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Spring Football 2022: 22 Of the Greatest College Football Moments of the Last 22 Years

The "Kick Six"

College football is a sport defined by many things, from its traditions, to its pageantry, to its unique nature. It's a sport that embraces its wackiness and chaotic nature like none other, resulting in some truly unforgettable moments. With that in mind, I thought it would be a fun stroll down memory lane reminiscing some of the greatest moments of the last two decades as an early appetizer for the 2022 college football season. Trimming down this list to just 22 was actually fairly difficult, but I wanted to include moments that were not only wild or unique, but also had an impact on the National Championship race, or college football more broadly. I also chose to include moments that happed solely on the field, so important off-field developments such as Rich Rodriguez denying the Alabama job, or the passage of the CFB Playoff were excluded. With all that in mind, let's recount some of the moments that have made this sport so special these past 22 years.  

*Descriptions of the event can only do it so much justice. Click on the title of each moment for a link to each clip and relive the iconic moment yourself.

1. Kick Six (2013)

To this day, I'm not sure any sports moment comes close to the "Kick Six" for me. It's not just an insane way to end a hard-fought football game, but the context here is important. Remember, Alabama was coming off two consecutive National Titles and entered this game well on their way to a third, ranked No. 1 and undefeated. Auburn was fresh off a 3-9 season in 2012 and were in their first year of the Gus Malzahn era, still trying to climb their way back to national relevance. Although both these programs have a long history of success, it felt like a true "David vs. Goliath" moment at the time. Even so, the Tigers never seemed intimidated by the Crimson Tide and fought hard the whole way, but it still felt like they needed some late-game magic if they were to win. Well, they got it. Alabama kicker Adam Griffith's 57-yard field goal attempt with just one second remaining was on line, but fell just short, and Auburn corner Chris Davis returned it 109 yards to seal the Auburn shocking win. The atmosphere in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the stakes of the game, and the fact it happened in the Iron Bowl, one of the fiercest rivalries in college football, make this is a clear No. 1 for me. I'm not sure we will ever see a moment like this again in college football, particularly with so much on the line.

2. Vince Young Rose Bowl (2006)

USC's struggles over the last decade make it easy to forget just how dominant of a program this was in the mid-2000s. Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush were two of the greatest celebrities we've ever seen in the world of college football and the Trojans seemed nearly unbeatable at this point in the sport's history. Naturally, Texas entered the National Championship Game as the underdog, but both teams enjoyed a back-and-forth affair for most of the contest before a USC touchdown made it 38-26 with six minutes remaining. Those final six minutes immortalized Vince Young in college football history forever. He had a 17-yard touchdown to slim the lead to just five, then with the game on the line, had an eight-yard run on 4th and 5 to the corner of the end zone, sealing the Texas victory. It felt like a truly monumental moment to see USC toppled in the National Championship Game and was the highest-rated Rose Bowl game since 1986. Young's NFL career wasn't quite able to live up to the hype, but he will be a hero in Austin forever for his play on a hazy night in Pasadena January 4, 2006.

3. Statue of Liberty (2007)

How about the 2007 Fiesta Bowl for a true underdog story? Oklahoma entered the game not only as the Big 12 Champion and one of the most recognizable brands in the sport. Boise State on the other hand, wasn't very well known by the broader college football public and seemed a bit out of place playing in such an important game BCS bowl. This game is a lesson in many things, but more than anything, it's a story of resilience. The Broncos could have folded after the Sooners scored 25 unanswered points, capped off by a pick-six that gave OU their first lead of the night in the fourth quarter. But, Boise State responded at every opportunity. Their hook-and-ladder lateral on fourth down forced the game into overtime and another trick play gave Boise a chance for a two-point conversion down 42-41. What unfolded next was one of the greatest moments in the sport's history; a "Statue of Liberty" handoff to Boise star tailback Ian Johnson that froze the Sooner defense and allowed the Broncos to take home the 43-42 victory. The pure jubilation on the Boise sideline was topped only by Johnson's impromptu marriage proposal to his girlfriend, then a Boise State cheerleader, the perfect reminder that these players are all human beings with hopes and dreams of their own that go well beyond the gridiron.

