This week across the blogosphere, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most iconic plays in each conference over the past decade. We’ll hit five each day. Like any list, these are wildly subjective. But, as always, they are a lot of fun. Enjoy.
16: USC’s triple-overtime fumble vs. Stanford (2011): Another crazy ending to a USC-Stanford game that saw Wildcats, hook-and-ladders and Andrew Luck getting pick-sixed in the closing minutes before leading a game-tying drive at the end of regulation. This game pretty much had it all, and though we’re looking at 25 iconic plays for this series, the game itself easily qualifies as one of the best in the conference over the past 10 years. It almost seems inappropriate that it ended on Curtis McNeal’s fumble at the goal line. In the third overtime, Terrence Stephens jarred the ball loose and A.J. Tarpley jumped on it in the end zone to lock up the road win for the Cardinal. Lost in the drama was an outstanding night for McNeal, who rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The fumble is just another chapter in an outstanding rivalry.
17: Andre Heidari, USC stun Stanford (2013): We’re going to see a few USC-Stanford entries in this series because the bulk of the games over the past decade have involved at least one highly ranked team and some remarkable endings. The Cardinal had won the aforementioned three-OT thriller in 2011 and stunned the Trojans in 2012. USC got its revenge in 2013 when Heidari drilled a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to knock off the No. 4 Cardinal. USC’s 2013 season swirled with drama, and the Cardinal were coming off a win over Oregon the week before with BCS title hopes. But after a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by the USC defense, Heidari’s boot to break a 17-17 tie was a validating moment for interim head coach Ed Orgeron and a true highlight in what had been a topsy-turvy season.
18: The end of the 2012 Apple Cup: Washington State still was looking for its first Pac-12 win of the Mike Leach era, having gone 0-8 to that point (and I still lament picking the Cougars over BYU in the season opener that year!). They entered the fourth quarter at home, trailing 28-10. No team had ever overcome an 18-point deficit in the Apple Cup series. After clawing back, the Cougars forced OT when Andrew Furney hit a 45-yard field goal with two minutes left and Washington missed a game-winning field goal as regulation time expired. On the first play in overtime, Washington quarterback Keith Price threw an interception to Kalafitoni Pole, who almost returned it for a game-winning pick-six. That set up Furney’s 27-yard winner, marking the largest comeback in Apple Cup history. Take your pick on which play is the most iconic. They all contributed to one of the most dramatic games in the rivalry's history.
19: Arizona’s New Mexico Bowl comeback (2012): Stash this one in the “Are you freaking kidding me?” folder. The Wildcats trailed Nevada 48-35 with 1:48 left to play. But in the final 90 seconds, they ran 10 plays, covered 126 yards, scored two touchdowns and recovered an onside kick. Matt Scott threw touchdowns to Austin Hill (spoiler alert: His name appears in this list at least one more time) and Tyler Slavin, while Marquis Flowers recovered the onside kick -- and had the game-clinching interception. The first year of the Rich Rodriguez era ended in the most dramatic fashion possible. Like the Apple Cup finish, there’s not one specific play, but rather the final 1:48 is iconic -- except if you’re a Nevada fan then it’s just depressing.
20: Christian McCaffrey starts Rose Bowl with a bang (2015): The Heisman runner-up wasted no time stiff-arming the voters who failed to recognize his record-setting season. On the first play from scrimmage -- 15 minutes still on the clock -- McCaffrey split the linebackers up the seam and took a Kevin Hogan pass 75 yards for a touchdown. It was the first in a series of first-half haymakers thrown by McCaffrey and the Cardinal, who went on to a 45-16 romp over Iowa. He finished the game with a Rose Bowl-record 368 all-purpose yards that included 172 rushing, 105 receiving and a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown.