The debate has begun over whether Clemson-Alabama was the greatest game in college football history, or at least the greatest title game. There are a number of candidates, ranging from Ohio State-Miami in 2002 to the epic Miami-Nebraska Orange Bowl of 1983. Most of the discussion though, compares Clemson-Alabama to the USC-Texas classic of eleven years ago.
Dieter Kurtenbach, writing on FoxSports.com, backs Monday night’s classic in Tampa and he’s got a good case. Kurtenbach brings up the salient point that the decisive play of the game came with one second left and even the surprise onside kick to keep the ball with Clemson provided its own intrigue—if the ball hadn’t gone ten yards, Alabama was looking at a last pass into the end zone.
By comparison, Vince Young’s touchdown run to win it for Texas in 2005 came with 19 seconds remaining. Not exactly eons of time, but enough for Matt Leinhardt to get a couple cracks at getting the ball down the field and in position for a tying field goal.
Kurtenbach’s point is fair enough, but USC-Texas has two other elements that work in its favor, and with a few days to think about it, it’s the game I’m still leaning to as the best championship game.
The first is this—when Young took off on his eight-yard dash to the right corner of the end zone, the Longhorns trailed 38-33. You will note that means a field goal did Texas no good. It was win or lose right there. As high as the drama was on Clemson’s final drive, the last few plays took place with the Tigers secure in the knowledge they were only a chip-shot field goal away from forcing overtime.
Texas would still have had more chances to score had Young not made it, but all you need to do is ask Vinny Testaverde, Jimmy Johnson and the 1986 Miami Hurricanes how easy it is to get a touchdown from eight yards or closer with a championship on the line.
There’s one more factor involved here and it’s the controversy about USC’s questionable decision-making that came in the aftermath of the 2005 game. The Trojans had gone for it on fourth down and a long one near midfield with about a minute to play and Texas out of timeouts, needing to drive the distance. The media not only let Pete Carroll off the hook, but praised him for his boldness in doing something obviously idiotic that gave Texas new life.
Earlier in the game, Reggie Bush had cost USC a chance at points when he foolishly tried a wild lateral at the end of a big play that put the Trojans in at least field goal range. Carroll and Bush’s mental errors underscored the USC arrogance that cost them this game and a historic third straight national championship.
Clemson-Alabama was great and I absolutely respect any opinion that proclaims it the best ever. But upon further review, I’ll take the win-or-lose drama of the final drive and the coulda, shoulda, woulda debate that followed USC-Texas and give it a slight edge.