Those who tuned in to CBS' coverage of either professional or amateur football last weekend heard various promotions for this Saturday's mammoth collegiate clash between No. 1 ranked LSU and No. 2 Alabama. The matchup between the top two teams in the BCS and AP standings was being heralded as "Game Of The Century."
At first glance, this SEC pairing seems to fit the bill. After all, the Southern-fried tilt is a de facto playoff game, with the loser very likely knocked out of national championship contention. The only problem is that Saturday marks the fifth time in the 21st century that teams ranked in the top two spots in the standings have squared off during the regulars season. Nearly all of them have been touted as world historic events.
How many games of the century can one century -- or even one decade -- handle before we need to involve a flux capacitor?
In his preview of LSU-Alabama for Sports Illustrated, Andy Staples fully embraced the hyperbolic and temporally problematic verbiage surrounding this game by describing it as "The Game of the Year. The Game of the Century. The Game of the Millennium. The Game of the Year of the Century of the Millennium."
Click Here For HuffPost Sports' Breakdown Of The Game
There have been 24 previous regular-season contests between teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP poll, and depending on one's age, alma mater or stylistic preference, any of them could be considered the "Game of the Century."
At least, they can be considered that until the next one...
|Oct. 9, 1943||Notre Dame||Michigan||Notre Dame wins 35-12|
|Nov. 20, 1943||Notre Dame||Iowa Pre-Flight||Notre Dame wins 14-13|
|Dec. 2, 1944||Army||Navy||Army wins 23-7|
|Nov. 10, 1945||Army||Notre Dame||Army wins 48-0|
|Dec. 1, 1945||Army||Navy||Army wins 32-13|
|Nov. 9, 1946||Army||Notre Dame||0-0 tie|
|Oct. 12, 1963||Oklahoma||Texas||Texas wins 28-7|
|Nov. 19, 1966||Notre Dame||Michigan State||0-0 tie|
|Sept. 28, 1968||Purdue||Notre Dame||Purdue wins 37-22|
|Dec. 6, 1969||Texas||Arkansas||Texas wins 15-14|
|Nov. 25, 1971||Nebraska||Oklahoma||Nebraska wins 35-31|
|Sept. 26, 1981||USC||Oklahoma||USC wins 28-24|
|Oct. 19, 1985||Iowa||Michigan||Iowa wins 12-10|
|Sept. 27, 1986||Oklahoma||Miami||Miami wins 28-16|
|Nov. 21, 1987||Nebraska||Oklahoma||Oklahoma wins 17-7|
|Nov. 26, 1988||Notre Dame||USC||Notre Dame wins 27-10|
|Sept. 16, 1989||Notre Dame||Michigan||Notre Dame wins 24-19|
|Nov. 16, 1991||Florida State||Miami||Miami wins 17-16|
|Nov. 13, 1993||Florida State||Notre Dame||Notre Dame wins 31-24|
|Nov. 30, 1996||Florida||Florida State||Florida State wins 24-21|
|Sept. 9, 2006||Ohio State||Texas||Ohio State wins 24-7|
|Nov. 18, 2006||Ohio State||Michigan||Ohio State wins 42-39|
|Dec. 6, 2008||Alabama||Florida||Florida wins 31-20|
|Dec. 5, 2009||Florida||Alabama||Alabama wins 32-13|
In a sport that has already gone more than 100 years without establishing a reliable way to award a national title over the course of a single season, should it be that surprising if opinions vary from year to year about the greatest game of this or any other century?
Should we judge these contests by the closeness of the final scores? Should it be the accomplishments of the teams after the game? Or, perhaps, it should be the relative dominance of the teams involved versus the other teams in college football?
If that's your criteria of choice then look no further than Oklahoma's clash with Nebraska in 1971. Want an idea of how utterly dominant these teams were that year? Colorado lost to both schools by a combined scored of 76-24, and still finished No. 3 in the AP poll behind them at the end of the season.
