Top 25 College Football Fails Ever
No. 25: ‘F’ for ‘FSU’ Face Paint
Every weekday in the five weeks leading up to the opening week of the 2013 season, we counted down the Top 25 College Football Fails Ever – including but not limited to players, coaches, fans, officials, mascots and uniforms. (Note: FBS programs only.)
When ESPN cameras scanned the crowd during the 2012 Florida-Florida State game for an FSU coed to focus on, they found one who had painted “FSU” on her face. Backwards.
More likely than not, the fan had enjoyed a few pregame beverages before painting her face — this is Florida State we’re talking about, after all — and had painted the three letter acronym of the school so that it would appear correct in the mirror (but not in real life). Not only is “FSU” spelled backward, the whole thing just looks really, really creepy.
The “F” in “FSU” is for the grade that this fan receives for face painting.
No. 24: Duke Lays a Dookie
For the past two decades, few college football programs have been as moribund as Duke’s. From 1994–2011, the Blue Devils didn’t enjoy a single winning season — a lack of success best encapsulated by an ignominious play during a 2011 loss to Georgia Tech.
Trailing the Yellow Jackets in the fourth quarter, 38–24, but threatening to score, Duke QB Sean Renfree called for a roll out. RB Desmond Scott, however, thought the play was a draw. As a result, the two teammates collided in the backfield, with Renfree lucky not to fumble.
If Duke football could be summed up in one GIF, this would be it.
No. 23: Sooners Get Screwed
It doesn’t feel sufficient enough to say that the referees screwed over Oklahoma in the Sooners’ 34–33 loss at Oregon in 2006. “Monumentally screwed over” comes closer.
The Ducks trailed the Sooners, 33–27, with 1:12 remaining and needed to recover an onside kick to keep hope of a win alive. It appeared clear as day that a) An Oregon player touched the ball well before it had traveled the necessary 10 yards, which should have resulted in a 5-yard Ducks penalty and possession of the ball for Oklahoma; and b) The Sooners recovered the ball anyway.
However, the referees blew both of those calls — and this was after they went to instant replay. The faux pas was so bad that the Pac-10 suspended the game’s entire officiating crew for one game.
No. 22: CU’s Powder Blues
Even an entity as tradition-bound as college football wasn’t immune to the powdered blue uniforms craze that struck all of sports in the 1970s and early ’80s. The sport’s most unfortunate victim of this fad was Colorado.
From 1981–1984, the Buffaloes sported powder blue jerseys and helmets with a stripe and CU logo in the same color. According to then university regent Jack Anderson, it represented the “deep blue of Colorado’s sky at 9,000 feet.”
Rather fittingly, the Buffaloes won just 10 games in the four years they sported these threads. Only after ditching them and returning to gold and black colors did they become a national power under head coach Bill McCartney. It turns out that in college football, uniform karma counts for something.
No. 21: Fly, CavMan, Fly!
Al Groh’s less-than-stellar farewell season at Virginia in 2009 — the Cavaliers’ 3–9 record was Groh’s worst in his nine at the school — was best summed up by an ominous “entrance” onto the field by UVA’s mascot, CavMan, atop his horse Sabre prior to the September 12th home game against TCU.
Expecting his loyal steed to charge, CavMan was unprepared for when Sabre bucked instead. As a result, CavMan was sent up in the air and down to the turf at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.
It was a feeling that UVA players could later relate to after they fell to the Horned Frogs, 30–14.
No. 20: ‘Oh Neaux’ for LSU
Les Miles has won over 80% of his games as LSU’s head coach, yet he’s constantly had Bayou Bengals fans in cardiac arrest for his “exciting” clock management skills. Most of the time he’s gotten away with it; the most notable time he didn’t, however, was really ugly.
Trailing Ole Miss, 25–23, in 2009, Tigers QB Jordan Jefferson completed a long pass to WR Anthony Tolliver to the Rebels six-year-line with one second remaining. Rather than sending his field goal unit onto the field, however, Miles called for a spike — only for the clock to run out and the game to end.
At the very least, Miles owned up to his faux pas afterward. As he told reporters, “I can only tell you that the management at the back end of the game was the issue. It’s my fault that we didn’t finish first in that game.”
No. 19: White's 'Phantom TD'
Anyone and everyone watching the 1979 Rose Bowl between Michigan and USC knew that Trojans star tailback Charles White had fumbled well before crossing the goal-line in the second quarter, including White himself.
Yet inexplicably, the officials didn’t see it that way, giving him the touchdown and USC a 14–3 lead en route to a 17–10 win.
