J.T. Barrett’s questionable first-down to preserve the game in overtime, this one featured huge momentum swings and a thrilling conclusion with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. We can only hope for rivalry games this compelling in the future. — GB