These days, classics come pretty cheap, and pretty expeditiously. An enthralling ESPN game on a Saturday night becomes part of ESPN Classic programming on Sunday.
We see it all the time. And we know better.
A true classic, for the most part, must withstand time’s cynical blowtorch. It has to hold up for years, decades, generations. Its grainy highlight footage should elicit broad smiles or burdensome winces. It can’t be concocted in a microwave.
Hence the reason our third and final state-centric list — the 50 greatest college games involving at least one Florida team — features only two games less than 5 years old.
Even as these contests age, they remain ageless. Some have become the subject of documentaries. Several have been given enduring nicknames.
The list, part of our observance of college football’s 150th anniversary, was compiled by a panel of current and former Tampa Bay Times staffers.
And like our first two lists, we hope you’ll read to the end. Even if you rage to the end.
1. Miami 31, Nebraska 30, Orange Bowl (Jan. 1, 1984)
Behind their ruthless option-based offense, the unbeaten 1983 Cornhuskers arrived in Miami poised to be anointed the greatest college team of all time.
But in this, the 50th Orange Bowl game, the coronation was pre-empted by a commencement. The dynasty known as “The U” was born. More than 35 years later, fifth-ranked Miami’s upset of the top-ranked Huskers remains the most stunning, significant triumph in Florida collegiate history.
The national title was not only UM’s first, but the state’s.
“The fulfillment of a dream,” ’Canes coach Howard Schnellenberger told the Miami Herald. “No, the beginning of a dream.”
The game’s momentum shifts were seismic, and some of its most pivotal moments remain requisite clips in any montage honoring college football history.
It even provided the nation with its initial glimpse of the trademark Miami swag: Facing a team that had scored at least 50 points in seven games, the ’Canes — technically the visiting team in their home stadium — won the toss and chose to kick off.
Nebraska, led by Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, could muster nothing. Some riveting ebb and flow followed.
’Canes lanky redshirt freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar staked UM to a 17-0 lead. Nebraska rallied to tie it, sparked by its “fumblerooski” play that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown by right guard Dean Steinkuhler.
UM regrouped and scored the next two TDs. The Huskers responded with two of their own, the latter a 24-yard run by I-back Jeff Smith on a fourth-and-8 option play with less than a minute to play.
All of which set up to one of college football’s most endearing images: a stoic Osborne choosing to go for two — instead of playing for the tie — in the waning seconds, then looking on as Turner Gill rolls right and fires to Smith, only to have UM’s Kenny Calhoun tip it away.
In defeat, Osborne’s stature increased.
In conquest, the U’s stature was conceived.
2. FSU 34, Auburn 31 (Jan. 6, 2014)
The unbeaten Seminoles (14-0) were far from perfect in this BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif., but at the season’s most critical juncture, they were nearly flawless.
FSU, which had not trailed in that season since Sept. 28, found itself down by 18 points in the second quarter and faced a three-point deficit in the final minute. But freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner competing on his 20th birthday, led FSU on a seven-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a 2-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining.
It was FSU’s third national championship, and it also ended a run of seven consecutive national titles by SEC schools.
Winston was 5-for-6 for 69 yards on the drive, which was aided by a Tigers pass-interference penalty on third and 8 from the AU 10. FSU’s Rashad Greene (nine catches, 147 yards, including a 49-yarder on the final drive) was pulled to the turf by Auburn’s Chris Davis, prompting the flag.
In all, FSU scored 21 fourth-quarter points; there were three lead changes in the final 4:30.
FSU’s Kermit Whitfield put the Seminoles ahead on a 100-yard kickoff return, but Auburn answered with a 37-yard touchdown run by Tre Mason with 1:37 remaining.
Then it was left for Winston, who answered yet again. He finished 20-for-35 for 237 yards.
“Great players understand great moments,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It’s the best football game he played all year. The great ones, even when it’s not their night, they still get it done. Very few can pull it out when it’s not their night. If that’s not a great player, I don’t know what one is.”
3. Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT), Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 3, 2003)
The Hurricanes appeared to have won the program’s sixth national championship. Fireworks erupted in the background of Sun Devil Stadium. Sebastian the Ibis, UM’s mascot, and Hurricane cheerleaders rushed the field to celebrate with the players.
But a penalty flag had been thrown — painfully late — and the game wasn’t over.
Dozens of angles surfaced in Ohio State’s double-overtime victory in this BCS national title game: The Buckeyes, 11 1/2-point underdogs, shattered UM’s 34-game win streak and also its swaggering aura (nearly 17 seasons later, the Hurricanes haven’t approached that pedigree or anything resembling a dynasty). But it boiled down to a defining, highly controversial moment.
Faced with fourth and 3 from the UM 5-yard line, trailing by a touchdown in the first overtime, Buckeyes quarterback Craig Krenzel fired an end-zone pass for Chris Gamble. It skipped off Gamble’s hands as UM defensive back Glenn Sharpe wrapped his arms around the receiver’s waist.
After a deliberate pause — enough time to think it was over — field judge Terry Porter threw the flag. Pass interference. It allowed Ohio State to get the tie, then the victory.
Miami fans, after tasting a championship for a few seconds, still believe their team was robbed.
