Wed Jan 05 05:54pm EST
Revisiting the best (and worst) of the season. Today: The year's most improbable, thrilling and landscape-shifting rallies.
5a. Michigan State 35, Northwestern 27.
The Spartans, guarding a 7-0 start and the beginnings of some Big Ten title buzz, gamely weathered Northwestern's opening punch, a 17-0 run over the game's first 22 minutes. From there, MSU outscored the Wildcats 35-6, highlighted by a 23-yard completion on a fake punt from punter Aaron Bates to Bennie Fowler early in the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown pass that pulled Michigan State within three points, 24-21. Two more scores in the final two-and-a-half minutes kept the undefeated spark alive for another week, until the Spartans' subsequent trip to Iowa ended the streak seven days later.
5b. Penn State 35, Northwestern 21.
Two weeks after the Wildcats' collapse against Michigan State, they obliged Penn State in Joe Paterno's bid for career win No. 400, as well, falling victim to five unanswered touchdowns on five straight Nittany Lion possessions – four on passes by quarterback Matt McGloin, a former walk-on making his second start – after racing out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. The Lions' 528 yards of total offense was season high, as was the post-game celebration for JoePa's latest milestone.
4. Oregon 52, Stanford 31.
The Ducks' run to the BCS title game was largely defined by their penchant for scoring points in lightning-fast bunches in the second half, and no game defined that trend more than their rally from a 21-3 first quarter hole in the Pac-10's version of a heavyweight fight. Stanford opened the game by scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions and still led at the half, 31-24.
From there, Oregon's opportunistic defense forced three turnovers, two punts and a turnover on downs on the Cardinal's second half possessions, while warp-speed offense ripped off four unanswered touchdowns to finish off a 49-10 run in the last three quarters, against a team that didn't lose another game.
3. Kansas 52, Colorado 45.
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins was already a goner by Nov. 7, but so spectacular was the his team's collapse over a span of 10 minutes, 18 seconds in Lawrence – the exact amount of game time it took Kansas to erase a 45-17 deficit with five unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter – that Colorado didn't even bother with playing out the string: Hawkins was fired two days later, with three games left to play.
2. Nevada 34, Boise State 31.
Boise kicker Kyle Brotzman was the scapegoat in the end for critical misses on chip shots at the end of regulation and again in overtime. But he was only there because the Broncos had uncharacteristically blown a 24-7 halftime lead, yielding 17 straight Wolf Pack points in the third and fourth quarters after most of the country had drifted off to sleep.
When BSU counterpunched on a 79-yard catch-and-run by Doug Martin to regain the lead, 31-24, Nevada methodically stormed back with a 14-play, 79-yard march for the tying touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in regulation – the Pack's fourth consecutive scoring drive, more than anyone else had managed against the Broncos in an entire game since Virginia Tech in the season opener. From there, Brotzman's infamous flubs brought Boise's 25-game winning streak and darkhorse BCS hopes to a thudding, anticlimactic end.
[Honorable Mention: Kentucky 31, South Carolina 28, UAB 34, Troy 33, Michigan State 35, Purdue 31, Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 20, Auburn 27, Clemson 24, Alabama 24, Arkansas 20, West Virginia 24, Marshall 21.]
1. Auburn 28, Alabama 27.
Auburn's improbable run to the top of the polls was built on comebacks – the Tigers had trailed by at least 10 points in three of their 11 wins going into Tuscaloosa – but Nov. 26 was like the final level of a sadistic video game: Down three touchdowns. On the road. To the defending national champions. In front of a hostile, 100,000-strong crowd baying for your blood. Against a top five defense selling out on every play to neutralize your bread-and-butter. With the national championship on the line. Press 'Start' to begin.
Georgia State had given Alabama a better a fight the previous week than Auburn did in the first quarter, when the Crimson Tide ripped off three touchdowns on their first three possessions, while the Tigers stumbled through three straight three-and-outs. Even as the offense began to get its feet under it in the second quarter, the defense was holding on for dear life, managing to force a pair of fumbles and a field goal on three more red zone trips by the Tide offense, keeping the score within a manageable 24-7 at the half. At that point, 'Bama had outgained the Tigers by almost 300 yards, 409-119.
Auburn opened the third quarter with a 70-yard bomb from Cam Newton to Terrell Zachery on the second snap of the half, and took it from there. Newton's third touchdown pass of the game, a seven-yard, go-ahead throw to Philip Lutzenkirchen, put the Tigers up 28-27 less then four minutes into the fourth quarter, from which point the defense handcuffed 'Bama to seal the perfect regular season, Newton's Heisman landslide and the largest comeback – from 24-0 down – ever recorded by a team that went on to appear on the BCS title game.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.