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Top 25 College Football Games of 2015

Connor Cook

Connor Cook

What is great about college football is that every season seems to offer a new handful of memories that can be shared and remembered for years to come. In 2015 we saw plenty of great comebacks and nailbiters filled with monster individual performances and bizarre plays you had to see to believe. This season offered a reminder of why it is important to never count a team out until the clock hits triple zeroes, and sometimes even after that happens you just never know what you might see unfold before your eyes.

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After breaking down the top games in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, it is time to mix the best of the best and compile a master list of the top games from around the country. We'll even mix in some of the top games worth mentioning from the Group of 5, because there were a couple of gems from those teams too.

25. Oregon 61, Arizona State 55 (3OT) – Oct. 29

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A week after getting back on track against Washington, Oregon rediscovered its offense on the road against Arizona State. A 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Charles Nelson and a 62-yard touchdown run by Kani Benoit in the third quarter gave the Ducks a lead heading into the fourth quarter of a wild game that epitomized "Pac-12 After Dark." Then down by seven with time running out, Vernon Adams scrambled back to the 25-yard line and threw up a prayer on fourth-and-goal from the nine-yard line and Dwayne Stanford somehow came down with the ball to lead to overtime. Oregon wasted no time getting on the board in the first overtime when Adams connected with Stanford on the first play for 25 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, which was answered by Arizona State. Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici gave the home team a lead in the second overtime with an 18-yard run, but Oregon answered with a short touchdown run by Royce Freeman. In the third overtime, Adams completed a 20-yard pass to Bralon Addison for a touchdown, one that looked on video review to actually be an incomplete pass with Addison's left toe appearing to be out of bounds. The score was upheld following a review due to inconclusive evidence to overturn the play, and Oregon picked off Bercovici on second-and-goal in the end zone for the win.

24. Oklahoma 31, Tennessee 24 (2OT) – Sept. 12

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A week before Texas Tech would score a road victory in SEC territory, Oklahoma made a trip to Knoxville for a top-25 matchup with Tennessee. After digging a 17-0 hole in the first half, the Sooners chipped away at the Vols and scored a game-tying touchdown with just 40 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Baker Mayfield forced a second overtime with his short keeper on fourth down from the one-yard line and then gave the Sooners a lead with an 18-yard pass to Sterling Shepard, who danced around a couple of would-be tacklers as he reached for the end zone along the right sideline. Oklahoma's defense, which allowed just 254 yards through a double-overtime effort, prevented Tennessee from forcing a third overtime when Zack Sanchez picked off a pass from Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs on third down.

23. Michigan State 31, Oregon 28 – Sept. 12

An early battle of College Football Playoff contenders lived up to the hype in Week 2. Michigan State let one slip away on the road at Oregon last season but found a way to shut the door on the Ducks this time around. Michigan State's defense seemed to handle Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams well enough with two interceptions. Adams led a fourth-quarter rally for Oregon but the Spartans held strong on Oregon's final possession of the game with a turnover on downs, which allowed Connor Cook and the offense to run out the remaining 59 seconds on the clock. Oregon may have taken a dip in the middle of the season, but the win by the Spartans was and still is a big reason why they are in the Playoff.

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22. Miami 36, Nebraska 33 (OT) – Sept. 19

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College Football Top 25: Miami

It was a game Miami dominated, and then didn't, and then escaped in overtime and boy was it a lot of fun to watch. The Hurricanes jumped all over the struggling Cornhuskers in the first quarter with a 17-0 opening frame, as Brad Kaaya was locked in en route to a 379-yard performance. Miami built a decisive 33-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, which is when Nebraska pulled off quite the comeback in the second half over the final 11 minutes of regulation. Nebraska had three touchdown drives of at least 75 yards in the fourth quarter for 23 straight points with a pair of two-point conversions in the mix. Tommy Armstrong hit three touchdown passes in the rally, including the game-tying score to Stanley Morgan Jr. with 33 seconds to play.

The magic ran out in regulation time for Armstrong though. Miami's Corn Elder picked off Armstrong on the first play of overtime. Nebraska took a bad unnecessary roughness penalty on the play as well, which allowed Miami to start their overtime possession on the Nebraska 12-yard line. Miami played for a field goal from there, and the Hurricanes hit it for the wild win.

