SOUTH BEND, IND. High drama, suspense, a last-second finish.
Southern California's 34-31 victory over Notre Dame had it all. And more. It was just one of many fantastic finishes flashing across TV screens on an October Saturday when college football upstaged the baseball playoffs. West Virginia-Louisville, Michigan-Penn State, UCLA-Washington State, Wisconsin-Minnesota and Alabama-Ole Miss all had their electric moments.
But with the No. 1 team in the country behind in the final minute of play, the latest incarnation of Notre Dame-USC ranks as one of the top five games in the last 25 years.
¢ Ohio State's 31-24 double-overtime victory over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl that ended with the Buckeyes' defense pressuring 'Canes quarterback Ken Dorsey into an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
¢ Miami's stunning 31-30 upset of heavily favored Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl that featured Tom Osborne's decision to go for a two-point conversion and the win instead of kicking a extra point for the tie, which would have given the Cornhuskers the national title.
¢ Doug Flutie clinching the Heisman Trophy with a 48-yard TD pass to Gerald Phelan, the ball going over a mass of Miami players in the end zone on the final play of the game to give BC a 47-45 victory over the 'Canes in a 1984 regular season game at the Orange Bowl.
¢ The 1994 Colorado-Michigan game in which Buffaloes quarterback Kordell Stewart launched a miracle 64-yard TD pass to Michael Westbrook in the end zone on the final play of the game.
Notre Dame-USC introduced us - and the sellout crowd, which included Patriots owner Robert Kraft, ambassador to the Vatican Cardinal Francis Rooney, Eagles coach Andy Reid, comedian Martin Short and grid legend Joe Montana - to a new coaching rivalry between Irish coach Charlie Weis and USC's Pete Carroll. Both did a brilliant job in a game that lived up to its enormous hype. Both refused to hold anything back, gambling when they felt it was justified.
Weis, whose team trailed 7-0 in the first quarter, went for a first down - and got it - on fourth-and-1 at his own 29. Carroll, down 31-28, went for a win - instead of overtime - with the ball on the five-inch line, just seven seconds left and no timeouts remaining, calling for quarterback Matt Leinart to run a sneak up the middle instead of going for a game-tying field goal.
That bold character trait may be why USC (6-0) is the two-time defending national champion, has won 28 straight games and deserves to be No. 1 until it loses - and why Notre Dame (4-2), which remained ninth in the AP poll, is zeroing in on a BCS berth in Weis' first year.
The final play could have been a five-yard penalty for aiding the runner after tailback Reggie Bush admittedly pushed Leinart from behind into the end zone, then joked about it afterward.
"I was pushing as hard as I could," he said.
No one on the Pac-10 officiating crew was going to spoil a perfect ending at that point.----