There’s another wrinkle to this call, widely considered among the worst in sports history, that infuriates Wolverines fans to this day. In a game made up of a Pac-10/Big Ten officiating crew, a Pac-10 official had initially (and correctly) signaled a fumble at the one-yard line and change of possession — only to be overruled by a Big Ten official who ran in signaling a touchdown.
No. 18: Grade School Seminole
Since 1976, Florida State has rocked one of the most recognizable and awesome helmets in college football: a gold lid with a feathered, intricately detailed arrow piercing out from the sides. Simultaneously, the Seminoles are responsible for what we deem the ugliest FBS helmet in history.
In 1962, FSU featured three different helmets — one each for offense, defense and multi-purpose players. Offensive players got arrows, defensive players got tomahawks and multi-purpose players got … a rendering of a Native American that a talented second-grader could do better. The first thing that comes to mind is how eerily similar it is to Wilson the volleyball from Castaway.
We can’t imagine that the Seminole Tribe of Florida — who officially sanctions FSU’s use of their name and images associated with their tribe — thought too highly of this.
No. 17: Bad ‘Safety Dance’
With his team trailing Miami (FL), 10–0, in the first quarter last fall, Georgia Tech kick returner Orwin Smith struggled mightily with the “Should I kneel or return it?” conundrum upon fielding a kickoff in his own end zone. His indecision ended up costing the Yellow Jackets two points.
After deciding at the last minute to kneel, Smith stuck his hand out across the goal-line to brace himself before taking a knee. There was just one problem: The ball had already crossed the plane, resulting in a safety.
Quarterbacks, as it turns out, aren’t the only football players who can suffer from “happy feet.”
No. 16: Backwards Beavers Punt
Oregon State’s 35–0 drubbing at the hands of Wisconsin 2011 was best summed up by a Johnny Hekker punt that literally traveled backwards — in terms of field position, anyway.
Implementing a rugby-style kick, Hekker had the ball glance off the side of his cleat and head almost directly to his right. When the nearby side judge came to a stop, he had measured out a punt of minus four yards.
Hekker may have pinned his team deep in its own territory, but in the process he might have become the first football player to bend the rules of time and space.
No. 15: Roboduck Short-Circuits
“The Duck” at Oregon is one of college sports’ most recognizable mascots. Yet back in 2002, the school’s athletics department mistakenly thought that he needed a more modern-looking counterpart to go along with the space-aged makeover to Autzen Stadium and the football team’s ever-changing wardrobe of uniforms.
Hence, Mandrake — better known as “Roboduck” — was hatched at midfield during halftime of the 2002 home game against Stanford. He served as an alternate (but not replacement) mascot at various Ducks sporting events up until 2007, when it was axed to the delight of Oregon fans everywhere.
Ducks fans were horrified this past spring at the news that Mandrake would be returning as a co-mascot — only to later realize that it was a well-choreographed April Fool’s Day joke.
“The Duck” might still see the hideous Mandrake in its nightmares.
No. 14: Gone in a Flash
En route to the first of its school-record 11 wins in 2012, Kent State endured a gut-bustingly hilarious reminder of its lackluster past on the football field courtesy of sophomore LB Andre Parker.
Leading Towson, 24–7, with 26 seconds remaining in the first half, the Golden Flashes punted the ball away to the Tigers. The ball grazed Towson return man Derrick Joseph and bounded into the waiting hands of Parker, who took off running - in the other direction.
“Wait a minute,” said the TV play-by-play, stifling a chuckle. “You’re going the wrong way.” Just sit tight until the 33-second mark of the clip above when Parker — running to the Kent State sideline — finally realizes his navigational error. Fortunately, the ball was dead when Parker touched it, saving him from further humiliation.
No. 13: Ginn Gets Got
Florida DE Derrick Harvey was the defensive MVP of the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. But as far as the Gators were concerned, that honor could have also gone to Ohio State WR Roy Hall. After all, it was Hall who took out the one Buckeyes player that matched the Gators’ “SEC speed,” Ted Ginn Jr.
Hall was one of several OSU players to jump on Ginn after the dynamic return man took the game’s opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 7–0. However, Hall’s celebration proved overenthusiastic; he unintentionally sprained Ginn’s left foot, sidelining him for the remainder of Ohio State’s 41–14 loss.
There’s no telling how the game would have ended up had Hall not made what proved to be the biggest tackle of the night.
No. 12: Hide from ‘State Pride’
Just as Oregon football is a test kitchen for Nike’s new style ideas, Maryland has become the equivalent for the folks at Under Armor — whose CEO and founder, Kevin Plank, is an alum.
What transpired at the Terrapins’ 2011 home opener, however, was the equivalent of an explosion in a chemistry lab. Maryland’s now-infamous “State Pride” uniforms — featuring the same gold and black checkerboard and red and white cross bottony found on the state flag — had TV viewers shielding their eyes and the Twittersphere aghast. It was like a Tim Burton-inspired nightmare come to life.
