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Monday, August 4, 2008

College Football's Clutch Performers

Clutch non-BCS players through history

The following is a list of 10 of the non-BCS' top clutch performers. This list is in no way comprehensive. There are too many players who have made too many clutch plays to create a comprehensive list. But these players were responsible for some of the most clutch performances in college football.

Joe Montana, QB, Notre Dame -- Notre Dame's comeback kid produced six major come-from-behind victories, including the infamous Chicken Soup Game where he slurped chicken broth during an ice Cotton Bowl to stave off hypothermia and the flu.
Roger Staubach, QB, Navy -- Was dubbed "Captain Comeback" in the pros with the Dallas Cowboys, but the legend started at Navy in 1962 when Staubach led Navy to two wins over Army and won the Heisman in 1963.
Jared Zabransky, QB, Boise State -- Led the Broncos to a perfect 13-0 season in 2006, including throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns in an overtime win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
George Gipp, TB/QB, Notre Dame -- One of the Irish's best athletes to ever play. Battling injury and illness, Gipp scores the game-winning touchdown to stave off an Indiana upset bid in 1920.
Jeff Ballard, QB, TCU -- Led TCU to an 18-point comeback to beat BYU 51-50 for the Mountain West championship in 2005. Ballard had thrown just one pass in his career prior to the game but went 8 of 12 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Ballard was 19-2 as a starter.
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU -- Tomlinson put TCU back on the map helping it end a 41-year bowl drought in 1998. If a play needed to be made, Tomlinson was the one to get the ball.
Robbie Bosco, QB, BYU -- Led the Cougars to a 24-17 fourth-quarter comeback victory over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl to give BYU its first national championship in 1988
Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State -- The other half of the dynamic duo that led Boise State to a win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in 2006. He rushed for 101 yards, a touchdown and scored the game-winning two-point conversion.
Jim McMahon, QB, BYU -- Led BYU back from a 20-point deficit with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter against SMU in the Holiday Bowl. The game would later be called the "Miracle Bowl."
Davey O'Brien, QB, TCU -- One of the most decorated athletes in TCU history. In 1939, he threw a touchdown pass and kicked a field goal to beat Carnegie Tech 15-7 in the Sugar Bowl and earn TCU a national championship.

A look at 'most clutch' players in Big 12 history

The Big 12's short history has been dotted by key performers with a knack for making the big plays. Here are 10 of the most notable. I'd be curious to know if anybody has any other thoughts as well.

* Texas QB Major Applewhite (1998-2001) His mettle was shown in his freshman season when he led a comeback at Nebraska, snapping the Cornhuskers' 47-game home winning streak. And he wrapped up his career by leading Texas back from a 19-point deficit late in the third quarter in a comeback triumph over Washington in the Holiday Bowl in his final game.

* Kansas State QB Jonathan Beasley (1996-2000) Not nearly as flashy as his predecessor, Michael Bishop, but Beasley just had a knack for producing in key situations. He became the only quarterback in school history to lead the Wildcats to back-to-back bowl victories, but he's more remembered for leading the Wildcats for a game-winning touchdown in a driving snowstorm against Nebraska to clinch the 2000 North title.

* Colorado K Mason Crosby (2003-06) The most consistent clutch kicker in Big 12 history made 12 of 13 field goals in the fourth quarter, including a perfect 10 of 10 in the final 8 1/2 minutes of a game.

* Nebraska QB Eric Crouch (1998-2001) Big 12's career rushing leader among quarterbacks wrapped up the 2001 Heisman Trophy with dramatic 63-yard throwback pass from Mike Stuntz against Oklahoma, taking the Cornhuskers to the national championship game. But his 95-yard TD run against Missouri -- longest in league history by a quarterback -- showed some moxie.

* Iowa State NT Brent Curvey (2003-2006) Massive 295-pounder was one of the best run-stuffers of his era. But he also earned the nickname of "Big Play Curvey" with three career touchdown returns, including a dramatic 66-yard interception return as a senior that wrapped up a victory over Colorado in 2005.

* Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell (2006-present) Has a knack for bowl comebacks, leading the Red Raiders back from double-digit fourth-quarter deficits in the last two seasons. Included was a 24-point fourth-quarter comeback against Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl.

* Texas A&M RB Sirr Parker (1995-98) Although hampered by injuries most of his senior season, he delivered a performance for the ages in the 1998 championship, scoring on a game-winning 32-yard TD pass from Branndon Stewart in overtime after earlier scoring a TD and a two-point conversion to tie the score in regulation.

* Missouri QB Brad Smith (2002-05) Started early by leading comebacks from his freshman season. He finished with his biggest clutch performance, directing the Tigers back from an early 21-0 lead in a 38-31 victory over South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl.

* Oklahoma S Roy Williams (1999-2001) His leaping blitz helped cause an interception of Chris Simms that was returned for a touchdown by Teddy Lehman, sealing a dramatic victory over Texas in 2001. But he had a repeated flair for key plays throughout his career, helping earn him the nickname "Superman" while playing for the Sooners.

* Texas QB Vince Young (2003-05) Arguably the best clutch player in recent college football history, he had a knack for making big plays at key moments. He tormented Oklahoma State with comebacks, made Mark Mangino erupt after a fourth-quarter scramble and saved his best for last with a performance for the ages beating USC for the national title.

Most clutch ACC players
Brock Berlin -- In 2003, he helped Miami score 28 unanswered points for a 38-33 comeback win against his former team, Florida.

James Davis -- Davis scored the game-winner in 2005 against rival South Carolina, a 2-yard run with 5:58 left that gave Clemson the 13-9 win. He also scored the game winner in 2006 against Florida State, a 1-yard run with eight seconds left for the 27-20 win.

Doug Flutie -- Is there a play that defines "clutch" better than Flutie's Hail Mary pass against Miami? Flutie left school as the NCAA's all-time passing yardage leader with 10,579 yards.

Chris Gould -- Virginia wouldn't have been the ACC's most current clutch team had it not been for Gould. He kicked 16 field goals last season and his kicks in five games were the difference (game winners vs. Middle Tennessee and UConn, 5 FGs in 22-20 win over UNC, early FG vs. Maryland in 18-17 win and early FG vs. WFU in 17-16 win).

Sebastian Janikowski -- He set Florida State and ACC records with 27 field goals in 1998. A year later, Janikowski made 84.4 percent (27-of-32) and led the nation with an average of 2.23 per game.

Calvin Johnson -- The No. 1 draft pick finished with 178 career receptions for 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns. He ranks first in school history in career receiving yards, second in receptions, first in touchdown receptions, and first in most career 100-yard receiving games with 13.

Frank Reich -- Can't forget the King of the Comeback. In 1984, trailing defending national champ Miami 31-0 at halftime, Reich completed 12 of 16 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns for a 42-40 win and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Eight years later, he orchestrated one of the NFL's greatest comebacks. His Buffalo Bills trailed Houston, 35-3, but Reich came in for an injured Jim Kelly and won, 41-38, in overtime.

Philip Rivers -- The number of clutch plays this guys made is worth a separate entry, as he made six comeback wins his freshman year alone.

Matt Ryan -- His two-touchdown come-from-behind win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last season with 2:11 left on the clock will always be remembered.

David Treadwell -- Treadwell kicked game-winning field goals inside the last five seconds against Georgia in consecutive years. He kicked a 46-yard field goal on the last play in 1986 at Georgia, then kicked a 21-yarder with two seconds left to beat the Bulldogs in 1987. He also kicked a field goal on the last play of the game in 1985 to beat Virginia Tech.

The SEC's 'most clutch' players of all-time

Doug Atkins, DE, Tennessee: The Vols went 29-3-1 with Atkins on the field and won the 1951 national championship. He was ahead of his time as an athlete and only lost one SEC game during his career.

