Top 10 College Football Moments of the Decade
As 2019 wraps up in the coming days, so does the second decade of the 21st century. Cole West recently broke down the Top 10 CFB moments of 2019. Here, we’re going to rewind a little further and look at the most dramatic, impactful, and wild moments in college football for the 2010’s. These rankings are far from perfectly objective as different moments and stories stick with all of us differently. Let us know what moments we missed or which ones we over/under-ranked.
#10 UCF’s National Title*
This moment doesn’t make this list for the moment itself, but more because of the implications it will have on college football going forward. In 2015, the Knights were absolutely awful going 0-12 and not putting up much fight in any of their conference games. Things would turn around quite quickly though as Scott Frost and QB McKenzie Milton led UCF to an 11-0 regular season (one game got cancelled due to Hurricane Irma) and a win over Memphis in the American Athletic championship game.
The Knights were left on the outside looking in to the College Football Playoff and had to settle for a Peach Bowl match-up with #7 Auburn. After defeating the Tigers 34-27, UCF would crown themselves 2017 National Champions which would be somewhat backed up by the NCAA and the Colley Matrix (a former BCS ranking algorithm).
2018 was a similar story, as UCF would again go 11-0 with a hurricane-cancelled game and a win over Memphis in the conference championship. And yet again the selection committee refused to take them seriously, leaving them in the Fiesta Bowl against LSU.
The UCF story probably makes your average blue-blood fan pretty uncomfortable because it throws some stones at the system that they have dominated for years. Why call it an FBS championship or playoff system when there are 5 conferences that will never be allowed to compete for the title? As long as group-of-five schools continue to put together impressive undefeated seasons, the current 4-team playoff system will be challenged.
#9 Miami Kick Return to “Beat” Duke
Probably one of the wildest plays of the decade, trailing by three with just seconds left on the clock, Miami lateraled the ball eight times on a kick return that eventually broke loose for a game winning touchdown.
The real story on this play was the officiating, or lack thereof. Initially, there was a flag down for a block in the back on the return team which would have negated the score (correctly so, as you can count at least three and maybe more such blocks on replays). There was also a review to see if a Miami player’s knee was down at one point. After the review, the officials incorrectly concluded not only that the knee was not down but also that the illegal block in question had come from the side and not from behind. Reminder: very few penalties are reviewable and blocks in the back are not one of them.
The touchdown stood and Miami “won.” The ACC ended up temporarily suspending the entire officiating crew and issuing a statement admitting the mistakes. This play has really begun to embody the terrible reputation that ACC refs have come to earn this decade.
#8 Jadaveon Clowney Hit
My unofficial pick for Most Satisfying to Watch Sports play of the decade, words just don’t do justice for this hit from South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney against Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl. Clowney was already starting to turn some heads, but this play really put the country on watch and was instrumental in earning himself the first overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
#7 Oh he has trouble with the snap!
In college football, there are some coaches who can coach and motivate their teams in big games. Take Ed Orgeron, for example. Since taking over in Baton Rouge in 2016, Coach O has led LSU to a 15-7 record against ranked teams while picking up 11 of those wins over top 10 teams. Then there are coaches who can’t seem to get it done in big games. Jim Harbaugh comes to mind. At Michigan, Harbaugh has a 10-13 record against ranked opponents, beating just two top 10 teams in the process.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking of those losses came in 2015 at the hands of Michigan State. Punting from around midfield with a two point lead and only 10 seconds left on the clock, the Wolverines were all but guaranteed to knock off the 7th ranked Spartans. But we wouldn’t be talking about this game if that were the case. Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap and was swallowed up by Michigan State defenders before he could get any sort of punt off, and Jalen Watts-Jackson took the ball into the endzone as time expired to steal the win and providing the world with one of the more famous surrender cobras of all time:
#6 Texas is Back?
In a wild game against the 10th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Tyrone Swoopes stretched across the goal-line to win the game for the Longhorns in double overtime. Texas football had been scuffling for the prior 5 years and was slipping from national prominence just six years removed from a trip to the national championship game. A win over a top 10 team to open the year would be huge for getting the program back on track. Thus, thanks to Joe Tessitore, the three-word phrase that has probably been used more than other in college football this decade was born. Texas is back.
The Longhorns catapulted up to #11 in the AP Poll before the country quickly realized that Texas was not, in fact, back. Texas finished the season 5-7, losing to Big 12 doormat Kansas along the way and firing head coach Charlie Strong when all was said and done. It turned out Notre Dame was pretty awful that year as well, as the Fighting Irish finished 4-8.
