Clemson's instant classic in the College Football Playoff against Ohio State was one for the ages
The 2019 college football campaign brought with it plenty of change in the ACC. The conference debuted a new network in Week 1, with a game featuring Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech: One of four new head coaches (five, counting Willie Taggart's mid-season dismissal from Florida State).
This past season also saw Virginia's first win over Virginia Tech in that rivalry in 15 years (spoiler!).
But amid the change, Clemson remained a juggernaut — not for lack of trying on North Carolina's part to fell the standard-bearers, though.
10 Best ACC Games of 2019
10. Virginia Tech 43, North Carolina 41 (6OT) – Oct. 19
Based on the number of lead changes and some of the individual performances — like Sam Howell throwing five touchdowns — this game warrants mention. More importantly, though, the Hokies and Tar Heels going to six overtimes made history as the first college football game to use the new overtime rule setting up dueling two-point conversion attempts at five overtimes.
This move came on the heels of the LSU-Texas A&M and Western Michigan-Buffalo marathons of the past two seasons. After an unsuccessful try from both teams in the fifth frame, Virginia Tech quarterback Quincy Patterson (who didn't start the game) etched his name in football history as the man to score the first walk-off two-pointer of the new rule's era.
9. Wake Forest 38, Utah State 35 – Aug. 30
By the third quarter of this back-and-forth, Week 1 affair, buzz about the exciting pace on social media had plenty of fans nationwide scrambling to find out if they had ACC Network. For those who did, this contest did not disappoint.
Utah State and Wake Forest traded leads nine times. The ninth and final came as the result of a 70-yard Sage Surratt reception. Surratt stole the show on a night with 158 yards on seven catches, in a night that began with Aggies quarterback Jordan Love getting some early-season Heisman hype.
8. Pitt 33, Duke 30 – Oct. 5
While not quite 28-3, Pitt coughing up a 26-3 lead and being forced to scramble in the fourth quarter marked one of the bigger meltdowns in 2019. Running back Deon Jackson was a one-man wrecking crew for the Blue Devils, once they recovered from an offensive performance that included six turnovers.
Although Pitt fell behind after its initial lead, surrendering 27 straight points, the Panthers responded with a huge drive of 82 yards in less than a minute to steal the win.
7. Florida State 45, ULM 44 – Sept. 7
OK, so, it has to be noted that Florida State needing to rally in the fourth quarter after blowing a three-score lead marks a decided low point in the three-year drain-circling in Tallahassee. With that out of the way, Florida State's overtime escape proved wildly entertaining.
The Seminoles led 21-0 in the second quarter, and 24-7 at halftime, but the Warhawks charged back behind the play of Caleb Evans and Josh Johnson on offense, with a Corey Straughter's pick-six out of the locker room keying the comeback. ULM stormed all the way into the lead and forced overtime on a field goal, but a missed PAT gave Florida State the most narrow of victories.
6. North Carolina 24, South Carolina 20 – Aug. 31
Alexa, please play "Mark Morrison, 'Return of the Mack.'"
OK, now that we've got some tunes, let's dance!
Mack Brown Dancing after Beating SC pic.twitter.com/Lls1VFXEqr— CornerSportsnet (@SportsnetCorner) September 1, 2019
Mack Brown's first game back coaching at North Carolina, where from the late '80s into the '90s he led a dramatic turnaround, didn't lack for drama. The Tar Heels needed a 15-0 fourth quarter to win the battle of the Carolinas, highlighted by a pair of Sam Howell touchdown passes (and a Howell two-point conversion).
5. Louisville 62, Wake Forest 59 – Oct. 12
With so many viewing options on a college football Saturday, sometimes you stop monitoring a blowout — and then, it turns out you made a mistake. If you turned off Louisville's wild win over Wake Forest following Dez Fitzpatrick's 50-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter, don't feel bad. Not many people could have foreseen Wake rolling off 28 fourth-quarter points.
Sam Hartman flipped the switch, however, and the Demon Deacons came one score shy of engineering one of the most improbable rallies of the 2019 season.
4. Virginia 39, Virginia Tech 30 – Nov. 29
No streak lasts forever, but darned if it didn't feel like Virginia Tech might beat Virginia in perpetuity. The Hokies won every matchup from 2004 through '18, with last season's heartbreaking loss for the Cavaliers looking like Virginia's best chance in a generation to snap the streak.
However, this Virginia team came into the rivalry matchup with the program's best squad since 2007. This had to be the year... right? Well, a 21-point Hokies third quarter must have felt like a bad case of deja vu for Virginia fans.
Sometimes, however, the sweetest wins are the hardest fought. Kicker Brian Delaney became an unlikely hero with a couple of made field goals in the fourth, and Eli Hanback's fumble recovery in the end zone sealed a win 15 years in the making. It secured the ACC Coastal title for the Wahoos as well.
3. Clemson 21, North Carolina 20 – Sept. 28
Navigating through the regular season unscathed is a tall order — even for a juggernaut the caliber of Clemson. The Tigers endured a scare at North Carolina early into their eventual return to the College Football Playoff.
North Carolina's defense limited the Tigers like no other opponent in the last few years of this remarkable run, though came one stop shy of pulling off the upset. Trevor Lawrence hooked up with Tee Higgins on a 38-yard score that was a game-winner — but not the game-winner. That came following North Carolina's wildly effective, 16-play drive that resulted in a touchdown, followed by Mack Brown's gutsy decision to go for the two-point conversion and win.
The gamble didn't pay off, but it made for one of the most thrilling finishes of the season.
2. Pitt 35, UCF 34 – Sept. 21
UCF came into Pittsburgh riding the longest regular-season winning streak in college football, having not lost since 2016. And, the Knights appeared poised to add to the streak when rallying from a halftime deficit with 21 third-quarter points, and a field goal in the late fourth quarter that gave them a six-point lead.
But in a rare showing of Pittsburgh-Philadelphia solidarity, the Panthers ran a variation on the famed Philly Special with quarterback Kenny Pickett lining up wide to catch the game-winning touchdown.
1. Clemson 29, Ohio State 23 – Dec. 28 (Fiesta Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal)
In its six-season history, the College Football Playoff has been largely bereft of compelling and competitive semifinals. Not the case with the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
The same bowl that hosted these same teams in one of the ugliest blowouts of the playoff era this time featured two contenders in a showdown that came down to literally the final play. Clemson's win wasn't without controversy, but Trevor Lawrence finding Travis Etienne on the game-winning touchdown is an iconic moment that will endure in the annals of college football history.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of clemsontigers.com)