Charting the biggest comebacks in college football history: UCLA is No. 2

Members of the UCLA football team begin celebrating their 45-44 comeback victory over Texas A&M in the closing moments of the game on Sunday at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA’s comeback from a 34-point deficit late in the third quarter against Texas A&M on Sunday at the Rose Bowl represented the second-biggest comeback in the history of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Here’s a look at the seven biggest comebacks, listed in order by deficit overcome:

35 — Michigan State versus Northwestern, 2006. The Wildcats have a proud football history since making that trip to the Rose Bowl in 1996, but this clunker was straight out of the Mildcats era. Northwestern built a 38-3 lead midway through the third quarter only to see it fizzle like a lighted firecracker chucked into Lake Michigan. Michigan State scored 38 unanswered points not long after Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had told his players at halftime, “Let’s not do anything crazy.” He never could have envisioned the madness that would ensue during his team’s 41-38 defeat.

34 — UCLA versus Texas A&M, 2017. Just think of all the ways UCLA could have lost this game after falling behind 44-10. If Texas A&M nickel back DeShawn Capers-Smith holds onto the pass that Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen floated into his hands … or UCLA safety Adarius Pickett doesn’t get a piece of Braden Mann’s 43-yard field-goal attempt … or Rosen’s pass intended to go out of bounds actually does instead of settling into receiver Theo Howard’s hands in the end zone, it’s all over for the Bruins. Of course, it wasn’t. UCLA made the big plays and caught the necessary breaks to complete the biggest comeback in school history with its 45-44 victory. “The outcome,” Bruins coach Jim Mora said, “was a lot of fun.”


31 — Maryland versus Miami, 1984. It was a prelude to an even crazier comeback for Maryland quarterback Frank Reich, who also engineered the biggest rally in NFL history when he led the Buffalo Bills back from 32 points down to defeat the Houston Oilers in a 1993 playoff game. Miami scored the game’s first 31 points before Reich, who had been hurt, came off the bench to lead an improbable rally for a 42-40 triumph. As if that wasn’t painful enough for the Hurricanes, they had to endure Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s game-ending Hail Mary touchdown pass the next week.

31 — Ohio State versus Minnesota, 1989. The Buckeyes committed six turnovers and spotted the Golden Gophers a 31-0 lead and none of it mattered because of the heroics of quarterback Greg Frey. After completing only two of eight passes in the first half, Frey passed for three touchdowns, ran for one and completed three two-point conversion passes to bring Ohio State back for a 41-37 victory.

31 — Texas Tech versus Minnesota, 2006. Air raid alert! The Red Raiders showed they were never out of the game despite facing a 38-7 deficit with only 7:47 left in the game. Four quick touchdowns and a 52-yard field goal as time expired in regulation forced overtime, where Texas Tech’s touchdown trumped Minnesota’s field goal and resulted in a 44-41 triumph. The fallout included the firing of Golden Gophers coach Glen Mason two days later.

31 — Texas Christian versus Oregon, 2015. The Ducks looked like they were going to quack the Horned Frogs’ will in the Alamo Bowl, bolting to a 31-0 halftime lead with Texas Christian quarterback Trevone Boykin suspended. But the playing field was leveled when Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. went out with an injury and the Ducks’ offense sputtered. TCU scored 31 consecutive points and prevailed, 47-41, in the third overtime.

31 — Tulsa versus Fresno State, 2016. The Bulldogs became the latest team to build the dreaded 31-0 lead and fail to hold on. Fresno State actually retook the lead with a touchdown after falling behind, 35-34, but Tulsa forced overtime and pulled out a 48-41 victory with a touchdown in the second OT.


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