All was lost.
Images of sugar plum fairies and repeat national championship trophies dancing in the minds of Florida State fans were quickly dissipating in the Tallahassee night last Saturday, as Clemson, on multiple occasions, was just one marginally well-executed play away from handing the Seminoles – playing without suspended quarterback Jameis Winston – their first loss in 666 days, and in the process, severely crippling the Playoff hopes of its ACC rival. The inevitable was inevitable.
No, not a Florida State loss.
Somehow, a shotgun snap from the one-yard line was airmailed over Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson’s head, resulting in a 23-yard loss on the play and an eventual Ammon Lakip missed 40-yard field goal to begin the fourth quarter, keeping the score tied at 10. (Lakip had already missed from 23 yards out in the first quarter.) Somehow, after gaining the ball back on an interception with 2:14 left and the score tied at 17, Tigers running back C.J. Davidson was stripped of the ball as the Tigers were positioning themselves for the game-winning score. The Seminoles recovered the ball to force overtime. To complete the collapse that would have made Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac blush, running back Adam Choice was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-1 in the first possession of overtime, leading to Florida State gaining possession and ending the game two plays later on a Karlos Williams 12-yard touchdown run.
National championship hopes saved. Somehow.
It’s far too early to know if that game, in late September, will be the “we got away with one” game that many national championship teams seem to have at least once during a run to a title – a game Florida State did not have at all in the lead-up to its thrilling national title game win against Auburn last season. But last week’s thriller got us thinking about some of the other close calls that recent national championships had to sweat out on their way to a title. Here’s the best of the best, of recent ilk. Remember these?
#12 Colorado 33, Missouri 31 (October 6, 1990): In the game that’s now famously known as “The Fifth Down,” Colorado squeaked past Missouri in Columbia when the officials erroneously gave Colorado an extra down (“fifth down”) as they lost track of the downs after a Colorado spike play on first down. On fourth down (which was really the fifth play in that series of downs), future NFL wide receiver Charles Johnson snuck in from one yard out as time expired to give the Buffaloes a dramatic, controversial victory. The Buffaloes had already beaten No. 12 Washington and No. 22 Texas, tied No. 8 Tennessee and lost to No. 21 Illinois going into that game. Colorado eventually defeated No. 22 Oklahoma, won at No. 3 Nebraska and defeated No. 5 Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl to come away with a share of the national championship.
#1 Nebraska 45, Missouri 38, OT (November 8, 1997): Poor Missouri just can’t catch a break, huh? It was top-ranked Nebraska who caught a serious break on the road when, on the last play of regulation and the Cornhuskers down seven, Scott Frost’s pass to the endzone first bounced off of receiver Shevin Wiggins’ chest, then bounced off of Wiggins’ foot, only for the ball to be caught right before it hit the turf by a diving Matt Davison in the endzone. The Cornhuskers ended up winning the game in overtime to go to 9-0. After obliterating Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the Orange Bowl in Tom Osborne’s last game as head coach, Nebraska walked away with a share of the national title.
#1 Tennessee 29, #10 Arkansas 24 (November 14, 1998): Earlier in the season, eventual national champion Tennessee benefitted from a phantom pass interference call on a fourth down to keep its hopes of a season-opening win at No. 17 Syracuse alive, as Jeff Hall kicked a 27-yard field goal on the game’s final play to escape the Carrier Dome with a 34-33 win. But the game in which the Volunteers really got a gift was their matchup in Knoxville against No. 10 Arkansas, as both teams came in with 8-0 records. The Hogs were up two with under two minutes left, and were running out the clock when quarterback Clint Stoerner tripped over his own lineman on his backpedal and fumbled the ball while using it as leverage to break his fall. Tennessee recovered with 1:43 left, and Travis Henry plunged into the checkerboard endzone with 28 seconds remaining to come away with the improbable win. Tennessee would go on to defeat Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl and become the first national champion in the Bowl Championship Series era.
#3 Ohio State 10, Purdue 6 (November 9, 2002): The three games prior to this contest saw the Buckeyes win at Camp Randall Stadium against Wisconsin, hold eventual 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman Trophy finalist Larry Johnson to just 66 yards on the ground in taking out No. 13 Penn State and rout No. 19 Minnesota by 31 points. But a road trip to West Lafayette almost proved too much to bear, as Purdue held on to a 6-3 lead late in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-1 from Purdue’s 37 with just under two minutes to go, Ohio State, with star running back Maurice Clarett standing next to coach Jim Tressel on the sidelines, decided to not only pass, but throw into the end zone. Craig Krenzel’s heave was caught by Michael Jenkins at the goal line, and the Buckeyes escaped. Ohio State would go on and defeat Miami in double overtime in the Fiesta Bowl to win the BCS National Championship.
Close calls and hairy situations are things that The A Lot of Sports Talk‘s College Football Top 25 pollsters not only are used to, but also thrive in. Once again, let’s welcome our weekly sextet: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional, WJPZ Alumni Association President), Pavan Sandhu Eckhart (Texas A&M graduate, Sales Rep at Ferring Pharmaceuticals in Dallas), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous assistant coach who once coached at a Division I-FBS school. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you, as always.
