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No. 1 vs. No. 2: College Football’s Magic History

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On January 10, 2011 Auburn will face Oregon for the national championship, pitting No. 1 versus No. 2 for the 45th time in the history of college football.

With the advent of the Bowl Championship Series, pitting the top two teams (according to the AP Poll) against each other has become almost an annual event. I say almost because USC was ranked No. 1 by the AP in 2003 but did not play in the BCS championship game.

As it is, the postseason has brought us many more No. 1 versus No. 2 matchups, whereas before the 1990’s these games were fairly uncommon during the regular season and usually filled more intensity and hype.

Since the AP Poll began in 1936 we have seen 22 regular season matchups between No. 1 and No. 2 with 20 more coming in bowl games, and two more additionally in recent SEC conference championship games.

The upcoming BCS national championship will be the first ever No. 1 versus No. 2 contest for both Oregon and Auburn, and they will become the 24th and 25th programs respectively to have participated in such a matchup.

14 programs have participated in more than one of these heavyweight battles, while 9 other programs have only played in a single No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup.

LSU, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Iowa, Georgia, Arkansas, Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa Pre-Flight are the teams with only one game to their name. The Hokies, Bulldogs, Razorbacks, Badgers and Seahawks (yes, that was Iowa Pre-Flight’s nickname) all lost their games.

During the regular season, the home team is a surprising 7-9-1 with five of other contests being played at a neutral stadium.

However, during the regular season the No. 1 team is a much more dominant 14-6-2.

During the postseason the No. 1 team is 11-11-0, with Alabama’s victory in last year’s BCS title game bringing that record back to .500 overall.

Here is more interesting history behind these titanic battles:

Make the Most of Your Lone Opportunity

*LSU’s national championship with two-losses made them part of this group as they headed into the 2008 BCS championship as the No. 2 team and upset No. 1 Ohio State.

*Tennessee came in ranked No. 1 in the country for the 1999 Fiesta Bowl and defeated No. 2 Florida State to take home the Volunteers sixth national title.

*Iowa won their only appearance in a No. 1 versus No. 2 game in 1985 when they defeated second-ranked Michigan in the middle of the season. The Hawkeyes stayed at No. 1 for another week before falling to Ohio State and then in the Rose Bowl to UCLA.

*In the middle of the golden era of Purdue football, the No. 1 Boilermakers defeated No. 2 Notre Dame in 1968 in South Bend. Purdue would go on to lose to Ohio State and Minnesota to finish out the season.

Onward to Victory

No one has played in more No. 1 versus No. 2 games than Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish have participated in nine total, all in the regular season, while the next closest program with that many in the regular season is Oklahoma with five.

The Sooners are also second in total games (regular season plus postseason) with eight, while Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, USC, Miami, and Florida State have all participated in a total of six games a piece.

Notre Dame has a healthy overall record of 5-2-2 in such games, joining Texas (2-0) and Army (3-0-1) as the only teams who have played in more than one of these games as the No. 1 team to remain undefeated.

The Irish are 4-0-1 as the top team in the land while facing the second-best the country has to offer. The last such victory came in 1989 on the road against No.2 Michigan, a game in which Rocket Ismail took back two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Notre Dame went on to beat two more top ten teams that season, but lost to eventual national champion and No. 7 Miami in the last game of the regular season. The Irish beat No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl, but were stuck at No. 2 in the final AP Poll behind the aforementioned Miami Hurricanes.

The Irish are also the only team to tie a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup and go on to win the national championship, doing so on two separate occasions.

In 1946, Notre Dame tied No. 1 Army 0-0 at Yankee Stadium and went on to win the national championship during an undefeated season in which the Irish surrendered only 24 points in nine games.

In 1966, Notre Dame tied No. 2 Michigan State 10-10 in East Lansing, finishing the year 9-0-1, surrendering only 45 points on the season (including six shutouts), beating three top ten teams and sealing the national title with an emphatic 51-0 drubbing of No. 10 USC at the Coliseum to end the season.

Both the 1946 Army and 1966 Michigan State games are considered as part of the handful of "Games of the Century."

Champions Forever

Five programs have won a No. 1 versus No. 2 contest during the regular season and gone on to win the national championship.

