College Football's 150 Most Important Games Of All-Time

College Football's 150 Most Important Games Of All-Time

College Football Features

College Football's 150 Most Important Games Of All-Time


AP & Coaches Poll Era: 1950-1973

Three interesting things happened in 1950. 1) It was the beginning of the Coaches Poll being added to the national championship equation – started up by UPI – to go along with the AP poll and rankings, 2) it created a monster of a mess because it handed out its championship before the bowls, and then …

1950 Oklahoma 14, Texas 13

3) The national champion in both the AP and UPI polls got whacked in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma finished the regular season 10-0 on a 31-game winning streak. Along the way, it got by Texas, who ended the regular season 9-1. That win gave the Sooners the national credibility to go on to win the AP and Coaches titles, which were handed out before the bowls. 10-1 Kentucky beat OU in the Sugar Bowl, and 10-1 Tennessee beat Texas in the Cotton.

Key Game To Know

1951 Maryland 28, Tennessee 13 Sugar Bowl

Yeah, this game didn’t have any impact on the historical aspect of the 1951 finale outcome, but it goes to show how painfully flawed the system was. Tennessee ripped through the season going 10-0 as part of a 20-game winning streak to win the AP and Coaches national championships. However, Maryland had a decent season, too, going 9-0 before meeting up with the Volunteers in the Sugar Bowl. The Terrapins won easily, but it didn’t matter – the championships were already awarded.

1952 Michigan State 21, Notre Dame 3

1951 was a hot mess of a season for the rankings with seven teams finishing the regular season without a loss. 1952 was nice and tidy. Michigan State was part of the group that claimed a national title of some form in 1951 after going 9-0, and it got the ’52 championships all to itself going unbeaten on the year, finishing off on a 24-game winning streak. The easy win over a strong Notre Dame team in the second-to-last game all but sealed the titles.

1953 Oklahoma 7, Maryland 0 Orange Bowl

Maryland got hosed out in 1951 – with Tennessee named the AP and Coaches national champion before losing to an unbeaten Terp team – but it all came full circle in 1953. The Terps rolled through the regular season to a 10-0 record on the way to being named the national champion – and then got dumped by Oklahoma in the Orange. This would turn out to be a part of an epic run by a Sooner team that started out the season losing to Notre Dame, but went the better part of the next five seasons without a loss.

1954 UCLA 12, Maryland 7

1954 was one big giant college football national championship-voting disaster. Oklahoma rolled to a 10-0 record after beating a national champion Maryland team in the Orange Bowl the year before, and didn’t get a piece of the national title. Ohio State had a solid season going 10-0 to win the AP national championship, and it didn’t have too many problems beating USC 20-7 in the Rose Bowl.

UCLA, though, was able to set the tone for its UPI/Coaches national title by beating defending national champ Maryland early on in the season, and closed out the year by walloping USC 34-0. That set up the Bruins to be the preseason No. 1 team going into 1955.

1955 Oklahoma 20, Maryland 6 Orange Bowl

In the second game of the season, Maryland returned the favor for the loss the season before by beating No. 1 UCLA. The Bruins rolled through the rest of the regular season – before losing to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl – but the loss to the Terps allowed Oklahoma to rise up and take both the AP and UPI/Coaches national championships in a 10-0 season.

On a 29-game winning streak, the Sooners took down 10-0 Maryland in the Orange Bowl. An OU loss would’ve been a massive embarrassment to the national championship system that had way, way too many issues over the previous few years.

1956 Oklahoma 27, Colorado 19

Oklahoma was the no-brainer national champion in both major polls as it went 10-0, finishing the year riding a 40-game winning streak. There was one slight problem – it didn’t beat anyone who was any good at playing college football. Colorado was the only team on the Sooner slate that finished the year with more than four wins – going 8-2-1 – and provided to be the only decent challenge.

1957 Notre Dame 7, Oklahoma 0

The Sooners were the two-time defending national champs coming into the game on a 56-game winning streak. Coming off a 2-8 season and a ho-hum 4-2 start – losing two straight before dealing with OU – Notre Dame was just okay, but it was able to stop the epic run with an all-time great defensive performance.

And then things got weird when it came to the national championship rankings.

Ohio State lost to a mediocre TCU team to kick off the year, but was still named the UPI/Coaches national champ after finishing the regular season 8-1 – before beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Auburn played a tougher schedule than the Buckeyes and went 10-0, earning the AP national title.

