Ranking the 10 best No. 1 vs. No. 2 regular-season matchups in history

Publish date:

There were no No. 1 vs. 2 games in the 1950s and only three in the 1970s. An in-conference 1 vs. 2 game didn't happen until 1960 in the Coaches' poll and 1969 in the AP media poll.

The first 1 vs. 2 postseason game wasn't until the '63 Rose Bowl when No. 1 USC held off No. 2 Wisconsin, 42-37. There were only 10 additional 1 vs. 2 bowl games before the BCS was introduced in 1998.

LSU won its first national championship in 1958, but it never played SEC rival and defending national champion Auburn, which was ranked No. 2 as late as Thanksgiving.

The 1 vs. 2 games that have occurred have often been historic. Here are the 10 best 1 vs. 2 regular-season meetings based on quality of the game, impact on the season and long-term ramifications.

The Hype: The star power at Yankee Stadium was remarkable. Four past or future Heisman Trophy winners took the field: Doc Blanchard (1945) and Glenn Davis ('46) for Army; Johnny Lujack ('47) and Leon Hart ('49) for Notre Dame. Army had won national championships in 1944 and '45, including 59-0 and 48-0 thrashings of the Fighting Irish. But with coach Frank Leahy back following a two-year wartime absence, Notre Dame was no longer a pushover.

Game: Army 0, Notre Dame 0. Moments after throwing a red zone interception, Lujack, who played both quarterback and safety, saved the day for the Irish by tackling Blanchard as he headed for a touchdown. Six times Army pushed inside the Notre Dame 30 but coach Earl "Red" Blaik kept going for touchdowns on fourth down rather than attempt the field goal that could have won the game.

Epilogue: Even though Army went on to defeat Penn and Navy, it was Notre Dame that finished No. 1 in most of the final polls. Except for two weeks in 1958, Blaik's final season at West Point, Army never again ranked No. 1. Notre Dame dominated the late 1940s, going 39 straight games without a loss and winning national championships in 1947 and '49 and finishing second in '48.

The Hype: Under coach Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma ruled college football in the 1950s, winning three national championships and a record 47 consecutive games. By the early 1960s, however, a new power was emerging in the Southwest. Under coach Darrell Royal, Texas had gone 26-5-1 from 1960-62 and had won its first three games of the '63 season. But Oklahoma entered the Red River Rivalry having defeated defending national champion USC two weeks earlier and was ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1958.

Game: Texas 28, Oklahoma 7. It was 90 degrees at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, but Texas' defense was hotter. Led by All-America linebacker Tommy Nobis, the Longhorns forced three interceptions and limited the Sooners to 190 total yards of offense. Future New York Jets wide receiver George Sauer scored Texas' final touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Marv Kristynik.

Epilogue: The torch had been passed as Texas went 11-0 and earned the 1963 national championship. Wilkinson left Oklahoma after the 1963 season and the Sooners would not contend for another national title until the 1970s.

The Hype: Seldom have college football fans so eagerly anticipated a September game. Oklahoma was the defending national champion and gunning for a fourth national title under coach Barry Switzer. The Sooners' only loss in 1985 was to Miami, led by All-America quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Game: Miami 28, Oklahoma 16. The Sooners' ground-based option attack was no match for the high-flying Hurricanes. Testaverde completed 21-of-28 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns to become the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Two of Testaverde's scoring tosses went to future Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

Epilogue: Testaverde did win the Heisman, but Miami's perfect season blew up with a 14-10 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. Testaverde threw five interceptions. The lasting image of the Hurricanes' visit to Arizona was of Miami players coming off the plane dressed in combat fatigues. Miami rebounded quickly. It went unbeaten in 1987 and won the national title with a third straight win over Oklahoma, this time 20-16 in the Orange Bowl.

The Hype: Bad can't begin to describe Iowa football in the 1960s and '70s. Between 1961 and 1980 the Hawkeyes didn't have a winning season. But the hiring of coach Hayden Fry in 1979 resurrected the program, and by 1985 it stood atop the polls.

Game: Iowa 12, Michigan 10. As portable lights cast an odd glow on the not-so gleaming artificial turf of Kinnink Stadium, Iowa rallied in the final five minutes with a 16-play, 68-yard drive to set up Rob Houghlin's game-winning 29-yard field goal as time expired. Houghlin's four field goals provided all of Iowa's scoring. The sky was almost pitch black but Hawkeyes fans were glowing.

