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Seven Penn State Football Games Ranked Among ESPN’s 150 Greatest In College Football History

ESPN released a list of the 150 greatest college football games of all time as part of its #CFB150 celebration of the sport’s 150th anniversary. Seven Penn State games made the list — including both of the team’s national championship victories in the 1980s.

One hundred and fifty former players and coaches, sports journalists, and athletic administrators teamed up to compile the list. The 150 games were chosen from ESPN’s Stats & Information group’s 202 finalists. Here are the seven games chosen and where they rank on the list:

5. No. 2 Penn State 14, No. 1 Miami 10 (1986 National Championship Game)

This game is most remembered for Penn State’s dominant showing on defense. The Nittany Lions recorded five interceptions against Hurricanes quarterback Vinny Testaverde — that season’s Heisman Trophy winner. Although Miami out-gained Penn State 445-162, the Nittany Lions’ defense forced game-changing turnovers held Miami’s high-flying offense to just 10 points en route to capturing its second — and, to date, last — national title.

8. No. 2 Penn State 27, No. 1 Georgia 23 (1982 National Championship Game)

Penn State running back Curt Warner out-dueled Georgia counterpart Herschel Walker, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, and the Nittany Lions came out on top in a close, hard-fought battle. Joe Paterno captured his and Penn State’s first national title in no small part thanks to Gregg Garrity’s game-sealing 47-yard touchdown catch.

12. No. 2 Alabama 14, No. 1 Penn State 7 (1979 National Championship Game

This loss was one that haunted head coach Joe Paterno for the rest of his career, as he elected not to pass on a critical fourth down. Instead, he called a rushing play with running back Mike Guman, who was immediately stopped by the Crimson Tide’s versatile defense.

Penn State would obviously go onto win a pair of national championships in the 1980s, but this loss definitely hurt at the time.

23. No. 8 Penn State 27, No. 2 Nebraska 24 (September 25, 1982)

This one is a throwback to the Todd Blackledge era and among the most memorable years in Penn State football’s storied history. The Nittany Lions pulled off an impressive, yet controversial upset over the second-ranked Cornhuskers.

On the play before Blackledge’s game-winning touchdown strike with four seconds remaining, the quarterback completed a pass to Mike McCloskey, who fell out of bounds, but the officials ruled the pass complete. Penn State went on to win the national championship that season.

24. No. 9 USC 52, No. 5 Penn State 49 (2017 Rose Bowl)

The most recent Penn State game to make the list was the team’s 52-49 loss to USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl. was a heartbreaker for a team that boasted a talented roster with several current NFL stars — including Saquon Barkley and Chris Godwin.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans combined for 1,040 yards and 101 points in the offensive shootout, which USC won on a last-second field goal. Penn State held a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, but USC stormed back to claim that season’s Rose Bowl title.

61. No. 3 Penn State 15, No. 6 Kansas 14 (1969 Orange Bowl)

You might think Kansas is a basketball school, but once upon a time, the Jayhawks’ football program was formidable enough to take on then-No. 3 Penn State in the Orange Bowl. Joe Paterno got the better of Kansas via a 15-14 victory to cap off the 1968 season.

With 15 seconds remaining, Penn State found the end zone and lined up for a two-point conversion attempt. The first try was unsuccessful, but a flag against Kansas gave the Nittany Lions another shot, which they capitalized on en route to a narrow victory.

141. No. 2 Penn State 35, Illinois 31 (November 12, 1994)

This one is a throwback to the Nittany Lions’ early days as members of the Big Ten Conference, and it was a come-from-behind victory for Joe Paterno’s squad. Penn State was down 21-0 in the first quarter, but late heroics from quarterback Kerry Collins and — look away, James Franklin — fullback Brian Milne carried the Nittany Lions to victory. Milne scored the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard rush with less than a minute remaining.

Although Penn State didn’t capture the 1994 national title, the season is still considered one of the best in program history. The Nittany Lions posted a perfect 12-0 record and a 38-20 victory over Oregon in that year’s Rose Bowl.

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About the Author

Andy Mollenauer

Andy is a writer for Onward State, a senior majoring in journalism, and a die-hard Wisconsin pro sports fan despite being from our nation's capital. His taste in music is absolute garbage, ranging from Bon Jovi to Slipknot to Avril Lavigne. If you want to talk sports or share memes and cute photos of French bulldogs, email him at [email protected].

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