4. Miami 26, FSU 25 (Oct. 3, 1987)
Though these in-state rivals previously had met 30 times, this contest — on a windy Saturday in Tallahassee — propelled the ’Canes-’Noles feud into the national consciousness.
For starters, it was the first meeting in which both were ranked in the top five. It also represented arguably the greatest assemblage of talent on one field in Florida collegiate history; 63 players from this game would go on to make an NFL roster.
“I’d never seen that much talent on a football field,” former FSU coach Bobby Bowden told Tampa Bay Times columnist Martin Fennelly on the game’s 30-year anniversary.
The talent delivered a three-plus-hour spectacle.
Behind tailback Sammie Smith (30 carries, 189 yards), the No. 4 ’Noles built a 19-3 lead before the third-ranked ’Canes stormed back.
First-year UM starter Steve Walsh found Melvin Bratton over the middle for a 49-yard touchdown (the two-point try worked) before hooking up twice with Michael Irvin, the second a spiral down the right sideline that Irvin caught in stride for a 73-yard touchdown.
It gave UM a 26-19 lead with 2:22 to play. The ’Noles mounted a furious final drive behind senior quarterback Danny McManus, who hit Ronald Lewis for an 18-yard TD with 42 seconds to play.
Bowden initially sent out kicker Derek Schmidt (who had missed a 31-yard field goal late in the fourth) to try for the tie, but reconsidered when he saw the distraught look on his players’ faces.
“I decided to go for two points,” he said. “Didn’t bat an eye. That was the kind of game that was. A day you go for it.”
McManus underthrew his intended target, and UM recovered the onside kick. The ’Canes would go on to win their second national title.
And a rivalry that ruled an entire generation was spawned.
5. FSU 31, Florida 31 (Nov. 26, 1994)
Ah, “The Choke at Doak."
Depending on your allegiances, it was amazing, inexplicable, euphoric, unforgivable. But for everyone, it was unforgettable.
When the third quarter ended in the matchup between a pair of 9-1 teams — the No. 4-ranked Gators and No. 7 FSU — the Gators led 31-3.
Thousands of embarrassed Seminole fans headed for the exits at Doak Campbell Stadium. High in the stadium’s southwest corner, orange-and-blue-clad Gator fans swayed arm in arm, practically giddy over their imminent victory.
The Seminoles finally answered with an astonishing four-touchdown blitz, pulling within 31-30 on Rock Preston’s 4-yard run with 1:45 remaining. FSU coach Bobby Bowden briefly considered a two-point conversion — and potentially, an outright victory — but opted for the tying PAT.
It led to Bowden’s befuddled opening statement in the postgame news conference: “That was a great win for us.”
The game is assured a place in history because the NCAA overtime rules no longer allow for ties.
In the fourth quarter alone, Seminoles quarterback Danny Kanell was 18-for-22 for 232 yards. Kanell said he has three taped versions of the game: the ABC broadcast, a producer’s cut and another with audio from Gene Deckerhoff, radio voice of the Seminoles.
“To have the emotions turn around so abruptly in a game like that, it was almost too much to believe,” Kanell said as the game’s 10-year anniversary approached. “It was like the perfect storm. One less play, one incompletion, and that comeback doesn’t get done. We picked it up. And, for whatever reason, they seemed to get a little tight.”
6. Boston College 47, Miami 45 (Nov. 23, 1984)
Black Friday became one of the darkest moments for the Hurricanes. But amid UM’s pain, the college football world was gifted one of the most iconic plays in sports history. BC’s Doug Flutie, ducking and darting from the UM pass rush, flung an improbable 48-yard game-winning pass to roommate Gerard Phelan (11 catches, 226 yards), who tumbled into the end zone with no time remaining. “I didn’t think there was any way in the world that could’ve happened or that we wouldn’t have knocked that pass down,” Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson said. Flutie, who threw the ball approximately 65 yards in the air against 30 mph winds, ultimately won the Heisman Trophy. Even without “Hail Flutie,” it was a remarkable game (1,282 combined yards). UM quarterback Bernie Kosar passed for a school-record 447 yards. Running back Melvin Bratton rushed for four touchdowns, including what looked like the clincher with 28 seconds remaining. Flutie? He finished with 472 yards passing, becoming the first college player to surpass the 10,000-yard career passing mark.
7. UCF 49, USF 42 (Nov. 24, 2017)
This contest, staged on a cool, overcast Black Friday, did nothing less than thrust the “War on I-4” rivalry into the national consciousness. In an ebb-and-flow extravaganza featuring 1,186 total yards and several iconic plays, UCF preserved its undefeated season when Mike Hughes returned a kickoff 95 yards with 1:28 to play. Hughes’ heroics upstaged a dual-threat masterpiece by Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers (605 total yards, five TDs), who had tied the score with an 83-yard scoring pass to Darnell Salomon (and ensuing two-point pass to D’Ernest Johnson) moments earlier. It was the game’s eighth TD covering 20 or more yards.
