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 season.
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.
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 college football's most entertaining and pivotal games of the 2013 season.
1. Auburn 34, Alabama 28 (Nov. 30)
What else can be said about this game that hasn’t already been written? The ending is second only to the famed 1982 Stanford-Cal “Band is out on the field” game in terms of being the most bizarre finish in NCAA history. But when it comes to the gravity, importance, passion and history of the “Kick-6,” no game may ever compare to the 2013 Iron Bowl. The SEC West title, a spot in the SEC championship game and claim to a spot in the BCS title game, as well as in-state bragging rights, were all hanging in the balance and Auburn returned a missed field goal 109 yards on the final play of the game to beat the two-time undefeated defending national champions? Nothing may ever come close to matching that type of resume.
2. Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42 (Sept. 14)
The most anticipated game of the offseason didn’t disappoint. A revenge-minded Nick Saban versus the tawdry, reigning Heisman Trophy winner in one of the best venues in the nation? The Aggies jumped out early 14-0 before Alabama answered with 35 straight points and appeared to have ended the game midway through the third quarter. That was until a big Bama fumble allowed Manziel to get his team back into the game. In the end, the Tide was too much for the Aggies' poor defense as AJ McCarron (334 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) matched Manziel (464 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs) pass for pass and eventually the national champs held on for a narrow victory.
3. Auburn 43, Georgia 38 (Nov. 16)
In the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, Auburn dominates Georgia for three quarters before the Dawgs come storming back in the final period. Aaron Murray leads his team to three touchdowns, including a gusty fourth-down touchdown run to take the lead with less than two minutes to play. On the next possession, Auburn could muster only five yards on six plays in a minute and a half of time. It left the Tigers with a 4th and 18 with 25 seconds left and needing a miracle to survive. Then Nick Marshall heaved a prayer into the Auburn night air that was tipped into infamy by two Georgia defenders. The ball landed gingerly into Ricardo Louis’ waiting arms and he strolled into the SEC history books with one of the most dramatic finishes in conference history.
4. Ohio State 42, Michigan 41 (Nov. 30)
Most years, The Game is the most important and most anticipated matchup in the Big Ten season. This fall was no exception despite the Michigan Wolverines having very little to play for when these two met in Week 14. The two archrivals went back and forth for 60 minutes delivering body blows with big plays and long drives. From start to finish, this appeared to be an even match — much more so than anticipated. In the fourth quarter, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde delivered on a long touchdown drive that gave the Buckeyes a touchdown lead with only minutes to play. Not to be outdone, Devin Gardner and the Michigan offense — playing its best game of the season — drove right down the field to score what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown with 32 seconds to play. With nothing really to lose, Brady Hoke went for two in dramatic fashion but was thwarted when Gardner’s pass was intercepted at the goal line. The 110th meeting between these college football powerhouses was arguably the most dramatic.
5. Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41 (Oct. 19)
Trailing 41-38 with five minutes to go on the road against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Auburn turned to tailback Tre Mason to save the day. The Tigers put together a 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 3:46 off the clock and culminated in a five-yard, game-winning Mason touchdown run. Auburn ran the ball 10 times, including six Mason carries, on a drive that defines head coach Gus Malzahn’s relentless offensive system. On the ensuing possession, Dee Ford sacked Johnny Manziel twice on the final series with No. 7 Texas A&M knocking on the door of the red zone, including a fourth down play that ended the game. The national stage welcomed Auburn to the party following this performance.
6. Auburn 59, Missouri 42 (Dec. 7)
Auburn set 16 SEC Championship Game records by rolling through a highly regarded and equally effective Missouri Tigers defensive line. Tre Mason rushes 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns — all SEC title game records — in the win. The performance sent Mason to New York as a Heisman finalist. Malzahn becomes just the third head coach in SEC history to win a conference title in his first season in the league and it won him the Home Depot National Coach of the Year award.
