Whether it’s the College Football Playoff or the dreaded BCS era, the college football national championship always comes down to one game. While not every title game is an instant classic, we’ve been treated to plenty of extraordinary contests over the years, including a few in recent years. While we hope that future games make a case to be included, here is our list of the top-five best national championship games in college football history.
Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2002)
In the end, this game was partially spoiled by a controversial pass-interference call. However, everything else about the game was amazing. The Hurricanes entered the game with a 34-game winning streak but met their match in Ohio State.
Miami thought they had won the game in the first overtime, only for a pass interference penalty to give the Buckeyes another shot. In the second overtime, Maurice Clarett found the end zone and the Hurricanes couldn’t match it, giving Ohio State the title.
Clemson 35, Alabama 31 (2015)
The Tigers and Crimson Tide have produced some outstanding CFP games, but this one might be the best. Alabama looked like the better team for large stretches, taking a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. However, Deshaun Watson put on a show in the final 15 minutes, throwing two of his three touchdown passes while finishing the game with 420 yards.
The Tigers could have kicked a late field goal and forced overtime. But they left the game in Watson’s hands. He found Hunter Renfrow in the end zone with one second on the clock for the game-winning touchdown.
Miami 31, Nebraska 30 (1983)
This was an incredible game between traditional power Nebraska and upstart Miami. The Hurricanes started fast, leading 17-0 after the first quarter. However, the Cornhuskers didn’t go away and always had an answer. Of course, Nebraska never led in the game but had a chance after scoring with 48 seconds left to make it 31-30.
Rather than kicking the PAT, which would have resulted in a tie and the national championship, Nebraska coach Tom Osbourne tried the two-point conversion. Alas, the Miami defense got the stop, winning by a point and jumping from no. 5 to no. 1 in the final poll to win the national championship.
Alabama 26, Georgia 23 (2017)
This was Georgia’s game to win after the Bulldogs led 13-0 at halftime. But Alabama benched Jalen Hurts at halftime in favor of Tua Tagovailoa, which gave the Crimson Tide a spark in the second half. Against a strong Georgia defense, Tagovailoa threw two touchdown passes in the second half, tying the game at 20 with less than four minutes left.
In overtime, the Bulldogs went backward and settled for a 51-yard field goal. Hope was renewed when Alabama lost 16 yards on its first offensive play in overtime. However, that loss only set up a 41-yard pass from Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith in the back of the end zone, giving the Tide their most dramatic national championship win.
Texas 41, USC 38 (2005)
We may never see a championship game that tops this one. The Trojans had a 34-game winning streak and were going for their third straight title with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush leading the way, not to mention LenDale White, who scored three rushing touchdowns.
However, Vince Young carried the Longhorns all game, finishing with 267 passing yards and 200 rushing yards. Of course, Young’s final eight rushing yards of the game will never be forgotten, beating the USC defense to the corner of the end zone. It was his second rushing touchdown in the final five minutes of the game to give Texas the title and end USC’s dynasty.