That one moment has lived on thanks mostly to the large contingent of college football fans across the nation who despise the Longhorns. The phrase does owe some credit for its survival to current Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and his postgame interview after Texas beat the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2019 Sugar Bowl.
Texas would follow that up by going 7-5 in the 2019 season. Horns down.
#5 Cardale Jones and the 2014 CFP Controversy
The 4-team College Football Playoff system was introduced to produce a more systematic approach to determining a college football national champion with less controversy. So it’s only natural that the first year under the system was steeped in controversy. The controversy was multiplied thanks to the performance of an unlikely hero, Cardale Jones.
Partly famous now for the above tweet, Jones was the third string QB for the Buckeyes at the start of the season behind Braxton Miller and JT Barrett. Thrust into the starting role after Barrett went down with a leg injury in the regular season finale, Cardale Jones led Ohio State in an absolute drubbing of Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big 10 Championship. This gave the selection committee quite the difficult task. It was already pretty well decided that the first three spots in the playoff would go to Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State respectively. The last spot was expected to be given to either Baylor or TCU, whom the Big 12 had somehow declared conference co-champions despite Baylor having beaten TCU head to head. Then the Buckeyes gave the committee an out. Rather than try to disentangle the Baylor-TCU debate, the committee selected Ohio State who went on to win the title, beating Alabama and Oregon along the way.
#4 Iowa State Upsets Oklahoma State with help from Missed FG in 2011
There are very few single plays that have had the same direct impact on the landscape of College Football as a certain field goal in this game did. Ranked #2 in the nation and just two wins from the BCS National Championship game, the 10-0 Oklahoma State Cowboys were having to play just a day after receiving news that a plane crash had taken the lives of the Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach and an assistant.
After giving up a 10 point halftime lead on the road to Iowa State, Mike Gundy, Brandon Weeden, and co. had a chance to take the lead on a 37 yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Quinn Sharp only missed 4 kicks (one of which was an extra point) all season, but unfortunately this was one of them. The ball sailed directly over the right upright and the game went to overtime where the Cyclones pulled off the upset. Watch the field goal attempt here.
After throttling Oklahoma 44-10 the following week, Oklahoma St. still lost out on the #2 ranking and a BCS championship berth by the slimmest of margins to Alabama. The controversy surrounding this decision is what sparked the conversation and reformation that brought us the current College Football Playoff system. Not to mention that without this one missed kick, we would have missed out on the rematch of the Game of the Century™, one of the most exciting* national championships in recent memory in which LSU racked up 92 whole yards of offense! (*heavy dose of sarcasm)
#3 Tua Tagovailoa Leads the Comeback over Georgia
While seeing a rematch of an SEC championship game that was just played a few weeks prior was not the most appealing national championship match up, the game itself did not disappoint. Down to Georgia 13-0 at halftime, Nick Saban benched Jalen Hurts in favor of true freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa who led the Tide back in the second half and forced overtime. After the Alabama defense held the Bulldogs to a field goal, Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith up the sideline for a dramatic walk-off touch down to claim Alabama’s fifth title in ten years.
#2 Deshaun Watson Sinks Alabama to Win the 2016 National Championship
There is one primary reason that the top 2 moments in these rankings are the top 2. (Spoiler) They were to beat Alabama. You can’t talk about college football in the 2010’s and not mention the absolute dominance that the Alabama Crimson Tide had on the sport. Nick Saban led the program to 4 titles in the decade while appearing in 7 of the 10 championship games. This moment, when Deshaun Watson hit Hunter Renfrow to give the Clemson Tigers the lead with two seconds to go, not only showed a crack in Alabama’s dynasty, but also cemented Clemson as a national staying power. This was also one of the more thrilling National Championship games of the decade.
#1 The Kick Six and 2013 Auburn
There really can’t be any debate here. Chris Davis’ 109 yard kick return to knock the previously undefeated Crimson Tide out of the SEC- (and consequently the National) -title race ranks in the top 10 of the most dramatic moments across all sports. Not much more needs to be said about a top 5 matchup in one of the most heated rivalries in CFB ending in one of the most ridiculous ways possible and having drastic National Championship implications. And the cherry on top is the famous radio call by the late Rod Bramblett:
The Kick Six overshadows an insane game winning TD for Auburn earlier in the year against Georgia when the Bulldogs secondary batted a deep Nick Marshall pass up for Ricardo Louis who scampered into the endzone to take a 5 point lead with 25 seconds left:
The Kick Six and Immaculate Reception were good enough to propel the Tigers to the National Championship where their luck ran out against Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.