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The Top Ten Best College Football Games of September

BYU Nebraska


September is over, and a third of the season is gone with it. This leaves us but one thing to do: rank the 10 best games we've seen thus far.

10. Auburn 27, Jacksonville State 20 (overtime)
It happens every week without fail. You'll be out on the town checking your Twitter feed or at home watching another game when alerts start to pop up saying Plucky Underdog X led Highly Ranked Favorite Y 7-0 after one quarter. You check again and it's 10-7 midway through the second quarter, then 17-10 at the half. By the time you actually turn the game on, the score is 45-17 and Plucky Underdog X is shivering in the corner with his tail between his legs.

Not this time.

Jacksonville State led 10-6 at the half and 20-13 when it recovered a fumble at its own 22 with three minutes remaining. That's when it all fell apart for the Gamecocks. An unsportsmanlike conduct call, a three-and-out and a shank gave Auburn the ball at the Jacksonville State 31, and the Tigers tied the game five plays later. Auburn opened overtime with a touchdown and forced Eli Jenkins to throw incomplete on 4th-and-6 on Jacksonville State's possession to hold on for a precious victory.

9. BYU 35, Boise State 24
Boise State appeared to have a win in hand after the Broncos secured a 24-14 lead through three quarters and a 24-21 lead as BYU lined up for a 4th-and-7 at the Boise State 35 inside the game's final minute. Instead of throwing for the sticks, Cougars quarterback Tanner Mangum threw for the end zone, and Mitchell Jurgens was on the end of his answered prayer, hauling in the go-ahead touchdown in between a host of Broncos. On the very next play from scrimmage, Boise State quarterback Ryan Finley was intercepted by Kai Nacua at midfield, who raced 50 yards for the quickest insurance touchdown in college football history.

8. Miami 36, Nebraska 33 (overtime)
At what point does your kid's finger painting become a Picasso? In this game, it was right around the time Nebraska got the ball back with a chance to tie after being left for dead - twice - in the same game. The Hurricanes led 27-3 with 13:50 to go in the third quarter and 33-10 with 11:14 left in the fourth quarter. One stop, one score, and Miami secures a win. But Nebraska drove 75 yards and secured a two-point conversion to pull within 33-18, forced a punt, moved another 80 yards to pull within 33-25, forced another punt and drove another 87 yards to tie the game with 33 seconds remaining. After managing only 10 points through the game's first 50 minutes, the Huskers registered 242 yards and three Tommy Armstrong touchdown passes on 24 plays, and needed only 6:53 to do so. But all the momentum in the world couldn't save Armstrong, as he was intercepted on the very first play of overtime. Michael Badgley banged in a 28-yard field goal four plays later to secure the least satisfying win in Miami football history.

7. Boston College 76, Howard 0
Just kidding.

7. Toledo 16, Arkansas 12
Giving meaning to the term "hanging on for dear life," Toledo allowed Arkansas inside its own 20 yard line four times in the second half and allowed a sum of three points. The first came midway through the third quarter, when Brandon Allen was intercepted in the end zone, promptly leading to an 80-yard touchdown drive that pushed the Rockets' lead to 16-7. The Razorbacks consumed the next 10 minutes and 39 seconds on a 21-play drive, but were turned away at the goal line and settled for a 25-yard Cole Hedlund field goal. Arkansas's next possession ended in an Allen incompletion on a 4th-and-goal at the Toledo 7, and its final gasp saw Allen again throw incomplete from the Toledo 16 as time expired.

6. Memphis 53, Cincinnati 46
Call this one TCU-Texas Tech Lite. Paxton Lynch accounted for 464 yards of total offense, but was out-shined by Cincinnati backup quarterback Hayden Moore, who completed 31-of-53 throws for 557 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. The clubs combined for 1,322 yards of total offense and 60 first downs and six second-half lead changes. The Bearcats led 30-28 at the half and 33-31 after three, then Memphis grabbed a 38-33 lead, Cincinnati stole it back at 39-38, Memphis stole that back at 46-39 only to see Cincinnati forged a tie at 46-46 with 5:56 remaining. Sam Craft plunged in from three yards out to provide the final score, which held up only after Leonard Pegues intercepted Moore inside the Tigers' red zone with 10 ticks left.

5. Notre Dame 34, Virginia 27
What looked like another easy Notre Dame win turned into anything but. The Irish led 12-0 after one quarter but Virginia, perhaps still jetlagged and bruised after an opening week blowout at UCLA, produced matching 75-yard touchdown drives to grab a 14-12 halftime lead. Notre Dame dominated the third quarter, matching Virginia's two touchdowns with two of their own. Then it was Virginia's turn again, as a Matt Johns throw and an Albert Reid run gave the Hoos a 27-26 lead with 1:54 to go. DeShone Kizer, who entered the game for an injured Malik Zaire, guided Notre Dame 80 yards in eight plays, the last of which came on a 39-yard throw to Will Fuller with 12 seconds remaining to give the Irish the win.

