Fans and media critics alike toss around words like “greatest” and “all-time” fairly liberally. I am not immune from this type of hyperbole, as I’ve been known to wax poetically about most, best or awesome-est games, players, teams, moments or endings in the long and storied history of college football.
But Florida State’s win over Auburn on Monday night in the most gorgeous of competitive settings is one of the greatest football games that has ever been played on any level.
Historic storylines, powerful and unique personalities, decorated elite talent and unforgettable dramatics make the 16th and final BCS National Championship Game completely and, for some, painfully unforgettable.
But was it the best BCS National Championship Game? Athlon says goodbye to the BCS by ranking the 16 title-deciding games:
1. (2) Texas 41, (1) USC 38 (2005)
Few argue that Vince Young’s second straight Rose Bowl MVP is one of the most remarkable individual performances by any player in any sport. He set the BCS NCG record with 200 yards rushing and NCG record for total offense with 476 yards. He also set a NCG record with 75 percent passing (30-of-40) and scored three total touchdowns. USC and Texas went back and forth with three consecutive lead-changing scores in the third quarter before the Trojans opened up a 12-point lead with just six minutes to play. Young took over from there and led two touchdown drives, capping both with his own rushing touchdowns. The two-time defending champion Trojans were toppled by the most unstoppable player of the BCS Era.
2. (1) Florida State 34, (2) Auburn 31 (2013)
Gus Malzahn’s team set the tempo and tone for most of the game, taking a commanding 21-3 lead late in the second quarter. But Jameis Winston slowly led his team back to within one point early in the fourth quarter (21-20). After Auburn extended the lead with a field goal, Florida State’s special teams — which were remarkable all game — made the biggest play of the game when Kermit Whitfield scored on the ensuring kickoff from his own goal line. Not to be outdone, Tre Mason led the Tigers back to the lead with 1:19 to play. The Heisman winner then built his legacy with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that will be a part of FSU lore forever. Winston hit Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone with 19 seconds left in the game to shock the SEC powerhouse. There were three lead changes in the final 4:31.
3. (2) Ohio State 31, (1) Miami 24 (OT, 2002)
Marred by what some (not this guy) consider a bad pass interference penalty, upstart and huge underdog Ohio State pulled off one of the most improbable wins in BCS history. Maurice Clarett scored the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime — the only BCS NCG to go to extra time — to win the Buckeyes' first national title since 1968. The Buckeyes' defense held the vaunted Miami offense to just 17 points in regulation and just 369 yards of offense while forcing five Canes turnovers.
4. (1) Auburn 22, (2) Oregon 19 (2010)
With the Heisman Trophy winner on one side and the nation’s top offense on the other, it was a bit of a shocker that both defenses played so well in this low-scoring dramatic affair. Darron Thomas was a lone bright spot for the Ducks with 363 yards and two touchdowns, leading Oregon to the game-tying touchdown with just 2:33 left in the game. Game MVP Michael Dyer, who rushed for 143 yards, had the signature run in the game’s final drive, pirouetting into BCS lore and setting up the game-winning field goal with no time remaining.
5. (2) Florida 24, (1) Oklahoma 14 (2008)
The only BCS title game to be tied at halftime, two Heisman Trophy winners battled in what was one of the most physical title games of the BCS Era. Percy Harvin was the top playmaker for Tim Tebow and Florida, touching the ball 14 times for 171 yards and a score. Early in the fourth quarter, though, Sam Bradford connected with Jermaine Greshman from 11 yards out to tie the game. Tebow then worked his magic by leading two scoring drives to give the Gators a 10-point NCG victory. The Gators' defense held the ’08 Heisman winner (Bradford) to just 26-of-41 passing, 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
6. (1) Florida State 46, (2) Virginia Tech 29 (1999)
The largest crowd in Superdome history at the time (79,280) witnessed elite athletes making spectacular plays in one of the most high-scoring and entertaining BCS title bouts — despite the 17-point final margin. Florida State led 28-14 at halftime before the great Michael Vick single-handedly took the lead for Tech with 15 unanswered third-quarter points. However, entering the final period trailing 29-28, Florida State turned to their superstar wide receiver Peter Warrick. The game’s MVP caught six passes for 163 yards and two amazing touchdowns while also returning a punt 59 yards for a touchdown. The Seminoles scored 18 unanswered points of their own in the fourth quarter to win Bobby Bowden’s second national championship. Vick finished with 225 yards passing and 97 rushing.
7. (1) Tennessee 23, (2) Florida State 16 (1998)
The first BCS title game featured a lot defense from two teams stacked with NFL talent on that side of the ball. These two teams combined for seven fumbles and 21 penalties but were in a tight five-point game into the fourth quarter. But then Tee Martin threw arguably the biggest pass in Vols history down the sideline where Peerless Price streaked into the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown. The score put Tennessee up for good but Phil Fulmer and Big Orange nation needed a critical Steven Johnson interception in the final two minutes to seal the seven-point win.