Since then, Under Armour has continued to take bold chances at Maryland and with its other college clients. Hopefully, nothing will ever come close to matching the notoriety of “State Pride.”
No. 11: Not-So-Special Teams
Texas Tech’s decision to attempt an onside kick against Baylor in 2010 wasn’t a bad one, per se. It was just the execution that was lacking. And the contingency plan for if/when the kick went wrong — if there even was one — was even worse.
With the score tied at 7-all in the first quarter, Red Raiders PK Donnie Carona attempted to nudge the ball the 10 yards it had to travel before he or another TTU player could recover it. From the looks of it, Tech caught Baylor napping and would’ve recovered the ball — if it had traveled the required 10 yards instead of stopping dead in its tracks after eight.
But rather than jumping on the ball to mark it dead, three Red Raider special teamers watched as Baylor’s Terrance Ganaway snatched it up and raced 38 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Talk about a “Guns Down” moment for TTU.
No. 10: Extra Bad Extra Point
In the 2011 Toledo-Syracuse game, it appeared quite clear that Orange PK Ross Krautman had missed the PAT following his team’s go-ahead TD with 2:07 remaining — thus making the score 29–27 and giving the Rockets a chance to win with a field goal.
The officials, however, signaled that the kick was good despite what looked like pretty clear visual evidence that Krautman had hooked it left. The refs went to instant replay for review and decided to uphold the call.
Toledo kicked a last-second field goal which, instead of giving them a win, sent the game into overtime, where the Orange would triumph, 33–30. Soon after, the Big East released a statement owning up to the blown call — which we doubt was any consolation to the Rockets.
No. 9: Seminole Stand-Still
Early in the third quarter of Florida State’s 37–10 loss to top-ranked, Seminoles QB E.J. Manuel scrambled for his life to get away from his would-be Gators tacklers. All the while, one of the players whose job it was to protect him, sophomore OL Zebrie Sanders, literally stood still and did nothing.
Upon the ball being snapped, Sanders remained crouched in his starting position and stayed that way until the play was over — the only FSU lineman to do so. Was it a particularly bad case of Swamp stage fright? More likely than not, no; the most practical (and likely) explanation was over-conditioning in a freeze technique that FSU practiced when there was an offsides. (Indeed, the offensive lineman directly to Sanders’ left also remained frozen for a second or two after the ball was snapped.)
A fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 NFL Draft, Sanders was likely asked about this play more than once by teams interested in drafting him.
No. 8: A Flop in Fresno
Former Fresno State placekicker Kevin Goessling was a three-time First Team All-WAC performer and is the school’s all-time leading scorer (373 points). Yet it’s arguably one of the biggest flops in college football history that he’s best remembered for.
With the scored tied at 29-all in OT in an October 2008 home game against Hawaii, Goessling missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide left. But thanks to his acting job, Goessling convinced the officials that Hawaii’s Calvin Roberts had run into him during the kick and got to retry the field goal from 35 yards.
As proof that “ball don’t lie” doesn’t just apply to basketball, Goessling’s re-kick sailed wide right. On Hawaii’s ensuing possession, counterpart Dan Kelly would connect from 33 yards away to send the Warriors to a 32–29 win.
No. 7: 1st-And-Whoops
We sincerely hope that referee Jeff Maconaghy visited an optometrist after working the 2013 Outback Bowl.
With Michigan leading South Carolina, 22–21, late in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines attempted a fake punt run on 4th-and-4. The Gamecocks stopped them just short of the marker, yet Maconaghy nonetheless signaled for a first down on the measurement.
Maconaghy even went in for a second look at the insistence of Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier - and he stuck by his initial call. In retrospect, we should thank Maconaghy for his error. After all, it paved the way for Jadeveon Clowney and “The Hit” the very next play.
No. 6: Bluegrass Nightmare
LSU’s improbable, 33–30 victory at Kentucky in 2002 is widely known as the “Bluegrass Miracle.” For any Kentucky fans, however, it was more like a nightmare.
The underdog Wildcats had the lead, 30–27, with No. 14 LSU pinned on its own 26-yard line and time for just one last play. Kentucky was so confident of its imminent victory that its players gave then-head coach Guy Morriss a Gatorade bath before the final play had taken place.
Tigers QB Marcus Randall’s pass from his own 18-yard line was 25 yards short of UK’s end zone. But after a deflection off a Kentucky player, it would up in the hands of LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson, who streaked 15 yards into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Wildcats fans who had rushed the field to celebrate — especially those hell-bent on tearing down the Commonwealth Stadium goalposts in victory — likely had no idea what hit them.
