LSU’s 18-13 loss last weekend at Auburn was unusual for several reasons.
The ending was bizarre, with LSU believing it had won the game before replay (correctly) determined the Bengal Tigers failed to get the final play off in time.
The aftermath was even more so, with LSU firing coach Les Miles and naming Ed Orgeron as his interim replacement.
It’s a game that changed the course of LSU’s program and, in a way, may have done the same for Auburn. If the result was reversed, would Gus Malzahn have kept his job? We’ll never know.
Most of the biggest moments in any college football season come later, but September has had its share of “wow” moments through the years.
Here are the five most important September moments in college football history:
5. Tennessee 45, Virginia Tech 24
The Battle at Bristol earlier this month smashed college football’s single-game attendance record, previously held by a Michigan-Notre Dame clash.
The official announced crowd at Bristol Motor Speedway was 156,990, but the Guinness Book of World Records counts only scanned tickets. That lowers the tally to 130,045.
Either way, a bunch of people watched. The ratings also were good, and both schools pocketed $4 million — before concessions.
It was quite a scene and one that’s likely to be repeated sooner than later.
4. Marshall 15, Xavier 13
In 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed near the Tri-State Airport, killing all 75 people on board. Thirty-seven of those were Marshall football players, and nine more were coaches.
About 10 months later, the Thundering Herd took the field for the first time after the tragedy. They won on the final play of the game, a 13-yard pass from Reggie Oliver to Terry Gardner.
“I had no doubt that we could,” Oliver told HerdNation.com in 2010. “You look into the eyes of 10 other players, and they seemed to have the same mindset. I was the trigger man. I knew I could do it, and I had those types of successes in high school.
“I think the high school that I came from and four other players that were on that plane came from Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We had been in those type of games before, and I had been a part of a lot of wins that I was at the helm of. So there was time on the clock, (I thought) let’s go get it done!”
3. USC 42, Alabama 21
In 1970, Southern Cal made the journey to Tuscaloosa to face the Crimson Tide. It did so with the nation’s first all-black starting backfield: Jimmy Jones, Clarence Davis and Sam Cunningham.
Cunningham, who went on to become a first-round selection in the 1973 NFL Draft, rushed for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns against an all-white Alabama squad.
It’s worth noting that Wilbur Jackson, the first black scholarship player for the Tide, was on the roster in 1970. But he was ineligible, as all freshmen were in those days.
The integration of the Alabama program was underway, but the loss against the Trojans may have helped speed up the fans’ acceptance of it.
“I’m just amazed how much the landscape has changed since the late ’60s and early ’70s,” Cunningham told The Wall Street Journal in 2009. “At the time, I didn’t dwell upon how big a deal it was. If I’d thought any further out, I might not have played as well as I did. But seeing the results over the past 40 years, we left an impression on college football and Alabama.”
2. Colorado 27, Michigan 26
Colorado coach Bill McCartney called “Rocket Left” twice in this 1994 game at Ann Arbor. It didn’t work at the end of the first half, when Michigan intercepted Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary pass.
It didn’t look like he’d get a chance to call it again, as No. 4 Michigan led 26-14 late in the fourth quarter. The Buffaloes scored, got a three-and-out and got into position for another try at “Rocket Left,” which is basically a three-receiver bunch on the left with everyone going deep.
Stewart heaved the ball more than 70 yards downfield, and the result was one of the most iconic finishes in college football lore:
“It was absolutely quiet. I saw the catch, I saw the arcs go up signaling touchdown, I went to hug Kordell — and I forgot Kordell was a 4.3-40 guy, and he’s already there at the pile,” then-Colorado assistant coach Rick Neuheisel said. “So, all of a sudden, I lock eyes with death personified: (Michigan coach) Gary Moeller. You talk about the agony of defeat. He’s staring at me and I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness.'”
1. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32
It was the 2007 season opener in Ann Arbor. Michigan was ranked in the preseason top 5, and even though the Mountaineers had won back-to-back FCS titles, this wasn’t expected to be a close game.
This was also the inaugural game on the Big Ten Network, and the stage was set for a big Michigan win.
Except it didn’t turn out that way.
Appalachian State built a 28-17 halftime lead before Michigan stormed back behind a pair of Mike Hart touchdown runs. The visitors battled back, as the Mountaineers’ Julian Rauch hit a 24-yard field goal with 26 seconds left to make it 34-32.
A Chad Henne pass to Mario Manningham put the Wolverines in position to win the game with a field goal, but it was not to be:
Michigan fell out of the top 25 and finished 9-4. Appalachian State won its third consecutive FCS title, which helped plant the seed of the program’s jump to the FBS level in 2014.
Coincidentally, the Mountaineers’ first game as an FBS school was a 52-14 loss to Michigan.