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5 Greatest Shootouts in College Football History

These are some of the most entertaining games ever played on the gridiron.
Houston Cougars vs. SMU Mustangs Football on Nov. 5, 2022

The Nov. 5 game between Houston and SMU that featured an FBS-record 140 points in regulation was highly entertaining but doesn't make this list because of the final margin.

SMU's 77-63 win over Houston last Saturday was a sight to behold. Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai threw nine touchdown passes and ran for another, while Clayton Tune tossed seven with one score on the ground. These numbers would make it one of the greatest shootouts in college football history, right? Not quite.

Related: Most Explosive Quarters in College Football History

For a shootout to be considered "great," both teams have to score more than 40 points and the game has to be close. Also, overtime games do not count, as being tied 31-31 and matching each other score-for-score over several overtimes does not compare to high-point affairs that take place during regulation.

With that in mind, here are the five "greatest" shootouts in college football history.

5. UCLA 67, Washington State 63

Sept. 21, 2019 — Pullman, Wash.

If a shootout happens in the middle of the night, did it really exist? Well, yes, but this game proves that it may not be well remembered. No. 19 Washington State led winless UCLA 49-17 in the third quarter during the early morning hours on the East Coast. The Bruins responded with 29 unanswered points and then took a 60-56 lead on a 69-yard Kyle Philips punt return with 7:31 to play. The Cougars retook the advantage with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Gordon to Max Borghi but fumbled deep in their own territory late in the quarter. Dorian Thompson-Robinson hit Demetric Felton with a 15-yard touchdown pass for the final score of the game. Washington State fumbled again on their next possession, and UCLA ran out the clock. Because the game was played so late at night and the Bruins finished 4-8, this is probably the least-known shootout on this list.

4. Tennessee 52, Alabama 49

Oct. 15, 2022 — Knoxville, Tenn.

While the SMU-Houston game didn't make this list, one game from this season does. After dropping 15 straight to the Crimson Tide, Tennessee tied the game at 49-49 when Hendon Hooker hit Jalin Hyatt with a 13-yard touchdown pass with 3:26 left, their fifth scoring combo of the game. Alabama drove into field goal range, but Will Reichard's 50-yard attempt sailed right with 15 seconds left. The Vols drove 45 yards in two plays, and Chase McGrath booted a knuckleball of a field goal for Tennessee's first win in the series since 2007.

Related: Longest Win Streaks in College Football's Biggest Rivalries

3. Baylor 61, TCU 58

Oct. 11, 2014  Waco, Texas

There is a scene in "The Sons of Katie Elder" where George Kennedy and his band of hired guns ambush the Elder brothers (John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, and Michael Anderson Jr.). All seemed lost until the Duke picked up his guns and started shooting, eventually taking out Kennedy and sending everyone running. This top-10 matchup had that same feel. TCU never trailed for the entire game and led 58-37 early in the fourth quarter. But Baylor kept firing and Chris Callahan kicked a 28-yard field goal for the win as time expired. Bears quarterback Bryce Petty finished with 510 yards and six touchdowns.

2. BYU 46, SMU 45

Dec. 19, 1980  San Diego

The Holiday Bowl pitted Jim McMahon and BYU's wide-open passing attack against Eric Dickerson, Craig James and SMU's explosive "Pony Express" running game. James rushed for 225 yards, Dickerson amassed 110, and the Mustangs led 45-25 with four minutes left. However, McMahon hit Matt Braga with a 15-yard touchdown pass, and then the Cougars recovered the onside kick and scored again on a one-yard touchdown run by Scott Phillips. BYU forced SMU to punt and then blocked it with 13 seconds left, recovering the ball on the Mustangs' 41-yard line. After two incomplete passes, McMahon threw a Hail Mary into the end zone that was pulled down by tight end Clay Brown for the win.

1. Boston College 47, Miami 45

Nov. 23, 1984  Miami

In terms of offensive firepower, Eagles quarterback Doug Flutie and Hurricanes quarterback Bernie Kosar combined for 919 yards and five touchdowns, and Miami running back Melvin Bratton rushed for four scores. The game was tied at 31-31 going into the fourth quarter, where the lead changed five times. Bratton scored a touchdown with less than a minute left to put the Canes up 45-41. Then Flutie sent this game into college football lore with a Hail Mary to Gerard Phelan as time expired for the win.

— 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.