Finishes - 81 to 90
The greatest endings in college football history from 1970 to the present
updated June 2007
1-5 | 6-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-80 | 91-100
The basic criteria: 1) These are the greatest finishes, not the greatest games. With few exceptions, the finish means the final play, final drive, or some other wild series of events to end a game. A good fourth quarter of a classic game doesn't necessarily count as a great finish. (For example, the classic 1997 Nebraska win over Missouri was a great game with a wild fourth quarter, but the actual end wasn't that great. It's splitting hairs.)
2) The better, bigger and more significant the game, the more important the finish.
3) How memorable was it? It might not have been meaningful to determining a national champion, but it might have been one of the signature moments in college football history.
No. 90 Washington State 34 ... UCLA 30,
November 29, 1988
At the time: Led by star QB Troy Aikman, UCLA was 7-0 and ranked number one in the nation. Washington State, led by QB Timm Rosenbach, was on a two-game losing streak dropping conference games to Arizona and Arizona State to fall to 4-3. Wazzu led the Pac 10 in offense but was last in defense.
The setup: UCLA got on an early roll with a 27-6 lead in the third quarter after an eight-yard Eric Ball touchdown run. Rosenbach struck back throwing two touchdown passes to Tim Stallworth including an 81-yard play to tie it at 27. Aikman was able to march the Bruins to a 30-yard field goal, but Rosenbach was better leading the Cougars on a long drive ending in a Rich Swinton one-yard touchdown run for a 34-30 lead with just over six minutes to play. After trading drives, Wazzu had to punt the ball giving Aikman :44 to work with. He got UCLA down to the Cougar six on a 33-yard pass play to Charles Arbuckle with :32 to go.
The ending: After throwing it away on first down to stop the clock, Aikman's next pass was broken up and his third just missed leading to fourth and goal from the six with :26 to play. Aikman lofted a pass deep into the end zone, but Cougar DB Vernon Todd was able to just get a hand on it knocking it away from UCLA WR David Keating. Rosenbach took a knee to seal the win.
How they ended up: UCLA's dream season was gone, but it was still in a position to win the Rose Bowl after beating Oregon and Stanford. Unfortunately, Rodney Peete and USC came through with a 31-22 win to go to Pasadena. Aikman and the Bruins went to the Cotton Bowl and beat Arkansas 17-3 to finish with a 10-2 record. This win for Washington State kicked off a five-game winning streak to close out a 9-3 season. Rosenbach and the Cougars beat Houston 24-22 in the Aloha Bowl.
No. 89 Purdue 15 ... Notre Dame 14, September 26, 1981
At the time: The first year of the Gerry Faust era at Notre Dame got off to a rocky start beating LSU 27-9 in the opener before getting steamrolled by Michigan 25-7. With the number one ranking gone, the Irish traveled to Purdue which was also 1-1 after beating Stanford and losing a 16-13 battle at Minnesota.
The setup: Notre Dame couldn't pull away as Harry Oliver missed two 51-yard field goals. However, Irish RB Phil Carter was having a great game scoring on a 30-yard touchdown to break a 7-7 tie with just under three minutes to play. Purdue QB Scott Campbell started the final drive on his own 20. Helped by a fourth down conversion, a 28-yard pass play to Eric Jordan, and a dropped interception, Campbell drove the team down to the one connecting with Steve Bryant on a desperation pass with :39 to play.
The ending: On fourth and goal from the seven with :23 to play, Campbell lofted a perfect pass to Steve Bryant for a touchdown with :19 to play. Down 14-13, Purdue chose to go for two and the win. Running the same play only to the other side of the field, Campbell's pass wasn't quite as perfect as the touchdown toss but Bryant made a leaping catch for the conversion. Purdue DB Tim Seneff intercepted a Hail Mary Notre Dame pass to seal the win.
How they ended up: This win was the highlight of the Purdue year. The week after, the Boilermakers lost 20-14 at Wisconsin before winning three straight for a 5-2 start. A four-game losing streak closed out a disappointing 5-6 season. As bad as things were in West Lafayette, life was worse for Faust in South Bend. The Irish bounced back to beat Michigan State 20-7, but lost the next two games before going on a three-game winning streak. Just when things started to turn around, the Irish lost the final two games to Penn State and Miami to finish 5-6.
