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Top 25 College Football Games of 2018

Top 25 College Football Games of 2018 - Jalen Hurts, SEC Championship Game

Top 25 College Football Games of 2018 - Jalen Hurts, SEC Championship Game

College football's season is the shortest of any major sport. We must cherish the autumns as a result; and when the long road of another offseason arrives, we cherish the memories.

Despite lacking much in the way of landscape-altering upsets, the 2018 campaign still managed to provide enough drama to sate college football's passionate fans. In particular, a top-heavy campaign made for some outstanding championship contests. Indeed, conference title games from both the Group of 5 and Power 5 conferences helped conclude a pedestrian season with some excitement.

Best Games of 2018 by Power 5 Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

25 Best College Football Games of 2018 Season

25. Valdosta State 49, Ferris State 47 – Dec. 15

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A pair of undefeated teams going back-and-forth to the very end: One could not ask for more from a national championship than what Valdosta State and Ferris State provided in the NCAA Div. II title tilt.

Quarterbacks Rogan Wells (Valdosta State) and Jayru Campbell (Ferris State) both put on a show. Wells passed for 349 yards and five touchdowns, while Campbell rushed for a game-high 122 yards, passed for another 99, and scored twice. Campbell nearly led the Bulldogs back from a double-digit deficit in the final 8:55; a two-point conversion attempt to force overtime failed.

24. Arizona State 41, Arizona 40 – Nov. 24

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Despite 520 yards of total offense and three-quarters of Khalil Tate's best performance of the season, Arizona could not reclaim the Territorial Cup and get to bowl eligibility. Arizona State closed the regular season in Herm Edwards' first season as head coach rallying from down three scores, aided by two turnovers deep in Arizona territory.

The Sun Devils' furious rally made for one of the wildest finishes in the turbulent history of college football's oldest rivalry trophy.

23. Ole Miss 37, Arkansas 33 – Oct. 13

College football rankings: Arkansas
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In what would have otherwise been an inconsequential game between two teams with no postseason aspirations (albeit for different reasons), Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu made this one to remember. He played one of the best individual games of 2018, passing for 387 yards with two touchdowns, and rushing for 141 with a third score. Zedrick Woods slammed the door on Arkansas' rally attempt with an interception to complete a raucous Rebels comeback.

22. Oklahoma 48, Oklahoma State 47 – Nov. 10

College Football Top 25: Oklahoma State
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oklahoma

Mike Gundy's decision for Oklahoma State to go for two and the lead late at Oklahoma was correct. The Cowboys' failure to convert illuminates the high-risk proposition it is pursuing victory rather than playing for overtime.

Another Big 12 team won on a two-point conversion, on the road, just a week prior. When such calls work, it's a stroke of genius. When they fail, it can awaken the armchair coordinators. But Taylor Cornelius was lighting up the Sooners' defense, eclipsing 500 yards on the day when he found Tylan Wallace for his third TD pass. With Oklahoma similarly tearing through the Oklahoma State defense, giving Cornelius one more play to take the lead with a minute left made sense.

The play itself had a chance, but Cornelius threw a rare bad ball, which came in low to his target off a bootleg and was batted away to preserve a Sooners win.

21. Texas 28, Georgia 21 – Jan. 1, 2019

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas

After some Georgia players tweeted their apparent disgust with being left out of the College Football Playoff, the one thing the Bulldogs could not do was lose the Sugar Bowl.

The Bulldogs lost in particularly stunning fashion. Texas completely overwhelmed the Georgia offense from the opening bell, only giving up a pair of scores after the final outcome was pretty much in hand. While this was a somewhat garden variety rout (one-score final notwithstanding), the Sugar Bowl was one of the season's best games because it sets the scene for next season.

Tom Herman returns a solid corps in 2019, and after having played for the Big 12 championship, Texas has deserved renewed swagger. A new contender entering into the national conversation isn't a bad thing after four years monopolized by two programs.

20. Clemson 27, Syracuse 23 – Sept. 29

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College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

A third-string quarterback, an illegal man downfield penalty, and Travis Etienne were all crucial to Clemson keeping its perfect season intact.

Trevor Lawrence went down to injury early, the same week Kelly Bryant transferred out of Clemson, and Syracuse led in the second half. A second straight Orange win over the Tigers seemed likely, until running back Etienne and the Clemson defense took over. A lineman downfield on a big fourth-down conversion for Syracuse negated what could have led to a critical score.

19. Virginia Tech 34, Virginia 31 (OT) – Nov. 23

Virginia: college football picks against the spread
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Virginia Tech

Like sales on Black Friday, Virginia Tech beating Virginia has become an inevitable part of Thanksgiving weekend. This season's matchup looked like it could be Virginia's best hope of a win in the series since 2003; the Cavaliers had a better campaign than the Hokies, evident in UVa playing for its eighth win, and Virginia Tech just trying to have a shot at keeping its bowl streak alive.

