Wednesday, October 19, 2005
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Pete Fiutak's Cavalcade of Whimsy column this week brought up an excellent point regarding the classic USC-Notre Dame throwdown Saturday:To everyone who whined over the years that CFN's all-time Top 100 lists are too Notre Damey, think of it this way; if USC and Notre Dame had played the same exact game with the same exact finish as Wisconsin – Minnesota, Penn State – Michigan, or even UL Lafayette – Arkansas State, you’d still be calling it one of the greatest games of all-time.True - the Ohio State-Miami Fiesta Bowl remains paramount to all other college games in SMQ's mind because of the stakes (an undisputed national championship between great teams) as well as the play, but for drama and style of play alone, many, many games, at least one or two a week, match what we saw in South Bend; many match it for stakes, too, but not for both. Fiutak is right in noting that the combination of great play and high stakes is very rare, and also right that many other truly terrific games are undervalued because they aren't between two top five teams (note: Notre Dame, actually, was not in the top five in any recognized poll, was not ranked to begin the season and had lost a game already, so SMQ believed the stakes were overblown by the media, at any rate, and the game may be a bit overrated on that level...but only a bit).
Fiutak's column and all other Game of the Century, Greatest Game Ever Played biz, including a short discussion on the underrated (SMQ thinks) new show Classic Now wherein guests SMQ cannot identify listed some obscurities among their greatest all-time games, got him to thinking about some of his favorite regular season games in a good decade and a half of college football immersion that have eluded 'classic' status:
1994 - Auburn 36 Florida 33: Even barely-pubescent SMQ knew this was great, and yelled such at his father downstairs - the oldest of such memories that makes sense. Undefeated cheater Auburn was up early on the then-number one and eventual SEC champs, inducing Steve Spurrier's genetic weakness towards quarterback instability. S.S. pulled major Heisman Trophy candidate Terry Dean out of the game and usheried in the prolific Wuerffel Era, beginning with a comeback to take a late 33-29 lead. Memorable because of the Tigers' late drive , capped by Patrick Nix's ridiculous toss snatched out of the air by an out-of-the-stadium leap by Frank Sanders over three Florida defenders with a couple seconds left. UF's first home loss under Spurrier.
1996 - Northwestern 34 Wisconsin 30: This, you may remember, was when Northwestern was a sort of Big Ten power following league titles in 1994 and 95. Memorable because, as time ran out on a Badger upset, instead of a kneel-down, Wisconsin turned and handed the ball to awesome true freshman Ron Dayne, who instantly fumbled it away to the Wildcats. The "Cardiac Cats," naturally, threw a touchdown (Steve Schurr to D'Wayne Bates, naturally) to win two plays later.
1996 - Alabama 24 Auburn 23: Alabama rips off 17 before the Tigers get their chinstraps tight, then gets reamed for 23 straight itself. Memorable for Freddie Kitchens' six-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Riddle with seconds remaining to put 'Bama over the top and clinch the SEC West title.
1999 - Mississippi State 24, Kentucky 23: SMQ, though no State fan, has many vivid MSU memories from their four decent seasons in the late nineties- in person vs. Ole Miss in 1997 and 1999, vs. Arkansas to clinch the SEC West in 1998 - but no game was as great as the Thursday night showcase against Air Mumme. The undefeated Bulldogs were flagged 19 times but played well enough on defense (those Joe Lee Dunn defenses faded fast, but were about as good as any in the country in '99 and 2000) to be within position to win with a late fumble recovery that set up Scott Westerfield's winning kick. Memorable because Kentucky had the game absolutely sewn up with iron thread, and somehow lost. At 10-2, maybe the best MSU team in school history (not saying much for a school with one SEC title...in 1941), and this its most dramatic win.
2002 - Louisville 20, Southern Miss 17: SMQ could have made the Eagles' C-USA-clinching, goalpost-tumbling win over undefeated TCU following a terrifying Horned Frog comeback in the fourth quarter in Hattiesburg in 2003 the only game on this list he actually attended, but instead will go in the opposite direction in favor of another Thursday night thriller: the 2002 overtime collapse against Louisville, the biggest single heartbreak game of SMQ's active student/fan career at Southern Miss. Preseason darling Louisville came in underperforming, but still was two-time defending C-USA champ, had handed USM two straight devastating losses of varying styles and had managed earlier in 2002 to upset Florida State in a massive rainstorm. USM led 14-0 after probably its best half of the season, including a beautiful 67-yard hook-and-go touchdown from Micky D'Angelo (best pass the poor guy ever threw) to Chris Johnson. The Eagle D was typically sensational against Dave Ragone and Co., giving up just 223 yards, but had its back against the wall so many times in the turnover-filled second half that getting the game to overtime tied at 17 was a kind of achievement. Overtime roller coaster: USM turns it over (aiieeee!!!), Louisville turns it over (DESTINY!!!), Lousiville kicks a field goal to go up three, USM...misses a field goal, the third straight by Curt Jones, who had missed two potential game-winners in the fourth quarter. Game over, devastation. What's worse, USM didn't get to see Louisville in either of the next two years to avenge those three straight losses, and the underrated rivalry is basically dead with U of Hell's move to the Big East.
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