8. Miami 17, FSU 16 (Nov. 16, 1991)
Like Rambo and Rocky, this 1 vs. 2 showdown spawned a number of sequels, none of which quite possessed the drama, tension and (in the case of ’Nole fans) excruciation of the original. Before what was then a record Doak Campbell Stadium crowd (63,442), the No. 2 ’Noles had a 16-7 fourth-quarter lead on the top-ranked ’Canes, who stormed back to take a 17-16 lead on Larry Jones’ 1-yard scoring run with 3:01 to play. Helped along by a UM pass-interference penalty, FSU methodically moved into field-goal range, where Bobby Bowden sent out sophomore walk-on Gerry Thomas — who had converted three short field goals already — on third and 9 to try a 34-yarder with 29 seconds to play. Nearly 30 years later, people still refer to this game simply by that kick’s trajectory: wide right.
9. Florida 52, FSU 20, Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 1997)
After dropping their regular season finale to FSU in Tallahassee, the Gators’ faint national title hopes hinged on an improbable alignment of the postseason planets. To their stunned delight, their SEC title game win against Alabama was preceded by a Texas upset of No. 3 Nebraska in the Big 12 championship, setting up a rematch with the No. 1 ’Noles for the national title. After publicly calling out FSU coach Bobby Bowden for what he deemed were late hits on Danny Wuerffel in the first meeting, Steve Spurrier put his senior Heisman winner in the shotgun this time around, giving him the extra half-second or so he needed to shred the FSU defense (18-for-34, 306 yards, three touchdowns). The victory gave UF its first national title and formally immortalized Spurrier and Wuerffel in Gainesville.
10. FSU 18, Nebraska 16, Orange Bowl (Jan. 1, 1994)
Aesthetically, this Orange Bowl was citrus canker, yet it remains one of the most beautiful triumphs in ’Noles history. After watching his national title aspirations sail wide right each of the previous two years, Bobby Bowden finally clinched his first title — poetically enough — on Scott Bentley’s 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds to play. The game-winner was Bentley’s fourth field goal on a night when the ’Noles managed only 47 rushing yards and one touchdown. They even let the Huskers get in field-goal range in the waning seconds, but Byron Bennett’s 45-yarder went wide left.
11. Georgia 26, Florida 21 (Nov. 8, 1980)
Books have been written about this game, though you’re not likely to find them in any self-respecting Gator’s library. The unbeaten Bulldogs’ national title hopes were a minute from flatlining at the Gator Bowl on this toasty Jacksonville afternoon when one of college football’s most iconic plays unfolded. Facing third and 11 from his own 8, Dawgs quarterback Buck Belue dropped back in his own end zone, was flushed, stepped up and hit speedster Lindsay Scott in the middle of the field at the 25. Scott turned to his right and dashed upfield, taking advantage of a Gators safety who fell. We’ll let legendary Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson take it from here: Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40. Run, Lindsay! 25, 20, 15, 10 … Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! ... On a side note, Dawgs freshman Herschel Walker ran for 238 yards.
12. Florida 32, FSU 29 (Nov. 22, 1997)
Ten games into this lackluster (by UF standards) autumn, Steve Spurrier had yet to find a reliable heir to ’96 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. So against the undefeated ’Noles, he chose to alternate sophomore Doug Johnson and senior Noah Brindise — after every play. That unorthodox ploy, not to mention the running of senior Fred Taylor (162 yards against the best run defense in FSU history), resulted in what many Gator fans still deem the greatest game in Florida Field history. Down 29-25 with barely two minutes to go, Johnson pump-faked to 5-foot-9 speedster Jacquez Green — who juked Samari Rolle on a curl route — then launched a spiral to him down the UF sideline for a 63-yard gain. Two plays later, Taylor scored from a yard out. A Dwayne Thomas interception on FSU’s last-gasp drive sealed things.
13. Penn State 14, Miami 10, Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2, 1987)
The undefeated ’Canes arrived in Tempe in all their brazen splendor. Many players de-boarded the team plane in combat fatigues, and they later stormed out of a dinner for both teams after taking exception to a Lions player’s comments. Then game night arrived, and Penn State upstaged UM’s fatigues by camouflaging its whole defense, or so it seemed. The Nittany Lions intercepted Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde five times, the last by linebacker Pete Giftopoulos at the Penn State 1-yard line with 18 seconds to play.
14. Notre Dame 31, Miami 30 (Oct. 15, 1988)
Catholics vs. Convicts. The infamous slogan on T-shirts sold outside of Notre Dame Stadium — meant to lampoon UM’s outrageous, push-the-limits reputation — also was the title of an ESPN documentary about this game. The No. 1-ranked Hurricanes, defending national champions, entered with a 36-game regular-season win streak, but coach Lou Holtz had the No. 4 Fighting Irish primed for the program’s biggest moment in at least a decade. The afternoon had a bit of everything — a pregame fight between the teams in the entrance tunnel, tremendous star power on both sides and a major controversy (a disputed fourth-quarter fumble by UM’s Cleveland Gary, recovered by Notre Dame at the Irish 2-yard line). When the Hurricanes pulled to 31-30 with 45 seconds remaining, UM coach Jimmy Johnson went for the win. But the two-point conversion pass attempt by quarterback Steve Walsh was batted away by Notre Dame’s Pat Terrell, a St. Petersburg native. Notre Dame finished 12-0 and won the national title; UM finished No. 2.