Of all of the “contenders” for the Playoff, Oklahoma had the most impressive win of the weekend: On the road in front of a wild crowd against a better-than-expected WVU team. (T.J. Basalla)
I would love to see this team in the SEC or Pac-12, but sadly, that Clemson team might be the toughest conference test the ‘Noles get this season. They passed, barely. (Sandy Weintraub)
In contrast to other seasons, when the Ducks would absolutely obliterate their opponents in the first month before having trouble in close games later in the season, winning these closer-than-expected contents early on may prove more beneficial to Oregon in the long run as this season progresses. (Adesina Koiki)
The last wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Desmond Howard in 1991. If Amari Cooper continues at this pace, he’ll at minimum get an invite to New York. (T.J.)
A&M should try to have as much fun as it can this weekend vs. Arkansas, because the next three contests on the schedule are a lulu (at Mississippi State, vs. Ole Miss, at Alabama). (Adesina)
War Eagle benefitted from numerous missed opportunities by Kansas State, but when you’re on the road against a quality opponent and on the ropes for almost the entire game, you’ll take every favor you can get. (Adesina)
A ranked Kansas State got all it could handle when it traveled to Ames earlier this month. Will Baylor also have its hands full when it plays at Iowa State in primetime on Saturday? (Adesina)
Although some of the luster was taken off of this week’s Irish-Orange game by virtue of Syracuse’s loss last week to Maryland, this should be an interesting watch, given the fact it pits a very productive Syracuse rushing attack (265 yards/game) against a stout Notre Dame run defense (99 yards allowed/game). (Adesina)
After its 73-14 win over Eastern Michigan, the Spartans should not be allowed to play a “directional Michigan” until further notice. (Adesina)
Brett Hundley is practicing and hopes to play against Arizona State. The Bruins need a statement win to take control of the Pac-12 South and get some momentum into their showdown with the Ducks in a few weeks. (Sandy)
I’m looking WAY ahead, but this year’s Egg Bowl may be the most talent-laden Egg Bowl ever. (T.J.).
The SEC West is definitely stacked this season, and now the Bulldogs have thrown their name into the hat of potential division champs. Plus, their next two games against A&M and Auburn are both at home. (Pavan Sandhu Eckhart).
The Bulldogs came into Death Valley with zero fear, a great gameplan and a weapon called DAK. Dak Prescott made himself a national name with a dominant performance against the Tigers. And Dan Mullen so thoroughly outcoached Les Miles it wasn’t even fair. The Bulldogs are legit. How legit? Well, playing in the SEC West will give us all the answers we need. (T.J., who was in Baton Rouge to witness the Miss. St.-LSU game in person)
With quarterback Taylor Kelly out, it’s time for Mike Bercovici to show us what he’s got against UCLA. (Adesina)
The 367 yards Georgia ran for in its 66-0 evisceration of Troy last week was the most it has ran for in a single game under Mark Richt. (Adesina)
If you read or saw his quotes after the game, you would have thought Steve Spurrier’s team lost to Vandy. (T.J.)
Stanford could be out of the Pac-12 North race by Saturday evening if it doesn’t come away from Husky Stadium with a win. Or, the Cardinal could once again be a serious threat in the Pac-12 if they defeat the 4-0 Huskies, which would be an impressive road triumph. (Adesina)
The Badgers set the modern Big Ten record with 644 yards rushing against Bowling Green, but that is nothing compared to the 1905 Minnesota team that ran for 832 yards against Northwestern. (Sandy)
BYU better clean up its act if it wants to finish undefeated. Last week at home against Virginia, the Cougars committed 12 penalties and were outgained 519-332 by the Cavaliers, yet still scored 41 points and came away with the win. (Adesina)
I’m ranking LSU now, but after seeing their performance last Saturday, the issues coming out of it and their schedule the rest of the way, we could see the Bayou Bengals well out of the Top 25 within a few weeks. (T.J.)
Remember when the Huskers vs. “The U” meant playing for the National Title? That definitely wasn’t the case last week, but still a nice win for Big Red moving into a winnable Big Ten season. (Sandy)
The in-state matchup between the Buckeyes and Cincinnati should be one to watch, as the Bearcats have an impressive passing game – led by former No. 1 overall high school recruit and former Notre Dame signee Gunner Kiel – that should test the heretofore suspect Buckeyes defense. (Adesina)
We’re still in September, but USC, after being embarrassed by Boston College, already is embarking on a “crossroads” game this Saturday. Beat 3-0 Oregon State at home and the season could still be a very successful one. Lose to the Beavers, and the domino effect, in a negative way, could well be truly on. (Adesina)
I don’t know if this is about Duke being that good or the rest of the ACC being that mediocre, but Duke is clearly the second best team in the conference right now. (T.J.)
Continuing in the long line of successful Pirate quarterbacks, including former NFL players Jeff Blake and David Garrard, Shane Carden has been torching opponents the past three seasons. But it’s in these last two games – wins at Virginia Tech and vs. North Carolina – where he’s finally gotten some serious national attention. After dropping 70 vs the Tar Heels, ECU has to be looked upon now as the favorites in The American. (Adesina)
Chris Petersen has the Huskies off to a 4-0 start, but they haven’t been too convincing coming out of the blocks, with a one-point win in Hawai’i and having to come back from a 14-0 halftime deficit at home vs. Georgia State being some of the not-so-great moments. A win against Stanford on Saturday, however, and Washington would become a legitimate Pac-12 North contender. (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
Kansas State (15 points), Oklahoma State (12), Boston College (5), TCU (4), Clemson (3), Florida (3), Marshall (3), Penn State (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Josh Watson) courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]