College football's 100 best games of 2019: 60-41

ByBill Connelly ESPN logo
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

In our third installment unveiling the Top 100 games of the year, we're looking primarily at two categories: Fun games that impacted the battle for the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoff and the most utterly ridiculous small-school games of the season. Who knew that the silliest college football game of 2019 took place in Canada?

Check out the first two parts of this series, games 100-81 and 80-61.

60. Miami (Ohio) 24, Ohio 21 (Nov. 6)

Team A rips off five drives of more than 45 yards. Team B manages just two such drives. Team B wins. The college version of the Ravens-Titans playoff game took place in a Wednesday night MACtion contest -- Ohio lost two fumbles and missed a field goal in its first three possessions, giving Miami just enough time to find some offense. The RedHawks drove the length of the field twice in the second half, and then Miami's Sam Sloman bombed in a 53-yard field goal with 3:48 left to create the winning margin.

59. SMU 43, Tulsa 37 (Oct. 5)58. SMU 34, Houston 31 (Oct. 24)

SMU began the season 8-0 but needed a series of dramatic wins to get there, including these two. At home against Tulsa, the Mustangs rallied from a 30-9 deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. In the second OT, Tulsa recovered a Xavier Jones fumble but missed a potential winning field goal. A different kicker missed a FG in the third OT -- it was the Golden Hurricane's fourth miss of the day (three FGs and a PAT) -- and SMU finally sealed the deal with a 25-yard pass from Shane Buechele toJames Proche.

Against a resilient Houston team three weeks later, SMU took a 28-13 lead early in the third quarter, but a 75-yard Marquez Stevenson catch-and-run cut the lead to 28-20, then a 96-yarder from Stevenson made it 34-31 with 4:47 left. The Cougars got two opportunities to win the game but stalled out at their 45 with 1:28 left, then failed in one last attempt from midfield as time expired.

57. Navy 35, SMU 28 (Nov. 23)

The Mustangs' magic would eventually run out. After losing a 54-48 thriller at Memphis, they took a 21-10 lead into halftime against Navy in Annapolis before the resurgent Midshipmen stormed back. Navy took a 28-21 lead on a 13-yard pass from Malcolm Perry to Ryan Mitchell, and after SMU tied the game on a 61-yarder from Buechele to Rashee Rice, Perry raced 70 yards to give Navy the lead again. SMU drove to the Navy 12 in the closing minutes but turned the ball over on downs.

56. Pitt 33, Duke 30 (Oct. 5)

Was the ACC Coastal good? No, not even close. Did it produce lots of thrilling games? Absolutely. Take this classic from early October. Pitt went on a 26-0 run to go up 23 points in the third quarter, but Duke responded with a 27-0 run of its own, taking the lead with 1:29 left on a 44-yard catch-and-run by Deon Jackson. But Pitt immediately responded. Kenny Pickett completed passes to five different receivers, and V'Lique Carter's 26-yard touchdown catch with 38 seconds left made the difference.

55. Arizona State 38, Washington State 34 (Oct. 12)

FreshmanJayden Daniels' first season as ASU's starting quarterback was not totally smooth, but he showed a sense of the moment. He completed passes of 40 and 86 yards to Brandon Aiyuk in the first half of this one to keep ASU close, tied the game with a third Aiyuk connection early in the fourth quarter and, after Wazzu had taken a 34-31 lead with 2:30 left, he drove ASU 75 yards in two minutes, scoring the winner from 17 yards out.


These nine games played key roles in the eventual race for the No. 4 spot in the CFP.

54. Auburn 27, Oregon 21 (Aug. 31)

Oregon's title chances suffered a major blow right out of the gates. The Ducks blew a couple of first-half scoring opportunities but still took a 21-6 lead early in the third quarter before Auburn crept back into the game. The Tigers trailed just 21-20 when they stuffed CJ Verdell on fourth-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter, and they took their first lead of the game with nine seconds left, when freshman Bo Nix hit Seth Williams for a 26-yard score.

53. USC 30, Utah 23 (Sept. 20)

Utah was mostly dominant in conference play, but the Utes flinched in the Coliseum in late September. Third-string USC quarterback Matt Fink completed 21 of 30 passes for 351 yards against an excellent Utes defense, and an often beleaguered USC D stepped up, stuffing Tyler Huntley on fourth down and recovering a red zone fumble in the second quarter, then sacking Huntley for a safety early in the fourth.

52. Georgia 23, Notre Dame 17 (Sept. 21)

In a season full of offensive fireworks, the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish put on an old-fashioned rock fight. But it was an intense rock fight. Notre Dame took a 10-7 lead into halftime, but three Rodrigo Blankenship field goals and a touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to Lawrence Cager helped the Dawgs seize control. It was 23-10 Georgia, but Notre Dame drove 75 yards for a touchdown, quickly forced a three-and-out, and drove inside the UGA 40 before failing on fourth down.

51. Baylor 23, Iowa State 21 (Sept. 28)

We knew in advance that games like Auburn-Oregon and Georgia-Notre Dame would have potential title implications, but the importance of this one sneaked up on us. Baylor would go 11-1 and come within an overtime period of a CFP bid, but all we knew on Sept. 28 was that the Bears won a thriller to go to 4-0. They took a 20-0 lead into the fourth quarter before ISU's Brock Purdy engineered three long touchdown drives and threw two TD passes to give the Cyclones a stunning lead. But Baylor responded: Charlie Brewer completed three third-down passes to set upJohn Mayers' winning 38-yard field goal with just 21 seconds left.