4. Miami Pass Interference (2003)

There have been questionable calls throughout college football history, but few referee decisions have impacted the sport quite like the 2003 Fiesta Bowl pass interference call between Ohio State and Miami. The 'Canes outplayed Ohio State for most of the game, but the Buckeyes were able to force it into overtime. After an initial Miami score, Ohio State was down 24-17 with a fourth-down that would decide the game. Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel attempted a short pass to the corner of the end zone to Chris Gamble, which was broken up, before an incredibly late pass interference call. The second chance allowed the Buckeyes to score to initially tie the game, before another touchdown on their next possession gave them the lead. Miami had their own shot down 31-24 but an impressive goal-line stand by the Buckeyes cemented them as the 2002 National Champion. The call was not only significant because of how controversial it was, but because of how much it impacted Miami's program. The Hurricanes haven't been able to ascend to those heights ever again, as they've played for just one single conference title since the loss, when they were promptly throttled by Clemson in 2017. Perhaps Mario Cristobal will be able to return the 'Canes to glory, but this call felt like a real turning point for a program that had been dominant for several decades up to this point.

5. Appalachian State Field Goal Block (2007)

The 2007 season is regarded as the craziest year in college football history and it happened to get started with one of the greatest upsets in the sport's history. Again, context is important to remember when considering this moment. At the time, Michigan was one of the sport's top brands, fresh off a 2006 season in which they went 11-2 and played for a Rose Bowl. They were ranked fifth in the country and with Chad Henne and Mike Hart in the backfield, were a serious National Title contender. Appalachian State, meanwhile, was still playing in the FCS at the time and despite being a power in that division, were not widely known by most of the college football public. The Mountaineers never flinched when entering "The Big House" and built a 28-17 lead going into half. Michigan climbed back and briefly regained the lead before Appalachian State scored again, making it 34-32. The Wolverines still had an opportunity to survive the upset bid, with a 37-yard field goal attempt. The kick looked very doable, but the Mountaineers blocked it, thus sealing a shocking upset. There was plenty of aftermath from this game, too. At the time, it was the first FCS over FBS upset in the history and Michigan became the first team ever to fall out of the AP Poll entirely after being ranked in the Top 10. The victory propelled Appalachian State's program forward and they are now among the strongest FBS Group of Five schools in the nation. For the Wolverines, it essentially ended the Lloyd Carr era and sent them into a decade of struggles before Jim Harbaugh's eventual arrival.

6. The Bush Push (2005)

It's easy to forget that USC and Texas would have never met in the 2005-06 National Championship without a little help from the "Bush Push." One of the most controversial moments in recent college football history, Reggie Bush helping push Matt Leinart into the end zone on an attempted goal-line stand by Notre Dame kept USC's win streak alive and in the driver's seat towards another National Title, which in turn set up the Vince Young moment. It's understandable why the moment was so controversial; the push by Bush seemed to directly violate Section 3, Article 2b of the rulebook stating that no teammate, "shall grasp, push, lift or charge into him to assist in forward progress." The play was further intriguing because of the fact USC head coach Pete Carroll had declined the use of instant replay prior to the game, as both schools had to agree to the use of it for non-conference games (the rule was changed a year later). No matter where you stand on the play, it's one of the most well-known plays of the millennium and added further heat to the rivalry game between two of the sport's largest brands.

