In college football, a single player’s performance alone can lead a team to victory. This is somewhat true in the pros where quarterbacks like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady can just throw five touchdowns and win a game, but in college it can be anyone from a quarterback to a running to even a cornerback whose performance can carry a team to victory. What I’m saying here is that great players tend to shine more in the NCAA than in the NFL. To celebrate these greats, here are the top ten best single-game performances in college football history.
10. DT Ndamukong Suh, December 5th, 2009
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Texas Longhorns, Big 12 Championship Game
12 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 QB hits
Before Suh was stomping on guy’s heads, I mean, playing Pro Bowl-level defense in the NFL, he was tearing it up playing defensive tackle for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Despite this monster performance in the 2009 Big 12 Championship game, the Cornhuskers ended up losing the game to Colt McCoy and the Longhorns, 13-12. It was a good preview of his entire tenure with the Lions.
9. QB Robert Griffin III, November 19th, 2011
Baylor Bears vs. Oklahoma Sooners
21 for 34, 479 yards, 4 TDs, 18 rushes for 72 yards
Despite the not-so-great completion percentage, this was probably RGIII’s best game during his 2011 Heisman campaign. It also helps that they knocked off a then no. 5 Oklahoma team and ended their National Champions hopes. Would be higher but he did get quite lucky on one of his touchdowns.
8. WR Rashaun Woods, September 22nd, 2003
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. SMU Mustangs
13 receptions, 232 yards, 7 TDs
13 receptions and seven touchdowns? That’s pretty crazy. That means every other time he caught a pass, it was in the endzone. Five of those touchdowns came in the first half and coach Wes Miles kept him in during the second half to go for the record, even though Oklahoma State eventually won 52-6. Turns out it is more touchdowns than he had his entire NFL career.
7. CB Johnnie Jackson, November 7th, 1987
Houston Cougars vs. Texas Longhorns
3 Interceptions, 3 TDs
Unfortunately, the only box score available for this game online doesn’t list the rest of Jackson’s states. But he did set an NCAA record that day for returning three interceptions for touchdowns , including one near the end of the game for 97 yards. Seeing a guy get three interceptions in a game is rare enough, but seeing someone do that AND return them all for touchdowns? That will probably never happen again.
6. QB Tim Tebow, November 10th, 2007
Florida Gators vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
22 for 32, 302 passing yards, 26 rushes for 120 yards, 7 total touchdowns
Even though most people hate Tim Tebow, he was an undeniably great college quarterback. His best game of the 2007 season (the one he won a Heisman for) was his seven touchdown performance against South Carolina, five of which were rushing. Maybe if he had thrown a few more in people would give him a shot in the NFL.
5. QB Cam Newton, December 4th, 2010
Auburn Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks, SEC Championship Game
17 for 28, 335 yards passing, 14 rushes for 73 yards, 6 total TDs
Newton is another running quarterback who put up huge numbers over the South Carolina Gamecocks en route to a Hesiman trophy (although he found more success in the pros). Newton’s great performance came in the SEC Championship Game and ensure the Tigers made it to the BCS Championship Game, which they also won.
4. RB Barry Sanders, December 3rd 1988
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas Tech
44 rushes for 332 yards, 4 touchdowns
There are several unusual notes about this game. First of all, Sanders won the Heisman hours before this game began so he could’ve fumbled the ball eight times and rushed for negative yards and he still would’ve received the trophy. Second of all, this game was played in Tokyo for some reason. And lastly, by running for 332 yards, Sanders ended the season with 2,628 total rushing yards, setting a NCAA record and finishing off what is probably the greatest single season in NCAA history.
3. RB Red Grange, October 28, 1924
Illinois Fighting Irish vs. Michigan Wolverines
21 rushes for 402 yards, 78 passing yards, 6 total touchdowns
The numbers for the whole game are pretty good, but it’s really the first quarter that’s amazing. Grange returned the opening kick of the game for 95 yards and a touchdown, then scored three more rushing TDs in the first quarter. He had over 200 rushing yards after only 12 minutes of play. Pretty darn impressive. And the grainy video proves it
2. QB Geno Smith, September 29th, 2012
West Virginia vs. Baylor
45 for 51, 656 yards, 8 touchdowns
Not only was this Geno Smith’s first Big 12 game, it was West Virginia’s first ever game in the conference after moving from the Big East. The final score of the game was 70-63. Undoubtedly the greatest offensive football game ever played.
1. QB Vince Young, January 4th 2006
Texas Longhorns vs. USC Trojans, BCS Championship Game
30 for 40, 267 yards, 19 rushes for 200 yards, 3 TDs
Ok, technically this isn’t the greatest statistical game of all-time. But considering this was the best performance in the greatest college football game ever, it gets in. No one expected Texas to compete in the 2006 BCS Championship game against the defending champion Trojans, and yet with less than 30 seconds, this happened:
No statistic can show how amazing this play was in the moment.
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Joseph Misulonas is the Girls co-editor for Playboy.com. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.