College Football Playoff Classics: The Top 5 Games (So Far)

Google it, and you’ll find the T-shirt for sale: “2nd and 26: No Problem,” it reads in blaring, crimson letters. “Touchdown, Alabama.”

When a football game is known by a phrase, rest assured it’s a classic. “2nd and 26,” which is approaching merely its first anniversary, is a phrase Alabama fans will remember for a lifetime. It refers to Tua Tagovailoa’s walk-off, 41-yard overtime touchdown pass to Devonta Smith for the Tide’s 26-23 win over Georgia in the national championship. And it represents the most memorable of all 12 College Football Playoff games since they started in the 2014-15 season.

With postseason upon us, H&A looks at the College Football Playoff’s Top 5 games in its young history and the phrases each game might have inspired:

5. Sugar Bowl, January 1, 2015: “The Third-String QB”

Ohio State 42, Alabama 35

Some fans will remember this beginning of the Buckeyes’ most recent national championship run for its third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones. Forced into action due to injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound QB led OSU to 537 yards against Saban’s usually stout defense inside the Superdome. Jones passed for 243 yards and ran for 43 more that night in New Orleans. Others will remember it for a national coming-out party for future Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who set a Sugar Bowl record with 230 rushing yards, much of it up the gut against an Alabama defense left shaking its head.


4. CFP Championship, January 11, 2016: “The Onside Kick”

Alabama 45, Clemson 40

The Tide and Tigers could meet this season for the fourth straight postseason, as many expect, and this game at Glendale, Arizona, started it all. With 10:34 left in the game and Alabama having just tied it 24-24, Alabama coach Nick Saban made a memorable decision to let Adam Griffith try a “pop kick” on the ensuing kickoff. It was a form of the onside kick, a little pooch to where no Clemson players were stationed. Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey caught it over his shoulder near midfield. For a previously conservative Tide program, this was an unexpected gamble and a successful one. Moments later, Jake Coker hit O.J. Howard down the middle for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Clemson stayed close behind dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson, who accounted for 473 of his team’s 550 yards. He would get his revenge a year later.


3. Rose Bowl, January 1, 2018: “Sony Makes Good”

Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48, 2OT

This entertaining shootout saw these teams combine for 1,058 yards and Georgia rally from an early deficit in Pasadena, California. It also saw running back Sony Michel avenge a mistake in a big way. Sony had fumbled the ball away, leading to a Sooners defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma led 45-38 at the time. Thanks to a late Nick Chubb touchdown, the Bulldogs tied it at 45 and forced overtime. It was 48-48 going into a second overtime when Lorenzo Carter blocked the Sooners’ 27-yard field goal try and set up Michel’s heroics. Michel took a direct snap and ran down the sideline for a 27-yard touchdown and a spot in the national title game. It was Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield’s final college game. The Oklahoma quarterback told The New York Times afterward that all his respect went to Georgia freshman QB Jake Fromm. “He’s an incredible player,” Mayfield said. “You can tell he commands his offense and he has the respect of his teammates. For me, that’s about the greatest character trait you could have.”


2. CFP Championship, January 9, 2017: “Renfrow’s Catch”

Clemson 35, Alabama 31

Watson got his title. And he got his revenge on the Crimson Tide this night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Clemson fans will always remember Watson finding Hunter Renfrow in the corner of the end zone with 1 second remaining on the clock. It was a little pick play that culminated a frenzied, back-and-forth fourth quarter and gave Clemson its first national title since 1981. “There was no upset tonight,” Clemson’s confident coach, Dabo Swinney, told the media after dethroning the Tide. The roller coaster ride appeared joyous for Alabama only moments earlier, when quarterback Jalen Hurts ran 30 yards for a touchdown and 31-28 lead with 2:07 remaining. But Alabama’s defense appeared fatigued at the end and couldn’t stop Watson, who accounted for 463 of his team’s 511 yards.


1. CFP Championship, January 8, 2018: “2nd and 26”

Alabama 26, Georgia 23, OT

For all of the praise heaped upon Saban in the 12 seasons he’s coached Alabama, perhaps none outdid his bold halftime decision on January 8, 2018. His team’s offensive attack had been rendered lifeless by a ferocious Georgia defense and found itself trailing 13-0 at halftime at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Saban decided to bench struggling quarterback Hurts, a two-year starter, in lieu of Tagovailoa, a true freshman. Tagovailoa, the better passer, rewarded the decision by firing darts downfield to the tune of 166 yards and three touchdowns in the final two-plus quarters to rally the Tide to a dramatic victory.

And the final touchdown has taken on a life of its own. Trailing 23-20 in overtime, Tagovailoa was sacked for a 16-yard loss on Alabama’s first offensive play. He looked at Smith, however, and said, “Trust me.” And on the next play, a momentary hesitation in the Georgia secondary allowed Smith to run open deep. Tagovailoa found him, and ESPN’s highlights will never let the college football world forget it.

Honk if you’ve seen that play at least 25 times.

2 More To Consider
CFP Championship, January 12, 2015: Ohio State 42, Oregon 20
Orange Bowl, December 31, 2015: Clemson 37, Oklahoma 17

Heck, No: CFP Yawners
Rose Bowl, January 1, 2015: Oregon 59, Florida State 20
Cotton Bowl, December 31, 2015: Alabama 38, Michigan State 0
Peach Bowl, December 31, 2016: Alabama 24, Washington 7

Fiesta Bowl, December 31, 2016: Clemson 31, Ohio State 0

Sugar Bowl, January 1, 2018: Alabama 24, Clemson 6. H&A

Cover photo: Courtesy Clemson Athletics 


Steve Kirk

Steve Kirk

A sports writer and editor for 25-plus years, Steve’s career includes stints at The Birmingham News, Florida Times-Union, The (Columbia, S.C.) State and Birmingham Post-Herald. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, he lives in the Atlanta area.
Steve Kirk

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