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Athlon looks back on the 10 best and most important games of 2013.
The 2013 college football regular season had distinct and unique character. The No. 2 team in the nation didn’t lose every weekend like in 2007. And one player didn’t captivate the nation like Cam Newton in 2010 or Johnny Manziel last fall.
Every major conference race — and some of the smaller ones as well — came down to the final weekend, and, in some cases, the final moments of the final game. It was a season to remember for college football fans. There wasn't a defining singular moment in the Pac-12 that stood above the rest, but there is a long list of amazing games the fans out West were given this season.
So that is what Athlon Sports is going to do. For some, this will be a stroll down memory lane while others may develop reoccurring nightmares. Here are the Pac-12's most entertaining and pivotal games of the 2013 season.
1. Oregon 36, Oregon State 35 (Nov. 29)
From a pure enjoyment standpoint, few games in the nation can match the drama of the Beavers-Ducks Civil War rivalry. The 117th edition of the in-state rivalry featured a huge performance from Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks for Oregon State and an even better one from Marcus Mariota. The Ducks jumped out to a quick lead, owning the first quarter while Oregon State stormed back to tie it at 17 at halftime. It all set up an incredible fourth quarter that saw four lead-changing touchdowns — and four failed two-point conversions — over the final 11 minutes of play. The game ended when Mariota connected with Josh Huff from 12 yards out and just 29 seconds left on the clock. It will be one of the most memorable Civil War battles of all-time. It had history, tradition, excitement, drama and, unfortunately, two teams with a combined seven losses.
2. Stanford 31, Washington 28 (Oct. 5)
Only three teams managed to top 400 yards of offense against Stanford and Washington was the best of the group, totaling 28 points and 489 yards. But timely stops, a few interesting calls by the refs and an all-time performance by the Cardinal's all-purpose dynamo gave Stanford the narrow three-point win. Ty Montgomery totaled 290 all-purpose yards and two long touchdowns to earn the game's MVP. From the 1:03 mark in the second quarter, these two traded touchdowns seven different times, alternating scores for more than 30 minutes of football. It was physical, dramatic and season-defining for two teams who were unbeaten at the time.
3. Arizona State 38, UCLA 33 (Nov. 23)
Late in the year with the Pac-12 South championship hanging in the balance, the Sun Devils won a wild affair on the road in Los Angeles to clinch the division. Taylor Kelly led the Sun Devils to a huge 35-point first half, taking a 35-13 halftime advantage. But the Bruins defense held ASU to three points in the second half, allowing the Bruins to get back into the contest. With 11:25 minutes to go in the game, Brett Hundley got UCLA back to within five points. From there, it was a defensive struggle for both teams. The Bruins had two long possessions with a chance to win in the final quarter but Todd Graham's defensive line kept the Bruins off the scoreboard.
4. USC 20, Stanford 17 (Nov. 16)
Coming off a huge win over Oregon, Stanford was in a clear letdown alert situation against a surging USC team late in the year. With the leadership of interim head coach Ed Orgeron and a depth chart featuring less than 50 scholarship players, the Trojans kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to win a physical and historic battle. The loss knocked No. 4 Stanford out of the BCS title race and would have cost the Cardinal a Pac-12 title had Oregon not laid an egg the following week in Arizona. USC held Stanford to a season-low 17 points and its second-lowest yardage total of the year (337 yards).
5. Utah 27, Stanford 21 (Oct. 12)
The Utes didn't win many Pac-12 games this year (two), but they played in a lot of close and exciting games. The signature performance of the season for Utah — and possibly the Pac-12 — came when Utah held Stanford out of the end zone on a final minute goal-line stand that likely knocked the Cardinal out of the national championship game. Kevin Hogan drove Stanford to the Utah six-yard line and failed on two plays to score, giving Utah its first win over a top-five team in program history when his fourth-down pass sailed just out of Devon Cajuste's reach with 47 seconds left. Rice-Eccles rejoiced while the loss will likely haunt Cardinal fans for years to come.