15. FAMU 34, University of Tampa 28 (Nov. 29, 1969)
It’s the 50-year anniversary for one of college football’s hidden gems, the first interracial football game ever played in the South. There was a hard sellout crowd of 46,477 fans at the old Tampa Stadium. On the west side, all the fans were white; on the east side, all were black. By the time FAMU (a historically black college), had outlasted the overwhelmingly white Spartans in a riveting back-and-forth showcase (1,135 combined yards), those fans were alternately tingling with excitement and limp from exhaustion. The Spartans had driven to FAMU’s 14-yard line in the final seconds, but a fourth-down end-zone pass fell incomplete. Fran Curci, the UT coach, said he’s still proud his school scheduled such a meaningful game in the South, which grappled with school integration and civil rights.
16. Bethune-Cookman 58, FAMU 52 (OT) (Nov. 20, 2004)
The 2004 edition of the Florida Classic featured a strong start from FAMU and an equally impressive comeback from Bethune-Cookman at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium). The Rattlers led from the jump, claiming a 21-point lead early in the second quarter. FAMU kept rolling in the third quarter as quarterback Ben Dougherty (462 passing yards, six touchdowns) completed a pair of long TD passes, including a 66-yard completion. But the Wildcats defense held FAMU scoreless in the fourth quarter, and scoring runs from Jonathan Summers and Jimmie Russell (426 total yards, two TDs) forced overtime. Bethune-Cookman’s Rodney Johnson drove home the dagger with a 15-yard TD run to complete the Wildcats’ comeback.
17. Miami 20, Oklahoma 14, Orange Bowl (Jan. 1, 1988)
Despite only one regular-season loss in three seasons (1985-87), Jimmy Johnson had failed to deliver UM its second national title. That changed on this night against the top-ranked Sooners, who punted on their first five possessions and totaled only 255 yards against a defense led by Leto High alumnus Bernard Clark (12 unassisted tackles). Exactly half of Steve Walsh’s 18 completions went to fullback Melvin Bratton (102 receiving yards, one touchdown), who might have had more had he not injured his knee.
18. FSU 46, Virginia Tech 29, Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 2000)
This one was closer than the score suggests — the Seminoles trailed by one after three quarters — but was memorable for plenty of other reasons. The victory gave FSU its second national title and completed Bobby Bowden’s first undefeated season. The teams combined for a Sugar Bowl-record 75 points. Virginia Tech star quarterback Michael Vick threw for 225 yards and rushed for 97 more, and FSU’s Peter Warrick set a bowl record with 20 points (three touchdowns and a two-point conversion).
19. UCF 34, Auburn 27 (Jan. 1, 2018)
The chip on the Knights’ collective shoulder had enlarged to a boulder by the time this Peach Bowl contest kicked off. Though 12-0, they had been bypassed for a College Football Playoff berth, mostly because they hadn’t played a top-10 opponent. But against the No. 8 Tigers, they further stamped their legitimacy, scoring 21 unanswered second-half points. Senior Chequan Burkett scored on a 45-yard interception return, and Lakewood High’s Shaquem Griffin capped his inspirational college career with 12 tackles (3.5 for loss). Shortly thereafter, the Knights were anointing themselves national champs, and Colley Matrix had become entrenched in Orlando’s vernacular.
20. Florida 24, Oklahoma 14, BCS title game (Jan. 8, 2009)
Tim Tebow might not have been No. 1 on our list of greatest players in state history without this game. Tebow outdueled the Sooners’ Sam Bradford — who topped Tebow to win the Heisman Trophy — in Miami Gardens. Tebow finished with 340 yards and sealed the Gators’ second national championship in three seasons with a 4-yard jump pass to David Nelson with 3:04 to play. Bradford, meanwhile, threw two interceptions in a 26-for-41 performance. UF’s triumph fulfilled Tebow’s promise after the Ole Miss game (see No. 26) and solidified his standing as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
21. Maryland 42, Miami 40 (Nov. 10, 1984)
Doug Flutie’s immortalized Hail Mary (see No. 6) was the second stab to the ’Canes’ collective heart in 13 days. Frank Reich, the father of improbable rallies, delivered the first before a flabbergasted Orange Bowl audience of 31,548 two Saturdays before. Down 31-0 at halftime, Terrapins coach Bobby Ross yanked starter Stan Gelbaugh in favor of Reich, who was nearly flawless (12-for-15, 260 yards, three touchdowns) in leading what was then the biggest comeback in collegiate history. His 68-yard scoring pass to Greg Hill gave Maryland the lead for good, 35-34. Eight years later, Reich led the Buffalo Bills from a 32-point second-half deficit to a 41-38 overtime playoff triumph against the Houston Oilers.
t-22. Miami 32, Florida 20 (Sept. 1, 1984)
This Labor Day weekend showdown at Tampa Stadium featured 54 players who ultimately made an NFL roster. Among them was Gators redshirt freshman quarterback Kerwin Bell, suddenly thrust into a starting role when Dale Dorminey blew out his knee in practice earlier in the week. When Bell was informed at lunch he’d be starting against the reigning national champs, “I couldn’t even eat my food,” he recalled. “I just gave it to somebody else. I was scared to death.” By game night, fear had been supplanted by fortitude. Before a crowd of 72,813, Bell (15-for-30, 159 yards), gave the Gators a 20-19 lead with a 5-yard scoring pass to Frankie Neal with 41 seconds to play. Turned out, that was plenty of time for Bernie Kosar, who drove the ’Canes 72 yards in five plays. Kosar’s 12-yard TD toss to Eddie Brown with seven seconds remaining sealed things, and Tolbert Bain’s pick-six on the final play provided the misleading final margin.
