Another game for the ages looms in Tuscaloosa

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In 1966, Notre Dame claimed a national title by playing it safe. Rallying from a 10-0 deficit against a Michigan State team that featured Bubba Smith and three teammates who would go in the top eight picks of the next NFL draft, the Fighting Irish were happy to settle for a 10-10 tie _ even when they got the ball back with just over a minute remaining.

Parseghian has steadfastly defended his decision to run out the clock, saying he didn’t want to take a chance against Michigan State’s fearsome defense when his injury depleted team was missing its starting quarterback and top runner. It worked out just fine for the Irish, who routed USC the following week and were voted No. 1. The Spartans finished No. 2.

The significance of the game was undeniable, starting with the buildup. Incredibly, it wasn’t even supposed to be nationally televised, but ABC made sure everyone at least got a chance to see the game on tape delay after receiving tens of thousands of angry letters.

“It was exhausting getting ready for it,” Parseghian said. “It was like the Super Bowl, it was incredible. We had press conferences after every practice and by the end of the week, I didn’t know what to say.”

For all the debate and disappointment over the outcome, he points to that game as planting the seed that eventually resulted in the BCS, which is designed to ensure the top two teams meet for the national championship at the end of the season.

“It encouraged people to look at being able to put 1 and 2 together,” Parseghian said. “The emphasis that’s placed on it and the amount of attention from the press, the present Bowl Championship Series came from that.”

A quarter-century later, there was no lack of hype when No. 2 Miami traveled to Tallahassee to take on top-ranked Florida State. The Seminoles were 10-0 and averaging more than 40 points a game, but the Hurricanes held on for a 17-16 victory when Gerry Thomas missed a 34-yard field goal in the final minute.

Wide right, of course.

Torretta, who was Miami’s quarterback, remembers the brutal hits more than he does the missed kick.

“I was running out of bounds toward their side of the field and I got hit significantly out of bounds and jacked my ankle up pretty good,” the 1992 Heisman Trophy winner said. “I realized then that it was a little different game. They were going to hit harder, and it might be a touch after the whistle.”

While coaches preach over and over about keeping everything the same, no matter who they’re playing, it’s only natural to take a different mindset when so much is on the line. Even the trainers get hyped up.

“I came to the sideline and my ankle was pretty bad,” Torretta said. “So they retaped around my shoes, then said, `Give me your other shoe, we’re going to tape that.’ I asked them why, and they were like, `We don’t want them to know which ankle it is.’”

While the winner Saturday night will have the inside track to the national title game, there’s no guarantee that a Game of the Century will actually settle things.

In 1993, top-ranked Florida State lost to No. 2 Notre Dame late in the season, but the Fighting Irish were upset the following week by Boston College. The Seminoles got a second chance to claim coach Bobby Bowden’s first national title.

Even so, that lone defeat stings a bit.

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