No. 88 West Virginia 17 ... Pittsburgh 14, November 8, 1975
At the time: Bobby Bowden's West Virginia team was starting to get on a bit of a roll following a bad 16-14 loss to a lousy Temple team. The Mountaineers were 6-2 before going against rival Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl in what many considered a make-or-break game for Bowden, who was on a bit of a hot seat. Pittsburgh was also 6-2 coming off a convincing 38-0 win over Syracuse.
The setup: Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett was the marquee back in the game, but West Virginia's Artie Owens was equally strong rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown. Dorsett ran for 107 yards and caught a short touchdown pass to tie the game at 14 late in the fourth quarter. West Virginia drove deep into Pittsburgh territory and well into field goal range, but fumbled it was to Pittsburgh for what appeared to be a tough tie. Panther head coach Johnny Majors ran two conservative plays from the Pittsburgh 17 before short third down pass left it fourth and two for Pitt on its 25. Unfortunately for the Panthers, QB Matt Cavanaugh thought it was still third down and called a play. Unable to hear the coaches going nuts on the sideline over the yell of the crowd, Cavanaugh went up to the line. To stop the play, Majors and assistant coach Joe Avezzano ran on the field and drew an unsportsmanlike foul call which put the ball back to the 13, but it stopped Cavanaugh from making a huge mistake and allowed Pitt to punt. West Virginia got the ball on the Pitt 48 with ten seconds to play.
The ending: Mountaineer QB Dan Kendra, who changed Bowden's play call in the huddle, got off his pass a split-second before getting popped. Tight end Randy Swinson hauled it in at the Pitt 22 before going out of bounds with four seconds to play. WVU's Bill McKenzie had only connected on two of his five career field goal attempts, but his 38-yard boot went through as time ran out.
How they ended up: Pittsburgh closed out its season with a win over Notre Dame (in which Dorsett tore off 303 yards), a loss to Penn State, and a 33-19 win over Kansas in the Sun Bowl to finish 8-4. The following year, the Panthers went 12-0 and won the national title. West Virginia beat Richmond the following week before losing a 20-19 squeaker to Syracuse. Bobby's boys beat Lou Holtz and NC State 13-10 in the Peach Bowl to finish 9-3. The following year, Bowden took the job at Florida State.
No. 87 Arizona State 21 ... Stanford 17,
October 9, 1982
At the time: It was a battle between Stanford's star QB John Elway and Arizona State's number one defense. In the first five games of the season, the Sun Devils were 5-0 and having given up a mere 30 points. Stanford lost a 35-31 shootout with San Jose State, but bounced back to shock Ohio State 23-20 on the way to a 3-1 start.
The setup: Elway was amazing early on, leading the Cardinal to a 10-0 lead before the Sun Devil defense clamped down. ASU QB Ton Hons rallied the team back for two solid touchdown drives highlighted by a 31-yard scoring pass to Ron Brown. ASU got down to the Stanford one late, but FB Tex Wright lost a fumble that would've put the game on ice. Elway then showed off some of his magic throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Mike Tolliver with :49 to play for an apparent 17-14 win. With 80 yards to go, Hons did his Elway impersonation marching the Sun Devils down to the Stanford one with :13 to play.
The ending: Wright made amends for his earlier fumble by running the same play he lost the fumble on for the game-winning touchdown. ASU had gone 80 yards in 38 seconds for the win.
How they ended up: ASU went on to win three more games running the record up to 9-0 before losing 17-13 to number one Washington. The Sun Devils lost the following week 28-18 to archrival Arizona, but finished 10-2 after beating Oklahoma 32-21 in the Fiesta Bowl. Stanford's loss to Arizona State was nothing compared to what came later on against Cal to end Elway's career. The Cardinals lost five of their final seven games to go 5-6.
No. 86 USC 18 ... Ohio State 17, Rose Bowl January 1, 1975
At the time: The Rose Bowl was considered by many to be the battle for the 1974 national title. USC, led by Heisman runner-up Anthony Davis, had won four straight games following a 15-15 tie with Cal. The Trojans hadn't lost since the opening week of the season in a 22-7 gaffe at Arkansas, but a stunning 55-24 win over Notre Dame in the season finale had launched them up the polls. 10-1 Ohio State, ranked number two and led by Heisman winner Archie Griffin, were dominant with the only loss coming to Michigan State, 16-13, on a miracle finish (more on that later on down the list). The defense had allowed a mere 111 points on the season allowing ten points or fewer in nine games.