t-22. Florida 41, Ohio State 14, BCS Championship Game (Jan. 8, 2007)
Some people thought this Gators team had no business playing for a national championship. But after it throttled No. 1-ranked Ohio State, the narrative changed drastically. The one-loss Gators had their way in Glendale, Ariz., limiting the previously unbeaten Buckeyes to 82 total yards and recording six sacks on Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith (4-for-14, 35 yards), who previously had been sacked 12 times all year. Florida’s offense, led by quarterbacks Chris Leak and freshman Tim Tebow, did its part. But mostly it was a defensive masterpiece. “You could see panic in their faces,” Gators nose tackle Steven Harris said. “They didn’t know what hit them.”
t-24. Miami 19, FSU 16 (Oct. 3, 1992)
Only 11 months after the “Wide Right” game, the ’Canes and ’Noles delivered its first sequel. This contest featured nearly all the elements of its predecessor: boisterous crowd (more than 77,000 at the Orange Bowl), national title stakes (UM was No. 2, FSU No. 3) and the ’Noles clinging to a 16-10 fourth-quarter lead. Eventual Heisman winner Gino Torretta hit Lamar Thomas for a 33-yard touchdown and 17-16 lead with 6:50 to play, and the ’Canes tacked on a safety when they tackled punt returner Corey Sawyer in the end zone with 2:59 to go. But first-year ’Noles quarterback Charlie Ward hit Tamarick Vanover for 17 yards on fourth and 1, scrambled for 17 more, then connected with Matt Frier on another 17-yarder. With time for one more play, Bobby Bowden opted to go for a tie, sending Dan Mowrey out to try a 39-yarder. Seconds later, “Wide Right II” had become part of series lore.
t-24. Notre Dame 31, FSU 24 (Nov. 13, 1993)
ESPN’s College GameDay went on the road for the first time to cover the No. 1 Seminoles’ trip to No. 2 Notre Dame. NBC’s TV rating (16.0) is still the highest ever for a regular-season game. The game itself didn’t live up to the hype. The Irish led 21-7 at halftime and by 14 entering the fourth quarter before Charlie Ward tried to lead an FSU comeback in the closing minutes. He found Kez McCorvey for a 20-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass late, but watched Shawn Wooden bat down his final pass to seal the game. Fortunately for FSU, Notre Dame’s loss the next week to Boston College let the ’Noles recover en route to the program’s first national title.
26. Ole Miss 31, Florida 30 (Sept. 27, 2008)
The loss that spawned the most famous speech in Gator football history. Besieged by turnovers and special-teams gaffes (including a blocked PAT on its final touchdown), the Gators (3-1) let the Rebels rally from a 10-point halftime deficit at Florida Field. UF’s final drive ended at the Ole Miss 32, when quarterback Tim Tebow was stuffed on fourth and 1. Minutes later, before a room of reporters, Tebow delivered an impromptu 112-word address in which he vowed to play — and push his team — harder than anyone else in the country the rest of the season. Florida never lost again, defeating Oklahoma in the BCS title game.
27. USF 23, Notre Dame 20 (Sept. 3, 2011)
If this isn’t the most significant win in USF history, it’s certainly the most bittersweet. A day before the Bulls’ first game in South Bend, beloved former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke. Sporting a No. 63 decal (Selmon’s number with the Bucs) on the back of their helmets, the Bulls weathered nearly three hours of lightning delays and forced three turnovers inside their own 5. The most memorable one: a 96-yard scoop-and-score by cornerback Kayvon Webster on the Irish’s opening drive. The following day, Selmon passed away at age 56. Less than a week later, USF’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename the school’s main athletics facility the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center.
28. Miami 38, Florida 33 (Sept. 6, 2003)
On a sticky Saturday night in the Orange Bowl, the Gators jumped out to a 33-10 lead and appeared poised for their first victory in Miami in nearly 20 years. They had successfully clobbered and confused former teammate Brock Berlin (who had transferred to UM in 2002) into two early picks and a mis-tossed lateral the Gators returned for a touchdown. But in a scene that would play out all too frequently for Gator fans, Ron Zook’s team failed to close the deal. In the final 21 minutes, Berlin transformed into Bernie Kosar, completing 18 of 21 passes for 249 yards and two TDs as the ’Canes rallied. Miami senior Greg Cox’s 56-yard field goal remains an Orange Bowl record.
29. Alabama 28, Florida 21, SEC title game (Dec. 5, 1992)
The first SEC championship game has been the subject of documentaries, though you’re not likely to find them on the DVR of most Gator fans. Facing the nation’s top-ranked defense, Gators senior Shane Matthews (30-for-49, 287 yards) had rallied UF from a two-touchdown deficit against the unbeaten Crimson Tide, and was embarking on a possible go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. But Antonio Langham stepped in front of Matthews’ short throw — on a hitch route — and returned it 27 yards for the winning touchdown, sending the partisan ‘Bama crowd at Legion Field into a frenzy.