7. Oklahoma 33, Oklahoma State 24 (Dec. 7)
One of the most heated rivalries in all of college football had some extra juice in 2013. The Big 12 title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl was on the line for the Pokes while the Sooners had a shot at a BCS bowl and 10-win season in their sights (not to mention ruining the Cowboys' season). Bob Stoops had to turn to his backup quarterbacks at halftime, so he leaned on his defense all game. Holding Okie State in check most of the game, the Sooners finally lost the lead when Oklahoma State went up 24-20 with 2:30 to go. Mike Gundy had to give the ball back to the Crimson and Cream with less than two minutes to play. Blake Bell contructed a drive to remember when he moved the Sooners down the field for the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds to play. Stoops moved to 8-1 all-time against Gundy as he dashed OSU’s Big 12 title hopes on the final drive of the season.
8. Georgia 44, LSU 41 (Sept. 28)
McCarron-Manziel might have been the best SEC QB duel this fall but Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray put on a show in Athens late in September. The duo combined for 670 yards and seven touchdowns in the see-saw affair. No team ever held a lead of more than seven points, no team scored twice in a row after the 8:16 mark of the second quarter and both teams scored at least 10 points in every quarter except LSU in the second. It was probably the best game of Mettenberger’s career and his team came up just short between the hedges in dramatic fashion when Murray led the Bulldogs on a long 75-yard scoring drive with less than three minutes to play.
9. Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24 (Dec. 7)
With the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth on the line for the Spartans and a BCS National Championship berth hanging in the balance for Ohio State, these two locked horns in Lucas Oil Stadium in the Big Ten title game. The Spartans jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead only to watch the Buckeyes come storming back with 24 unanswered points to take the lead late in the third quarter. But Sparty responded in a big way, scoring the game’s final 17 points to snap Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak, knock OSU out of the BCS title game and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987. It was probably the best-played conference championship game of the season.
10. UCF 38, Louisville 35 (Oct. 18)
It was biggest and most dramatic game of the inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. Louisville led 28-7 midway through the third quarter when the Knights' offense came to life with three touchdowns in the final five minutes of the frame. In the fourth quarter, UCF took their first lead of the game with just under eight minutes to play. Louisville bounced back with what appeared to be a game-winning 15-yard touchdown run from Dominique Brown. However, Blake Bortles tossed a two-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey with just 23 seconds remaining. The win eventually led to a conference championship and BCS bowl berth for UCF.
11. South Carolina 27, Missouri 24 (2OT, Oct. 26)
The first three quarters were rather tame as Missouri commanded the score board and the line of scrimmage 17-0 when the fourth quarter began. But then Connor Shaw did his best Willis Reed impersonation, limping around Faurot Field to give South Carolina one of the most historic and improbable wins in SEC history. Shaw led the Cocks to 17 unanswered points, including a game-tying TD with 42 seconds left and a 4th-and-15 game-tying TD pass in overtime. When Missouri missed a short field goal in double-overtime, Carolina stormed the field and Shaw supplanted his legacy in Gamecocks lore.
12. 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.
13. Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38 (Oct. 12)
Johnny Manziel forced some throws and made a bad decision or two, but Johnny Football bailed him out. He threw for 346 yards and rushed for 124 and provided three critical, late drives to keep his Aggies alive in Oxford. These two teams combined for 41 fourth-quarter points and Manziel overcame what appeared to be a bad knee injury to lead Texas A&M to the game-winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock.
14. Clemson 38, Georgia 35 (Aug. 31)
It was hyped all summer long and the two top 10 teams delivered in a big way. Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray teamed with Sammy Watkins and Todd Gurley to give fans in rabid Death Valley big play after big play. This anticipated non-conference season-opener was either tied or within one score for all but six minutes and ended with Tigers fans chanting “A-C-C” deep into the night in South Carolina.
15. 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.