50. South Carolina 20, Georgia 17 (Oct. 12)

A week before Illinois beat Wisconsin as a 30-point underdog, we got a result that was almost more stunning. Georgia's Jake Fromm threw only five interceptions all season, but three of them came in one game, and to one person: South Carolina's Israel Mukuamu. His second-quarter pick-six gave the Gamecocks, a three-touchdown underdog, a 17-10 halftime lead, and while the Dawgs would eventually tie the game late, they were held scoreless in two overtime possessions -- first, via Mukuamu pick; then, via a missed Rodrigo Blankenship field goal that gave South Carolina the win.

49. Oregon 35, Washington 31 (Oct. 19)

After losing to Auburn, Oregon had to win out through the rest of the regular season and nearly did so. The Ducks cleared a major hurdle in mid-October, heading to Seattle to face the 2016 and 2018 Pac-12 champs, giving up a 28-7 run to fall behind by two touchdowns, then storming back. It was 31-28 Huskies when Justin Herbert and Jaylon Redd connected for a 5-yard touchdown to give Oregon the lead with five minutes left. Washington drove into Oregon territory in the final minute, but Jacob Eason's fourth-down pass to Puka Nacua fell incomplete. Ballgame.

48. Utah 33, Washington 28 (Nov. 2)

Washington's role in 2019 was that of a nearspoiler. After nearly beating Oregon, the Huskies took an early 14-3 lead on the 7-1 Utes in Seattle, but once again, it didn't hold. Utah's Jaylon Johnson cut UW's lead to two with a third-quarter pick-six, then the Utes drove 82 and 84 yards in two five-minute drives to take a 33-21 lead. Utah would pass this test and three others, positioning itself for a CFP bid before faltering against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

47. Minnesota 31, Penn State 26 (Nov. 9)

What a year Minnesota had. The 8-0 Gophers hosted 8-0 Penn State in the biggest game in the history of TCF Bank Stadium in early November and put on a show. Tanner Morgan completed 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards -- the Minnesota offense was impressive enough that PSU hired away Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca in December -- and the Minny defense picked off PSU's Sean Clifford three times in the red zone, the last of which came with 1:01 left and clinched a Gophers victory.

46. Baylor 29, TCU 23 (Nov. 9)

In regulation, defense ruled. TCU hit three field goals in the first half, and Baylor hit three in the second -- the last a 51-yarder with 36 seconds left in regulation -- to force OT. Then, once in the bonus period, the offenses finally figured out how to put the ball in the end zone. Five straight possessions produced TDs until Baylor's Grayland Arnold picked off Max Duggan's fourth-and-goal pass to secure another skin-of-the-teeth Bears win.


45. Jacksonville 52, Marist 45 (Nov. 16)

In December, Jacksonville University announced it was dropping football. But the program's last win was all sorts of memorable: It featured three touchdowns of 80-plus yards in the first half (two runs and a blocked field goal return) and eight post-halftime lead changes. Marist's Luke Paladino made a 45-yard field goal at the buzzer to force overtime, but two touchdown runs by JU's Calvin Turner and a fumble recovery by Myles Harris gave the Dolphins their final victory.

44. Yale 50, Harvard 43 (Nov. 23)

In one of the sport's most storied rivalries, and in a game at one point delayed by protesting climate change activists, Harvard held the ranked and favored Bulldogs at bay for most of the game -- runs of 47, 59, and 60 yards from Aidan Borguet gave the Crimson a 36-19 lead with 13 minutes left. But Mason Tipton scored to make it 36-29 with 1:28 left, Yale recovered an onside kick, and JP Shohfi caught a 7-yard touchdown to force overtime. After the teams traded touchdowns in OT, Zane Dudek gave Yale its first lead since 3-0, and it held up when Harvard couldn't respond.

43. North Central 59, Mount Union 52 (Nov. 30)

For the first time since 2004, a team other than Mount Union, Wisconsin-Whitewater or Mary Hardin-Baylor won the Division III crown. To do the deed, North Central (Ill.) had to take down two of the three. The Cardinals' second-round win at UMU was utterly absurd. Union held leads of 38-28 at halftime and 45-35 in the third quarter, then NCC surged ahead 56-45 early in the fourth. And then, in a game that featured 1,397 total yards, defense took over. Up 59-52, the Cardinals stopped Union on fourth-and-4 from their 17, then picked off a pass in their end zone with seven seconds left to advance.

42. West Florida 38, Valdosta State 35 (Nov. 30)

West Florida won five straight games against ranked teams to win the Division II national title in just its fourth year of football existence. The second of those wins took down the defending champ. The Argonauts surged to a 24-7 second-quarter lead against unbeaten Valdosta State, but the Blazers surged back, taking a 35-31 lead with 2:12 remaining. UWF converted a fourth-and-8 from its 27 to stay alive, then Anthony Johnson scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with six seconds left, and UWF advanced.

41. Calgary 47, Manitoba 46 (Nov. 2)

The craziest game of college football all season didn't take place in America. In the third meeting of the year between the Calgary Dinos and the Manitoba Bisons (this one in the Canada West semifinals), Calgary took a 33-16 lead into the fourth quarter before all hell broke loose. The teams traded 97-yard special-teams touchdowns, and Manitoba scored 30 points in the final stanza. Down 47-40, Manitoba drove 96 yards in 31 seconds, with the final 50 coming on a Hail Mary pass from Des Catellier to Trysten Dyce. A 2-point conversion pass for the win fell incomplete, however, and Calgary held on.

Related Video