30. FAMU 35, UMass 28, I-AA title game (Dec. 16, 1978)
In the first season of Division I-AA play, Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls, Texas, hosted the Rattlers and Minutemen for the national championship. In a four-team playoff, the No. 3 Rattlers knocked off No. 2 Jackson State, and the No. 4 Minutemen defeated No. 1 Nevada to set up the title showdown. UMass took a 6-0 lead with a pair of 20-yard field goals, but FAMU stormed back behind two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Albert Chester. The Rattlers led 14-6 at the half, but the Minutemen took a one-point lead in a back-and-forth third quarter. Ultimately, UMass had no answer for FAMU running back Mike Solomon, who ripped off touchdown runs of 65, 28 and 20 yards in the second half to lead the Rattlers to their first and only I-AA crown.
31. FSU 18, Nebraska 14 (Oct. 4, 1980)
In the early stages of his Tallahassee tenure, as he labored to bring relevance to FSU’s program, Bobby Bowden would play anyone, anywhere (cue the cringe of UCF fans). As a result, the ’Noles made four consecutive trips to Nebraska in the 1980s, but none was more significant than this one. FSU spotted No. 3 Nebraska a 14-3 lead and was outgained, 208-46, in the first half before rallying. Bill Capece’s fourth field goal with fewer than three minutes to play gave the ’Noles a four-point cushion, but the Huskers wouldn’t go away. They drove to FSU’s 3, where Paul Piurowski drilled quarterback Jeff Quinn on a rollout pass attempt, forcing a fumble that ’Noles tackle Garry Futch recovered with 10 seconds to play. The turnover secured FSU’s first win against a top-three opponent.
32. USF 21, West Virginia 13 (Sept. 28, 2007)
To this day, snapshots from this game, staged on a Friday night at Raymond James Stadium, are prominent in Bulls’ promotional material. An announced audience of 67,012 — still the second-largest home crowd in school history — watched the Bulls knock off their third consecutive ranked foe and continue their improbable rise to No. 2 in the BCS rankings. This was Jim Leavitt’s defense in all its grandeur; the Bulls forced six turnovers and thoroughly neutralized the No. 5 Mountaineers, who had averaged 47 points. West Virginia’s last-gasp comeback attempt ended — fittingly enough — with George Selvie sacking backup quarterback Jarrett Brown on fourth and 11.
33. FSU 24, Florida 21 (Nov. 30, 1996)
Florida’s 1996 season, while unprecedented, wasn’t unblemished. Before toppling Alabama in the SEC championship game, and embarrassing these same ’Noles in the Sugar Bowl for the national title, the Gators fell hard in this 1 vs. 2 matchup in Tallahassee. The No. 2 ’Noles sacked Danny Wuerffel six times (and frequently hit him late, per Steve Spurrier) and got 185 rushing yards from Warrick Dunn in a triumph that didn’t seem as close as the final score. “They were coming hard all day,” Wuerrfel said afterward, “and it paid off.”
34. Miami 27, Notre Dame 10 (Nov. 25, 1989)
A year after the Irish claimed a one-point victory over the Hurricanes in the infamous “Catholics vs. Convicts” game (see No. 14), No. 7 Miami hosted No. 1 Notre Dame in a high-profile rematch at the Orange Bowl. Entering the final week of the regular season, Lou Holtz’s team owned an 11-0 record and appeared on the verge of back-to-back national championships. But before a crowd of 81,634, the Hurricanes bottled up quarterback Tony Rice and the Irish offense, and converted one of the most legendary third-and-longs in collegiate history. Facing third and 44 from its own 7, Miami converted for a first down on a deep ball from Craig Erickson to Randal Hill. The ’Canes went on to score a touchdown on the 22-play drive, chewing up nearly 11 minutes and taking a 14-point lead in the third quarter. The lead proved insurmountable, and Miami snapped Notre Dame’s 23-game win streak.
35. Florida 10, Alabama 6 (Oct. 12, 1963)
The Gators pulled off one of the program’s great upsets, beating the No. 3-ranked Crimson Tide and handing coach Bear Bryant his first Denny Stadium defeat since he arrived in 1958 (He wouldn’t lose another game in Tuscaloosa until his final season, 1982). The Gators were in full control, allowing only a late touchdown run by quarterback Joe Namath. Back home in Gainesville, it was madness. More than 8,000 people gathered in the airport area and the team plane had to circle until a few overeager fans were cleared off the runway. Meanwhile, a giant bonfire was built at the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street.
36. Miami 27, FSU 24 (Oct. 7, 2000)
The third installment of the Wide Right trilogy was the least consequential; FSU still ended up playing in the BCS title game (which it lost to Oklahoma). But the game itself was still a classic. The No. 7 Hurricanes squandered a 20-10 lead late in the fourth quarter thanks to two quick touchdown passes from eventual Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke. Miami responded quickly with a 68-yard drive capped by Ken Dorsey’s touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 46 seconds to play. It ended up being the score that upset the No. 1 ’Noles when FSU kicker Matt Munyon missed a 49-yard field goal — you guessed it — wide right.
