The football season that was 2016 certainly didn’t disappoint.
Week to week, no one could quite predict what was going to happen.
We thought Texas was back when they defeated Notre Dame in Week 1 only to see the Irish finish 4-8 and a new coach in Austin by December. Speaking of that new Longhorns coach, Tom Herman, his Houston Cougars started the year off with a bang, defeating eventual Big 12 Champion Oklahoma, but they dropped three seemingly winnable games before the season was done. Pittsburgh finished the season at a respectable 8-4 and saw the national spotlight when they handed losses to ACC Champion Clemson and Big Ten Champion Penn State. A Louisville sophomore named Lamar Jackson scored six touchdowns against Florida State in Week 3 and continued putting up big numbers all the way to New York to pick up his Heisman Trophy.
And, of course, with such an exciting year behind us, NCAA.com had to look at some of the best games from the 2016 football season. Here are nine of our favorites:
No. 3 Oklahoma 23 vs. No. 15 Houston 33
Coming off a 12-win 2015 that culminated in a big Peach Bowl win over Florida State, the Houston Cougars had plenty of momentum on their side. Meanwhile, Oklahoma was ranked third and ready to make a return trip to the College Football Playoff. For most of the first half, Houston was successfully hanging with the big boys, but the Sooners seemed in control. Then, there was the kick-six. And a fumble. And another fumble, and all of a sudden the Sooners were the ones needing to hang on. Oklahoma was able to close the gap before the final whistle, but the game ended up being a performance that the Sooners could never quite come back from and one the Cougars could never quite live up to.
No. 10 Notre Dame 47 vs. Texas 50 (2OT)
Texas. Notre Dame. A classic matchup if you ever saw one, and, boy, they didn’t disappoint. These were two high-flying offenses matching each other tit for tat in dramatic fashion for four full quarters, and it looked like Texas just might edge out the Irish. Then, Notre Dame’s Shawn Crawford ran a blocked extra point all the way back to the end zone to tie it up with a little over three minutes remaining. Both offenses were still firing on all cylinders through both overtimes, but it was Longhorns QB Tyrone Swoopes who finished off the game with his best Vince Young impression. This game was still an incredibly fun one to watch even if these two teams went on to post a combined 15 losses.
Arkansas 41 vs. No. 15 TCU 38
This clash of former Southwest Conference foes began as a defensive showdown that Arkansas was winning. The Razorbacks led 13-0 at the half, thanks to a pick-six from Brooks Ellis and a pair of field goals. But, the fourth quarter would belong to the Frogs. Tenacious play by wideout KaVontae Turpin and QB Kenny Hill turned a 20-7 deficit into a 28-20 lead. Arkansas QB Austin Allen responded quickly, leading a lightning-quick drive to tie the game at 28 with just over a minute left in regulation. TCU had a chance at a chip shot field goal to finish off the game with seconds left on the clock, but the Hogs kept their hopes alive with an epic block to send the game to overtime. They traded touchdowns in the first OT period, but the Arkansas defense kept the Frogs out of the endzone in the second extra session. Allen once again put the Hogs on his back and willed himself over the goal line to win the game.
No. 2 Florida State 20 vs. No. 10 Louisville 63
This isn’t a “great game” in the traditional sense of great games. Yeah, it wasn’t competitive, and it might not be that fun to watch. But, this was Lamar Jackson’s coming out party. Sure, his name was in the Heisman conversation somewhat before this game, but, after this game, his name shot to the top of the list and there it stayed. It is one thing to show out in a conference game, but it is completely another to show out against Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State.
No. 11 Tennessee 34 vs. No. 25 Georgia 31
In the early part of this season, it finally seemed that Tennessee was really back. They had defeated the reigning SEC East Champion (Florida) and were heading down to Athens to take on the other big dawg in the East, Georgia. The Vols were trailing 17-0 in the waning seconds of the first half, but quarterback Josh Dobbs sparked some momentum with a long TD run going into halftime. UT didn’t take the lead until late in the fourth when UGA freshman QB Jacob Eason fumbled in his own endzone and a Vol defender fell on it. With the Bulldogs down 28-24 and just over 10 seconds left on the clock, Eason delivered a 47-yard bomb to Riley Ridley to take the lead. But, with just four seconds left on the clock, Dobbs delivered his own bomb to a group of defenders and receivers, and Jauan Jennings came down with it to give Tennessee the win as time expired.
No. 3 Louisville 36 vs. No. 5 Clemson 42
In a duel of Heisman finalists, the eventual runner-up seemed to shine brighter than the eventual winner from the beginning. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson went 11 of 12 for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter alone. But, of course, Lamar Jackson turned the magic on in the second half, leading the Cardinals on a 16 point run in the third. In the end, it was the Tiger defense who secured the game with a fourth down stop with less than a minute to go in regulation. Watson ended the game with 397 total yards and five touchdowns, and Jackson totaled 457 yards and three touchdowns.
Pittsburgh 43 vs. No. 2 Clemson 42
The ACC Champion’s sole loss of the season was a passing exhibition. Wideouts, corners and even running backs from both teams were going up and grabbing balls high in the air. Pitt totaled 356 yards of offense in the first half yet trailed by a point going into the half. The Tigers and Panthers traded blows for much of the second half. Late in the fourth, Clemson was about to go up two scores when Saleem Brightwell intercepted Watson at the goalline and returned the ball all the way back to the Clemson 30. Pitt RB James Connor scored, but their two point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Panthers trailing by two. The Pitt defense stayed stout and allowed the offense to get Kicker Chris Blewitt in range. And, Blewitt redeemed himself for an earlier miss and made the 48-yard field goal to win the game.
No. 3 Michigan 27 vs. No. 2 Ohio State 30 (2OT)
This clash of juggernauts began as a defensive trench battle with Michigan leading by a low score of 10-7 late into the third quarter. A few costly interceptions by Wolverines QB Wilton Speight and Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett eclipsing the century mark on the ground saw the game get knotted up at 17 as time expired. Then the game really began. Barrett basically walked into the endzone on a QB draw, and Speight zipped a pass to Amara Darboh on fourth and goal to send the game to double overtime. The Wolverines were forced to kick a field goal on their possession, and the Buckeyes’ Curtis Samuel ran in a 15-yard touchdown to win the game.
No. 25 Navy 17 vs. Army West Point 21
Turnovers were the story of this year’s edition of America’s Game — the two academies combined for seven total turnovers — but that just made it all the more exciting. The Black Knights got off to a hot start, leading 14-0 at halftime. Navy took lead in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points. But, Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw found the endzone with six minutes left in regulation to regain the lead, 21-17. On their next possession, the Black Knights were able to run down the clock and earn their first victory against the Midshipmen in 15 years.