Most college football teams with a shot at success start their season off with a tune-up or two, but a handful play their fellow ranked opponents on a neutral site. This is just one of many efforts over the past four decades to bring a "bowl game" feel to the beginning of the college football season.
The first and longest-running of these efforts was the Kickoff Classic, which launched in 1983 at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, when defending national champion Penn State faced No. 1 Nebraska and was trounced 44-6. This occurred during the era of 11-game seasons, but the NCAA allowed teams to play a 12th game if they played in a Kickoff Classic-type game, whose legion would grow to include the Pigskin Classic, the Eddie Robinson Classic and the John Thompson Foundation Classic.
In 2002, the NCAA outlawed 12th games, thus bringing these traditions to an end. Ironically, the NCAA added a 12th game to the college football season in 2005 and since then a new breed of "kickoff" games has emerged. We will have to wait another year to revisit this new tradition, however, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) resulted in the scheduled kickoff games for 2020 to be canceled, as the ACC and Big 12 are the only Power 5 conferences playing any non-conference foes this fall while the Big Ten and Pac-12 are among the conferences that have postponed their fall seasons.
When played, these kickoff games are akin to bowl games, and like bowl games, these contests rarely live up to their hype. Here are five that did.
5. Brigham Young 14, Oklahoma 13
Sept. 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas (Cowboys Classic)
Returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford began his junior year facing a formidable pass rush from BYU behind an experienced offensive line. In the second quarter, Bradford had just broken Jason White’s school career passing yards record and was leading OU down the field to break a 7-7 tie when Coleby Clawson nailed him with a clean shot, spraining the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. The Sooners held a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter when BYU quarterback Max Hall hit McKay Jacobson to give the Cougars a 14-13 lead. A failed 54-yard field goal attempt by OU solidified the win and the 2009 season began with a major upset.
4. Miami 20, Auburn 18
Aug. 27, 1984 in East Rutherford, New Jersey (Kickoff Classic)
In Jimmy Johnson’s first game as Miami head coach, the defending national champion Hurricanes faced #1 Auburn. The game may not have been close if Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar had not thrown an interception and the ‘Canes failed on a pair of fourth downs both within the Tigers’ 15-yard. Nevertheless, Auburn led 15-14 in the third quarter, but Miami kicker Greg Cox nailed two field goals in the fourth to put the Hurricanes ahead. The win was sealed when Auburn halfback Brent Fullwood fumbled a pitch that was recovered by Julio Cortes.
3. LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
Aug. 30, 2014 in Houston (Texas Kickoff)
The Badgers held LSU to six first downs in the first half of the game and led 24-7 in the third quarter. Then the Tigers came to life with a pair of field goals at the end of the third quarter. Early in the fourth, LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings hit John Diarse with a 35-yard touchdown pass and then completed another to Trey Quinn for the two-point conversion. With 11 minutes left, Jalen Mills intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy’s pass at the LSU 47. Kenny Hilliard capped the comeback with a 28-yard touchdown run.
2. Colorado 31, Tennessee 31
Aug. 26, 1990 in Anaheim, California (Pigskin Classic)
The first Pigskin Classic started off sloppy but Colorado overcame three turnovers to lead the Vols 24-10 early in the fourth quarter. However, Tennessee quarterback Andy Kelly responded in the fourth quarter with touchdown passes to Alvin Harper and Carl Pickens. Colorado answered but Tennessee tailback Chuck Webb ran into the end zone with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter to make the score 31-30. The Vols head coach Johnny Majors chose to tie it up and opted for the extra point. Tennessee got the ball back late and surprised the Buffaloes with a ground attack, but the Vols ran out of time on Colorado’s 16-yard line. The contest ended with the only tie in kickoff game history.
1. Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30
Sept. 6, 2010 in Landover, Maryland (Allstate Kickoff in the Capitol)
Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium is less than 300 miles from Landover’s FedEx Field, thus making this a virtual home game for the Hokies. The Broncos quickly silenced the crowd jumping ahead to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Then Virginia Tech roared back, taking a 21-20 lead with a touchdown run by tailback Ryan Williams midway into the third quarter. Boise State quickly responded with a 71-yard touchdown run by D.J. Harper and had Virginia Tech facing fourth down and four yards to go at the Broncos' 28-yard line. Hokie quarterback Tyrod Taylor hit receiver Jarrett Boykin, who dodged a tackle and ran into the end zone, putting Virginia Tech ahead 27-26. The Hokies extended their lead with a field goal, but were unable to kill the clock late in the fourth and gave Boise State the ball back with 1:47 to go. Quarterback Kellen Moore drove the ball down the field and capitalized on a late hit penalty before securing the win with a 13-yard pass to Austin Pettis with 1:09 left. The few thousand Broncos fans in the crowd could be heard throughout the stadium.
— 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.