Epilogue: Iowa's glory was short-lived. Two weeks later it lost to Ohio State to fall from No. 1, and a 45-28 defeat to UCLA in the Rose Bowl dropped the Hawkeyes to No. 10. Michigan, meanwhile, didn't lose another game and beat Nebraska 27-23 in the Fiesta Bowl behind two touchdown runs from quarterback Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines finished No. 2, their highest final ranking since 1948.

The Hype: Amazingly the game was not scheduled as a national telecast, so ABC and the NCAA had to bend a few rules to make sure all parts of the country could see the game. You want talent? Michigan State defensive end Bubba Smith, roverback George Webster, wide receiver Gene Washington and running back Clinton Jones were among the first eight picks in the '67 NFL draft. Future NFL stars on Notre Dame included Hall of Fame defensive tackle Alan Page, linebacker Jim Lynch, guards Tom Regner and Bob Kuchenberg and quarterback Terry Hanratty. Twenty-five of the 44 starters on the field would earn some form of All-America recognition.

Game: Michigan State 10, Notre Dame 10. "Tie one for the Gipper," Dan Jenkins griped in Sports Illustrated after an unsatisfactory conclusion. Notre Dame had the ball on its own 30-yard line with 90 seconds remaining, but as Spartans players cursed at him, coach Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock rather than attempt a long pass to move into field goal range. In this primal game, the defenses were just too good. Smith decapitated the Irish offense as his hard hits removed Hanratty and starting center George Goeddeke from the game. Michigan State jumped ahead 10-0, but the Irish rallied behind backup quarterback Coley O'Brien. Notre Dame's tying field goal in the third quarter followed a questionable offsides call on Smith after the Spartans appeared to recover an Irish fumble.

Epilogue: Parseghian's strategy worked. The Spartans' season was over but the Irish had one more game, against injury-depleted USC. Notre Dame showed no mercy, winning 51-0 and finishing No. 1. The Irish won another national title under Parseghian in 1973 (no ties), while Spartans coach Duffy Daugherty mourned the departures of Webster, Smith, Jones and Washington with the prophetic words: "The era of the super athlete is over at Michigan State."

The Hype: The Seminoles and Irish had ranked 1-2 in the month leading up to the game in South Bend, but Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz groused, "I don't even know why we're playing this game." Indeed, 9-0 Florida State, led by quarterback and Heisman candidate Charlie Ward, had won its previous games by at least 18 points. Yet privately the wily Holtz was telling the 9-0 Irish that they were as good as the Seminoles. NBC marketed the contest as "Game of the Century," and ESPN brought College GameDay on campus for the first time.

Game: Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24. After FSU scored first, Notre Dame raced to a 31-17 lead, then watched Ward throw a touchdown pass on fourth-and-20 with 1:39 remaining. After the Irish went three-and-out, Ward drove FSU to the Notre Dame 14, where a last-gasp pass was batted away. Unheralded running back Lee Becton led the Irish with 122 yards rushing.

Epilogue: One could argue Notre Dame football peaked on that warm November day in South Bend. After being ranked No. 1 for one week, the Irish were stunned by No. 16 Boston College, 41-39, and dropped to No. 4. Wins over North Carolina State and Florida returned the Seminoles to No. 1, which they barely maintained with an 18-16 Orange Bowl win over No. 2 Nebraska. FSU finished the '90s with a 109-13-1 record and won another national championship in 1999. The Irish have not seriously contested for No. 1 again.

The Hype: Credit ABC Sports boss Roone Arledge for this classic. The Longhorns and Razorbacks were scheduled to meet on Oct. 18, but Arledge, noting that the two Southwest Conference titans had ranked No. 3 and No. 6, respectively, in 1968, correctly figured a late-season game might carry far more significance for college football's 100th anniversary season. And when defending national champion and No. 1 Ohio State was stunned 24-12 in its final game by Bo Schembechler's first Michigan team, top-ranked Texas and Arkansas were playing for all the marbles. Longhorns coach Darrell Royal said switching to Dec. 6 made ABC "look smarter than a tree full of owls."

