We're a week away from the 2009 season and every angle of every story of every team has been bled out on websites and in magazines ad nauseam. Injuries, suspensions, eligibility issues, depth-chart changes -- we've heard it all in the past few weeks leading up to kickoff. What is missing is a respite from the hype machines, doomsayers and over-evaluations.
|Illinois' Red Grange had a field day vs. Michigan in '24. (Getty Images)|
In the 140 years of college football, there are a handful of games that fall under the heading of the most influential in history. Arguable as they are in their inclusion and the order in which they are placed, here is my opinion on the contests of most importance.
20. Miami 46, Texas 3 -- 1991 Cotton Bowl
Sportsmanship hits a new low: Miami at its worst. Routine tackles were met with premeditated dances and endless taunting as the 'Canes gathered 202 yards in penalties. Thankfully, sweeping rule changes for taunting and helmet removal to ham for the cameras were enacted. Though it's still not enough.
19. Illinois 39, Michigan 14 -- Oct. 14, 1924
The greatest player in history has his greatest day: Illinois' Red Grange scored on his first four touches (a 95-yard kickoff return and runs of 67, 56 and 44 yards) and had 262 yards of offense in the first 12 minutes. He did so much he sat out the entire second quarter. Grange would go into the college and pro football Halls of Fame. Even Tim Tebow hasn't done that.
18. The Big 12 Blowouts
Colorado 62, Nebraska 36 -- Nov. 23, 2001
Kansas State 35, Oklahoma 7 -- Dec. 6, 2003
The BCS shams forge changes: Both Big Reds were soundly crushed yet made the BCS title game. That forced the reactive BCS to discuss changes like teams must win their conference title and changing the emphasis of the formula from the computers to the polls.
17. Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 (7 OTs) -- Nov. 3, 2001
The fatal flaws of overtime: Although Toledo and Nevada played the first overtime game in 1995, this one exposed the newly adapted OT rules as foolish. Especially egregious was the fact that OT stats now gave players ludicrous numbers, skewing the record books. Ugh.
16. Oklahoma 34, North Carolina State 13 -- 1946 Gator Bowl
Cheating leads to college football's greatest dynasty: Wild-spending first year coach Jim Tatum nearly bankrupt OU athletics and also gave his players extra money from this bowl game, leading to his immediate firing. The Sooners then hired Bud Wilkinson, who won three national titles, nine conference titles and had a 48-game winning streak in his 17 years.
15. California 26, Southern Mississippi 16 -- Dec. 4, 2004
The seedy side of modern college football rears its head: No. 4 Cal went on the road, beat a good Southern Miss team by 10 and took a knee instead of running up the score. Yet the Bears dropped 43 points in the coaches poll, allowing Texas to take Cal's Rose Bowl spot. That was due to Mack Brown calling his fellow voters and begging their support. The AP dropped its affiliation with the BCS after that fiasco.
14. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (OT) -- 2007 Fiesta Bowl
The non-BCS schools arrive: Sure, Utah had beaten Pitt in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, but this win over a national power was not only one of the best games in history, but also the game that showed the big six conferences that the mid-majors could play -- and win.
13. BYU 24, Michigan 17 -- 1984 Holiday Bowl
With no playoff, this is what you get: In the pantheon of weak national champions, this is the coup de grace. Everybody lost at the wrong time and the Cougars were the only unbeaten left. Barely beating a 6-5 Michigan team proved even weak teams can win titles in this screwy system.
12. Syracuse 23, Texas 14 -- 1960 Cotton Bowl
Eastern football earns its wings: Yep, Eastern football had crashed hard ever since WWII, rarely getting bowl bids and going 0-6-1 when they did, including Syracuse's 61-6 crash to Alabama in the '53 Orange Bowl. Then Superman (Ernie Davis) showed up, beat Texas and helped legitimize their national title.
11. Navy 21, Army 15 -- Dec. 7, 1963
The birth of instant replay: Director Tony Verna had the idea and the machinery to make for TV's first replay. He nervously waited until the fourth quarter to spring it, where surprised announcer Lindsey Nelson had to reassure viewers it was not Army scoring another touchdown.
10. The 1965 Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl
No. 2 Arkansas 10, No. 6 Nebraska 7
No. 5 Texas 21, No. 1 Alabama 17
Finally. post-bowl polls: The Tide and the Razorbacks entered the bowl games at 1-2 in the polls. But sadly, in those days the "national champion" was crowned at the end of the regular season, meaning the champion was more of a farce than it is today and the bowls were just exhibition games. After these two games on New Year's Day 1965 showed who should've been crowned with the title, the AP poll finally decided to move its final ballots to after the bowl games. The coaches UPI poll crept out of the dark ages and moved its final ballots to post-bowl in 1974. That's why "national championships" awarded to bowl losers Michigan State in '65, Texas in '70 and Alabama in '73 don't count.
9. The Fifth-Down Games
Cornell 7, Dartmouth 3 -- Nov. 16, 1940
Colorado 33, Missouri 31 -- Oct. 6, 1990
The decline of college football scruples: Want to see changing values from different eras? Check out the reactions to these two games. Cornell, riding an 18-game unbeaten streak and No. 2 in the country, failed to score on fourth down deep in Dartmouth territory in the final seconds. But referee Red Friesell mistakenly marked the ball and signaled for fourth down again. Cornell then scored to "win" the game. Soon after, Friesell admitted his mistake after reviewing the films. Cornell sent a telegram to Dartmouth, saying the win was marred, and conceded the game: Dartmouth 3, Cornell 0.