7. Tua in OT (2018)

Although Georgia got their vengeance this past January by beating Alabama in the National Championship Game, their overtime loss to the Tide and Tua Tagovailoa remains one of the most significant moments of the century. Again, it can be easy to forget about the context leading up to this moment and the aftermath following it. The Tide barely snuck into the CFB Playoff this year, as a late-season Iron Bowl loss to Auburn threatened to keep them out of the four-team field for the first time. It was fairly controversial when they received the final spot over Big Ten Champion Ohio State, but they seemed to silence many detractors by dominating Clemson in the semifinal. Georgia won a thriller of a Rose Bowl over Georgia to secure their place in the National Championship Game and outplayed the Tide for most of the game. Down 13-0 at halftime, Nick Saban made the interesting decision to make a quarterback change, choosing to go with Tagovailoa after Jalen Hurts' struggles. It turned the momentum of the game, as Tua led the Tide on an impressive comeback, capped off by a 41-yard strike on "2nd & 26" to DeVonta Smith to seal the Alabama win. It was significant for several reasons; the win served as a reminder why Saban has been on top for so long, due to his willingness to change to an untested Tagovailoa. It also set the stage for a new era of Alabama football, with Tagovailoa chucking the ball around to a staggering group of Tide receivers, including Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III. For Georgia, the loss was an absolute heartbreaker, but had to make this year's National Championship success all the more sweeter.

8. The Prayer at Jordan Hare (2013)

It's amazing that Auburn had one, but not two, of the craziest endings in recent college football history during the same season. The 117th installment of "The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry" featured the No. 7 Auburn Tigers against No. 25 Georgia in an ending for the ages. After initially jumping out to a lead, Auburn fell behind the Bulldogs late, with a QB sneak from Aaron Murray giving UGA a 38-37 lead. On the final drive of the game, with just 25 seconds and on 4th and 18, Auburn QB Nick Marshall heaved a prayer into double coverage towards receiver Ricardo Louis. A pair of Bulldogs, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews, descended on the ball but hit into each other, causing the ball to ricochet and land perfectly in Louis' hands, who raced it in for the last-second score. If this play were to happen 100 times, how many times would the same thing have occurred? The pure improbability of the moment is surpassed only by the call, for me. The late Rod Bramblett, longtime Auburn announcer, provided a call that I don't think will be topped for a long time in terms of the complete shift in emotion. The win helped keep Auburn alive and set up the "Kick Six" just a few weeks later. 

9. Botched Michigan Punt vs. Michigan State (2015)

A Hall-of-Fame of crazy college football endings would be incomplete without the addition of Michigan's wrenching defeat at the hands of Michigan State. It was the first year of the Jim Harbaugh era, but the Wolverines were quickly proving to be a real problem for Big Ten foes. They entered a rivalry game against MSU at 5-1, with the Spartans undefeated. Despite the fact Michigan State led in nearly every important statistical category, Michigan was in position to win, leading for most of the contest. Up 23-21 with pretty much no time remaining, all the Wolverines had to do was punt the ball away to take home the rivalry win. In a shocking twist, Michigan punter Blake O'Neill fumbled the ball and it was retrieved by MSU's Jalen Watts-Jackson, who proceeded to take it 38 yards to the house and win the game. It was an absolutely wild ending and the crowd reactions from the Michigan faithful, who were playing at home, will live in college football lore for some time. The win had ramifications beyond just a crazy finish, as it helped Michigan State stay alive and make their first College Football Playoff appearance months later.

10. Crabtree, Texas Tech Shock Texas (2008)

2008 was an absolutely insane year in the Big 12. Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech jockeyed for the Big 12 South Division Title all season long, with the trio beating up on each other and ending in a three-way tie (OU won the division due to a tiebreaker). The best moment from the wild division race was undoubtedly between Texas and Texas Tech in early November. Both teams were undefeated, but the Longhorns were the favorite, entering the game as the nation's No. 1 team. Tech took a commanding lead, but the Longhorns clawed their way back, and a four-yard TD run from tailback Vondrell McGee gave them a 33-32 lead. The Red Raiders drove all the way down the field, with help from a missed interception from Texas safety Blake Gideon, and had the ball on the 28-yard line with the game on the line. Tech QB Graham Harrell once again looked to his star receiver Michael Crabtree, who caught the ball yards away from the end zone, but managed to wrestle himself free and score the game-winning touchdown with a second remaining. It has to go down as the greatest moment in Texas Tech football history, while the absolute shock on the face of star Texas QB Colt McCoy is a lasting memory from the event. 

