Home / sport / Sequel bests the original: Alabama-Clemson rematch one of 10 best title games

Sequel bests the original: Alabama-Clemson rematch one of 10 best title games

It's hard for any sequel to live up to the original, but this year's Clemson-Alabama rematch in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T somehow did the trick.

We got more than a little drama, thanks to a back-and-forth fourth quarter that culminated with a Deshaun Watson-to-Hunter-Renfrow touchdown pass with one second left to give the Tigers a 35-31 victory.

The gold standard for national title games remains Texas' 41-38 win over USC in the 2006 BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl. It's difficult to believe it has been 10 years since that classic.

What we witnessed Monday night in Tampa, Florida, provides us with the perfect reason to revisit last year's list of the top 10 title games of all time. Which national championship games and bowl games that led to a national championship for a team were most memorable?

We've taken the liberty of ranking the top 10, updated with the latest Alabama-Clemson thriller, based on a number of factors, including entertainment value, dramatic finishes, great performances, memorable plays, surprising upsets and any other interesting and/or historic elements of the games. In other words, don't look for any yawners or runaways in this list, regardless of how attractive the matchup might have looked going into the game.

Here's what we came up with:

1. Texas 41, USC 38

BCS National Championship: Jan. 4, 2006

Vince Young's fourth-down scamper in the 2006 Rose Bowl is the stuff of college football legend. Harry How/Getty Images

Few games live up to the hype, but this one did — and then some. Vince Young delivered a performance for the ages in a back-and-forth thriller at the Rose Bowl, capping an unbeaten 2005 season for the Longhorns and giving them their first undisputed national championship in 36 years. Young passed for 267 yards, ran for 200 more yards and scored three touchdowns, including the game winner with 19 seconds to play, when he darted into the end zone from 8 yards out on fourth down. The game produced more than 1,100 yards of total offense, but it was a fourth-down stop by Texas that set up the winning drive. The Trojans, boasting both the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, and the 2004 Heisman winner, Matt Leinart, had their 34-game win streak snapped and were denied a third straight national title.

2. Miami 31, Nebraska 30

Orange Bowl: Jan. 2, 1984

Miami opened the floodgates on its spree of national championships with its first in the 1983 season. The Howard Schnellenberger-led Hurricanes were playing in only their second bowl game since 1967, and they looked right at home (on their home turf) with the upset of the No. 1-ranked Huskers, who entered the game as 10-point favorites. Nebraska battled back from a 17-0 deficit, pulled within 31-30 with 48 seconds left and could have tied the game with the extra point. That was before overtime was introduced in college football, and the Huskers could have been voted national champions in the polls had the game ended in a tie. But coach Tom Osborne elected to go for a two-point conversion and the win. Miami's Ken Calhoun broke up Turner Gill's pass, and the legend of The U was born.

3. Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)

BCS National Championship: Jan. 3, 2003

A controversial pass-interference call in the end zone is what a lot of people remember about how the 2002 season ended, but the title game featured one twist after another, dramatic turnovers, a bunch of lead changes and a true freshman, Maurice Clarett, scoring the game-winning touchdown. The Hurricanes, 11.5-point favorites, had their 34-game win streak snapped, and to this day, they feel they were robbed. They thought they had won it in the first overtime, when Craig Krenzel 's fourth-down pass from the 5-yard line fell incomplete. The Miami players had already spilled onto the field to celebrate, but a late pass-interference flag came flying out from the back of the end zone on Glenn Sharpe, who was covering Chris Gamble on the play. The Buckeyes had new life and took advantage to win their first national title since the Woody Hayes era.

4. Clemson 35, Alabama 31

CFP National Championship: Jan. 9, 2017

The first time these teams met for the national championship to cap the 2015 season was a thriller. The rematch was even better. Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson engineered a game-winning drive for the ages after Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts put the Crimson Tide ahead with a spectacular 30-yard touchdown run of his own with 2:07 to play. Fittingly, the game winner came on the final offensive play. Watson hit former walk-on Hunter Renfrow with a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second left in the game. The game had enough storylines surrounding it, with Lane Kiffin stepping away as Alabama's offensive coordinator the week before the game and being replaced by Steve Sarkisian. It was Clemson's first national championship in 35 years, and the Tigers snapped the Tide's 26-game win streak.