1958 LSU 14, Ole Miss 0

A year before Billy Cannon came up with his epic punt return for a touchdown on Halloween night to hand Ole Miss its only loss of the season, LSU pulled off a terrific win over the 6-0 Rebels as the cornerstone of a national championship season.

Key Game To Know

1959 Tennessee 14, LSU 13

No. 1 LSU gave Ole Miss its only loss of the season in a historical 7-3 classic – immortalized by Billy Cannon’s 89-yard punt return for a score. In the ultimate hangover game, the top-ranked Tigers – coming in on an 18-game winning streak – got dumped in Knoxville by a mediocre Tennessee team.

It didn’t matter in the national championship chase, but Ole Miss got its revenge over LSU in the rematch, winning 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl. Meanwhile, the Tiger loss to the Volunteers allowed Syracuse to win both the AP and UPI/Coaches national titles going 11-0, highlighted by a 20-18 thriller over a fantastic Penn State team.

1960 Minnesota 27, Iowa 10

In the team photo of the all-time softest college football national champions are the 1960 Minnesota Golden Gophers. Ole Miss – who had more than earned its national credibility over the previous few seasons – went 10-0-1, with the only blemish a tie to LSU. It played a much, much stronger schedule than Minnesota, who won both the AP and UPI/Coaches national championships despite losing at home to a bad Purdue team 23-14 late in the season. Cementing the misfire by the voters was a 17-7 Rose Bowl loss to Washington. So how did Minnesota win the national titles? It gave Iowa its only loss of the season in a stomping in Minneapolis.

1961 Ohio State 7, TCU 7

Alabama might have a few phoney baloney national championship seasons on its resumé, but this isn’t one of them. The Crimson Tide came up with a relatively easy season against a relatively easy schedule, going 10-0 to win both major national championships before beating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

The national titles were only made possible because Ohio State tied an awful TCU team to start the season. Had the Buckeyes pulled that out, they likely would’ve gone on to win the national title thanks to a win over preseason No. 1 Iowa and good victories over Wisconsin and Michigan along the way.

1962 USC 14, Washington 0

USC was awful in its previous two seasons – going 8-11-1 in two losing campaigns – but they rolled through a 10-0 season to win both main national titles, and then went on to beat Wisconsin in an all-time great Rose Bowl. The perception of greatness was helped when No. 1 Ohio State lost early in the season to UCLA, who later lost to the Trojans 14-3. USC’s schedule wasn’t all that great, but handing Washington its only loss turned into the season’s key moment.

1963 Texas 28, Oklahoma 7

No. 1 and defending national champion USC hosted Oklahoma in the second game of the season with a 17-12 win. That opened the door for someone else to win the national title, and Texas did it with a 28-7 win over the Sooners – whose only other loss was to a fantastic Nebraska team that went 10-1 – on the way to a 10-0 regular season. The Longhorns finished it off by beating Roger Staubach and Navy 28-6 in the Cotton Bowl.

1964 Arkansas 14, Texas 13

Welcome to one of the bigger college football national championship whiffs. Alabama went 10-0, highlighted by a strong win over a great LSU team. It managed to win both the AP and UPI/Coaches national championships … and then lost to Texas 21-17 in the Orange Bowl. To make matters historically worse, Texas ended up 10-1 on the season with its only loss coming in a 14-13 thriller to an Arkansas team that ended the season 11-0.

1965 UCLA 14, Michigan State 12 Rose Bowl

Oh did this get weird. The UPI/Coaches poll handed out its national championship before the bowl games, giving it to a 10-0 Michigan State team that went on to lose to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Had the Spartans won, they would’ve had the AP national championship, too, but instead, Alabama was able to pull a rabbit out of its hat.

Nebraska was the preseason AP No. 1 team, and it didn’t disappoint going 10-0 to start the season. Meanwhile, Alabama began the year with an 18-17 loss to an okay Georgia team, and it later tied a great Tennessee squad 7-7. The AP didn’t vote on a national champ until after the bowls. With Michigan State and Nebraska losing, and with Bama winning, it got a piece of the national championship.

Key Game To Know

1966 Notre Dame 10, Michigan State 10

Notre Dame got the tie in East Lansing agains the Spartans – running the equivalent of stall ball – on the way to a 9-0-1 season. The Irish got the national championship from both the AP and UPI/Coaches, and 9-0-1 Michigan State got a rock.

To be fair, Notre Dame played a slightly tougher schedule, but it beat Purdue – who finished 9-2 – 26-14 and MSU beat the Boilermakers 41-20. Oh, and by the way, Alabama went 11-0, whacked good Ole Miss and Tennessee teams, and thumped a fantastic Nebraska squad 34-7 in the Orange Bowl.