Fast forward fifty years: A similar scenario unfolds in Columbia with No. 9 Colorado getting a fifth down gift to beat hapless Missouri in the closing seconds. But do you think Mr. Devout Christian Bill McCartney, the Buffs coach, would concede like Cornell in 1940? Not with the big pay day of a major bowl still at stake. McCartney complained about the playing surface and blamed the refs. Oh sure, a couple years later he claimed he "felt remorse" for the mistake. Too late.
8. Texas A&M 20, Alabama 16 -- 1968 Cotton Bowl
The wishbone becomes an option: The Aggies and Tide weren't what made this game important. But rather, who was watching with keen interest. Texas coach Darrell Royal, still stewing after an anemic offense that led to a 6-4 season, saw A&M's option game chew up the Tide and ordered his new offensive coordinator Emory Bellard to come up with a better, triple-option offensive plan. Bellard, having used something called the "wishbone" to win state titles at Breckenridge (Texas) High School, armed the Longhorns with it in '68. Texas lost the first game, tied its second game and then went on a 30-game win streak, including a national title. Also, teams like Alabama, Air Force and Oklahoma went on to incredible success in what became the most popular offense in the '70s.
7. Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31 -- Nov. 25, 1971
|Johnny Rodgers devastated OU with his 72-yard punt return. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
6. Stanford 21, Nebraska 13 -- 1941 Rose Bowl
It's T-time for college football: First-year Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy was schizophrenic, forgetful and had ADD. But he also was freakin' brilliant, unveiling a modernized version of the T-formation that began an offensive revolution in the '40s. Beating the Cornhuskers in the Rose Bowl showcased a wide-open offense that featured men in motion, athletic flankers and a whiz-bang quarterback named Frankie Albert. The "Wow Boys," as they were known, turned Stanford from a 1-7-1 team in 1939 to a 10-0 unbeaten outfit in 1940, including the impressive win on football's biggest stage. This also had far-reaching significance as his new T-formation was copied by everyone, including Notre Dame, who went on to win four national titles under Frank Leahy.
5. St. Louis 22, Carroll College 0 -- Sept. 5, 1906
The first forward pass cometh: Following a 1905 season marred by nearly two-dozen football-related deaths, president Teddy Roosevelt demanded reforms to make the game less brutal. That's when the forward pass was officially indoctrinated into the rule book. Despite the restrictive rules to passing (an incomplete pass or a completion of 5 yards or less was ruled a turnover), St. Louis coach Eddie Cochems was one of the few that was unafraid to use the "projectile pass" as they called it. In the game against Carroll, Brad Robinson's first pass was incomplete, but on the next drive, he hit Jack Schneider with a 20-yard touchdown pass, leading to the easy win in a changed world of football.
4. Notre Dame 35, Army 13 -- Nov. 1, 1913
The forward pass, perfected: While the Billikins threw the first pass, it still remained a spotty part of the college football game plan. But the Irish were a smaller, quicker team and new head coach Jesse Harper used his quarterback Gus Dorais and end Knute Rockne to make the pass his main plan of attack for the season. Against the bigger, more talented Black Knights, Dorais threw an unheard of total of 17 passes that day in West Point, completing 14 for 243 yards and two touchdowns to Rockne. Just to show you how effective the pass had become that day, the Cadets only gave up 22 points all season in their other eight games -- all wins. Five years later, Rockne would replace Harper as head coach for the Irish and the passing fad would become fancy.
3. Southern California 42, Alabama 21 -- Sept. 12, 1970
The integration of southern football begins: Oh sure, you've heard the story, Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant grew tired of seeing the schools in the North and West snapping up all the talented African-American players from his area of the country. So he arranged a clandestine meeting with USC coach John McKay in Los Angeles and scheduled this game with the Trojans, figuring his team would lose. That way, it would show his fan base that it was time his team incorporated the black athlete. Sure as shootin' he was right, all six of USC's touchdowns were scored by African-Americans while Sam "Bam" Cunningham ran roughshod through the non-diverse Tide. From that point on, the Tide would soon become integrated for good.
2. The NCAA vs. Board of Regents of Oklahoma and Georgia Athletic Association -- June 27, 1984
College football on TV explodes: Yeah, I know it's not a football game, but the two schools brought the monopolizing giant to its knees like nobody had before in a contest held in the Supreme Court. Judge John Paul Stevens handed down the judgment that the NCAA had to say sayonara to its stronghold on the televising of football games. Interest in college football increased tenfold. So instead of getting ABC's one or two games each Saturday, we get sensory overload with games starting at 9 a.m. PT, going until 3 a.m. ET when Hawaii games are done. We've even seen conferences having their own TV networks. Look for more of that saturation to continue -- much to the delight of pigskin fans everywhere.
1. Rutgers 6, Princeton 4 -- Nov. 6th, 1869
The Birthplace: This is the one that started all this madness, played in the town of New Brunswick, N.J. Ironically, the same town that started college football is also my hometown -- no wonder it's in my blood.