Kevin Butler, K, Georgia: One of the best clutch kickers in college football history, Butler set the NCAA record with 27 multiple field-goal games and was a part of two SEC championship teams.

Billy Cannon, RB, LSU: They still talk about his famous punt return on Halloween night in 1959 to beat Ole Miss. Cannon, a speedster by even today's standards, was the centerpiece of the Tigers' 1958 national championship team.

Lee Roy Jordan, LB, Alabama: Considered the best inside linebacker in Alabama history. Jordan's 31 tackles against Oklahoma in the 1963 Orange Bowl is the stuff from which legends are made.

Barry Krauss, LB, Alabama: His memorable tackle on the goal line against Penn State in the 1979 Sugar Bowl to preserve Bear Bryant's next-to-last national championship was a snapshot of a career that epitomized clutch play.

Archie Manning, QB, Ole Miss: He didn't play on great teams, but remains perhaps the best all-around quarterback to play in the SEC. Manning played with a broken arm as a senior and was called by Bear Bryant the best college quarterback he ever saw.

Ken Stabler, QB, Alabama: Stabler was 28-3-2 as a starter at Alabama, which has produced its share of great quarterbacks. His "Run in the Mud" to beat Auburn in 1967 remains one of the most famous plays in Tide history.

Herschel Walker, TB, Georgia: Has any other player in SEC history had a greater impact? The Bulldogs went from 6-5 the year before to 12-0 and a national championship when Walker arrived. He won an SEC title all three years he was in school.

Al Wilson, LB, Tennessee: The heart and soul of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team, Wilson willed the Vols to victory more than once and left school with a pair of SEC championship rings.

Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida: He didn't have a prototypical NFL arm and wasn't very big, but "Danny Wonderful" was a machine at finding open receivers. The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner threw an SEC-record 114 touchdown passes and won four SEC titles.

Pac-10 clutch performers from the past

Terry Baker, QB, Oregon State: The first Heisman Trophy winner from the West Coast, Baker's 99-yard touchdown run was the only score in the Beavers' 6-0 victory in the 1962 Liberty Bowl. That season, Baker was a one-man wrecking crew, passing for 3,476 yards and 23 TDs and rushing for 1,503 yards and 15 TDs. The Beavers wouldn't win another bowl game until the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.

Vic Bottari, HB, California: A three-year starter, team captain and consensus All-American in 1938, "Vallejo Vic" lost just one game his entire career, in which he scored a school-record 145 points. He scored both TDs in Cal's 13-0 victory over Alabama in the 1938 Rose Bowl. That dominant team -- the "Thunder Team" -- finished 9-0-1 and outscored its foes, 201-33. The Bears haven't won a Rose Bowl since.

Jason Gesser, QB, Washington State: Gesser is the program's winningest QB and the only Cougar to be elected team captain three seasons. He led the Cougars to the 2003 Rose Bowl because he engineered a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Carson Palmer and USC.

Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon: His NFL struggles can't obscure what he did in college, which was lead the Ducks to a 25-3 record in his starts, including nine fourth-quarter comebacks and a 3-0 record in bowl games. He threw 59 TD passes and led Oregon to final rankings of No. 7 and No. 2 after the 2000 and 2001 seasons, respectively.

Matt Leinart, QB, USC: He won two national championships and played brilliantly in a losing effort trying to win a third against Texas after the 2005 season. He won the 2004 Heisman Trophy, and was at the center of one of the most amazing comebacks in college football history: USC's 34-31 victory at Notre Dame that included a fourth-and-9 completion and a "Bush Push" QB sneak for the winning score with three seconds remaining.

Cade McNown, QB, UCLA: His NFL career never flourished, but UCLA fans remember him as the QB who beat USC four times, including a rally from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit for a 48-41 OT victory in 1996. Further exploits: A 41-38 overtime win over Oregon in 1998; three TD passes in a 31-24 1997 victory at USC; two TD passes and another on the ground in a 29-23 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M.