Amazingly, Notre Dame and Army are the only programs to notch two of these wins in one season (and also win a title in the same year), the Irish doing so in 1943 with wins over Michigan (the first-ever No. 1 versus No. 2 in history) and Iowa Pre-Flight and the Black Knights doing so in 1945 with wins over Navy and Notre Dame.

Army would also achieve the feat in 1944 with another victory over No. 2 Navy in a national championship season.

Notre Dame’s 1943 season was one for the ages.

In addition to beating two No. 2 teams, the Irish beat two No. 3 teams, defeated seven teams in the top 13, all while playing seven of their ten games on the road. Notre Dame actually lost their last game of the season to Great Lakes, but were still overwhelmingly awarded the national title anyway.

The Fighting Irish also achieved the feat in 1988 during their last national championship season with a 27-10 win over No. 2 USC at the Coliseum to end the regular season.

The University of Texas has done so on two separate occasions, defeating No. 1 Oklahoma in 1963 and No. 2 Arkansas in 1969 on route to national titles in both of those seasons.

The 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners in the regular season on their way to back-to-back championships, while the 1991 Miami Hurricanes toppled No. 1 Florida State in the regular season on their way to a national title.

More Than One 1 versus 2 Battle in a Season

I’ve already mentioned that Army and Notre Dame have played in two of these games during the regular season in the same year, but if we include the postseason there are a few more teams who have played in these colossal battles more than once in a single season.

That 1963 Texas team that beat Oklahoma during the regular season, also ended up playing and defeating No. 2 Navy in the Cotton Bowl.

That 1971 Nebraska team that also defeated Oklahoma during the regular season secured a national title with a win over No. 2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

The 1986 Miami Hurricanes defeated No. 1 Oklahoma during the regular season, but would go on to lose to No. 2 Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 1987 Oklahoma Sooners defeated No. 1 Nebraska during the regular season, but lost to No. 2 Miami in the Orange Bowl.

Recently, Florida played in two of these big games in 2008, defeating No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship and then No. 2 Oklahoma in the BCS title game.

The 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes join Army and Notre Dame as the only schools to play two No. 1 versus No. 2 games in a single regular season, although the Buckeyes did not win a national title that year.

Ohio State defeated No.2 Texas early in the year, No. 2 Michigan to end the regular season, but lost to No. 2 Florida in the BCS championship game. However, Ohio State still remains the only team to play three No. 1 versus No. 2 games in a single season.

It’s No Big Deal to Lose!

Two teams have lost a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup during the regular season and gone on to win the national title.

In 1996, No. 1 Florida lost to No. 2 Florida State in the regular season finale. The Gators beat Alabama in the SEC Championship improving their stock, and benefited from No. 3 Nebraska losing to Texas in the first-ever Big 12 title game.

Florida beat Florida State in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl, and Ohio State beat No. 2 Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, giving Florida the national title.

In 1993, No. 1 Florida State lost to No. 2 Notre Dame, but thanks to an Irish loss the next week against Boston College, the Seminoles made into the Orange Bowl as the No. 1 team and defeated No. 2 Nebraska. This also qualifies FSU for playing two No. 1 versus No. 2 games in a single season.

Other Facts & Figures

*Alabama is 4-2 overall and 1-1 as the No. 1 team.

*Texas is 4-2 overall and 2-0 as the No. 1 team.

*Florida is 3-3 overall and 1-2 as the No. 1 team.

*Oklahoma is a dreadful 1-7 overall and 0-3 as the No. 1 team!

*Ohio State is 4-2 overall and 3-2 as the No. 1 team.

*Michigan is 0-4 and has been the No. 2 team in each game.

*USC is 3-3 overall and 3-1 as the No. 1 team.

*Miami is 3-3 overall and 0-3 as the No. 1 team.

*Florida State is 3-3 overall and 2-2 as the No. 1 team.

*Nebraska is 3-2 overall and 3-1 as the No. 1 team.

*Penn State is 2-1 overall and 0-1 as the No. 1 team.

*Navy is 0-3 overall and has never been the No. 1 team.

*Army is 3-0-1 overall with each game as the No. 1 team.

*There has never been a No. 1 versus No. 2 game during the SEC regular season.

Will Auburn defeat Oregon in the BCS title game in a few weeks and bring the No. 1 team’s postseason record back over the .500 mark?