21. LSU 35, Florida 28 – Oct. 15

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At the time it looked as though this could be a preview of the SEC Championship Game, and if that was the case then it certainly set the bar high. Leonard Fournette continued pushing his early Heisman campaign with 180 rushing yards against a solid Florida offense, and the Gators held their own on offense to make a game of it in Baton Rouge. Les Miles pulled into his hat for a fake field goal that took Florida by surprise and led to what would turn out to be a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Kicker Trent Dominique took a fake field goal 16 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

20. Washington State 31, UCLA 27 – Nov. 14

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The Washington State Cougars were full of drama this season, and their mid-November trip to Los Angeles to play UCLA was no exception. Washington State held a 24-16 lead in the fourth quarter before Josh Rosen led a UCLA rally. Rosen's 37-yard touchdown run through the Cougars' defense gave the Bruins a late 27-24 lead with 1:09 to play, but that was more than enough time for Mike Leach to have quarterback Luke Falk lead a final drive to get into field goal range. Falk did more than that though. A 30-yard pass to Dom Williams put the ball on the UCLA 21-yard line with 18 seconds to play. A 21-yard pass to Gabe Marks for the touchdown with just three seconds left gave the Cougars one more wild win in the 2015 season.

19. TCU 52, Kansas State 45 – Oct. 10

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin proved capable of carrying his team to victory with a huge fourth-quarter effort on the road against Kansas State. Boykin ran for a 14-yard and a 69-yard touchdown to dig TCU out of a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter and then tossed a 55-yard TD to Josh Doctson with a little over a minute to play to give the Horned Frogs a late 52-45 lead on the Wildcats. At the time, Boykin's effort helped keep No. 2 TCU in the thick of the Playoff picture midway through the season. Boykin also kept his name among the Heisman contenders with the effort, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 124 yards and two more scores to help the Frogs leave Manhattan with the wild win.

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18. Oklahoma 44, Baylor 34 – Nov. 14

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The outlook of the Big 12 changed when Oklahoma walked into Waco and handed Baylor its first loss of the season in mid-November. The win also catapulted Baker Mayfield into the Heisman Trophy discussion for a late push. Mayfield passed for three touchdowns and Samaje Perine rushed for 166 yards and two scores as the Sooners took control of the Big 12 following a back-and-forth evening. Oklahoma never trailed after taking a 7-6 lead in the first quarter following Perine's first touchdown run of the game. For Oklahoma, the win was the fifth straight since losing to Texas, and the offense continued to light up the scoreboard with five straight games of at least 40 points.

17. Miami 30, Duke 27 – Oct. 31

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College Football Top 25: Miami

It was quite a wild season for Miami, and they had another bizarre ending on Halloween. Fast-forward to the final three minutes of the game. Miami led Duke 24-12 with 5:54 to play, but the Blue Devils drove 75 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-19 with 2:40 to play. After the defense held Miami to a three-and-out, Duke drove 80 yards over 10 plays to score the go-ahead touchdown (27-24) with just six seconds to play. Then the controversial kick return happened.

Miami lateraled the kickoff return eight times, at least once that should not have counted, and Corn Elder once again came up with the big play as he got credit for the 91-yard, walk-off touchdown return for a controversial win.

16. Alabama 30, LSU 16 – Nov. 5

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Alabama and LSU always seem to play some good old-fashioned slobber knockers. This season, LSU entered the game looking to firmly take control of the SEC West heading down the stretch and cement running back Leonard Fournette’s place as Heisman Trophy front-runner. Nothing went according to plan for LSU though as the Alabama defense stuffed Fournette for just 31 yards on 19 carries while Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry went off for 210 yards and three touchdowns to become the new Heisman favorite. Alabama’s defense shut LSU down after halftime, as Alabama outscored LSU 17-6 in the second half.

15. TCU 55, Texas Tech 52 – Sept. 26

Before Trevone Boykin got a chance to make his in-season Heisman case against Kansas State, he seemed to have an earlier Heisman moment against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders had plenty of offense to top the Horned Frogs, they just did not have enough time left on the clock. On fourth-and-goal from the Texas Tech four-yard line, Boykin completed a pass to Aaron Green, who hauled in a tipped pass intended for Josh Doctson, for a touchdown with 23 seconds remaining. Texas Tech made TCU sweat it out though with an insane final play that saw Patrick Mahomes complete a pass under pressure over the middle to DeAndre Washington for a 24-yard gain. Washington then lateralled to Le'Raven Clark, who lateralled to Devin Lauderdale, who lateralled to Jakeem Grant. The play that started at midfield advanced all the way to the TCU 10-yard line before being forced out of bounds as time expired.

