NCF Nation: clutch team past

Notre Dame defines clutch

August, 1, 2008
8/01/08
12:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

There are few football teams in the country that dredge up as much emotion as Notre Dame because there are few teams that have been as historically clutch when the game is on the line.

For decades, the Irish have kept fans and non-fans glued to their radios and televisions for late-game heroics against insurmountable odds. It makes Notre Dame one of the most beloved and hated teams in all of sports; everyone wanted the luck of the Irish:

The Game of the Century.

Win One For the Gipper.

The Chicken Soup Game.

Time and time again Notre Dame has been down only to shock out a win in the final seconds. There are so many clutch moments in Notre Dame history that books and movies have been produced. Sports bars around the country pay tribute to them. And fans reminisce about the games that formed the Notre Dame legend.

Notre Dame created the Comeback Kid, Joe Montana, after the 22-point fourth-quarter deficit he overcame against Houston in the 1979 Cotton Bowl.

Notre Dame invented the Hail Mary pass on a last-second play to beat Ohio State.

Notre Dame inspired George Gipp to play through the injury and illness that would ultimately lead to his death.

If you want to talk historically clutch, Notre Dame might not be at the beginning of the conversation, but there's little doubt that it will be at the end of it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

At its core, the term clutch means finding ways to win, and no college football program has won more than Michigan.

You probably know the numbers already, but they deserve to be rehashed: 11 national championships, 42 Big Ten championships (at least one in each decade since the 1890s), 39 bowl appearances and 869 all-time victories. The Wolverines have had 25 seasons of 10 or more wins and no losing seasons since 1967. They hold a 57-41-6 edge over rival Ohio State despite dropping six of the last seven meetings.

As far as clutch plays, several stand out. There was the 45-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Wangler to Anthony Carter as time expired that beat Indiana 27-21 in 1979. There was Billy Taylor's fourth-quarter touchdown run that rallied Michigan past Ohio State and secured a perfect regular season in 1971. More recently, there was Chad Henne's touchdown strike to Mario Manningham on the final play to give Michigan a 27-25 win over Penn State in 2005. 

Even take last season, considered one of the most disappointing given Michigan's summer hype. Despite a humiliating loss to Appalachian State followed by another home setback against Oregon, the Wolverines still notched close wins against Michigan State and Illinois and reached the Capitol One Bowl, where they beat defending national champ Florida.  

Michigan has had its share of late-game struggles, particularly in the last few seasons. The Wolverines were on the wrong end of a Hail Mary pass from Colorado's Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook on the final play of a 1994 game. But longevity can't be discount, and Michigan has gotten it done over time more than any other Big Ten program. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Whether they were lucky or clutch, Oklahoma has always had a knack of making big plays in tenuous situations.

The Sooners were so proficient in producing in those clutch times that former coach Barry Switzer coined a name for it -- "Sooner Magic."

Those wins weren't produced by sorcerers -- although you might have trouble convincing Nebraska fans otherwise. Switzer's teams had a flair for coming through when it seemed the odds were stacked against them.

It first appeared in 1976 when Oklahoma was trailing late in the fourth quarter at Nebraska with barely three minutes to play. Woodie Shepard completed a halfback pass to Steve Rhodes to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Rhodes ran a curl pattern and then pitched the ball to Elvis Peacock on a hook-and-ladder play that advanced to the Nebraska 3-yard- line. Peacock scored on the next play, providing an improbable 20-17 victory that enabled Oklahoma to clinch a tie for the conference title.

The following season, Uwe von Schamann drilled a 41-yard field goal as time expired to propel the Sooners past Ohio State, 29-28. The late heroics enabled the Sooners to overcome six turnovers during an eight-possession span midway late in the game.

In 1986, Keith Jackson scintillating one-handed catch kept a drive alive against Nebraska with nine seconds left after providing a tying touchdown grab with 1:22 left. Jackson's heroics set up Tim Lashar's game-winning 31-yard field goal at the gun and another wild comeback.

"Hey, you can read into that Sooner Magic thing, but we had some great teams," Switzer told the Lincoln Journal-Star in an interview last year.

Switzer was right -- even if some of those victories seemed to be sprinkled with pixie dust.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

What's clutch? Winning, over and over, through the ages.

That's USC. Or as Pete Carroll would say: "Win Forever."

It certainly feels like that for the rest of the college football world, especially the Pac-10, which has looked up at the Trojans in the conference standings for six consecutive seasons.

Sure, USC took a turn in the doldrums during the '80s and '90s -- heck the '50s weren't so grand either. Sure, the program's lost a number of notable games -- anyone see a 41-point favorite lose at home before?

Sure, many talented USC teams didn't live up to their promise.

But many did.

