5 Greatest Comebacks in College Football History

Where does UCLA's stunning come-from-behind win over Texas A&M on Saturday rank?

UCLA’s 34-point comeback over Texas A&M in the final 17 minutes on Sunday was one for the ages. Is it the greatest of all time? Well, there are a few factors to consider.


All comebacks of more than two touchdowns are a testament to a team’s perseverance, but in determining the best rally, one must consider the point deficit, the amount of time they had, and the opponent in question. With those parameters in mind, here are the five greatest comebacks in college football history.


5. Marshall 64, ECU 61

Dec. 19, 2001 – Mobile, Ala. (GMAC Bowl)

Deficit: 30 points

East Carolina jumped out to a 38-8 halftime lead in the GMAC Bowl and thousands of fans left to get on the road or see what else Mobile had to offer. Those who stayed saw Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich lead a 28-point third quarter to close the gap to 41-36. The two teams then swapped blows in the fourth quarter and Marshall tied the game 51-51 with a Leftwich TD pass to Darius Watts with seven seconds left. Placekicker Curtis Head attempted what would have been the game-winning extra point, but missed, sending the game into overtime.  After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, ECU kicked a field goal to start the second one. Leftwich responded with an eight-yard touchdown pass to seal the win and close the highest-scoring bowl game of all time.


4. Texas Tech 44, Minnesota 41

Dec. 29, 2006 – Tempe, Ariz. (Insight Bowl)

Comeback: 31 points

The power of the Air Raid offense was on full display in the second half of the 2006 Insight Bowl. After falling behind 38-7 with 7:47 left in the third quarter, Texas Tech went to work. Quarterback Graham Harrell engineered five scoring drives, with the fifth ending in a 52-yard field goal by Alex Trlica as time expired to tie the game 38-38 and send it in to overtime. There, Minnesota kicked a field goal on its first possession and Tech responded with a five-play drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by Shannon Woods to seal the game.


3. Michigan State 41, Northwestern 38

Oct. 21, 2006 – Evanston, Ill.

Comeback: 35 points

This game is third on this list in part because both teams finished 4-8, but their meeting was one for the ages. Northwestern took a 38-3 lead with 9:54 in the third quarter. The Spartans worked their way back with four touchdown drives and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown to tie the game at 38-38. Then with 18 seconds left, Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson kicked a 28-yard field goal to put his team up 41-38. The Spartans stopped a last-ditch attempt by Northwestern to cap the largest comeback in college football history.


2. UCLA 45, Texas A&M 44

Sept. 3, 2017 – Pasadena, Calif.

Comeback: 34 points

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few days, you know A&M led 44-10 with a 2:06 to go in the third quarter before UCLA came to life and scored 35 unanswered points. Quarterback Josh Rosen threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone and put the Bruins up 45-44 with 43 seconds left in the game. Only time will tell the significance of the comeback, but its place on this list is secure until another historic rally surpasses it.


1. Maryland 42, Miami 40

Nov. 10, 1984 – Miami

Comeback: 31 points

The defending national champion and sixth-ranked Hurricanes outgained the Terrapins 328 yards to 57 in the first half to take a 31-0 halftime lead. For the second half, Maryland head coach Bobby Ross replaced starting quarterback Stan Gelbaugh with Frank Reich, who led the team on five scoring drives to take a 35-34 lead with a little over nine minutes left in the game. Miami fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Maryland capitalized to take a 42-34 lead. However, the Terps later botched a punt and gave Miami the ball deep in Maryland territory. Quarterback Bernie Kosar then hit receiver Eddie Brown with a five-yard touchdown pass to close the gap to 42-40. The Hurricanes went for two and Kosar tossed a pass to Melvin Bratton but Keeta Covington stopped him short of the end zone to preserve the win. Reich, of course, orchestrated the largest comeback in NFL history as well.


— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Event Date: 
Tuesday, September 5, 2017 - 18:22

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