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14. Nebraska 39, Michigan State 38 – Nov. 7

Nebraska fell on the wrong side of some close calls this season. So go figure the one that went their way came against the eventual Big Ten champions in Lincoln. Nebraska jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter but trailed Michigan State 31-20 entering the fourth quarter. That's when Tommy Armstrong hit his stride. The Huskers quarterback ran for two short touchdowns to help cut the deficit to just five points. Then, following a three-and-out by Michigan State, Armstrong completed passes to Jordan Westerkamp of 28 and 33 yards to quickly move from their own nine-yard line all the way to the Michigan State 30. Armstrong then connected with Brandon Reilly down the left sideline and, for a change, a controversial call by Big Ten refs went Nebraska's way. Reilly appeared to run out of bounds on his own and returned to catch the pass before reaching the end zone, but refs ruled he had been forced out of play. The touchdown stood and the Big Red faithful celebrated as one would expect.

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13. Baylor 45, Oklahoma State 35 – Nov. 21

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Baylor bounced back form its first loss of the season to Oklahoma in a big way on the road against Oklahoma State. The Bears got three total touchdowns from third-string quarterback Chris Johnson, who was replacing an injured Jarrett Stidham, giving the Cowboys their first loss of the season, thus keeping Baylor alive for the Big 12 championship and, perhaps, even the Playoff. Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon went off against Oklahoma State for 210 yards and two scores, including a 71-yard touchdown in the third quarter to help pull Baylor farther away from Oklahoma State on the scoreboard. Cannon had a 59-yard score in the first four minutes of the game as well, as Baylor jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in Stillwater. Baylor's three turnovers helped Oklahoma State stay within reach, but Baylor's offense was too much to handle this week.

12. Ole Miss 43, Alabama 37 – Sept. 19

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The game where it seemed the cracks in Alabama’s SEC and College Football Playoff hopes appeared to be opened and exposed came at home against an Ole Miss team that showed it was not a fluke to win against the Crimson Tide the previous season. Ole Miss, thanks to the strength and luck of quarterback Chad Kelly going off for 341 yards and three touchdowns, took a 43-24 lead in the fourth quarter.

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Kelly completed a desperation throw under pressure for a 73-yard touchdown to Cody Core and just minutes later it was Laquon Treadwell finding room for a 24-yard touchdown pass to take the steam out of Alabama, at least for a few moments. Alabama made an effort to find a way to a win with Derrick Henry running for a touchdown and Jake Coker completing a short touchdown pass to Richard Mullaney with 4:33 to play, but Ole Miss hung on for a frantic 43-37 victory.

11. Notre Dame 24, Temple 20 – Nov. 1

While this was not quite a Cinderella story, it definitely had a Rocky vibe to it. Temple, the decided underdogs from Philadelphia, got a chance to go toe-to-toe with one of college football's top programs of all-time, Notre Dame, and the national spotlight shined all day long for it. The scrappy Owls hung with the Fighting Irish from start to finish, but Notre Dame managed to find just enough big plays against Temple's inspired defense. DeShone Kizer ripped off a 79-yard touchdown run in the first half to give Notre Dame a 14-10 halftime lead. The freshman quarterback later completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller to bring the Irish back from behind with just over two minutes to play for a 24-20 win in Philadelphia.

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10. Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14 – Nov. 21

You wanted a good defensive battle? You got it with Michigan State and Ohio State slugging it out back and forth in the trenches. Neither team had much success throwing the football with a combined 135 passing yards. With starter Connor Cook sidelined, Michigan State turned to Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry at quarterback. The Spartans neutralized a frustrated Ezekiel Elliott, who carried the football 12 times for 33 yards and a touchdown. Down 14-7, Michigan State scored twice in the fourth quarter while keeping the Buckeyes off the scoreboard. A 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a short touchdown run by Gerald Holmes tied the game at 14-14 early in the final frame, and a 41-yard field goal by Michael Geiger gave the Spartans the win as time expired. The win also gave Michigan State the inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game out of the East Division, as well as an opportunity to make a late push for a Playoff spot.

