|Ted S. Warren/Associated Press|
|Maurice Clarett helped lead Ohio State to a BCS Championship Game win over Miami in 2003.|
NFL Network is celebrating the best of the 2000s this week and that provided the perfect impetus for College Football 24/7 to look back at the best games of the decade. When looking back, you recognize just how many great moments there were in that era, especially during the middle of the decade. It was tough to leave off several matchups, but here are the 10 best college football games from the 2000s.
10. Stanford at USC (2007)
The matchup: Stanford (1-3) at USC (4-0)
Site: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
The skinny: A season earlier, the Cardinal went 1-11 and were blown out by the Trojans, 42-0. Jim Harbaugh wasn't having any of that, however, in his first season as head coach at Stanford. Despite going into the Coliseum as an enormous underdog, Stanford pulled off the upset. The Trojans had a 35-game home winning steak and seemed to be cruising right along as they entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country. USC led for most of the game, but never could pull away from Stanford despite having a clear talent advantage. USC's Ronald Johnson scored on a 47-yard touchdown pass that seemed to put the game away, but the Cardinal stormed back with Richard Sherman -- then a wide receiver -- catching a critical pass over the middle to convert a remarkable 4th-and-20 near the end zone. First-time starter Tavita Pritchard then lofted a beautiful touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on 4th-and-goal to seal one of the great upsets in college football history.
9. Arkansas at LSU (2007)
The matchup: Arkansas (7-4) at LSU (10-1)
Site: Tiger Stadium
The skinny: The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the country and penciled in for the National Title Game heading into their meeting with the Razorbacks on the day after Thanksgiving. It was a slow start in the first half, but things picked up considerably from there as the Razorbacks drove 72 yards for the game-tying touchdown with just 2:24 left on the clock as Darren McFadden tossed a touchdown pass to Peyton Hillis. A wild triple-overtime thriller commenced after the Tigers tied things up and both squads traded touchdowns in a tense back-and-forth contest that featured big plays by both sides. Hillis scored his fourth touchdown of the day in the third OT and Felix Jones put the team on top for good with a two-point conversion. Brandon LaFell pulled LSU within two with a TD catch, but the team's conversion attempt was intercepted to set off an Arkansas celebration. Despite LSU's BCS title hopes being dashed in Baton Rouge, a series of crazy upsets put them back in the mix and they eventually captured the championship as a two-loss team.
8. Texas at Texas Tech (2008)
The matchup: Texas (8-0) at Texas Tech (8-0)
Site: Jones AT&T Stadium
The skinny: The Big 12 had one of the greatest conference seasons of all time in 2008, and the memorable matchup between two top Texas teams illustrated it with a terrific ending that's one of the most memorable in history. The two exchanged scores all night in a wild nighttime shootout, but it was Mike Leach's team who had the last laugh to vault into the national-title race. After the Longhorns had come back from 19 down in the first half to go up by one with just 1:29 left, Tech quarterback Graham Harrell drove the team down the field by perfectly executing the hurry-up offense. Instead of playing it safe and trying a game-winning field goal, Harrell took a massive chance when he threw it Michael Crabtree's way. Crabtree was facing double coverage, but had just enough room to snag the ball and score a game-winning touchdown with just a second left on the clock. The fans then stormed the field in what was the Red Raiders' biggest win in school history.
7. Louisville at Rutgers (2006)
The matchup: Louisville (8-0) at Rutgers (8-0)
Site: High Point Solutions Stadium
The skinny: Some consider this to be one of the biggest wins in Rutgers' illustrious history. The bar for that feat might not have been set high, but there is no doubt the Scarlet Knights have a special place in history reserved for this game. The Cardinals came into the game ranked third in the country and were dreaming of a National Title Game appearance after knocking off West Virginia a week earlier in a thriller. Louisville jumped out to an early 18-point lead before Greg Schiano's defense clamped down and held the Cardinals scoreless in the second half. Ray Rice and company suddenly leaped into action on offense and, after missing a game-winning field goal but getting another chance thanks to a penalty, Rutgers kicker Jeremy Ito nailed a field goal with 18 seconds remaining, and the field turned into a sea of red once the game went final.
6. Michigan at Ohio State (2006)
The matchup: Michigan (11-0) at Ohio State (11-0)
Site: Ohio Stadium
The skinny: There have been a handful of regular-season matchups between No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, but none had the atmosphere and excitement of this one. For the first time in the history of one of college football's greatest rivalries, the Buckeyes and Wolverines met at the end of the season ranked 1-2 in the polls and went to battle with a berth in the National Title Game at stake. Ohio State had a 28-14 lead at halftime, but the offensive fireworks were just beginning, as Michigan would storm back to close the gap. Eventual Heisman winner Troy Smith put the game away with a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass, and despite a late score, the Wolverines were unable to complete the comeback. A forgettable pair of bowl games left a bad taste in the mouths of both Big Ten teams, but at least they'll always have that fabled game on a fun November afternoon.
