The much-anticipated rematch of Clemson and Alabama lived up to the hype. Not only did Monday's sequel feature a number of intriguing pregame storylines, the actual game was one of the most thrilling, back-and-forth title games in recent memory.
The knee-jerk reaction after witnessing an instant classic is to rank it historically. Does this game rival the 2006 Rose Bowl, which is largely considered the most exciting championship game in college football history?
Earlier, Chris Low took a crack at ranking the top 10 title games based on a number of factors, such as entertainment value, individual performances, surprising upsets and more. We are going to take a more scientific approach to the topic by ranking recent title games (since 2005) based on what we will call the "excitement index."
This "index" does not care about off-field factors such as Alabama's place in history; rather, it looks solely at what happened on the field to determine which games were the most dramatic and exciting. It does this by measuring the absolute movement in a team's win probability throughout the game, which is visualized in the "EKG-like" chart below. The games with the most movement will be the most exciting, while the ones with the least fluctuation will be the least compelling. Because these charts account for a team's pregame chance to win, the excitement-value of an upset is factored into the calculation.
(For context, the highest excitement score for a non-overtime game this season was 8.4 in TCU's 24-23 victory over Kansas. The lowest score was 0.7 in Maryland's 52-13 win over Howard.)
So which recent title games have been most exciting? It begins with the historic 2006 Rose Bowl, but Monday night's title game is not far behind. One thing is for sure -- we've been lucky enough to witness a number of classics in the past few years.
1. 2005 season: Texas 41, Southern California 38
Excitement score: 6.8
The 2006 Rose Bowl is widely regarded as one of the greatest games in college football history. USC and Texas both entered the game undefeated, and featured dynamic playmakers in Reggie Bush and Vince Young. The Trojans were seeking their 35th consecutive win before Young posted one of the greatest individual performances (467 total yards, 3 TD) in championship game history.
More importantly, this game was a thriller on the field. After a back-and-forth first half, USC took a 12-point lead with 6:42 remaining. At that point, Texas' win probability dropped to 3 percent before Young led the Longhorns on two straight touchdown drives. Young capped off his historic performance with an 8-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds remaining, which increased Texas' chance to win from 37 percent to 94 percent, the most impactful play in a championship game (based on win probability added) since 2005.
2. 2013 season: Florida State 34, Auburn 31
Excitement score: 6.6
It's easy to forget how dominant Florida State was in Jameis Winston's Heisman-winning season. The undefeated Seminoles entered the title game with a plus-42 average scoring margin and had won all but one game by at least 27 points. Meanwhile, Auburn was widely regarded as a "team of destiny" with a number of miraculous finishes, including the 'Prayer at Jordan-Hare' and 'Kick Six' game.
In this game, Auburn jumped out to a 21-3 lead before Florida State scored 17 straight points. The Tigers and Seminoles traded scores in a fourth quarter that included four different plays that increased a team's chance to win by at least 30 percentage points. One of those was Kermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return touchdown. The game was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Seminoles.
3. 2016 season: Clemson 35, Alabama 31
Excitement score: 6.4
Despite all the off-field intrigue, this game will be remembered in future generations because of its exciting fourth quarter. Let's run through the final five minutes. With 4:28 remaining, Wayne Gallman plunged into the end zone to give Clemson its first lead (28-24) of the game. A few plays later, the Tigers' win probability reached 89 percent. Then Jalen Hurts led the Tide 68 yards for a touchdown with 2:07 remaining to take a 31-28 lead, which dropped Clemson's win expectancy to about 18 percent. Finally, Watson mounted a historic drive, which was capped by a 2-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow with 1 second remaining to cap the victory. Overall, Monday's game registered as the third-most exciting in recent history, but the gap between No. 1 and No. 3 is minimal.
4. 2015 season: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
Excitement score: 5.4
The main reason why the Alabama-Clemson sequel was so highly anticipated was because of the way the first game played out. In their first meeting, Watson led the Tigers in a back-and-forth fourth quarter that featured 40 total points and a number of monster plays. Two of those plays were on special teams, as Alabama recovered a surprise onside kick (plus-0.16 WPA) and returned a kickoff for a touchdown (plus-0.16 WPA). Watson fought back with 170 total yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but those two special teams plays were too large to overcome as Alabama won its fourth title in seven years.
5. 2010 season: Auburn 22, Oregon 19
Excitement score: 5.4
Auburn kicker Wes Byrum kicked a 19-yard field goal as time expired to complete Auburn's perfect season. In a game that featured three lead changes and two ties, the biggest play was undoubtedly Michael Dyer's highlight-worthy 37-yard rush (plus-0.18 WPA). Dyer appeared to be spun down shy of the 50-yard line before getting up and scampering into field goal range with under two minutes remaining. Auburn would kick the winning field goal a few plays later to clinch its first title since 1957.
Best of the rest since 2005:
6. 2008 season: Florida 24, Oklahoma 14 -- Excitement score: 4.7
7. 2014 season: Ohio State 42, Oregon 20 -- Excitement score: 3.7
8. 2009 season: Alabama 37, Texas 21 -- Excitement score: 3.1
9. 2007 season: LSU 38, Ohio State 24 -- Excitement score: 2.2
10. 2011 season: Alabama 21, LSU 0 -- Excitement score: 1.9
11. 2006 season: Florida 41, Ohio State 14 -- Excitement score: 1.6
12. 2012 season: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14 -- Excitement score: 0.8