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The history of rematches to determine a college football national champion

It’s not often teams that played during the regular season get back on the field again with national championship implications. Here’s the history of when they have.

Louisiana State Jeremy Hill in action, going over the top vs Alabama at LSU Tiger Stadium. Baton Rouge, LA. Set Number: X155716 TK1 R8 F61

College football teams don’t play each other twice in a season very often, and it’s even rarer when you eliminate conference championship games. But the national championship has run through teams that have already faced off once that season before.

And that is what will happen in 2022, as the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs take on the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 10th in Indianapolis.

Alabama beat Georgia 41-24 in the SEC Championship Game on December 5th. Those two teams will do it once again, this time with the biggest prize in the sport on the line.

Here’s the history of what happens when a team with aspirations of being the national champion runs into a bowl opponent they previously faced during the regular season.

1960 Sugar Bowl: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 2 Ole Miss

This game wasn’t 1 vs. 2 in a rematch for the national championship, but it certainly had plenty of title implications for the 1959 season.

No. 1 LSU won the battle by scraping by with a 7-3 victory in Baton Rouge over Mississippi on December 31st, famously winning via Billy Cannon’s Halloween Run. It’s a play that is etched in the history books forever, and one of the great moments in the history of the sport.

But the Rebels took care of business when it mattered, blowing out their then-arch rival 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl.

However the national championship ended up going to Ernie Davis and the 11-0 Syracuse Orange. And somehow losing LSU still ended up with six first-place votes in the final AP Poll. Imagine how those voters would have been harangued on Twitter today.

1966 Rose Bowl: UCLA vs. Michigan State

The Bruins traveled to Michigan State to open the 1965 season, with the Spartans claiming a 13-3 victory in East Lansing. But as is always possible when a Big Ten team plays a Pac-8 team (or an American Association of Western Universities team; the re-brand wasn’t until 1968), they could always meet again in the Rose Bowl

And having the second game in their home city was enough for the Bruins to flip the script. They denied Michigan State an outright national championship with a 14-12 win in the Rose Bowl, making undefeated Alabama the AP national champions.

But because some rankings awarded their national championship before bowl games, the UPI (Coaches Poll), Football Writers Association of America, and the National Football Foundation all still gave their title to Sparty.

1976 Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. UCLA

The Buckeyes with two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin came into the LA Memorial Coliseum and scored a 41-20 victory over the Bruins on October 4th of this season. OSU was ranked No. 1 at the time, and seemed unstoppable as they earned a rematch with UCLA in the Grandaddy Of Them All.

Despite a 3-0 lead at halftime, the Buckeyes gave up 16 unanswered points in the third quarter to give Dick Vermeil and the UCLA Bruins an unexpected Rose Bowl win as a 15.5-point underdog.

It remains one of the shocking upsets in the history of the oldest bowl game. It also meant Oklahoma would win an undisputed national championship despite a 23-3 loss to ... Kansas! At home!

1997 Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Florida

Steve Spurrier only won one national championship in his Hall of Fame career, and he had to get beat by Florida State that season. But the revenge was served ice cold by the Gators in New Orleans.

The No. 1 Gators headed to the No. 2 Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium for their traditional regular season finale in 1996. In what was one of the classic games in one of college football’s best rivalries, UF’s Danny Wuerffel was sacked six times and got battered all day. It was 17–0 FSU early, but the Gators fought back to fall 24-21.

But in the rematch, the Gators were near perfect. Wuerffel worked most of the day out of the shotgun for the first time in his career, and three touchdown passes to Ike Hilliard were a big reason for the 52-20 blowout that came with a dominant second half.

2012 BCS Championship Game: LSU-Alabama

If you love defense, this was the series for you.

The Tigers took the regular season tilt 9-6 in a game that saw the two teams each gain less than 300 yards. It was a game with four turnovers, no touchdowns, and five field goals. LSU’s quarterback combination of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee combined to go 9-17 for 91 yards and two interceptions, and they were on the winning team.

But Nick Saban wasn’t having it, and his second national championship in Tuscaloosa came via a 21-0 shellacking in the added game that was not the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers gained all of 92 yards, and had just five first downs with two turnovers in 60 minutes of football.

The Crimson Tide rang up five field goals and a touchdown while gaining 384 yards, and had just one five-yard penalty all day. And with Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy in the same backfield, a steady diet of pounding the ball did enough to win the ring.

This was also the only rematch created by the Bowl Championship Series in its 16 years of existence. The system was replaced by the College Football Playoff in 2014.