5. Appalachian State at Michigan (2007)
The matchup: Appalachian State (0-0) at Michigan (0-0)
Site: Michigan Stadium
The skinny: This game occupies the top spot on many folks' list of all-time biggest college football upsets. Michigan entered the game as the No. 5 team in the country and was widely expected to throttle the visiting Mountaineers with several future NFL draft picks. Appalachian State was no slouch, though, and was regarded as the best FCS team that year with quarterback Armanti Edwards leading the way. The Mountaineers held the lead at halftime and suddenly the Wolverines were on serious upset alert as folks scrambled to find the new Big Ten Network on their cable guide. Michigan eventually stormed back to take a lead late in the fourth quarter before attempting a long field goal that would have added to its lead. The kick was blocked, however, and AppState eventually drove 69 yards for the winning field goal. Michigan had a late chance at a win, but its field-goal attempt was, once again, blocked with six seconds left to give the Mountaineers a historic upset over an FBS powerhouse.
4. USC at Notre Dame (2005)
The matchup: USC (5-0) at Notre Dame (4-1)
Site: Notre Dame Stadium
The skinny: Two historic rivals staged a classic on a beautiful evening in South Bend that some had hyped as a Game of the Century before the ball was even snapped. The Trojans came in as defending national champions and were riding a 27-game winning streak, while their rivals were ranked in the top 10 and looking for revenge after several bad losses to USC. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis pulled out all the stops, bringing in Joe Montana and "Rudy" Ruettiger to speak at the pre-game pep rally and he let the squad wear the fabled green jerseys. Reggie Bush kicked off the scoring with a hurdle of a defender on his way to the end zone to start a tight, back-and-forth game. USC QB Matt Leinart's 4th-and-9 pass to Dwayne Jarrett with USC behind in the final two minutes set the stage for the quarterback's last-second touchdown with a little assistance from the well-known "Bush Push."
3. 2007 Fiesta Bowl
The matchup: Boise State (12-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-2)
Site: University of Phoenix Stadium
The skinny: Despite losing Adrian Peterson for much of the season with a broken collarbone, the Sooners won the tough Big 12 to head to the desert to face a significant underdog in Boise State. The Broncos turned in an undefeated season and took control of the game in the first half. Oklahoma would storm back after halftime by scoring 25 straight points and appeared to have the game in hand with a 35-28 lead and just 1:02 left on the clock. The Broncos wouldn't be denied, though, and ran the hook and ladder to convert a 4th-and-18 to send the game to overtime. There, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen called one of the great trick plays of all time when quarterback Jared Zabransky ran the Statue of Liberty and had running back Ian Johnson take the ball in for the score and a monumental upset over a power program. Later, Johnson added to the spectacle of the game by proposing to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, on national TV.
2. 2006 BCS National Championship Game
The matchup: Texas (12-0) vs. USC (12-0)
Site: The Rose Bowl
The skinny: The game that transpired on that beautiful night at the Rose Bowl almost seemed like it was drawn up at a nearby Hollywood studio. Pete Carroll's Trojans were rolling along as one of the great dynasties in the sport and the team was loaded with NFL talent. Across the sideline, Vince Young led an equally talented team that recorded one of the best seasons in the school's rich history. In a back-and-forth game, it wasn't until the clock ticked under 20 seconds that Young danced into the end zone and gave Texas the lead for good. The game was the highest-rated BCS Championship telecast and one heck of an ending to legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson's career.
1. 2003 BCS National Championship Game
The matchup: Ohio State Buckeyes (13-0) vs. Miami Hurricanes (12-0)
Site: The Fiesta Bowl, Sun Devil Stadium
The skinny: This National Title Game had a little bit of everything and it coalesced to form one of the all-time greats. The Hurricanes' dynasty was gunning for its 35th-consecutive win and another title, but the plucky Buckeyes stuck around until the very end to win it all in double overtime -- the first time a National Championship Game was decided that way. Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett scored the winning touchdown and had one of the most memorable plays ever when he punched the ball out of Miami safety Sean Taylor's hands following his interception. There was a premature field storming and one of the most controversial penalties in the game's history. This was a heavyweight fight that came down to the final punch to decide it.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.