The record speaks for itself. The Trojans:

  • Own 11 national titles in five different decades.
  • Own the highest all-time winning percentage vs. NCAA opponents of any conference (.704). That percentage ranks seventh among all Division I schools.
  • Own a winning record vs. every Pac-10 team, ranging from 55-8-4 (Washington State) to 42-28-7 (UCLA).
  • Own a winning record vs. every other BCS conference, including a 17-10-1 mark vs. the SEC.
  • Own a 30-16 record in bowl games (.652). Those 30 wins rank second all-time to Alabama, which has 31.
  • Own seven wins over No. 1-ranked teams, second only to Notre Dame's eight.

History? It's not just one great coach; it's four: Howard Jones, John McKay, John Robinson and Pete Carroll.

Clutch teams also produce clutch performers: Seven Heisman Trophy winners.

Recall quarterback Matt Leinart willing the Trojans to victory at Notre Dame in 2005. Or Charles White taking over the 1980 Rose Bowl.

And it's not just the Heisman winners. It's Rodney Peete leading the Trojans to a victory over No. 6 UCLA, despite suffering from the measles. It's Anthony Davis' 11 career touchdowns vs. Notre Dame.

USC is easily the Pac-10's Godfather of Clutch and arguably one of college football's "most clutch" programs of all time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Here's the first in a series today on clutch performers. Alabama was a runaway winner for the "most clutch team" in SEC history. Check back a little bit later, and I'll take a look at which team in the SEC is the "most clutch" now. I'll also take a look at the 10 "most clutch players" in SEC history and the top five clutch players going into this season:

Alabama fans will proudly tell you that at a lot of places, they just play football.

At Alabama, they live it -- and live well.

If you're looking for the team that's delivered in the clutch more consistently than anybody else over the course of SEC history, that's an easy call.

Roll Tide!

Even with the dysfunction that's gripped the program over the past decade or so, Alabama has set a dizzying standard when it comes to winning championships, going to bowl games and producing memorable moments.

Much of that standard can be traced to the iconic Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, who won six national titles, 14 SEC titles and remains the most recognizable figure in college football history. Bryant won eight SEC titles in nine years from 1971-79 and won 10 or more games in 13 of the 25 seasons he coached in at Alabama.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Crimson Tide dominated the league like no team has before or since.

But even before "mama called"  Bryant returned to his alma mater to coach in 1958, there was a legacy of winning at Alabama. In fact, the Crimson Tide has won national titles in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s.

Since the formation of the SEC in 1933, Alabama has won conference titles in every decade but the current one. The Tide's 21 SEC titles are far and away the most. Tennessee is a distant second with 13.

The legendary names to come through the Capstone roll of your tongue: Bennett. Hannah. Hutson. Jordan. Namath. Newsome. Stabler and Starr.

Now it's up to Nick Saban to create some new magic in a program that's proven over time it knows how to get it done when it counts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

You won't believe it.

The most schizophrenic team out there -- the program that can't seem to win the "big one" -- also happens to be the most historically clutch team in the ACC.

NC State gave the Clemson Tigers some serious competition for this honor, as the Wolfpack's 7-4 record in overtime games is the best in the conference -- and four of those OT wins were on the road. There were also numerous amazing Philip Rivers-led comebacks that must be taken into consideration.

However, when you're looking at each program through its entire history, Clemson actually does win the close ones. Still not convinced? Take a look:

  • Since 1948, Clemson has had 67 fourth-quarter wins, and five overtime wins during which the Tigers erased a deficit or tie.
  • All of those games were decided by seven points or less, or in overtime.
  • 24 of those wins came with less than a minute left in the game.
  • Three of them came with zero seconds left on the clock.

There were a few seasons during that span that stood out:

1986 -- David Treadwell kicked three game-winning field goals (46 yards, 21 yards and 31 yards) to beat Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina. He put it through the uprights on the road against Georgia and Maryland with 10 seconds or less on the clock. The Tigers were ACC champs that year.

1987 -- A second straight season in which the Tigers were ACC champs in large part because of Treadwell, who kicked game-winners against Georgia and North Carolina. Tracy Johnson's four-yard run against Duke with 6:46 remaining gave Clemson the 17-10 win.

2005 -- With 2 seconds left on the clock, Jad Dean made a 42-yard field goal to beat Texas A&M, 25-24. Reggie Merriweather's 38-yard burst with 2:58 left beat Maryland, 28-24, and a 2-yard run by James Davis with 5:58 remaining put Clemson over rival South Carolina, 13-9.

Granted, that was then, and this is now. Can the Tigers come through in the clutch this season? If not, who is currently the most clutch team in the conference? Check back later to find out.

SPONSORED HEADLINES