4. BYU 33, Nebraska 28
Nebraska's first home-opener loss since 1985 couldn't have come in crueler fashion. The Huskers fought back from a 24-14 halftime deficit with a touchdown run from Terrell Newby and a nine-yard Tommy Armstrong pass to Trey Foster. BYU pulled within 28-27 with 7:57 remaining, and Nebraska seemingly handed BYU the win by going three-and-out on its next possession. The Huskers forced a three-and-out on BYU's next possession, and then moved to the Cougars' 22 until Jamal Turner was stuffed for a loss of two yards on a 3rd-and-3. That Drew Brown would miss the ensuing field goal did not matter in the end, because Tanner Mangum (playing for an injured Taysom Hill) hit Mitch Matthews for a 42-yard Hail Mary as time expired.

3. Florida 28, Tennessee 27
Again. It happened again. Tennessee was thiiis close to ending its 10-game losing streak to Florida, until it all came crashing down around them. The Vols led 20-7 with the ball midway through the third quarter until Josh Dobbs fumbled in Tennessee territory and Butch Jones somehow psyched Jim McElwain out of a field goal try and into going for a 4th-and-6 at the 25. They converted, and scored one play later. Tennessee marched 16 plays over 7:26 to score with 10:19 remaining, leading to Jones kicking the Extra Point Heard 'Round The World. Trailing 27-14, Florida drove 86 yards over 17 snaps, converting a 4th-and-7 and a 4th-and-8 in the process, to pull within 27-21, then took the lead on their next possession on a 4th-and-14 from their own 37. Tennessee moved to the Florida 32 on its last-gasp drive, but an illegal substitution penalty pushed Aaron Medley's potential game-winning field goal back to a 55-yarder. It missed by a foot.

2. TCU 55, Texas Tech 52
We all expected something along these lines, but not quite.... this. The Red Raiders and Horned Frogs combined to run 187 plays for 1,357 yards from scrimmage (7.26 yards per snap) with 70 first downs, 17 scoring plays, 10 lead changes, third down conversions on 18-of-34 tries, fourth down conversions on 3-of-4 tries, including the one that truly mattered. Facing a 4th-and-the-game from the Texas Tech 4, Trevone Boykin (527 total yards, four touchdowns) fired for Josh Doctson (a Big 12 record 18 grabs for 267 yards and three touchdowns), but the pass deflected off his hands and right to Aaron Green (162 rushing yards, two touchdowns), who was just as shocked as the 60,000 screaming Texas Tech fans that the ball somehow found him.

1. Oklahoma 31, Tennessee 24 (double overtime)
Neyland Stadium is in its 94th season, and never before had it seen a game like this. Tennessee spent the first three quarters looking every bit like the team many thought it would be, as the Vols held a 17-3 lead. Oklahoma and new quarterback Baker Mayfield mustered next to nothing (six three-and-outs, two interceptions, a turnover on downs), until they suddenly became unstoppable. The Sooners marched 80 yards in 14 plays, capped by a two-yard lob from Mayfield to Samaje Perine on third-and-goal, to pull within 17-10, then tied the game with another protracted (13 plays over 5 1/2 minutes) with a five-yard toss from Mayfield to Sterling Shepard with just 40 seconds remaining in regulation. Jalen Hurd raced in from eight yards out at the top of the first overtime, giving Tennesse its first points since early in the second quarter, but Mayfield again answered with a one-yard keeper on 4th-and-goal. He and Shepard connected for a second time, this time from 18 yards out, to put Oklahoma on top to open double overtime, and Zack Sanchez completed the comeback for the Sooners by intercepting Josh Dobbs on the Vols' ensuing possession.

Bob Stoops, winner of a national championship and eight Big 12 titles, said afterwards that might have been his favorite of his 171 (and counting) wins at Oklahoma. "You know why?," Stoops said. "Because of the mental toughness for our guys to have hung around, 17 points down in that environment. Now we're 17-3, 14 points down for all of that time, in that environment. And everybody just kept fighting, kept playing. Mental toughness and discipline to keep playing hard, and faith that things will work, things will come. And they did, it was a little late, but they came. And that's what you appreciate as a coach, is your players' mental attitude, and their toughness and character. Especially when you come into the season and there hasn't been a lot glowing about us, you know, as of last year. For them to hang in there, in that environment, in that situation and to come through like they do is pretty special."