11. Manziel Eludes Alabama for TD (2012)

Johnny Manziel's disastrous NFL career overshadows just how special he was in his two seasons at Texas A&M. I'm not sure we will ever see a player quite like him in college football again, even in the NIL era, a fearless, larger than life character who pulled off pure magic on the gridiron. His signature moment came in 2012 against top-ranked Alabama. On third-and-goal, Manziel was pressured by a host of future Alabama defenders and was hit by one of his offensive linemen, briefly bobbling the ball before regaining possession and finding wide out Ryan Swoope in the end zone. It's the type of play that's description doesn't accurately explain how crazy of a moment it was, and it what it meant in the grand scheme of things. The play not only put Texas A&M up 14-0, it provided the momentum they needed to shock the National Title favorite Crimson Tide. It became Manziel's "Heisman Moment" and gave him the push he needed to become the first redshirt freshman in college football history to take home the award.

12. The Bluegrass Miracle (2002)

Before the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare" there was the "Bluegrass Miracle" between the Kentucky Wildcats and LSU Tigers. LSU held the lead in the contest for most of the game, but a furious Kentucky comeback fueled by Jared Lorenzen put the Wildcats in position to take down the Tigers, who were defending SEC Champs under Nick Saban. With no time left on the clock, LSU QB Marcus Randall threw a prayer from their own 26-yard line which dropped into a sea of blue and white before ricocheting into the hands of LSU's Devery Henderson, who brought in for the touchdown. The moment was made particularly wild because Kentucky fans not only stormed the field, but UK players simultaneously doused head coach Guy Morriss in Gatorade. The pure confusion and chaos of the moment makes it a top-notch ending to a college football game, even if the event didn't impact the National Championship race quite like the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare."

13. Georgia Tech Blocked FG touchdown (2015)

It's one thing to see a three-year ACC winning streak come to an end, but to lose it on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown? Absolutely insane. Florida State was the Goliath of the ACC in the early to mid-2010s, winning a National Title in 2013 and going undefeated in the regular season in '14. They were off to another impressive start in 2015, at 6-0 and No. 9 in the nation, facing off against a disappointing Georgia Tech team in the midst of a losing streak. Following a GT field goal that tied the game at 16 with under a minute remaining, FSU had an opportunity of their own, with All-American kicker Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo lined up for the 56-yard game-winner, but it was blocked by the Yellow Jackets, subsequently picked up by defensive back Lance Austin, and brought all the way home for the shocking upset win. This was another one where the call made the moment, as ESPN's Mark Jones could barely contain himself, roaring, "What a time to be alive!" It might not have been Kick Six-levels of crazy, but was awfully close and represented a real turn in Florida State's program fortunes. Even though the 'Noles won ten games in 2015 and 2016, they haven't been able to ascend to the heights they were at before the blocked kick.

14. Michael Dyer Not Down (2011)

Cam Newton's lone season at Auburn will go down in history as one of the most legendary single-season performances of all-time, but he wouldn't have been able to add a National Title to his resume without the help of back Michael Dyer. With the score tied at 19 in the 2011 BCS National Championship between the Tigers and Oregon, Dyer appeared to go down after a six-yard gain on a first down. However, Dyer didn't believe it, instead getting right back and scampering for an additional 20-plus yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Replay confirmed that Dyer had not touched the ground, instead rolling on Oregon defensive back Eddie Pleasant. His quick thinking to keep on going made all the difference and reminded us that even elite teams need a little bit of luck to bring home a National Title.

