USC had to win their 2006 regular-season finale to earn a spot in the BCS National Championship, where they would play for a third title in four years.
The Trojans were undefeated (11-0), ranked No. 2 in the Week 13 BCS standings, and facing UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Dec. 2, 2006. The five-win Bruins, meanwhile, had limped through a four-game losing streak earlier in the season and were playing for bowl eligibility.
Trailing 13-9 with one minute remaining, USC quarterback John David Booty was picked off by UCLA safety Eric McNeal deep in the Bruins' territory (2:25 in the video below). Although Aaron Perez' 63-yard, 11-second punt on the ensuing possession officially ended USC's title hopes, McNeal's interception was the nail in the coffin.
Championship seasons aren't built on one play — or even one game — but championship hopes can be crushed on one single play, such as John David Booty's interception 11 years ago. Had he led the Trojans to a game-winning touchdown, the 2007 BCS National Championship would've been Ohio State vs. USC, rather than Ohio State vs. Florida.
Here are more plays from the regular season or conference championships (since 2005) that knocked teams out the championship or playoff picture. To be eligible, the play must have been the decisive blow (to a reasonable extent) to a team's hopes.
Notre Dame, 2005: The Bush Push
Oct. 15, 2005
Trailing the Irish 31-28 with seven seconds left, Matt Leinart's one-yard touchdown run (2:09 below) gave them the victory. It's not certain they would've made the BCS National Championship had Matt Leinart's Reggie Bush-aided plunge fallen short, but they would've had a great shot.
Louisville, 2006: The Rutgers Game
Nov. 9, 2006
Rutgers and Louisville — both undefeated — were tied through 59 minutes of their November 2006 game before Jeremy Ito's 28-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining (4:08 below) gave the Scarlet Knights a win over the No. 3 Cardinals.
Side note: Rutgers blew their BCS shot a week later with a blowout loss vs. Cincinnati, during which there wasn't a single key play that ended their hopes.
Michigan, 2006: Smith to Robiskie
Nov. 18, 2006
Ohio State (No. 1) and Michigan (No. 2) were both undefeated (11-0) and atop the BCS when they met in Columbus in November 2006. Troy Smith's 13-yard touchdown pass to Terry Robiskie with 5:38 remaining (1:09:35 below) put Ohio State ahead by two scores.
While the Wolverines remained No. 2 in the Week 12 rankings, they were jumped by USC in Week 13 and, after the Trojans lost their finale to UCLA, Florida in the final standings.
Oregon, 2007: Dennis Dixon Injury
Nov. 15, 2007
Up 8-7 midway through the first quarter, Dennis Dixon suffered a gruesome knee injury that ended his season. The Ducks lost that game and their next two to fall well outside the title picture.
Kansas, 2007: Mizzou's Border War Safety
Nov. 24, 2007
Once upon a time, Kansas and Missouri were good at football and played for a chance to be one game away from the national championship. The Tigers led 14-0 at half and 28-7 at the end of the third quarter before Todd Reesing led a furious comeback that made it 34-28 with two minutes remaining.
Though the Jayhawks' chances were slim to none when Reesing got the ball back at their own 11 with 17 seconds left, a sack by Mizzou officially ended it.
Missouri, 2007: Daniels' Pick
Dec. 1, 2007
A week after beating Kansas to win the Big 12 North, Missouri fell to Oklahoma.
Though the final score suggests this game was lopsided, the Tigers were within seven points late in the third quarter when Curtis Lofton returned a Chase Daniel interception to the Missouri seven-yard line (4:43 below). Sam Bradford hit Jermaine Gresham for a five-yard touchdown two plays later. It was over.
West Virginia, 2007: Backyard Nightmare
Dec. 1, 2007
They lost, which was all but decided when Mountaineers' quarterback Pat White — down 13-9 but deep in the Panthers' territory with fewer than two minutes left — bobbled the snap and was sacked by Greg Romeus to force 4th-and-17 (2:41 below).
Texas, 2008: "Crabtree Pulls Free!"
Nov. 1, 2008
The Longhorns won their remaining three games but still finished behind Oklahoma (No. 1) and Florida (No. 2), the former of whom they beat in October.
Side note: Similarly to Rutgers in 2006, Texas Tech blew their BCS shot two weeks later with a blowout loss vs. Oklahoma, during which there wasn't a single key play that ended their hopes.
Alabama, 2008: Tebow to Cooper
Dec. 6, 2008
Alabama and Florida were No. 1 and No. 4 in the BCS standings, respectively, when they met in the 2008 SEC Championship. With No. 2 Oklahoma expected to beat Missouri in the Big 12 Championship, No. 3 Texas idle and No. 4 USC playing lowly UCLA, the winner was guaranteed to earn a top-two spot.