The setup: The battle of great running backs didn't happen. Davis ran for 67 yards before leaving with a leg injury, and Griffin was held to 75 yards and fumbled twice inside the USC ten. However, the quarterbacks came through. Down 17-10 with under four minutes to play, USC's Pat Haden engineered a long drive culminating with his second touchdown pass of the day connecting with John McKay in the corner of the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown pass with just over three minutes to play.
The ending: USC head coach John McKay, who had been burned in the 1967 Rose Bowl against Purdue by going for two, eschewed the extra point to go for the win. Haden made a good pass into the back of the end zone, and Shelton Diggs made a better catch for the two points and an 18-17 lead. Cornelius Greene, who had a solid game, led the Buckeyes to the USC 45, but punter Tom Skladany's 62-yard field goal attempt came up short.
How they ended up: USC finished number one in the UPI poll while Oklahoma ended up getting the AP top spot. Ohio State dropped to number four. McKay went on to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the following season while USC slid to a 7-4 season. Ohio State came roaring back in 1975 going 11-0 before losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
No. 85 Auburn 17 ... Alabama 16, December 2, 1972
At the time: Auburn vs. Alabama has always been big, but this is when it got really, really big. Alabama was 10-0 and shooting for a national title. Auburn (called "The Amazins”) had an overachieving season shocking the SEC by going 8-1 with only a 35-7 loss at LSU screwing things up. If a bitter rivalry game between two top teams wasn't enough, Bama head coach Bear Bryant turned things up a few notches by saying he'd "rather beat that cow college than beat Texas ten times."
The setup: Alabama ran over Auburn for a 16-0 lead, but the extra point after a first quarter Steve Bisceglia touchdown run was blocked. Auburn's offense went nowhere all game long, but it finally got on the board with a 42-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Alabama seemingly had things in hand when it tried to punt it away. Auburn's Bill Newton stuffed the kick which bounced to David Langner who took it for a 25-yard touchdown with 5:30 to go. Bama was able to run more than two-and-a-half minutes off the clock, but had to punt it away again.
The ending: Another Bama punt, same improbable result. Newton blew into the Tide backfield and blocked the kick. Langner picked it up again and ran 20 yards for a touchdown. Auburn took a one-point lead with 1:34 to play. Alabama had one final shot, but Langner picked off his second pass of the game with :55 to play to close it out.
How they ended up: Auburn finished the season with a six-game winning streak ending with a 24-3 Gator Bowl win over Colorado and a number five finish. Alabama not only lost to that cow college, but it also lost to Texas 17-13 in the Cotton Bowl finishing the year number seven.
No. 84 UCLA 20 ... USC 19, October 20, 1982
At the time: UCLA saw its Rose Bowl dreams all but die in a 10-7 loss to Washington, but there was still a glimmer of hope to play again in Pasadena with a win over USC. The Bruins were 8-1-1 and appeared headed for the Aloha Bowl no matter what the outcome in the crosstown rivalry game. USC opened the year with a loss to Florida before winning seven of its next eight games only losing at Arizona State.
The setup: UCLA and QB Tom Ramsey jumped out to a quick 14-3 lead before USC came back with a Todd Spencer touchdown run set up by a Ramsey fumble. Down 20-10 in the fourth, USC started its rally with a 21-yard field goal. Getting the ball back with over five minutes to play, the Trojans went on a long march as QB Scott Tinsley caught fire making play after play to get the offense down to the UCLA four. After three unsuccessful downs, USC had it fourth and goal from the one with three seconds to play.
The ending: Tinsley connected with Mark Boyer in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and only an extra point away from the tie. Instead, USC head coach John Robinson chose to go for two. Tinsley dropped back and had a wide open receiver in the end zone, but he couldn't find him as UCLA's Karl Morgan blew up the middle for the sack preserving the win.
How they ended up: For UCLA to go to the Rose Bowl, Washington had to be stunned by Washington State and Arizona had to upset Arizona State. Both happened and the Bruins went (or stayed) in Pasadena beating Michigan 24-14 and a 10-1-1 season. USC, on probation and unable to go to a bowl, bounced back to beat Notre Dame 17-13 to finish 8-3.
No. 83 Stanford 13 ... Michigan 12,
January 1, 1972
At the time: Michigan supposedly had the unbeaten season wrapped up. 11-0 and with a defense that only gave up 73 points on the season (6.6 pointer per game), an average Stanford team wasn't supposed to provide much resistance as 10.5 point underdogs. QB Don Bunce spent his career playing behind Stanford legend Jim Plunkett, but he came through with a big senior season leading the way to an 8-3 record with the three losses coming by six to Duke, one to Washington State and one to San Jose State.