If you're just looking for the most thrilling game then it's hard to do better than Oklahoma and USC in 1981. This game featured a stunning fourth-quarter comeback and was capped off by a last-second touchdown pass. But is all that adrenaline and tension somehow lessoned by the knowledge that neither school would even play for the national championship?
In sports, games and athletes can reach mythical status fairly easily. Greatness is abstract and in the eye of the beholder (yet often narrated by the voice of Brent Musburger). The unsatisfying nature of college football's championship formula only exacerbates the inclination toward heated debate and irrational exuberance. That national championship system -- or lack thereof -- also ensures that many of these regular season games end up being the most crucial affairs of the year.
Below are highlights from some of the most memorable 1 vs. 2 match-ups in college football history and decide which one you feel is truly the game of the century.
Oklahoma and Nebraska exchanged four lead changes in their Thanksgiving showdown, before the Huskers put the game away with a 74-yard touchdown drive with 1:38 left in the game. As Louisville Courier-Journal writer Dave Kindred described the contest, "They can quit playing now, they have played the perfect game." The 1971 Huskers would later be named the team of the century by ESPN.com
For the arguably the most heated rivalry in college football, the stage doesn't get much bigger than this. In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan, both experience senior-laden teams, met in a clash for the ages. A Chad Henne touchdown pass to Steve Breaston would bring the Badgers to within 3 with roughly two minutes left in the game, but the Wolverines defense would be unable to hold Ohio State potent attack, led by Heisman winner Troy Smith and first round draft pick Beanie Wells. While people talked about the possibility of re-match in the BCS championship, Ohio State would ultimately face Florida, and be crushed 41-14. Interestingly, this game likely set the precedent for years to come that BCS championships should take place between team that have not played.
From the 1980s to the mid-90s the, college football world centered around two schools located in the same state: Miami and FSU. In 1991 they met in perhaps their best contest ever as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation. Down one point and with the ball at the Miami sideline, FSU attempted a field goal to win the game...and missed wide right. Miami won the game 17-16 and would end up being declared the national champions that year by the AP.
In what would serve as the de-facto national championship that year, Texas defeated hated rival Arkansas 15-14 in 1969. After the game Richard Nixon would declare the Longhorns the national champions of college football, which would leave a thorn in the side of Joe Paterno (yes, he was coaching then) whose Penn State squad also went undefeated that season.
In one of the better Big Ten games in history, then #1 Iowa pulled off a fourth quarter drive and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to defeat the University of Michigan 12-10. Interestingly, Michigan would end up finishing the season ranked #2 in the polls, while Iowa would lose two games and finish outside the top ten.
It's difficult to find two schools more different that USC and Oklahoma. It's also difficult to find two schools with better football programs historically. In 1981 the Sooners and the Trojans met in a highly anticipated regular season match-up that met all of the hype. USC would overcome a 10 point deficit in the final 8 minutes of the game to win 28-24 on a last second touchdown pass. Neither team would live up to their ranking as the season progressed (they would both finish outside of the top 10 in the AP poll), but in terms of overall excitement, this game is difficult to beat. Most amazing stat from the game: Oklahoma fumbled the ball 10 times, losing 5 and still came within a last second pass of winning.
Led by eventual Heisman winner Charlie Ward, Florida State appeared poised to win a national championship if they could defeat #2 Notre Dame in South Bend. Although they were the underdogs, the Irish dominated for most of the game holding a 31-17 lead with less than two minutes left when the Seminoles would score on an improbable touchdown on 4th and 20. Florida State would get the ball game and throw a Hail Mary in an attempt to tie the game, but it would be batted down by the Irish defense. Florida State would still be declared the national champions that year by the AP. Notre Dame would finish right behind them at #2.
This classic clash between two of the winningest schools in college football history was dominated by high tops, rain, and Raghib "Rocket" Ismael. Ismael would return two kicks for touchdowns against the Wolverines in the game, a feat that had never been accomplished before against Michigan. Notre Dame would protect their ranking with a 24-19 victory.