16. Georgia 41, South Carolina 30 (Sept. 7)
A week after losing to Clemson (more on that in a second), the Dawgs returned home to open their 2013 home campaign against SEC East rival South Carolina. Aaron Murray was brilliant and running back Todd Gurley was unstoppable for most of the day. Murray made the play of the day in the critical win with an 85-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-long early in the fourth quarter. His defense did the rest and Georgia threw the season’s first big SEC punch in a game that saw momentum swing back and forth all afternoon.
17. Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30 (Oct. 5)
The peak of the Wildcats' season came when they were 4-0 and ranked No. 16 in the nation — and unbeaten Ohio State was coming to town. Northwestern held a lead for most of the first and second quarters and all of the third quarter. But the Buckeyes never went away and the two traded touchdowns in dramatic fashion in the final period. Carlos Hyde’s breakout performance featured 26 carries, 168 yards and three touchdowns in the final 19 minutes of play. The Buckeyes survived what many pointed to in the preseason as the pivotal upset alert of the season. Ohio State would stay unbeaten until the conference championship game while Northwestern wouldn’t win another game until its finale.
18. Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34 (2OT, Nov. 30)
The Dawgs, playing without Aaron Murray for the first time since 2009, trailed 20-0 to begin the game. But slowly new quarterback Hutson Mason settled in and led the offense to 10 unanswered points to send the game into overtime. Vad Lee set a career high in passing yards but it wasn't enough to overcome a late-game performance from Todd Gurley — who scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime to win one of the best-named rivalry games in the nation.
19. 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).
20. Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24 (Nov. 2)
It may not have been the best or most important game of the Big Ten season but it certainly had the most exciting finish. The Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp Hail Mary will go down in Big Ten lore as one of the most famous plays in conference history. The Wildcats jumped out to a 21-7 lead halfway through the third quarter but the Huskers came storming back to tie the game entering the fourth quarter. With 1:20 to go, the Cats took a lead on a field goal and then stopped Nebraska at midfield with one play to go. Bo Pelini’s prayers were answered when Westerkamp snatched the tipped heave out of the air to score his first career touchdown — and keep Nebraska’s Big Ten title hopes alive for one more week.
21. Oklahoma State 33, Kansas State 29 (Oct. 5)
The Cowboys' offense struggled for much of the game but Oklahoma State carried a three-point lead into halftime at home against KSU. The Wildcats retook the lead early in the third quarter before two OSU field goals gave the Pokes a 23-21 advantage heading into the fourth. With 6:09 left, however, Daniel Sams announced himself to the Big 12 when he scored his third touchdown of the game to give the Wildcats the lead. But when needed, J.W. Walsh delivered by leading two scoring drives in the final five minutes of play, including the game-winning TD pass to Charlie Moore with 4:13 left.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. Ole Miss 39, Vanderbilt 35 (Aug. 29)
On the season’s opening night, the Rebs and Dores delivered on a national stage in dramatic fashion. Ole Miss won the first quarter 10-0 while Vandy took the second 21-0. The frantic back-and-forth game ended when Jeff Scott rumbled 75 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown with 1:07 to play. The lead changed hands three times over the final nine minutes in one of the best games of the season.
25. Fresno State 41, Boise State 40 (Sept. 20)
It was supposed to be the first of two meetings between what was supposed to be the best two teams in the Mountain West. But even though Boise State went on to lose three more games and finished behind Utah State in the Mountain Division, this early season bout lived up to the hype. After the Broncos scored three straight touchdowns to take the lead late in the fourth, Derek Carr led a game-winning drive to retake the lead with two minutes to play. Carr finished with 460 yards and four touchdowns in the thrilling win over Boise.
Best of the Rest:
Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24 (Sept. 28)
A game between the top two rushing teams in the Big Ten doesn’t normally feature quarterback play but that is what happened when these two rivals met early in the season. Braxton Miller returned after missing two games to throw a career-high four touchdown passes while Wisconsin’s Joel Stave threw for a career-high 295 yards (since broken) to keep his team in contention. Both running games were held in check as both teams posted season lows in rushing yards. In the end, Ohio State was too much and the Buckeyes outlasted the Badgers in the most critical Leaders Division game of the season.