Marques Tuiasosopo, QB, Washington: He engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks during the 2000 season and won the Rose Bowl MVP award. His most dramatic work? A three-play, three-completion, 80-yard TD drive with less than a minute remaining and no timeouts to beat Stanford.

Jake Plummer, QB, Arizona State: Jake "The Snake" was the swashbuckling face of the 1996 Sun Devils. He led them to a double-overtime victory over USC and accounted for three TDs in the final eight minutes in a comeback win over UCLA. He nearly led ASU to a perfect season, falling victim to a late Ohio State TD in the Rose Bowl.

Charles White, RB, USC: The 1979 Heisman Trophy winner finished his career with nearly 6,000 yards rushing, but it was his MVP performance in the 1980 Rose Bowl that cemented his name in clutch lore. White rushed for a bowl-record 247 yards in the Trojans' 17-16 comeback victory. On the game-winning drive, he carried six times for 71 yards.

Max Zendejas, K, Arizona: As a freshman in 1982, his 48-yard field goal with no time remaining gave Arizona a 16-13 win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame. He went on to kick critical field goals in two victories over Arizona State and rewrite the school's record book.

Big Ten's clutch players from the past

Anthony Carter, WR, Michigan [1979-82] -- Carter was only a freshman when he played a part in one of the greatest plays in Michigan history, hauling in a 45-yard touchdown pass as time expired to beat Indiana in 1979. The wideout/return man had 37 touchdown receptions in three seasons.

Kerry Collins, QB, Penn State [1991-94] -- Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, and Collins made his mark the next year. He led the Nittany Lions to a 12-0 record, which included three road victories (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois) by seven points or fewer.

Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin [1996-99] -- The NCAA's all-time rushing leader made his mark in big games, winning back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards after rushing for 246 yards and 200 yards in Badger victories. Dayne also had a 246-yard effort in his first bowl appearance, a Cotton Bowl win against Utah.

Bob Griese, QB, Purdue [1964-66] -- Griese's near-flawless performance in Purdue's upset of No. 1 Notre Dame in 1965 stands as one of the greatest in team history. The next year he led the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl appearance and a 14-13 win against USC.

Brian Griese, QB, Michigan [1994-97] -- After coming off the bench to rally the Wolverines past Ohio State in 1996, Griese cemented himself as a clutch quarterback the next season. He led Michigan to a 12-0 record and a national championship, winning five games by 10 points or fewer, including a 21-16 triumph over Washington State in the Rose Bowl.

Jim Harbaugh, QB, Michigan [1983-86] -- Considered by many to be the best quarterback in school history, Harbaugh led Michigan to a 27-23 win against Nebraska in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl. He won four games by three points or fewer as a senior.

Nile Kinnick, RB, Iowa [1937-39] -- The stadium is named after him for a reason. Kinnick did it all for Iowa, including a 63-yard punt that pinned No. 1 Notre Dame at the 6-yard line in a 7-6 Hawkeyes win in 1939.

Craig Krenzel, QB, Ohio State [2000-03] -- He took heat for his arm strength, but no one could question his late-game toughness. The two-time Fiesta Bowl MVP led Ohio State to a national title in 2002 with his arm and his legs.

Chuck Long, QB, Iowa [1981-85] -- A dramatic fourth-down touchdown run against Michigan State kicked off a memorable 1985 season for the Hawkeyes and Long, who many believe should have won the Heisman Trophy. Two weeks later, Long rallied Iowa past Michigan.

Mike Nugent, PK, Ohio State [2001-04] -- Record-setting kicker was nearly unshakable under pressure. He kicked game-tying and game-winning field goals to beat Purdue in overtime in 2003, and his game-winning 55-yard kick against Marshall stands out in an otherwise forgettable 2004 season.

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