Florida took the four-point lead on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that was aided by a drive-extending D'Onta Hightower facemask. Seven minutes later Tim Tebow hit Riley Cooper for a five-yard touchdown to make it a two-score game with three minutes left (2:15 below).
Florida, 2009: Bama's 17-Play Drive
Dec. 5, 2009
In the 2009 SEC Championship Greg McElroy's 17-yard touchdown pass to Colin Peek gave Alabama a 13-point lead early in the third quarter. But it was their 17-play, nine-minute drive that ended with a Mark Ingram one-yard touchdown plunge with 13 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the game (6:39 below) that truly sent Florida home.
Boise State, 2010: Missed Field Goal (Part 1)
Nov. 26, 2010
No. 4 Boise State was 10-0 and two wins away from a perfect season and potential BCS title game bid. Tied with Nevada, 31-31, with nine seconds remaining, Kellen Moore connected with Titus Young on a 54-yard bomb to set up a game-winning 26-yard field goal attempt.
Kyle Brotzman missed. And then he missed again (from 29 yards) in overtime, opening the door for Nevada's own game-winning attempt, which Anthony Martinez hit.
Ultimately, the loss didn't matter in the national title picture — the Broncos would not have jumped either Auburn (13-0) or Oregon (12-0) — but was seen as a title-ending blow at the time.
Wisconsin, 2011: Hail Marys (Plural)
Oct. 22, 2011, and Oct. 29, 2011
Again, they lost BOTH games on Hail Marys.
It's tough to predict if they could've beat out Alabama for the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings had they lost just one, but if the first loss didn't crush their hopes, the second one definitely did.
Boise State, 2011: Missed Field Goal (Part 2)
Nov. 11, 2011
Three hundred and fifty days after Kyle Brotzman's missed field goal, Dan Goodale did the exact same thing.
Trailing TCU by one with three seconds left, the Broncos' freshman kicker, who entered the game with four career field goal attempts (three made), missed from 39 yards.
Boise State dropped from No. 5 to No. 10 in the Week 11 rankings, finishing five spots behind No. 2 Alabama.
Oklahoma State, 2011: "Touchdown, They Did It!"
Nov. 18, 2011
After missing a game-winning 37-yard field goal attempt with a minute remaining, Oklahoma State fell to the Cyclones in double overtime when Brandon Weeden's interception on the first play of the second extra session was followed by a Jeff Woody four-yard touchdown run (1:42 below).
Oklahoma State finished No. 3 in the final BCS standings.
Florida, 2012: Reed's Fumble
Oct. 27, 2012
Georgia (No. 10) forced five Florida (No. 2) turnovers in the first three quarters of their October 2012 game but led by just one point, 10-9, midway through the fourth quarter. That's when Malcolm Mitchell ran through the Gators' defense for a 45-yard touchdown reception.
Florida marched down the field on the next possession and had 2nd-and-6 from Georgia's 18. Jordan Reed caught a short pass from Jeff Driskel, spun out a tackle and barrelled toward the end zone.
He fumbled (2:40 below). Georgia recovered. Game over.
Florida didn't lose again but finished third in the BCS.
Oregon, 2012: Ducks Go Down
Nov. 17, 2012
Oregon was No. 2 in the Week 11 BCS standings, one spot behind Kansas State and one ahead of Notre Dame. Neither the Wildcats nor Ducks were in the top four of the Week 12 standings. (Kansas State is not included on this list because they were beat soundly by Baylor.)
Stanford beat Oregon in overtime after they converted a 37-yard field goal (10:54 below), something the Ducks couldn't do (41 yards) on their possession.
Georgia, 2012: Conley Should've Dropped It
Dec. 1, 2012
Five weeks after Georgia's win over Florida, their title-seeking souls were crushed by Alabama.
It was Amari Cooper's 45-yard touchdown reception with three minutes left that gave the Tide a 31-28 lead but the decisive play came when Aaron Murray's pass was tipped and caught by Chris Conley (2:46 below).
Georgia watched helplessly as time ran out.
Alabama, 2013: Kick Six
Nov. 30, 2013
No introduction necessary for one of the greatest plays in college football history.
Ohio State, 2013: Langford Up the Middle
Dec. 7, 2013
A year after Ohio State was ineligible for the postseason, they finished the regular season undefeated and needed a win over Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship to reach the national championship.
They couldn't do it.
Ohio State trailed 27-24 with three minutes remaining and in needed of a stop to force a Spartans' field goal. Instead, Jeremy Langford burst through the middle on 2nd-and-2 to put them ahead 34-24 (2:42 below), effectively ending the game.