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9. Clemson 24, Notre Dame 22 – Oct. 3

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This was the game where Clemson officially became recognized as a worthy national title contender. Hosting No. 6 Notre Dame in the rain that flooded parts of South Carolina, the Tigers started fast and had to hold on for a nail-biter of a win against the Irish. Brian Kelly's decision to go for two points in the fourth quarter following an early touchdown may have come back to haunt him, but each team came away with a bit of a character-building performance. Clemson's defense forced four turnovers, including three fumble recoveries, but Clemson had to win despite being outgained 432-296. Clemson jumped six spots in the AP poll as a result of the game, which helped set up Clemson's national title campaign and run.

8. Oklahoma 30, TCU 29 – Nov. 21

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A week after topping Baylor in Waco, Oklahoma returned home and got off to a great start against TCU in Norman. The Sooners took a 23-7 lead in the first half with a pair of touchdown passes thrown by Baker Mayfield and Austin Seibert kicking three field goals. TCU was playing without quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson at this point, so the Horned Frogs could have rolled over and given up pretty easily. Of course, that would not be like a Gary Patterson-coached team. The Horned Frogs rallied with three touchdowns and a field goal after halftime. Oklahoma's only score of the second half came on a 72-yard touchdown run by Samaje Perine in the third quarter. TCU's rally was nearly completed with a Bram Kohlhausen touchdown pass to Emanuel Porter with 51 seconds to play. Rather than kick the extra point and roll the dice in overtime, Patterson opted to go for the two-point conversion and the lead. With Oklahoma playing without an injured Mayfield, that seemed like a good move for TCU as the Horned Frogs shut down Oklahoma in the second half. However, Kohlhausen's pass attempt on the conversion try was swatted down by Oklahoma's Steven Parker, and the Sooners survived for a key Big 12 victory that would lead to a conference championship in the final game of the season against Oklahoma State.

7. Clemson 45, North Carolina 37 – Dec. 5

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The most attractive ACC Championship Game in the history of the conference saw No. 1 Clemson look to complete an undefeated regular season and lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff, and No. 10 North Carolina make a case for top one-loss team in consideration for the final four. North Carolina presented Clemson with its best opposing offensive threat of the season, but the Tigers made sure UNC quarterback Marquise Williams would be off the mark. Despite tossing three touchdowns, Williams completed just 11 of his 33 pass attempts. Clemson's Deshaun Watson had a better showing, completing 26-of-42 for 289 yards and three touchdowns, but UNC made sure Clemson kept its foot on the gas from start to finish.

Clemson took a 42-23 lead early in the fourth quarter but UNC chipped away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. After cutting the lead to 45-37 with 1:13 to play, UNC appeared to recover an onsides kick but the play was waved off due to a controversial offsides penalty on UNC. Clemson managed to hold on for the win as a result and advanced as the top seed in the College Football Playoff.

6. Oregon 38, Stanford 36 – Nov. 14

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What has generally been one of the top Pac-12 games of the year the past few seasons once again delivered. Stanford's firm grip on the Pac-12 North was loosened slightly by a resurgent Oregon in dramatic fashion. Oregon trailed Stanford 23-21 at halftime but took control in the second half with a Royce Freeman 19-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and a Vernon Adams 49-yard touchdown pass to Taj Griffin to take a 35-23 lead. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey rushed for a game-high 147 yards and a touchdown and added 42 receiving yards and 60 kick return yards. This was one of Adams' most efficient games for the Ducks, completing 10-of-12 pass attempts for 205 yards and two scores as Oregon was selective about its passing decisions against the Cardinal. The Oregon win pushed Stanford's Pac-12 clincher back a week and helped Oregon climb the division standings in a strong second half of the season.

5. Houston 35, Memphis 34 – Nov. 15

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The Memphis Tigers had been on a roll, but were clipped the previous week by Navy. Looking to storm back and remain in a good spot near the top of the AAC West Division, Paxton Lynch tossed a 61-yard touchdown to Doroland Dorceus late in the second quarter for a 20-0 lead before the home team answered with a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Kyle Postma to Linell Bonner to make it 20-7 at the half. With Cougars starter Greg Ward Jr. knocked out, it was up to Postma to lead the offense to a rally. He did so by passing for 236 yards and rushing for a team-high 49 yards with two combined touchdowns as Houston rattled off 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to turn a 34-14 deficit into a wild 35-34 win that helped catapult Houston to the AAC title.