Duke 27, North Carolina 25 (Nov. 30)
Missouri 28, Texas A&M 21 (Nov. 30)
It was a non-descript but critical regular-season finale and Henry Josey rushed into Mizzou history in dramatic fashion. Josey, a fan favorite in Columbia, broke free for a game-winning 57-yard TD run with three minutes to play to send the Tigers to Atlanta as SEC East champs.
Ole Miss 27, LSU 24 (Oct. 19)
The first half wasn’t pretty for LSU as Ole Miss led 10-0 at the break. But an exciting second half eventually led to a tie game when LSU scored 10 straight points to start the fourth quarter. But Bo Wallace led his team into field-goal range and Andrew Ritter drilled a 41-yarder with two seconds left to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium history.
Missouri 41, Georgia 26 (Oct. 12)
The final score isn’t nearly as indicative as to how entertaining and important this game was in the SEC. James Franklin got hurt late in the action but backup Maty Mauk and some unique play-calling gave Mizzou one of its biggest wins in program history. The Tigers led big most of the way but UGA stormed back and nearly took the lead in the final period before a critical fumble ended the comeback. This win set Gary Pinkel’s bunch up on their magical run to Atlanta.
With an outright Coastal Division championship on the line, Duke battled its arch in-state rival to the bitter end of the regular season. The red-hot Tar Heels had won five straight games and gave Duke all they could handle, going back-and-forth with the Devils and eventually taking a late fourth-quarter lead. But like it had all season, Duke found a way to win when Ross Martin hit a 27-yard field goal with 2:22 left to play. The win gave David Cutcliffe an outright division championship and Duke its first 10-win season in school history.
Georgia 34, Tennessee 31 (OT, Sept. 5)
The battered and bruised Bulldogs escaped Knoxville in dramatic overtime fashion when Aaron Murray scored the game-tying TD with five seconds left. Then, in overtime, the Vols' heart-break continued when Pig Howard appeared to score the game-winning TD but instead fumbled the ball out of the end zone just inches before crossing the goal line.
Baylor 30, Texas 10 (Dec. 7)
There was no better way for Baylor to end the season. The Bedlam Game upset earlier in the day turned this season finale into an outright Big 12 championship game for both teams. Texas played well for the first 30 minutes, taking a 3-3 tie into the break. But Baylor did what Baylor had done all season long by making halftime adjustments and scoring quickly to start the second half. A 17-point third quarter put the game out of reach and gave Art Briles and the Bears fans a championship to celebrate. Floyd Casey Stadium was closed for the final time with the program’s first Big 12 title and first BCS bowl bid secured.
Baylor 35, Kansas State 25 (Oct. 12)
The Bears couldn’t run the ball like they were accustomed to in Manhattan, but Bryce Petty delivered a critical fourth-quarter performance that eventually helped Baylor win the Big 12. In the closest win of the season, Petty and the Bears entered the final frame trailing by four. As KSU geared up to stop the run, Petty made them pay with two long touchdown passes — 54 and 21 yards — in the final quarter to give Baylor a win in what was one of only three tough games it played all season.
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT, Oct. 12)
The Legend of Christian Hackenberg, should he continue on his meteoric career path, began with this four-overtime thriller in Happy Valley. He led his team down the field with two long improbable completions in the final 30 seconds to tie the game at 34 at the end of regulation. In four overtime periods, both teams had multiple chances to win but couldn’t capitalize on numerous field goal tries. Eventually, Bill Belton scored on a two-yard touchdown run to end the longest game in Penn State history with a win over then-No. 18 Michigan.
Alabama 38, LSU 17 (Nov. 9)
Alabama and LSU is always one of the most anticipated and physical games of the season regardless of conference affiliation. The Tigers fought hard and were tied at 17 late in the third quarter. However, the Crimson Tide proved its mettle by pounding the rock to 21 unanswered points over the final 20 minutes to stake a claim atop the SEC West (well, for the time being).