TCU, 2014: Meltdown
Oct. 11, 2014
TCU (4-0) led Baylor (5-0) 58-37 with 11 minutes remaining following a Marcus Mallet pick-six. They lost.
Though the Horned Frogs were far from guaranteed a spot in the inaugural playoff with Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State still on the schedule (they won all three), their epic meltdown ultimately kept them outside the four-team field. The final blow was a 28-yard field goal as time expired (26:26 below).
Baylor, 2014: Trickett to Alford
Oct. 18, 2014
One week after shocking TCU, Baylor gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to West Virginia, the latter of which — a 39-yard catch-and-run by Mario Alford (21:45 below) — put the Mountaineers up 14 points with seven minutes remaining.
While arguable that touchdown ended the game, Baylor was struggling badly to move the football and was unlikely to score twice in seven minutes. The Bears — like TCU — finished 11-1.
Mississippi State, 2014: Battle of the Unbeatens
Nov. 15, 2014
Mississippi State was ranked No. 1 in the first three CFP rankings ever. Enter Alabama.
Trailing 25-13 with five minutes left — two minutes after T.J. Yeldon's seven-yard touchdown run put Alabama ahead 25-13 — Dak Prescott took the Bulldogs to the Tide 20-yard line in nine plays. The tenth play was a Landon Collins' interception (12:27 below).
Mississippi State did lose again (two weeks later to Ole Miss) but still may had a margin for error had they beat Alabama.
Michigan, 2015: The Punt
Oct. 17, 2015
Like the Kick Six, one of the wildest endings in history needs no introduction.
However, Michigan's chances at the playoff were dicey. They already lost to Utah and were throttled in the regular-season finale by Ohio State, 43-13.
Florida State, 2015: "You Can't Believe What Just Happened!"
Oct. 24, 2015
Tied at 16-16 with six seconds remaining, the Yellow Jackets blocked Roberto Aguayo's 58-yard field goal attempt and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown with no time left.
Despite that loss and another (23-13 vs. Clemson), Florida State still finished ninth in the final CFP rankings.
Ohio State, 2015: Geiger's Field Goal
Nov. 21, 2015
The first of two instances in 2015 in which Michigan State both played spoiler and punched — or took a step toward punching — their own playoff ticket Michael Geiger's game-winning 41-yard field goal won the Big Ten East and put them within a game of the playoff.
Ohio State beat Michigan a week later but finished eighth in the CFP rankings.
Iowa, 2015: L.J. Scott's Playoff-Clinching TD
Dec. 5, 2015
The second of the Spartans' dual spoiler-clinch plays, L.J. Scott's one-yard touchdown plunge in the Big Ten Championship gave Michigan State a three-point lead over Iowa, which the Hawkeyes' offense had no chance of erasing in 27 seconds.
Iowa was out. Michigan State was in.
Michigan, 2016: Iowa Game
Nov. 12, 2016
Michigan entered their Nov. 12 game against Iowa undefeated (9-0) and No. 3 in the Week 12 CFP rankings.
The Wolverines managed 201 yards of offense, committed two turnovers and went 5-for-15 on third down. Though the Hawkeyes offense was equally miserable, they scored 14 points. Michigan scored 13.
Keith Duncan's 33-yard field goal as time expired all but ensured Michigan would not win the Big Ten East, thus would not have a chance to jump in the playoff field barring a shocking loss from one (or more) of the top four teams.
Wisconsin, 2017: Badgers' Comeback Falls Short
Dec. 2, 2017
Despite all of Wisconsin's success over the last two decades, the Badgers' record books and trophy case has a couple gaping holes. They have never won — or played for — a national championship or had an undefeated season. That almost changed this year.
After posting a 12-0 regular-season mark for the first time ever, the Badgers needed a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship to clinch a playoff spot. They roared back from a 21-7 first-half deficit and got the ball down six points, 27-21, with three minutes remaining. While Alex Hornibrook's interception on 4th-and-20 with one minute left officially ended their season, there wasn't truly a single play on the final drive that ended their title hopes.
Georgia, 2018: Bama's 3rd-and-8 Conversion
One year after blowing a 13-0 halftime lead vs. Alabama in the national championship, Georgia had another shot at the Crimson Tide. They blew it again, this time a seven-point fourth-quarter lead.
Tied at 28-28 with under two minutes remaining, Alabama faced 3rd-and-8 from midfield. Jalen Hurts connected with Irv Smith Jr. for a 19-yard reception that put Alabama into field-goal position. While Hurts' 15-yard touchdown run and failed last-second heave by Jake Fromm minutes later ultimately ended Georgia's playoff shot, it was the Smith reception that put kicker Joseph Bulovas into range.