1967 USC 21, UCLA 20

Preseason No. 1 Notre Dame had already lost to Purdue, but USC’s 24-7 thumping of the Irish in South Bend turned into the catalyst on the way to win the national championship in both main polls. The Trojans caught a major break that no other big-name team stepped up – they lost 3-0 at Oregon State late in the season. However, thanks to a historic touchdown run from OJ Simpson, they bounced back to take down a fabulous UCLA team 21-20 on the way to lock down the title.

1968 Ohio State 13, Purdue 0

Despite coming off an okay year with a late loss, Purdue entered 1968 as the No. 1 team in the country. Ohio State ended 1967 on a four-game winning streak, and started out 1968 2-0 before hosting the Boilermakers. One shutout win later, the Buckeyes were well on their way to taking the national championship in both polls. Overall it was an easy slate until the end – Ohio State fattened up on some miserable teams – but destroyed a great Michigan team 50-14 and went on to hand OJ Simpson and USC their only loss with a 27-16 Rose Bowl win.

Key Game To Know

1969 Texas 15, Arkansas 14

There were a whole slew of historical bullets dodged to make everything come out okay in the end. This was among the last seasons when national championships were rewarded before the bowl games, and after the unbeaten Longhorns slipped by the unbeaten Razorbacks, the national title was awarded to Texas by President Richard Nixon.

It helped that defending national champion Ohio State’s 22-game unbeaten streak and 8-0 season came to a crashing thud two weeks earlier with a historic 24-12 loss to Michigan. It also helped that the Cotton Bowl didn’t really matter in the national title discussion, but Texas slipped by Notre Dame 21-17 to end any doubts about who was No. 1.

1970 USC 38, Notre Dame 28

Ohio State came into the season the AP preseason No. 1 team, and it did nothing to ruin that in the regular season with a 9-0 run, including a 20-9 win over Michigan for the Wolverines’ only loss. The UPI/Coaches Poll named its national champion before the bowls – it gave it to Texas. That was fine, considering the defending national champ went 10-0 … and then it got rolled 24-11 by Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

With Texas losing, Ohio State would’ve easily won the AP national title, but it lost to Stanford 27-17 in the Rose Bowl. That opened the door for Nebraska, who tied USC 21-21 in the second game of the year, but won ten straight right after it including a 17-12 Orange Bowl over LSU to take the AP national championship.

Key Game To Know

1971 Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31

After beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl the season before, Notre Dame was the preseason No. 1 – right up until it lost to USC in late October. That opened the door for Nebraska, who met with an unbeaten Oklahoma team in the Game of the Century – at least for a few weeks.

The Huskers won in Norman, but they still had to face an unbeaten and dominant Alabama team in the Orange Bowl. There weren’t any problems in a 38-6 Nebraska win to close out the year 13-0 and on a 23-game winning streak.

1972 USC 42, Ohio State 17 Rose Bowl

Nebraska came into the year No. 1, and got quickly dropped by UCLA in a season-opening 20-17 loss. USC later got by the Bruins 24-7. Texas was fantastic, going 10-1 including a Cotton Bowl win over a fabulous Alabama squad, but it lost to Oklahoma 27-0. The Sooners finished the year 11-1, but they lost to a strong Colorado team the week after beating the Longhorns.
Meanwhile, Ohio State ended the regular season 9-1, losing to an okay Michigan State squad, but handed Michigan its only loss in the regular season finale to win the Big Ten title and go to the Rose Bowl.

11-0 USC was already named the UPI/Coaches national champion, but if it lost to Ohio State in Pasadena, the AP would’ve had a big call to make between the Buckeyes and Sooners as the national champ. The Trojans ended any concerns with a 42-17 blowout.

Key Game To Know

1973 Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23 Sugar Bowl

This was the proverbial straw the broke the UPI/Coaches Poll’s back. For years, the coaches awarded their national championship before the bowl season – only to look ridiculous several times.

Alabama went 11-0 and was given the Coaches Poll national title, but it still had to face an unbeaten Notre Dame team in the Sugar Bowl. The Irish beat the Crimson Tide 24-23 in the Orange Bowl to win the AP national championship, but Alabama still feels proud to include 1973 as a national title-winning season. Finally, the UPI/Coaches Poll relented. This was the last year it would name a national champion before the bowl season.

NEXT: Most Important College Football Games Bowl and Poll Era: 1974-1979


More Polls Rankings