Game: Texas 15, Arkansas 14. The Longhorns overcame six turnovers and scored 15 points in the fourth quarter to quiet the home crowd. Texas quarterback James Street (father of MLB reliever Huston Street) provided the heroics. He scored on a 42-yard run and after Danny Lester's end zone interception stopped an Arkansas drive, Street hit tight end Randy Peschel with a 44-yard pass on fourth-and-three with less than five minutes remaining. Moments later Jim Bertlesen scored the winning touchdown.

Epilogue: Richard Nixon presented Royal and Texas with a "national championship" plaque after the game even though the bowls had yet to be played and Penn State was also unbeaten. Texas rewarded Nixon's faith by rallying to beat Notre Dame 21-17 in the Cotton Bowl and becoming the last all-white football team to win the national title.

The Hype: Ranked 1-2 since the second week of the season, the two schools couldn't have been more different. Miami was gunning for its fourth national title since 1983, while Florida State and coach Bobby Bowden were still seeking their first. Often it was the Hurricanes who ruined the Seminoles' unbeaten season: a 10-9 defeat in 1980 when FSU missed a two-point conversion, and a 26-25 loss in '87 on another failed two-point try.

Game: Miami 17, Florida State 16. Few defeats in Tallahassee were more excruciating for Bowden, as Gerry Thomas missed a 34-yard field goal with 25 seconds left, a loss that came to be known as "Wide Right." Thomas had been three-for-three in his previous field goal attempts. The Seminoles led 16-7 early in the fourth quarter before Miami rallied. Quarterback Gino Torretta's fourth-down pass to Horace Copeland moved the 'Canes close and Larry Jones bulled over from a yard out for the win. It was Bowden's sixth defeat in seven years to the Hurricanes.

Epilogue: Miami won another national championship by beating Nebraska 22-0 in the Orange Bowl, although the 'Canes had to share honors with unbeaten Washington, which finished No. 1 in the Coaches' Poll. The shattered Seminoles later lost to Florida and finished No. 4.

The Hype: Take perhaps the best rivalry in college football, a packed house at Ohio Stadium and a berth in the national championship game on the line, and there's a recipe for a football classic. Never before had Ohio State and Michigan faced off as the top two ranked teams in the nation. Then throw in the death of legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler the day before the game and the drama was heightened tenfold.

Game: Ohio State 42, Michigan 39. Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith clinched the Heisman Trophy by throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns, while running back Antonio Pittman rushed for 139 yards. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne also was on target, throwing for 267 yards and two touchdowns. After Ohio State took a 28-14 lead, defensive tackle Alex Branch helped rally the Wolverines with an interception and fumble recovery. Michigan drew within 35-31 and appeared to have stopped Ohio State on downs, but a roughing the passer call on linebacker Shawn Crable allowed the Buckeyes to keep the ball. Smith's touchdown pass to Brian Robiske put the Buckeyes up for good, 42-31.

Epilogue: This game was so good there was talk of a rematch for the BCS title, but Florida got into the title game instead. The Gators then routed the Buckeyes 41-14 while the Wolverines lost the Rose Bowl to USC.

The Hype: Defending national champion Nebraska had been ranked No. 1 since the first game of the season, while Oklahoma jumped to No. 2 after blasting Texas, 48-27, in early October. The Sooners' average margin of victory was 30 points, the Cornhuskers' was 36. Nebraska led the nation in defense; Oklahoma led the nation in offense.

Game: Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31. Football fans around the nation were rewarded with a Thanksgiving Day treat from Norman: a wonderfully played game (only one penalty) that featured four lead changes. Future Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers scored on a 72-yard punt return, but Oklahoma rallied for a 17-14 halftime lead on a Jack Mildren touchdown pass just before intermission. Nebraska bulled ahead 28-17, only to see the Sooners rally again for a 31-28 lead with seven minutes remaining. The Cornhuskers, however, proved their mettle with a 74-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by Jeff Kinney with 1:38 remaining.

Epilogue: Nebraska destroyed unbeaten Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to clinch No. 1, while Oklahoma routed Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, 40-22. Big Eight rival Colorado, which had lost only to Nebraska and Oklahoma, defeated Houston in the Bluebonnet Bowl. The Huskers, Sooners and Buffs were voted 1-2-3 in the final AP poll, the only time three teams from the same conference have finished in that order.