15. Penn State FG Block to Beat Ohio State (2016)

Sometimes, a single moment can completely change the course of a team's season in the span of a few minutes. There aren't many better examples of this than corner Grant Haley bringing back Penn State's own "Kick Six" to beat second-ranked Ohio State back in 2016. At that point in time, PSU was 4-2 and unranked, with head coach James Franklin openly feeling some pressure to turn things around. Ohio State held a 21-17 advantage late in the fourth quarter when placekicker Tyler Durbin lined up for a doable field goal attempt. Instead, it was blocked by Penn State's Marcus Allen and then picked up by Haley, who raced past a host of Buckeyes to score the go-ahead touchdown. The raucous environment added another layer to the thrilling PSU victory and was a true program-changing moment for Franklin and the Nittany Lions. Following the win, they would not lose again until New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl against USC, winning their first Big Ten Title in years and coming agonizingly close to a College Football Playoff berth.

16. Chad Kelly Wacky TD to Beat Alabama (2015)

We've mentioned the "Kick Six" enough times now, but what about the "Tip Six?" Back in 2015, Ole Miss and Chad Kelly went into Tuscaloosa to face the second-ranked Crimson Tide, who looked well on their way to another National Title (spoiler alert: they would still win one this year). Alabama's five turnovers was the major reason for their eventual defeat at the hands of the No. 15 Rebels, but the play that summed up the night happened in the early third quarter. A high snap to Kelly forced the QB to catch it in the air and make a desperation heave to Laquon Treadwell. The ball bounced off Treadwell and several Tide defenders before falling to Quincy Adeboyejo, who took it to the house. The wacky play helped Ole Miss build a two-touchdown lead and made it clear that the luck in the air that night was favoring the upset-minded Rebels. The play is reminiscent of the Manziel play, which of course was against the same opponent, but possibly even more difficult for Kelly as he took an absolute lick when getting the ball off.

17. Notre Dame Goal-Line Stand vs. Stanford (2012)

Although the season was overshadowed by their eventual blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship, Notre Dame's 2012 season was one for the books. The Irish played a loaded schedule but still managed to reel off 12 regular season victories, which at the time was their first undefeated season in 25 years. No victory on the year was quite as difficult as the Stanford game, where the Irish got all they could handle from the 17th-ranked Cardinal. Stanford played a smash-mouth brand of football and the game was the most physical of the entire season. The game went into overtime tied at 13 and Tommy Rees, now the team's offensive coordinator, made a pair of impressive throws to score the opening touchdown, giving the Irish a 20-13 advantage. Stanford responded by driving right down to the goal-line, but were miraculously stopped four consecutive times, allowing Notre Dame the hard-fought win. The image of Manti Te'o taking his helmet off and running down the field in celebration is one of the lasting moments of the season for me. 

18. Joe Burrow Ring on Finger (2019)

I don't know if we will ever see a single-season performance quite like Joe Burrow's 2019 in college football ever again. The quarterback picked apart defenses with ease and played with a swagger and attitude of a refined, polished Johnny Manziel. There are plenty of great moments to choose from during Burrow's Heisman season, but the one that stands out to me came in the National Championship against Clemson. With 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Burrow threw his fifth touchdown of the game, putting LSU ahead by 17 points. As he walked off the field, he pointed to his finger as if to say "Fit me for my National Championship ring now." It was a subtle-enough celebration, but one that perfectly encapsulated Burrow's season. Even as he absolutely throttled defenses en route to a legendary campaign, Burrow was never in your face in celebration, instead acting like a Heisman and National Title was simply all part of the plan for his football journey.