37. Florida 18, Auburn 17 (Nov. 1, 1986)
Six turnovers had put the 3-4 Gators in a 17-0 halftime hole against the No. 5 Tigers on an overcast Saturday. To that point, junior quarterback Kerwin Bell, nursing a severe MCL sprain, mostly had watched from the sideline. “I really wasn’t 100 percent by no means,” he recalled. But figuring a hobbling Bell was better than his other options, coach Galen Hall inserted him just before intermission. What ensued remains arguably the greatest comeback in Gators lore. Bell’s 1-yard TD plunge and Robert McGinty’s 51-yard field goal cut Auburn’s lead to 17-10. Then after a Tigers fumble and ensuing facemask penalty, Bell engineered the drive of his life. His sixth and final pass of the drive was a 5-yarder to Ricky Nattiel (playing with a separated shoulder) in the corner of the end zone with 36 seconds to play. On the ensuing two-point try, Bell was flushed from the pocket, then lumbered his way to the left pylon for the win.
38. Florida 62, Tennessee 37 (Sept. 16, 1995)
The early stages of this game shaped up as a coronation for heralded Vols sophomore Peyton Manning. On his first play from scrimmage, Manning lofted a play-action spiral to Joey Kent for a 72-yard gain, setting up UT’s first touchdown. When safety Raymond Austin returned a Danny Wuerffel fumble 46 yards for a TD, the Vols had a 30-14 lead. But just before that scoop-and-score, in one fell smack, momentum already had swung mightily. Moments earlier, after catching a Manning pass over the middle, Kent nearly had been decapitated by Gators safety Lawrence Wright, fumbling in the process and eliciting a roar from the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium throng of 85,105. You know the rest: Gators would score 48 unanswered points and Wuerffel would redeem himself (381 yards, six TDs). “We fed off that play,” UF linebacker Ben Hanks said. “We fed off the emotion and adrenaline and carried it with us through the rest of the game.”
39. Miami 49, UCLA 45 (Dec. 5, 1998)
After a hiatus of roughly a half-decade, the swag of the “U” formally was restored in this regular-season finale. The game initially was scheduled for late September, but had been postponed due to Hurricane Georges. When it finally went off, UCLA was ranked No. 3 and the unranked ’Canes were coming off an embarrassing 66-13 shellacking at Syracuse. Behind quarterback Cade McNown (513 passing yards, five touchdowns), the Bruins built a 17-point second-half lead, but Miami tailback Edgerrin James was just getting warmed up. The junior ran for a school-record 299 yards on 39 carries, the last a 1-yard scoring run with 50 seconds to play. Setting up the winning drive: a jarring hit by safety Ed Reed on Bruins tailback Brad Melsby, forcing him to fumble at the UM 25 with 3:44 to go. UM went on to win its bowl game, won nine games the following year and ... well, you know the rest.
40. UCF 52, Baylor 42, Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 2014)
No. 6 Baylor and coach Art Briles orchestrated a high-flying offense in 2013, scoring at least 70 points in four games. No. 15 UCF entered the Fiesta Bowl with only one blemish, a three-point loss to South Carolina. In a battle of one-loss teams, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Baylor’s Bryce Petty combined for more than 650 yards through the air. UCF running back Storm Johnson recorded three touchdowns on the ground, and wide receiver Rannell Hall caught another two for the Knights. UCF took control early, seizing a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Baylor rallied to tie the score at 28-all in the third quarter, but UCF pulled away against a porous Bears defense to earn its first BCS bowl victory.
41. Florida 59, Houston 34 (Sept. 20, 1969)
As college debuts go, arguably no one in state history has topped the opening-day performance of quarterback John Reaves and receiver Carlos Alvarez. On Florida’s third play from scrimmage, the sophomores (freshmen remained ineligible in 1969) hooked up for a 70-yard touchdown pass, a harbinger of a wholly surreal afternoon. Reaves, from Robinson High, finished 18-for-30 for 243 yards and a UF single-game-record five touchdowns — three more than UF totaled in 1968. Alvarez, from Miami, had six receptions for a school-record 182 yards. A half-century later, the “Super Sophs,” both of whom enjoyed prosperous careers at UF, remain an iconic tandem in Gainesville.
42. Virginia 33, FSU 28 (Nov. 2, 1995)
Upon joining the ACC in 1992, FSU won its first 29 conference games before walking smack into a snake pit on a Thursday night in Charlottesville. The No. 2 ’Noles, who had trailed less than five minutes all season, found themselves down by six at halftime and by 12 midway through the fourth. Though crisp at the game’s outset, FSU’s offense eventually sputtered, but Cavs tailback Tiki Barber (193 rushing yards) never did. Still, FSU rallied valiantly. Warrick Dunn’s 7-yard scoring run cut the deficit to five with 6:13 to play, but his final carry of the night — on a direct snap from Virginia’s 6 on the game’s last play — came up inches shy of the goal line.