Virginia may have been better on paper, but Virginia Tech was again better on the field during rivalry week.

18. Stanford 38, Oregon 31 (OT) – Sept. 22

With College GameDay in Eugene and the ABC primetime spotlight on Autzen Stadium, Stanford-Oregon 2018 felt like old (albeit very recent) times. The game lived up to the hype.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

Seeking its first signature win of the Mario Cristobal era, Oregon beat Stanford at its own game, leaning on physicality and a multifaceted rushing attack. Appropriately, the Cardinal responded with a dash of the old Oregon football: scoring quickly to erase a deficit. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's outstanding individual performance stole the show, though Oregon's odd final possession in regulation was the story of the game afterward.

17. Washington 28, Washington State 15 – Nov. 23

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College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington

A snow-covered rivalry game to determine the Rose Bowl? The 2018 Apple Cup provided a sequel 21 years in the making after Washington State outdueled Washington in 1997 to win one of the greatest games in Pac-12 history.

The 2018 installment — played 10 years after the programs met in one of the worst, or at least most unsightly games in conference history — wasn't quite as dramatic as the '97 contest. However, it was intense to the finish. Washington won on the strength of its defense, and Myles Gaskin put a nice exclamation point on an illustrious career.

16. Fresno State 19, Boise State 16 (OT) – Dec. 1

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Boise State
College Football Rankings: Fresno State

The Mountain West provided the ideal conference championship game: What were clearly the conference's two best teams (and bitter rivals), having proven it on the field all season, battling to a virtual stalemate.

Snowfall painted Boise State's blue turf white, conditions which might have seemingly benefited the home team. After all, Boise State has a longheld reputation as one of the premier defensive programs in college football. But a dramatic defensive turnaround has been the hallmark of Fresno State's incredible, two-year turnaround under Jeff Tedford. It was only fitting the Bulldogs completed their revival in a physical slugfest, winning the Mountain West title and moving one step closer to the best finish in program history.

15. LSU 22, Auburn 21 – Sept. 15

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Auburn
LSU Football Schedule

One year after losing a heartbreaker to LSU, Auburn built an early 21-10 lead in the rematch. All appeared OK, and the Tigers — the War Eagle version — looked poised to successfully defend their SEC West crown.

In a bit of role reversal, however, the LSU offense that could muster almost nothing got a big play for a touchdown. Auburn's own offensive stagnation allowed LSU to chip away, eventually securing the win when Cole Tracy, a Div. III transfer, booted the game-winner.

14. UAB 27, Middle Tennessee 25 – Dec. 1

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Buzz about the College Football Playoff and New Year's Six bowls have obfuscated the importance of conference championships in some corners of the sport. Not in Conference USA. The league's 2018 finale was an emotional tilt between a UAB program resurrected from the dead less than four years prior, and a Middle Tennessee program with father and son taking the field together with one last shot at a title.

UAB, which had been smashed by the Blue Raiders just a week prior, fell behind again early. But a 21-point third quarter set the scene for a wild volley in the second half. The Blazers took the lead on a late field and stopped Middle Tennessee on fourth down in UAB territory to seal a championship in Bill Clark's national Coach of the Year-winning campaign.

The Blue Raiders' father-son team Rick and Brent Stockstill addressed the media postgame in a scene that reminds us of the humanity that goes into the game.

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13. Oregon 30, Washington 27 (OT) – Oct. 13

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Washington
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

Although rivals Oregon and Washington have been two of the Pac-12's benchmark programs for the better part of three decades, neither program has been on top at the same time. That appears likely to change with Chris Petersen and Mario Cristobal helming each.

The back-and-forth, overtime contest at Autzen Stadium suggests a new marquee series to determine Pac-12 supremacy. Washington rallied from the defeat to win its second conference title in three years, while the breakout performance of freshman running C.J. Verdell of Oregon points to big things ahead for the Ducks.

12. Clemson 28, Texas A&M 26 – Sept. 8

Marquee, on-campus matchups between Power 5 programs have become increasingly rare as NFL franchises (via local municipalities) dump billions into stadiums that need big-ticket events. Clemson and Texas A&M offered a reminder of just how special a high-profile, on-campus matchup between power programs can be.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas A&M
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

Clemson's road back to the College Football Playoff faced an early possible stumbling block against new-look A&M, in just its second game with Jimbo Fisher at the helm. While the Aggies' two-point conversion attempt to force overtime failed, the near-miss foreshadowed positive things to come for Texas A&M — and this was hardly Clemson's last win over the SEC West.