The setup: The Michigan offense had a hard time getting cranking taking a 3-0 lead into halftime and leading 10-3 early in the fourth quarter. A safety with just over three minutes to play appeared to ice it for Michigan with a 12-10 lead. But Bunce had one final chance. Connecting on dump-off pass after dump-off pass, Bunce led Stanford 64 yards on eight plays in the final 1:48. In came Rod Garcia with :12 to play with a 31-yard field goal attempt. Garcia missed five field goals two games earlier in the 13-12 loss to San Jose State.
The ending: With all the pressure of the season on his foot, Garcia nailed the 31-yard with three seconds remaining to win the Rose Bowl.
How they ended up: Stanford finished tenth in the final AP ranking. Michigan finished sixth.
No. 82 Texas 20 ... UCLA 17, October 3, 1970
At the time: Despite a 22-game winning streak and blowout wins over Cal and Texas Tech to start the season, the defending national champion Texas Longhorns had to battle Ohio State in the polls for the top spot. This was a banged up team, but it was winning with ease and wasn't supposed to have too many problems at home against No. 13 UCLA. The Bruins were coming off a strong 1969 campaign and began 1970 with a three-game winning streak beating Oregon State and Pittsburgh on the road and Northwestern at home.
The setup: The Texas wishbone attack had a nightmare of a time moving on UCLA's funky defense. The Bruins had all but locked up the monster upset as Texas had the ball on the UCLA 45 with only :25 to play. Remember, the wishbone wasn't exactly conducive for big passing plays in a pinch.
The ending: On third and 19 with :20 to play, Texas ran "86 pass". WR Cotton Speyrer ran over the middle hauling in a perfect pass from Eddie Phillips. The UCLA defender was there, but couldn't make the tackle as Speyrer made a move at the 20 and ran into the end zone with :12 to play
How they ended up: UCLA suffered another heartbreaker the following week with a 41-40 loss to Oregon. Alternating wins and losses the rest of the way, the Bruins finished 6-5 closing out with a 28-17 loss to a great Tennessee team. Texas rolled the rest of the regular season finishing 10-0 with a 42-7 win over Arkansas. In the days before bowl games mattered much in the national title outcome, the Longhorns lost to Notre Dame 24-11 in the Cotton Bowl but still finished first in the UPI poll. They dropped to fourth in the final AP poll.
No. 81 Miami 32 ... Florida 20, September 1, 1984
At the time: Defending national champion Miami kicked off its season by beating No. 1 Auburn 20-18 in the Kickoff Classic. On a 12-game winning streak, the Canes' last loss came in the 1983 season opener getting whacked 28-3 by Florida. The 17th ranked Gators, coached by Charley Pell, wanted the same result in its opening game of the 1984 season.
The setup: Freshman QB Kerwin Bell had a rocky start, but Florida still had a 10-3 lead thanks to a 64-yard Lorenzo Hampton touchdown run. Miami moved the ball with little luck settling for several short field goals and a 19-13 fourth quarter lead. Bell went on a roll converting on a late fourth down leading to a five-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Neal for a 20-19 lead with :41 to play. That was still too much time for Miami QB Bernie Kosar.
The ending: Kosar rolled Miami down to the Florida 19-yard line with two perfect throws in 14 seconds to get into field goal range. After setting up for the perfect spot, Kosar and head coach Jimmie Johnson chose to still push for the end zone. Kosar floated a perfect pass to Eddie Brown for a touchdown and a 26-20 lead with seven seconds to play. With one second left, Bell was intercepted by Tolbert Bain who ran 59 yards for a score.
How they ended up: Florida tied LSU 21-21 the following week before going on a nine-game winning streak despite being under the pressure of a major scandal. Pell announced he would quit at the end of the season after various NCAA violations including no bowl for the 9-1-1 team. Off the wins over Auburn and Florida, Miami took over the number one spot only to lose 22-14 to Michigan the following week. After a 38-3 loss to Florida State, the Canes went on a run winning five straight games before blowing a huge lead to lose 42-40 against Frank Reich and Maryland in the greatest comeback in college football history. The following week, Miami lost to Doug Flutie and Boston College in the Hail Mary game. With a 39-37 Fiesta Bowl loss to UCLA, the Canes finished 8-5.