43. FSU 33, Florida 21 (Nov. 27, 1993)
The game that snapped UF’s 23-game home win streak, and sealed the Heisman Trophy for Charlie Ward. Before what was then a state-record crowd for a football game (85,507), the ’Noles jumped out to a 20-point lead behind Ward (446 passing yard, four touchdowns) and a defense that totally neutralized tailback Errict Rhett (seven carries, 7 yards). But UF stormed back behind two Terry Dean scoring passes, the latter a 31-yarder to Jack Jackson with 5:58 to play. Yet on the ensuing series, Ward clinched things when he lofted a third-and-10 pass over a linebacker to Warrick Dunn, who dashed down FSU’s sideline for 79-yard touchdown.
t-44. Florida 31, Alabama 20, SEC title game (Dec. 6, 2008)
The 2008 SEC Championship in Atlanta served as a de facto BCS elimination game for No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Florida. Despite Alabama’s perfect record, the Gators entered the Georgia Dome as 10-point favorites. Through the first three tightly-contested quarters of play, Alabama running back Glen Coffee (112 yards, TD) and wide receiver Julio Jones (124 yards) led the Crimson Tide to a three-point lead over the Gators. Florida junior quarterback Tim Tebow took over in the fourth quarter, putting together a pair of clock-consuming touchdown drives to build a 31-20 lead with 2:50 remaining in the game. On Alabama’s final drive, cornerback Joe Haden picked off quarterback John Parker Wilson, sealing Florida’s eighth SEC championship.
t-44. LSU 28, Florida 24 (Oct. 6, 2007)
This top-10 matchup in Baton Rouge was the embodiment of Tigers coach Les Miles as the Mad Hatter. His Tigers, No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in almost 50 years, faked a field goal on one scoring drive. Two different quarterbacks (starter Matt Flynn and backup Ryan Perilloux) also scored on fourth and goal, and Miles went for it on fourth and short in the closing minutes instead of settling for a field goal that would have tied it. Jacob Hester converted, then scored the winning touchdown with 1:09 to play. The Gators squandered three double-digit leads and LSU finished 5-for-5 on fourth down as the Tigers continued their march to the national title.
46. USF 17, FSU 7 (Sept. 26, 2009)
The Bulls entered their first meeting against the ’Noles seemingly short-handed. Dual-threat extraordinaire Matt Grothe had torn his ACL, forcing USF to turn to 19-year-old redshirt freshman (and Tallahassee native) B.J. Daniels. In his first career start, Daniels delivered the biggest win in Bulls history (to that point), amassing 341 yards and throwing a pair of touchdown passes. His clear co-star was the Bulls defense, which forced four turnovers, sacked Christian Ponder five times and allowed fewer than 300 yards. “Boy, I tell you what, they are a whole lot better than I thought,” FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.
t-47. Florida 24, Alabama 23, SEC title game (Dec. 3, 1994)
The first SEC championship game in Atlanta featured a memorable comeback by the Gators. Alabama took the lead with 8:56 to play when Dwayne Rudd intercepted Danny Wuerffel and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. One of the turning points on what became the winning drive was a trick play: Receiver Chris Doering caught a lateral, then threw it to Aubrey Hill for a 19-yard gain. Doering then snagged a short slant with 5:29 remaining to complete the 80-yard drive and give the Gators the lead. An interception by Tarpon Springs High alumnus Eddie Lake with 54 seconds remaining sealed UF’s second consecutive SEC championship.
t-47. Florida 30, Auburn 27 (Oct. 29, 1966)
The Gators were 6-0 and ranked seventh when they hosted Auburn before a record Homecoming crowd (60,511). Auburn fumbled the opening kickoff, and Gators senior quarterback Steve Spurrier threw a touchdown to Richard Trapp on the game’s third play. Turned out, Spurrier was just getting warmed up. He finished 27-for-40 for 259 yards, with one passing and rushing touchdown each. But he immortalized himself — and likely clinched the Heisman — when he waved off normal place-kicker Wayne Barfield and booted the winning 40-yard field goal himself with 2:12 to play.
49. FAMU 16, Miami 13 (Oct. 6, 1979)
The ’Canes had won two of their first three under first year under Howard Schnellenberger when they traveled to Tallahassee to meet the reigning Division I-AA national champs at Doak Campbell Stadium. In what remains one of the biggest wins in Rattlers history, FAMU clinched the triumph when Danny Miller — who would go on to kick the longest field goal (57 yards) in UM history — missed a 17-yard chip shot with 27 seconds to play. Vince Coleman, who would go on to steal 752 bases in the big leagues, booted the winning 34-yard field goal with 3:49 remaining. Soon thereafter, Schnellenberger turned to a freshman quarterback, some dude named Jim Kelly.
50. FSU 24, Clemson 21 (Sept. 17, 1988)
Still reeling from their 31-0 opening-night embarrassment against Miami two weeks earlier, the ’Noles found themselves tied with Clemson in the waning minutes. To that point, Bobby Bowden’s team mostly had been outplayed — but not out-foxed. Nestled somewhere up Bowden’s sleeve was a trick play FSU had worked on all week: ’Noles line up in punt formation. Ball is snapped to an up-back (Dayne Williams). Punter leaps up as if ball has sailed over his head while Williams places ball between legs of fellow up-back LeRoy Butler, who waits a couple of seconds before taking off. With 90 seconds to play and FSU facing fourth-and-4 from its 21, Bowden pulled the trigger and FSU executed the “puntrooskie” perfectly. Butler rambled to the Clemson 1, setting up Richie Andrews’ game-winning 19-yard field goal.
Staff writers Matt Baker and Ryan Kolakowski and correspondent Joey Johnston contributed to this report.