6. Stanford 26, Oregon 20 (Nov. 7)
It wasn't the most dramatic or exciting game of the year, despite an intense rally from the Ducks in the final 10 minutes. But it was the game the entire nation point to as the most important and, as it turned out, it decided the Pac-12 title as expected. Stanford's defense stifled the powerful Ducks attack, holding Oregon scoreless for the first 50 minutes of play. Tyler Gaffney became a household name nationally by setting a school record with 45 carries in the impressive and physical win over the rival Ducks. It wasn't the most dramatic performance of the year but it certainly was one of the most important games in the nation this fall.
7. Arizona State 20, Utah 19 (Nov. 9)
Another one of the heart-breaking losses for Utah this fall came at the hands of Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly. An exhausting and physical game came to an end when Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton snagged an improbable interception with a minute left in the game. Trailing most of the game and lacking the ability to make plays, Kelly finally got the ball moving and led the Sun Devils on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to take the lead with 2:37 left. The win kept the Sun Devils alive in the South race and embodied the perseverance of a team that would eventually finish with the league's best record.
8. Arizona State 32, Wisconsin 30 (Sept. 14)
In one of the most bizarre endings to a game in any conference this year, Arizona State walked away winners while Gary Andersen’s Badgers stood stunned on the field in Sun Devil Stadium. The refs mishandled a game-ending situation that would have given Wisconsin a short game-winning field goal attempt. Instead the clock inexplicably ran out on the Badgers, giving Arizona State a big non-conference win and the Big Ten one of the most memorable and infamous losses in league history.
9. Notre Dame 37, Arizona State 34 (Oct. 5)
Arizona State couldn't pick up a marquee non-conference win for the Pac-12, but it was still a thrilling, back-and-forth battle in the Cathedral for Football against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Taylor Kelly and Tommy Rees both giveth and both tooketh away, throwing big touchdowns and big interceptions all game long. A low-scoring first half (14-13) gave way to a 34-point fourth quarter that featured three scores in the final three minutes. Rees and the Irish held on for a tight victory in what would be one of only two regular-season losses for the Sun Devils.
10. Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20 (Nov. 30)
Lost in the shuffle of a wild Saturday that featured the Iron Bowl and Ohio State-Michigan, two long-standing archrivals played an excellent game in Palo Alto. With revenge on the mind following last year's infamous goal-line stand. Wayne Lyons' two late interceptions and Tyler Gaffney's 189 yards allowed Stanford to hold off a second-half Notre Dame rally. David Shaw's bunch got revenge and won its tenth game of the season as it got warmed up for what turned out to be their best performance of the season the following week in the Pac-12 title game win over Arizona State.
Just missed the cut:
11. Stanford 38, Arizona State 14 (Dec. 7)
It wasn't a close game but it decided the championship so it lands on the list by default.
12. Oregon State 51, Utah 48 (OT, Sept. 14)
One of the few overtime games in the league featured 60 second-half points and over 1,000 yards of offense.
13. UCLA 41, Nebraska 21 (Sept. 14)
An emotional weekend for the UCLA family featured a 21-point comeback.
14. USC 38, Arizona 31 (Oct. 10)
A furious late rally from B.J. Denker and Ka'Deem Carey came up short and gave Coach O a win in his debut.
15. UCLA 31, Arizona 26 (Nov. 9)
Myles Jack made his offensive debut and carried UCLA to victory in a tight road affair.
Best of the Rest:
16. UCLA 34, Utah 27 (Oct. 3)
17. Washington State 10, USC 7 (Sept. 7)
18. Arizona State 62, USC 41 (Sept. 28)
19. Stanford 42, Arizona State 28 (Sept. 21)
20. Oregon 45, Washington 24 (Oct. 12)
21. Stanford 20, Oregon State 12 (Oct. 26)
22. Notre Dame 14, USC 10 (Oct. 19)
23. Washington State 24, Arizona 17 (Nov. 16
24. Auburn 31, Washington State 24 (Aug. 31)
25. Eastern Washington 49, Oregon State 46 (Aug. 31)