8. (1) Oklahoma 13, (2) Florida State 2 (2000)
Heisman winner Chris Weinke and the defending champion Seminoles entered this NCG a decided favorite. But the upstart Sooners defense, led by second-year head coach Bob Stoops, held the FSU offense to zero points and forced Weinke into 26 incompletions (51 attempts) and two interceptions. The Noles were 1-of-15 on third down and Quentin Griffin scored a 10-yard touchdown to break open a 6-0 fourth-quarter lead for the Sooners. Oklahoma claimed its first national title since 1985 and Miami native Torrance Marshall was named the game’s MVP.
9. (2) LSU 21, (1) Oklahoma 14 (2003)
The highest-scoring team in the nation, Oklahoma, was held largely in check by a Nick Saban-coached defense. LSU held the Sooners to an absurdly low 154 yards of total offense. Heisman winner Jason White was atrocious, throwing for 102 yards and two interceptions along with 24 incompletions (13-of-37). Oklahoma’s defense fought valiantly, allowing just 312 yards of offense and only 14 points to LSU's offense. Defensive lineman Marcus Spears made the play of the game early in the third quarter when he picked off White and rumbled 20 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. A fourth-quarter Sooner touchdown made the score look more respectable.
10. (1) Alabama 37, (2) Texas 21 (2009)
Early in the first quarter, Alabama knocked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game and the Tide never really looked back. Bama took a 24-6 halftime lead and let off the gas pedal in allowing backup Garrett Gilbert to throw two touchdown passes to cut the lead to 24-20. However, the Tide would not relent as it scored two touchdowns in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to pull away and secure the national title — it’s first since 1992. The two teams combined for 539 yards of total offense.
11. (2) LSU 38, (1) Ohio State 24 (2007)
Beanie Wells did his best to keep Ohio State in the game, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But it wasn’t enough for Ohio State to overcome the efficient play of LSU quarterback Matt Flynn and yet another loaded LSU defense. The Tigers, the only two-loss BCS champion, got four scoring strikes from their quarterback and forced three OSU turnovers to win their second national title in five years. Ohio State cut the lead to 14 (31-17) with two minutes to go in the third quarter but couldn’t muster any offense in the final frame.
12. (2) Alabama 21, (1) LSU 0 (2011)
LSU topped Bama 9-6 in early November in Tuscaloosa and beat Georgia in the SEC title game to enter the BCS title game with as impressive a 13-0 record as college football has ever seen. However, many still believe Alabama was the better team and the Crimson Tide’s record-setting defense completely dominated LSU. The Tigers finished with 92 total yards, five first downs and didn’t even cross midfield until there were eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. AJ McCarron announced his presence to the college football world by playing efficient and productive football against a loaded LSU defense, winning the game’s MVP award along the way.
13. (2) Florida 41, (1) Ohio State 14 (2006)
Ohio State was a heavy favorite and opened the game by scoring on the opening kickoff. However, the infamous Roy Hall jumped on Ted Ginn in the end zone and injured the OSU star playmaker, setting an ominous tone for the game on the first play. It was all Florida from there on out as the Gators' defense pressured Heisman winner Troy Smith all night. Florida scored 34 first-half points and didn’t allow a second-half point to Ohio State. Smith finished 4-of-14 for 35 yards and the OSU offense totaled 82 yards on the night. Urban Meyer hoisted what would be his first of two crystal footballs.
14. (1) Alabama 42, (1) Notre Dame 14 (2012)
The Crimson Tide entered the final game of the 2012 season as the defending champs and the heavy favorite over an unbeaten Fighting Irish squad. And Vegas was right as AJ McCarron and Eddie Lacy carved up what was a highly touted Notre Dame defense. McCarron finished with 264 yards and four touchdowns while Lacy took home MVP honors with 20 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown. Bama led 35-0 with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter.
15. (1) USC 55, (2) Oklahoma 19 (2004)
It was the greatest offensive performance of the BCS era. The USC Trojans completely dissected the Oklahoma Sooners to the tune of a then-BCS NCG record 525 yards and current record 55 points. Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart set a BCS NCG record with 365 yards passing and five touchdowns in the win. Oklahoma scored first to go up 7-0 but USC then went on a 55-3 run from the 4:27 mark of the first quarter through the 9:46 mark of the fourth quarter. Not even Auburn could have stopped this offense that year.
16. (1) Miami 37, (2) Nebraska 14 (2001)
Ken Dorsey threw three first half touchdowns as Miami took a commanding 34-0 halftime lead on overmatched Nebraska. The Huskers mustered two second-half touchdowns but the game was already over. Many believe this was the best team ever assembled in college football and their national title performance in the Rose Bowl did nothing to dispel the notion.