College football rankings: the 12 best games of the season to date


Michigan and Michigan State participated in an instant classic at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, worthy of the top 10 hype it received. The game had it all: great plays, great performances by star players, momentum swings, a frantic crowd, questionable calls, and a result that went all the way.

Here at Sporting News, we were wondering if it was the best game of the season. The elements that are part of a “ best ” game (pregame hype, atmosphere, field drama, landscape altering result) are weighed to determine which games were the best in the 2021 season.

PLUS: OU gets a bad place in the first CFP ranking | Bowl projections | Heisman breed

Here is our list:

1 – No. 6 Oklahoma 55, No. 21 Texas 48 (October 9)

This game will be remembered as the beginning of the Caleb Williams era, as the rookie Oklahoma quarterback came off the bench to win back the Sooners from a 28-7 deficit in a packed Cotton Bowl. His 52-yard pass in the fourth quarter to Marvin Mims to tie the game 41-41 was legendary, and Kennedy Brooks’ 33-yard touchdown run with three seconds left was an impressive finish for arguably Best Red. River showdown ever.

2 – No. 8 Michigan State 37, No. 6 Michigan 33 (October 30)

We wanted a Big Ten fight, and that’s exactly what we got. As the weather got worse, the game got better. The teams fought under cold gray skies, then fog, then rain, and it took all four rooms to settle this neighborhood dispute. Kenneth Walker III made his Heisman case with 197 yards and five TDs, Michigan was brilliantly positioned to overcome his bad luck in the big game, until he didn’t, and the green team danced with a statue of Paul Bunyan and a still. – undefeated record.

SPREE: Heat returns to Harbaugh after collapse vs. MSU

3 – Texas A&M 41, No. 1 Alabama 38 (Oct. 10)

It’s usually the time to stop the press when Alabama loses a game, anyway, but this one was especially exciting and ended on the last play of the game. Texas A&M trailed 38-31 with five minutes to go, then took over in front of its 106,815 wild fans. Zach Calzada capped a 65-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Ainias Smith. And then after a Bama 3-pointer, the Aggies marched back onto the field for a field goal, making Jimbo Fisher’s summer boast of beating Nick Saban a reality.

4 – No. 1 Alabama 31, No. 11 Florida 29 (September 18)

After falling behind 21-3 in the first quarter, the Gators did not give up against the nation’s highest-ranked team. Behind quarterback Emory Jones and a fierce running attack, Florida kept coming and finally had a chance to tie the game on a two-point conversion with 3:10 to play. The Alabama defense filled Malik Davis to preserve the victory, and the tide left Swamp exhausted knowing he had been pushed to the limit.

PLUS: Week 10 Picks Against Spread

5 – No. 12 Oregon 35, No. 3 Ohio State 28 (September 11)

Another press stop moment is when Ohio State loses at home, which is exactly what happened when one of the most-discussed games of the summer fulfilled its promise in Week 2. Oregon, with two critical defensive pieces in DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and LB Justin Flowe ended the Buckeyes’ 24-game home winning streak. CJ Verdell rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns and Oregon eliminated first-year QB CJ Stroud to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter.

PLUS: Oregon long disliked Pac-12

6 – No. 17 Ole Miss 52, No. 13 Arkansas 51 (October 9)

There were 1,271 yards and 14 touchdowns in it, the last of which came on the last play of the game when Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson hit Warren Thompson from nine yards. Instead of going to overtime, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman went for the win. Jefferson was pressured and the two-point play never really got a chance. Ole Miss had three touchdowns of more than 50 yards in the game against an Arkansas defense that had given up just 19 points per game up to that point.

7 – Fresno State 40, No. 13 UCLA 37 (Sept. 18)

We don’t forget about our friends on the west coast. UCLA entered this fresh off an LSU surprise and had some buzz, but the Bulldogs proved too much. There were four leadership changes in the final 7:27 at the Rose Bowl. UCLA took a 37-33 lead with 54 seconds left. But Fresno quarterback Jake Haener drove the Bulldogs 75 yards and threw a 13-yard touchdown to win the game with 14 seconds left to steal the victory.

8 – State NC 27, No. 9 Clemson 21 (2 OT) (September 25)

We didn’t know Clemson wasn’t Clemson yet, as the Tigers were still contesting a six-year ACC championship series. NC State was in position to end an eight-game losing streak to Clemson in regulation time, but Christopher Dunn missed a 39-yard field goal on the final play. After a touchdown exchange in the first overtime, Devin Leary hit Devin Carter for a 22-yard touchdown. When DJ Uiagalelei’s fourth down pass hit the grass in the second overtime, Wolfpack fans stormed onto the field.

9 – Stanford 31, No. 3 Oregon 24 (OT) (October 2)

Oregon looked like it would move to 5-0 with a slow victory at Stanford, but the Cardinal drove 87 yards in the final 1:52 to send the game into overtime. Regulation extended an unscheduled play due to a defensive hold call in the end zone with no time remaining. Stanford QB Tanner McKee hit Elijiah Higgins on a fade to force overtime, then hit John Humphreys in overtime for another touchdown. When Oregon’s pass on the fourth attempt was left incomplete in their possession, the Stanford students rushed to the field to celebrate the 15.5-point surprise.

10 – No. 3 Iowa 23, No. 4 Penn State 20 (October 9)

Yes, these two have been through tough times since that game in Iowa City, but what 60 minutes it was for the two undefeated teams. Iowa, the team that makes a living on defense and turnovers, had four interceptions and had enough offense to erase a 17-3 deficit. Penn State QB Sean Clifford was injured with the Nittany Lions leading 17-10, and PSU gained just 48 yards on his last 11 possessions with backup Ta’Quan Roberson at the helm. A 44-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Petras to Nico Ragaini with 6:26 left was the game’s winner, and a cheery crowd from Iowa celebrated on the grass afterward.

11 – No. 9 Notre Dame 41, Florida State 38 (OT) (September 5)

The Irish and Seminoles had the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend to themselves, and the nation was treated to a thriller on an emotional night in Tallahassee. It was the first home game with a full house since 2019 and the first since legend Bobby Bowden passed away on August 8. Notre Dame came out firing and led a 38-20 lead in the fourth quarter. But Florida State bounced back, thanks in large part to a clever play by backup quarterback McKenzie Milton, whose gruesome leg injury he sustained at UCF kept him out of the field for nearly three years. An FSU field goal with 40 seconds left forced overtime, but Notre Dame prevailed with a field goal after the Noles missed a kick on their first possession in overtime.

PLUS: Milton’s feel-good story for FSU falls short

12 – No. 16 Wake Forest 70, Army 56 (October 23)

Everybody likes the offense, right? There were 18 touchdowns in this game, which is more than 10 teams that have scored all season. Only the third quarter featured four touchdown plays of more than 70 yards, including an 83-yard interception return by Wake’s Treveon Redd that confirmed there were actually defenses on the field. The fourth quarter saw six more touchdowns, and the Deacons left West Point with their undefeated season intact after averaging a mind-boggling 12.3 yards per play.


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