Another season of college football has passed and it was one for the books with the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs becoming the first team in over a decade to win back-to-back national titles. For Dawgs fans, they’ll always remember where they were when they watched QB Stetson Bennett smoke a cigar in championship glory.
That got me thinking about which college football screenshots live in my brain rent-free. Surely, discovering Manti Te’o was catfished was the root of trust issues for many. Then there’s the image of Elijah Moore’s 2019 Egg Bowl celebration, when he got on all fours and lifted one leg to mark his territory in the end zone, which never fails to put a smirk on football fans’ faces. But let’s dig deeper and ask what are the moments in the College Football Playoff era that most won’t ever forget. So, here’s a thoughtfully curated list ranking the top five that even old age won’t diminish in our minds.
Top 5 Most Iconic Moments In The CFP Era
#5: Clemson’s Redemption
The Clemson Tigers had the Alabama Crimson Tide on the ropes in the 2015 CFP National Championship. The scoreboard was tight up until the fourth quarter, when a kickoff fell into the hands of Alabama’s Kenyan Drake, who ran 95 yards, dodging tackles and leaping for the pylon to give the Tide an 11-point cushion over the Tigers. Truthfully, that’s an iconic moment in itself but “Top 6 Most Iconic CFP Moments” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
A season passed and Clemson and Alabama found themselves in the same spot, lining up across from each other once again. Tigers QB Deshaun Watson looked as if he had made it his life’s mission to hoist the national title this time. It was another back-and-forth affair on the scoreboard and it was anybody’s game. But Watson wanted it more and a last-second bullet into the hands of WR Hunter Renfrow in the end zone pushed the Tigers to a 35-31 triumph and their first national title in 35 years.
Watson recorded giant stats in that game, completing 36 of 56 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for 43 yards and another score. The performance shifted his pro trajectory, making him a hot commodity and changing the opinion of analysts who’d labeled him a mid- to late-round pick in the NFL draft. The Houston Texans snagged him 12th overall in 2017.
#4: It’s Always Sony In Georgia
First things first, watching the Oklahoma Sooners in the CFP semifinals makes me feel brain cells vanishing from my head. It’s part of the reason why I can only list five iconic moments because I can’t remember much more. The Sooners are winless in four semifinal appearances and it’s not like they’ve been blown out of the water either – they just can’t get it done, and Georgia RB Sony Michel is one of the reasons.
The 2018 Rose Bowl went into double overtime and Michel dominated, pocketing three touchdowns while running for 181 yards on 11 carries. But the most important play came in extra time as the Florida native exploded from the line of scrimmage, gaining momentum as he ran 27 yards straight into the end zone, making the final score 54-48.
The score pushed Georgia to the championship against Alabama. Michel was named the offensive MVP of the game and selected 31st overall in the NFL draft by the New England Patriots that spring. Who could ever forget a double-overtime victory? Though I’m sure all of Oklahoma’s semifinal fails are just jumbled together for them at this point.
#3: Noah Ruggles Rings In 2023
Who said iconic had to be a positive outcome? There are plenty of hilariously tragic scenarios that are permanently stamped into my memory and I don’t have to dig too far in the memory bank for this one. The Ohio State Buckeyes snuck into the CFP this season and were pitted against the reigning champion Bulldogs in one semifinal. I know most of us sat there on New Year’s Eve with some coin invested in the Dawgs’ -5 spread. But if you were like me, you ended the year with some chewed-off fingernails. The game was close, like one-point difference close.
As the ball was dropping in Times Square, the football was being lined up in the final seconds for an Ohio State field-goal try. A 50-yard attempt stood between the Buckeyes and a berth in the national championship. The countdown is on.
The Buckeyes’ sixth-year kicker, Noah Ruggles, takes a breath and waits for the snap. It would be the longest field goal of his career. He could be the hero who puts an end to Georgia’s hopes of being the first back-to-back champion since 2012.
The ball is snapped. Ruggles’ foot meets the pigskin, and after brief contact, it leaves his edge and goes soaring...