4. Michigan State 16, Iowa 13 – Dec. 5

You wanted another defensive battle? Well, you got it, again. What was supposed to be the most defensive battle of the conference championship games absolutely delivered on that promise as the Spartans and Hawkeyes brought some of their best defense of the year to Indianapolis. Michigan State, a program more used to the big-game spotlight compared to the Hawkeyes, held Iowa to just 268 yards of offense and forced three turnovers. To its credit, Iowa held down Michigan State nearly as well with just 263 yards allowed before the final drive by the Spartans. What was a battle of field goals changed when C.J. Beathard completed an 85-yard touchdown strike to Tevaun Smith early in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans put together the drive of the year with the game on the line. Driving 82 yards over 22 plays and taking up more than nine minutes off the clock paid off for the Spartans. LJ Scott's second effort at the goal line on third down with 27 seconds produced the game-winning touchdown in a 16-13 victory for Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and essentially clinched the Spartans' spot in the College Football Playoff.

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3. Georgia Tech 22, Florida State 16 – Oct. 24

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Two years ago Alabama fell victim to a Kick-Six against rival Auburn. That result dramatically changed the landscape of the SEC and national championship picture. The stakes were not quite as high on Oct. 24 in Atlanta between Georgia Tech and Florida State, but it was no less stunning.

Georgia Tech's defense played a solid game against Florida State by holding Dalvin Cook to just 82 yards on the ground and 50 receiving yards. Everett Golson was 20-of-30 with his passing attempts but was picked off once and never got the Seminoles in the end zone. Florida State held a 16-10 lead on the Yellow Jackets going into halftime and then never scored again. Georgia Tech tied Florida State at 16-16 with a Harrison Butker 35-yard field goal with 54 seconds to play. It looked as though overtime was coming, but Florida State had to burn a timeout on its second play from scrimmage following a short run by Cook and Golson threw two incomplete passes on the drive. On 2nd-and-15, following a pass completion, Florida State again burned a timeout with 10 seconds to play, only to see Golson throw another incomplete pass. Florida State set up for a 55-yard field goal attempt by sure-footed Roberto Aguayo, but Georgia Tech blocked the field goal and Lance Austin returned it 78 yards for a walk-off touchdown and a huge upset of the No. 9 Seminoles.

The result of the game, at the time, seemed to be a big hit to the ACC's chances of reaching the College Football Playoff. Fortunately for the ACC, Clemson and North Carolina held up their end of the bargain to keep the ACC in the Playoff picture. Florida State took a second loss a couple of weeks later at Clemson but managed to finish the regular season on a strong note with a dominating victory over Florida and received a spot in the New Year's Six lineup against AAC champion Houston.

2. Michigan State 27, Michigan 23 – Oct. 17

Before the Ohio State victory and well before the Big Ten championship victory against Iowa, Michigan State needed a little help from the football gods in Ann Arbor in the middle of October to make any of that drama happen and mean anything. And that's exactly what happened, on the road against its rejuvenated in-state rival nonetheless. The Spartans never held a lead in the Big House and Michigan looked to be just seconds away from wrapping up a big signature victory for Jim Harbaugh, one that would have announced Michigan as "back" in the state and in the Big Ten. But Michigan let a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter evaporate when LJ Scott finished off a quick, 75-yard touchdown drive following a 74-yard pass from Connor Cook to Trevon Pendleton. The touchdown cut Michigan's lead to just two points.

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With 10 seconds left on the clock, Michigan was forced to punt the ball from the Michigan State 47-yard line. The punt alone would have eliminated most of the clock, which seemed to favor Michigan with a clean punt. Oh, if only that had happened. The fate of the Big Ten would have been so much different. Instead, Michigan punter Blake O'Neil fumbled the snap and Michigan State's Jalen Watts-Jackson scooped up the loose ball and made a mad dash down the left sideline for the game-winning score as the final seconds ticked away.

1. Stanford 38, Notre Dame 36 – Nov. 28

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Already with a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game locked up the previous week, the Cardinal looked to make one final Playoff statement in the regular season against a battle-tested Notre Dame in Palo Alto. Notre Dame and Stanford exchanged the lead nine times, with Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina kicking a 45-yard field goal as time expired to lift Stanford to a thrilling victory against the Fighting Irish. Stanford's Kevin Hogan had one of his finest games with 17 completed passes out of 21 attempts for 269 yards and four touchdowns. McCaffrey rushed for 94 yards and added 109 kick return yards. Notre Dame got big rushing performances from Josh Adams (168 yards and a touchdown) and quarterback DeShone Kizer (128 yards and a touchdown), but Stanford had just a little bit more magic left in the bottle to pick up the big win in the final week of the regular season.

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.