Brackets are on everyone’s minds as a wild March Madness heads into its second weekend, but why should college basketball get to have all the fun? Even though college football is in the offseason, there’s no better time to remember some of its most viral moments throughout the social media era of the sport.
And so, College Football Meme Madness was born.
Every year, dozens of images quickly become cultural touchstones in the sport by going viral on social media and in countless group chats. However, there are a select few that survive longer and permanently enter the college football universe.
Now, we want you to help pick the best.
In order to narrow it down, our staff curated 16 memorable memes from the Twitter era and separated them into two regions: Fans, and Coaches & Players. The bracket includes everything from Heisman Trophy winners and disgruntled fans to unforgettable coaching reactions. But more than anything, it includes the moments that makes college football so unique.
Before getting to the bracket blow, here are the memes that just missed the cut …
First Four Out
The first two that missed the cut were hilarious fan reactions. When LSU scored a touchdown right before halftime against No. 1 Alabama in 2013, a Tigers fan was caught oddly dancing like a dinosaur in celebration. In the other, a confused SMU fan in white linens and sunglasses had a classic reaction to the Mustangs failing to score right before halftime to tie the game against No. 4 Baylor, a matchup SMU eventually lost 56-21.
On the team front, Oklahoma and Tennessee each had hilarious moments that ultimately turned into timeless memes whenever their teams struggle. In one, the famous Sooner Schooner flipped and sent students flying during a game in 2019. In the other, notoriously gimmicky coach Butch Jones responded to Miami’s Turnover Chain with … a Turnover Trash Can? Emblazoned with the Vols’ checkerboard pattern, it quickly became a symbol of the Jones era at Tennessee heading to the dump.
Meme Madness bracket
Voting for every round round is being held via tweets from our Cover 3 Podcast account as embedded below.
(1) Michigan surrender cobra vs. (8) Staring Slim Shady
(1) Michigan surrender cobra: The devastated reaction fit the insane moment: Michigan State recovered a fumbled punt snap and returned it for a shocking game-winning touchdown at the Big House in 2015. Standing the test of time is perhaps the greatest surrender cobra in college football history (not to mention Sean McDonough’s iconic call).
(8) Staring Slim Shady: Detroit native and rap legend Eminem joined Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit in the booth during a Notre Dame-Michigan game in 2013 for the most awkward interview in college football history. Herbstreit would later explain that Marshall Mathers surprised the announcers by being in character during the first half of the interview. “What a genius move by him because he had a new album coming out, and what better way to market that than to do that prank, and it got everybody talking,” he told Dan Patrick last year.
(4) Red Raider can’t look vs. (5) Creepy Tennessee starer
(4) Sad Red Raider: There’s losing, and then there’s being down 63-6 in the third quarter on your own field against Brandon Weeden and Oklahoma State. This devastated fan had the perfect reaction in a meme that has become a microcosm for the last decade of Texas Tech football.
(5) Creepy Tennessee starer: Vols fans have seen loss before. But after giving up 34 unanswered points to Ole Miss in 2014 behind four turnovers, all this Tennessee fan could do is stand motionless and smirk into the broadcast camera. It was a moment that quickly became a symbol of the Vols’ ineptitude.
(3) Annoyed LSU girl vs. (6) Slumped Virginia tube man
(3) Annoyed LSU girl: The Tigers’ matchup against Alabama in 2018 didn’t quite go to plan in a 29-0 loss. During the blowout, the CBS broadcast caught an annoyed fan staring cooly at the camera in a moment immediately went viral. One year later, the same fan posted a GIF of her smiling as her Tigers beat the Crimson Tide en route to a national title.
(6) Slumped Virginia tube man: The Cavaliers have never beaten Notre Dame in football but seemed to have a perfect opportunity while up 27-26 with seconds remaining in 2015. However, DeShone Kizer found Will Fuller for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds remaining, and all this Virginia fan could do is collapse.
(2) Shirtless, twirling NC State dude vs. (7) Disappointed FSU dad
(2) Shirtless, twirling NC State dude: Coming back from down 16-0 to beat No. 3 Florida State in 2012 ranks among the best highlights from NC State’s last decade. A Wolfpack fan hugged a pole, ripped off his shirt and spun it around to make sure we would never forget it. The full GIF is iconic.
(7) Disappointed Florida State dad: The Seminoles entered the 2016 season ranked No. 4 in the country only to fall behind 28-6 during the first half of the season opener against Ole Miss. This elicited the most “disappointed dad” of faces from an FSU fan in the crowd. Luckily for him, Florida State stormed back to win. Still, the meme lives on.
Players & Coaches Region
(1) Urban’s golf cart pizza vs. (8) Winston can’t see
(1) Urban Meyer’s golf cart pizza: Meyer is notoriously one of the sorest losers in football, and he was captured eating a sad, likely cold stadium pizza while looking devastated in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium after losing the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game to Michigan State.
(8) Jameis Winston can’t see: The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback became famous — and memeable — for refusing to wear contacts while playing for Florida State and therefore having to squint to see play calls. Some of his squints were more iconic than others, but whenever a bad play followed, you could be sure to see them everywhere.
(4) Moore marks his spot vs. (5) Freeze’s hospital bed approval
(4) Elijah Moore marks his spot: The wildest rivalry in college football had perhaps its craziest chapter in 2019 as Moore appeared to catch a game-tying touchdown for Ole Miss against rival Mississippi State. After the catch, Moore mocked the Bulldogs by lifting his leg to mimic urinating like a dog, which resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that led to a missed extra point and shocking loss. The loss led Ole Miss to fire coach Matt Luke, setting off a coaching chain reaction across the state and college football.
(5) Hugh Freeze’s hospital bed approval: Most people would consider a herniated disk and life-threatening staph infection a good excuse to take a few days off from work. Not Freeze. The Liberty coach arrived in a wheelchair and laid out in a hospital bed to coach a 24-0 loss to Syracuse. The most iconic image came from the postgame “handshake” when Freeze waved to Dino Babers from his perch above the stadium.
(3) Cardinal deafens McCaffrey vs. (6) Petrino’s neck brace presser
(3) Cardinal fan photobombs, deafens Christian McCaffrey: Many Stanford fans were displeased when McCaffrey was overlooked for the Heisman in 2015, but only one loud fan took the initiative to shout “Heisman!” during McCaffrey’s postgame interview after a Rose Bowl victory, an image that quickly went viral. While this could qualify for the fan region, McCaffrey’s “come on, man” face is what sells the meme as an all-time classic.
(6) Bobby Petrino’s neck brace presser: It was a strange moment when the now-former Arkansas coach showed up to a press conference wearing a neck brace with a skinned face after a motorcycle accident in 2012. Ultimately, the accident revealed Petrino was having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, and the neck brace image became the ultimate image of his downfall with the Hogs.
(2) Beamer’s 0-0 celebration vs. (7) Henry towers over Ingram
(2) Frank Beamer’s 0-0 celebration: Former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was known for his physical defenses and comfort playing in unorthodox games. When the cameras captured him celebrating the end of a scoreless regulation against Wake Forest, it was a peak Beamer (and ACC football) moment.
(7) Derrick Henry towers over Mark Ingram: Ingram was the first Heisman winner at Alabama and one of the best players in program history … but seeing him next to the monstrous future Heisman winner in Henry during a coin toss was an eye-opening moment. Ingram’s expression solidified its place in meme history.