5. Alabama 45, Clemson 40

CFP National Championship: Jan. 11, 2016

In one of those back-and-forth games nobody wanted to end, Alabama won its fourth national title in seven years by outlasting a determined Clemson team that simply wouldn't quit. The Tigers' last-ditch onside kick sailed out of bounds, and only then could the Crimson Tide exhale. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was brilliant, with 478 yards of total offense, but the game turned in the fourth quarter after Alabama tied it 24-24. Nick Saban, who knows a thing or two about winning on these stages, called for an onside kick that the Tide recovered. Two plays later, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard caught his second touchdown pass of the game after not catching any all season, and Kenyan Drake followed a few minutes later with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to completely change the complexion of the game. As good as Watson was for the Tigers, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker was clutch in the second half and finished with 335 passing yards and two touchdowns.

6. Penn State 14, Miami 10

Fiesta Bowl: Jan. 2, 1987

Who could forget the Hurricanes famously showing up at the bowl site that year wearing military fatigues? They were loaded with future NFL talent and had outscored foes by a 420-136 margin en route to a perfect regular season under Jimmy Johnson. But the Nittany Lions spoiled Miami's party by forcing seven turnovers and winning what would be Joe Paterno's last national title. Penn State was held to just 162 total yards (with the Hurricanes gaining 445), but the Nittany Lions intercepted Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde five times. The final interception came with 18 seconds to play, when linebacker Pete Giftopoulos picked off Testaverde's fourth-down pass at the goal line, scrambled for a few seconds and then dropped to his knees.

7. Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23

Sugar Bowl: Dec. 31, 1973

In the first meeting between the two storied programs, Notre Dame held off Alabama to win the Sugar Bowl and finish undefeated in what was also a matchup of legendary coaches: Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian and Alabama's Bear Bryant. The game was played on New Year's Eve, and Notre Dame led 14-10 at the half, thanks to a 94-yard kickoff return. But Alabama rallied to go ahead 23-21 on a halfback pass for a touchdown to quarterback Richard Todd. The extra point was missed, however. Notre Dame answered with a field goal, the sixth lead change of the game. Bryant elected to punt late, and Alabama pinned the Irish at the 2. But on third down, Sugar Bowl MVP Tom Clements hit Robin Weber with a 36-yard pass with 2:12 left to seal the Irish victory.

8. Texas 21, Notre Dame 17

Cotton Bowl: Jan. 1, 1970

The Longhorns won the 1969 national championship with a grind-it-out, clutch drive that remains the stuff of legend in Austin. Trailing 17-14, Texas plowed 76 yards in 17 plays, with Billy Dale taking an option pitch from James Street and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:08 to play. Twice during the drive, the Longhorns went for it on fourth down and converted, highlighted by split end Cotton Speyrer's diving catch on fourth-and-2. Notre Dame still had time to stage its own rally, but Tom Campbell intercepted Joe Theismann with 38 seconds left to cap the Longhorns' perfect season.

9. Alabama 14, Penn State 7

Sugar Bowl: Jan. 1, 1979

Barry Krauss etched his name into Alabama lore forever with his fourth-down stop of Penn State running back Mike Guman at the 1-foot line. All these years later, they still talk with reverence in Tide Town about the greatest goal-line stand in school history. It was the first of back-to-back national championships for the Crimson Tide and the last two under Bryant. Joe Paterno, meanwhile, would have to wait a few more years for his first national title — despite having unbeaten, untied teams in 1968, 1969 and 1973.

10. Nebraska 24, Miami 17

Orange Bowl: Jan. 1, 1995

Tom Osborne won his first of three national titles in a four-year span as the Huskers rallied from a 17-9 fourth-quarter deficit. Quarterback Tommie Frazier, who had not played in more than three months after developing blood clots in his legs, was the hero for the Huskers. Frazier started the game, but after Nebraska fell behind 10-0, he was replaced by Brook Berringer, who had started seven of the Huskers' final eight regular-season games. Then Frazier returned in the fourth quarter to lead the tying and winning drives on his way to finishing with a 33-3 record as a starting quarterback at Nebraska.

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