19. Deshaun Watson Seals National Title (2017)

There were plenty of great moments to choose from during Alabama and Clemson's four-part series from the mid-to-late 2010s, but my favorite came in the 2016-17 National Championship. It was the second straight National Championship Game between the two and looked to again be favoring Alabama, who went into the fourth quarter with a 24-14 lead. Instead, Deshaun Watson willed Clemson back into the football game, with consecutive scores to take the lead themselves. After an impressive drive down the field by Jalen Hurts and the Tide, Watson immortalized himself in college football lore with a masterful final drive. Watson was helped by some impressive catches from Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett, but proved to be the deciding factor with a two-yard throw to Hunter Renfrow to seal the deal. The final play may be controversial, but there was no denying how masterful Watson's performance was, as he went for 420 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Following the victory, Watson plopping himself down on the Clemson sideline and soaking in the National Title was a moment that tied everything together and was a fitting conclusion to his illustrious Clemson career.

20. Kelvin Benjamin Touchdown to Beat Auburn (2014)

The final BCS National Championship Game was a special one, pitting the undefeated Florida State Seminoles against the magical Auburn Tigers. After Auburn built a commanding early lead, FSU crawled back into the game and took the lead when Kermit Whitfield brought a kickoff all the way to the house with four minutes remaining. Auburn had a response of their own, with Tre Mason taking it 37 yards to the end zone to build a 31-27 lead. With the game on the line, the Seminoles turned to Heisman-winning Jameis Winston, and he delivered. Winston went 6-7 on the final drive of the game and drove the 'Noles right down the field. His final pass of the drive to Kelvin Benjamin looked high initially, but Benjamin's elite athleticism and leaping ability helped him snag the ball in a sea of Auburn defenders. The catch cemented the FSU win and helped them claim an undefeated season, a fitting ending to a tremendous season from Winston. 

21. Hunter Henry Lateral vs. Ole Miss (2015)

Chad Kelly and the Rebels' win over Alabama in 2015 (as mentioned earlier) meant that Ole Miss, not the mighty Crimson Tide, were actually in the driver's seat in the SEC West for most of the season. In fact, they would have won the division, with the tiebreaker over Alabama, had it not been for their insane loss to Arkansas. The two teams went into overtime in a high scoring affair tied at 45, but Ole Miss struck first to make the score 52-45. Arkansas faced a 4th-and-25 with the game on the line, as QB Brandon Allen hit tight end Hunter Henry for a long gain, but one that would have fallen short of a first down. That is, until Henry heaved the ball backward in desperation, it was picked up by running back Alex Collins, who raced for a first down. The Razorbacks then drove down the field and scored, before Allen raced in the two-point conversion for a shocking 53-52 victory. It was one of the most improbable ways to end a football game and deserves a list on this spot solely for that, but the impact it had goes even beyond that. Had the crazy lateral not been successful, Ole Miss would have won and represented the West in the 2015 SEC Championship Game. In turn Alabama wouldn't have been the West representative and would not have participated in, and then won, the 2015 CFB Playoff. So essentially, this lateral by Henry decided the 2015 National Championship Game. Who would have thought?

22. Elijah Moore Celebration in Egg Bowl

The Egg Bowl rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State is one known for its wackiness, and they don't get a lot weirder than the 2019 edition. The two heated rivals had a thrilling game the whole way, with the 5-6 Mississippi State Bulldogs taking the late lead. Ole Miss, who was 4-7, responded by driving the length of the field before QB Jordan Ta'amu hit receiver Elijah Moore for what should have been the game-tying touchdown. Instead, Moore performed a very unique celebration that mimicked a bulldog using the bathroom, in reference to Mississippi State's mascot. He was flagged excessive celebration, moving the extra point back to the 35-yard line. Ole Miss kicker Luke Logan missed the extra point, leaving Mississippi State as the victor in bizarre fashion. The moment was not only absolutely insane and the type of thing you only see in college football, it had far-reaching impacts. This article from Banner Society details just how much the Moore celebration changed the sport in a few short months. Just to recap, a player's crude celebration not only resulted in his team losing an important rivalry game, but impacted players, coaches, and universities across the country. That's college football for you.

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