Soaring... sideways... far left.
The ball drops in New York and it drops on the field, far from the uprights. As couples kiss to celebrate the new year, Ohio State kisses its championship dreams goodbye. The Bulldogs storm the field, celebrating a 42-41 victory. Georgia goes on to win the national championship over the TCU Horned Frogs in a ruthless 65-7 beating. The tabloids are labeling Kirby Smart and his program as a dynasty favored to accomplish a three-peat. But that doesn’t happen if Ruggles sinks the three points. Welcome to 2023, Buckeyes fans. How’s it going for you so far?
GEORGIA IS HEADED BACK TO THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP‼️ pic.twitter.com/9zENcba88W— ESPN (@espn) January 1, 2023
#2: Joe Burrow’s Fairytale Ending
Before being drafted first overall in 2020 and going on to make his mark as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, Burrow was a Division 1 legend with the LSU Tigers. In his final season, he’d already had his name etched on the Heisman Trophy but there was one more piece of hardware Burrow wanted in 2019 and there were a few steps involved to get it. First, he took down the Sooners in the semifinals – just like everyone else, I guess – by throwing for seven touchdowns and adding a two-yard rushing score for good measure.
Up next was a cat fight as Burrow’s Tigers brawled with the Clemson Tigers, who featured the predatory defensive skills of A.J. Terrell (Atlanta Falcons), K’Von Wallace (Philadelphia Eagles), Tanner Muse (Seattle Seahawks) and Isaiah Simmons (Arizona Cardinals). Trailing by 11 points at halftime, LSU clawed back to pounce on the national title. Burrow finished the night completing 31 of 49 passes for a whopping 463 yards and six touchdowns. LSU hasn’t looked as good since then, with its 10-4 record this past season its best one since the championship campaign.
Reasons why 2019 #LSU is the greatest team of all time.— Preston Guy (@PGuy_77) January 10, 2023
1. Seven wins over top-10 teams - the most in FBS history.
2. Not once did an apposing team have the ball with a chance to tie the game in the 4th quarter.
3. Joe Burrow had the only 6,000-yard season in FBS history.
Burrow walked away from college football dripping in style. Now, he continues to be the talk of the big leagues, whether it’s your buddies admiring his beauty on the field or your girlfriend just admiring his beauty, period.
#1: Freshman 15, Actually 13
We’ve all heard the myth of the “Freshman 15,” where your first year spent at college adds extra pounds to the scale. But the only freshman number Alabama was worried about in 2018 was No. 13 – Tua Tagovailoa. The young quarterback sat on the bench for most of the season, so the national championship wasn’t any different as he watched starting signal-caller Jalen Hurts get the nod as usual.
But head coach Nick Saban wasn’t satisfied with Hurts’ first-half performance, with the Tide scoreless at the break and trailing Georgia by 13 points. So he made the call to send out Tagovailoa and whoever said a tiger needs to earn his stripes was wrong here. Tagovailoa stormed the field and rallied his team to a comeback that sent the game into extra time.
It was do-or-die time. After being sacked, the freshman quarterback bounced back up with a monstrous toss that landed in the hands of fellow freshman DeVonta Smith. The Tide watched Smith cross the goal line and a swarm of celebratory teammates bolted to the end zone as the scoreboard flashed the 26-23 victory – even Nick Saban beamed with excitement, which is a rare sight. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa stood in the spot where the ball left his hand, with one finger pointed to the sky before he was buried by his teammates.
Tagovailoa would go on to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist and was drafted fifth overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2020. Smith would hoist the Heisman hardware and be drafted 10th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles the following year. But at that moment in Atlanta, the only weight the freshmen were carrying was the load of the national championship trophy over their heads.
On this day 5 years ago, Tua Tagovailoa entered the National Championship after halftime and led Alabama to a comeback win over Georgia 🏆pic.twitter.com/GHEKeSc0Cn— 247Sports (@247Sports) January 8, 2023