No. 5: Caught in the Cotton
Rice’s Dicky Moegle holds the Cotton Bowl record for longest touchdown run, at 95 yards. This despite the fact that on the play, in 1954, Moegle didn’t actually reach the end zone.
Alabama fullback Tommy Lewis was the reason why. With Moegle breaking down the sideline and no Crimson Tide player between him and the end zone, Lewis came off the Alabama bench to cut down Rice’s star running back at the 42-yard line.
The referees didn’t hesitate to award Moegle a touchdown, giving Rice a 14–6 second quarter lead en route to a 28–6 win. At halftime, Lewis approached Moegle to apologize.
“He had tears streaming down his face,” Moegle told the Washington Times in 2007. “He apologized and apologized, and he said, ‘I don’t know what got into me. I hope they don’t string me up on these goalposts.’ ”
While that didn’t happen, Tommy Lewis’ illegitimate tackle remains one of the most infamous moments in college football history nearly 60 years later.
No. 4: 'Wrong Way' Riegels
Roy Riegels’ blunder in the 1929 Rose Bowl is such a cultural touchstone that most people better know the former Cal standout by his nickname (“Wrong Way”) than his actual name.
Facing Georgia Tech, Riegels recovered a Yellow Jackets fumble at their 30-yard line. But upon picking it up, Riegels got turned around and ran toward his own end zone, eventually being tackled by a wave of Tech players at the Bears’ 1-yard line. The safety on the ensuing punt was the difference in the game, as Georgia Tech won, 8-7.
Often lost in the aftermath of Riegels’ blunder is the success he enjoyed after it — both on the field (he was an All-American and Cal’s team captain the following season) and off (he ran his own chemical company in southern California).
No. 3: Gaping Cumberland Gap
If you thought that FCS Savannah State’s 84–0 loss to Oklahoma State in 2012 was bad, take heart. It wasn’t half as bad as Cumberland (TN) College’s humiliation at the hands of Georgia Tech in 1916.
Earlier that spring, Cumberland’s baseball team — loaded with professionals — had humiliated Tech, 22–0. As it so happened, the manager of Tech’s baseball team was also the school’s football coach, John Heisman. When the two teams met on the gridiron in the fall, Heisman purportedly wanted to exact revenge.
In coaching the Yellow Jackets to a 222–0 victory (no typo), he did just that. Tech amassed 978 total yards — 528 rushing and 220 each on kickoff and punt returns — to Cumberland’s -28 while also forcing 15 Cumberland turnovers.
No matter how one-sided any future college football games might be, they won’t be this one-sided.
No. 2: Caught in Steele Trap
On September 11th, 1999, Baylor had a much-needed victory in hand at home against UNLV.
Leading 24–21 with four seconds left and the ball on the Rebels’ eight-yard line, the Bears only needed to kneel the ball and run out the clock. But due to first-year head coach Kevin Steele’s desire to “create an atmosphere where we line up and get after people,” Baylor ran a running play.
What transpired was a Baylor nightmare come to life: RB Darrell Bush was stripped at the goal-line, Rebels DB Kevin Thomas recovered and raced 99 yards the other way for the game-winning TD with no time left. How Steele wasn’t chased out of Waco immediately after this play — he lasted through the 2002 season — is anyone’s guess.
No. 1: 5th-and-Goal to Go
There are two notable “Fifth Down Games” in college football history: Cornell-Dartmouth in 1940 and Colorado-Missouri in 1990. Whereas the former was between two Ivy League foes in front of few fans, the latter was a nationally televised affair between Big Eight rivals - one in which the Buffaloes emerged triumphant, 33–31, after neither the officials, down marker volunteer, Missouri sideline or TV crew calling the game initially accounted for the fact that CU was given five downs to score the game-winning TD with no time left.
Colorado trailed, 31–27, but was deep in Missouri territory with time running out. QB Charles Johnson spiked the ball on first down to stop the clock. On second down, RB Eric Bieniemy was stopped just short of the goal-line and CU called a timeout — after which volunteer Rich Montgomery failed to change the down marker.
Bieniemy was stopped short again the next play, followed by another spike by Johnson the play after that with two seconds remaining. It should have been Tigers ball — but the down marker indicated fourth down. Taking advantage, Johnson squeaked into the end zone on a QB sneak the next play.
The officiating crew realized their mistake after the game but did not change the outcome. The group was suspended indefinitely for their faux pas. Adding fuel to the controversy is that Colorado — who moved to 3–1–1 on the year with the win — improbably ran the table the rest of the regular season, culminating in a controversial split national championship with Georgia Tech.
The “Fifth Down Game” is both one of college football’s most memorable moments and biggest blunders. It is also a more-than-worthy choice for the Biggest Fail in College Football History.