The 10 Best College Football Bowl Games Of All Time
The Orange Bowl holds many memories for me growing up in south Florida as a youngster. Admittedly, my allegiances were a little skewed (I am a Floridian by birth and Seminole by the grace of God) because in 1984, after my family had just moved from Florida to Atlanta, I stayed up to watch possibly the greatest bowl game ever as the Miami Hurricanes held on to beat Nebraska in Howard Schnellenberger’s finest hour.
College football creates those moments in time that act like suspended animation (the theory of disbelief). We remember them as lore and if they happened just yesterday. I can recall the play in the end zone that saved Miami’s chances at the national title. I can also recall the 22-yard field goal that was kicked twice for FSU and Bobby Bowden to claim his first national title.
The Orange Bowl isn’t the only bowl game that has created such drama. The college bowl season – regardless of the site, can be the scene for some of the most memorable moments we will witness this season.
Here is a look at the 10-best bowl games of all time in no particular order.
1979 Sugar Bowl (Alabama 14, Penn State 7)
After the end of the regular season, it was a toss-up as to who would play where in the bowl games. Joe Paterno, head coach of Penn State, wanted to play in the 1979 Orange Bowl, which would be the last game of the night and would give Penn State the nation's undivided attention. Moreover, Paterno wanted his vaunted defense to face Oklahoma running back Billy Sims, the Heisman Trophy winner.
Bryant wanted things differently. Bryant hoped, along with Sugar Bowl committee member Aruns Callery, that he could get Penn State to agree to face Alabama in a #1 v. #2 matchup in the Sugar Bowl.
Finally, after the urging of Callery, Bryant called Paterno and attempted to coax him into meeting the Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Bryant recounted to Paterno that the two schools and coaches had a great matchup in the 1975 Sugar Bowl, which the Tide won narrowly 13–6, and that he wanted to do it again. After several calls, Bryant finally convinced Paterno, and the matchup was on.
1979 Cotton Bowl (Notre Dame 35, Houston 34)
The 1979 Cotton Bowl Classic, popularly called the Chicken Soup Game, was a football game played between the University of Notre Dame and the University of Houston. The game took place on an unusually cold day in Dallas, Texas, played the day after Dallas' worst ice storm in 30 years. Quarterback Joe Montana, who had the flu, led Notre Dame to a come-from-behind victory in the second half after eating a bowl of chicken soup.
By the fourth quarter, Houston had built a 34–12 lead over Notre Dame. Montana returned to the field with 7:37 remaining on the game clock and was cheered actively by the Notre Dame fans.
In the final seconds of the game, Notre Dame was behind, but had possession of the ball. With six seconds left, Montana threw the ball out of bounds, which stopped the game clock and just two seconds remained.
The final play was a touchdown pass to receiver Kris Haines as the clock reached zero. Placekicker Joe Unis was forced to kick the extra point twice after a Notre Dame penalty, but was successful both times, and Notre Dame won the game 35–34.
2006 Rose Bowl (Texas 41, USC 38)
The game was a back-and-forth contest, and the Texas victory was not secured until the game's final nineteen seconds. Vince Young, the Texas quarterback, and Michael Huff, a Texas safety, were named the offensive and defensive Rose Bowl Players of The Game, respectively. Young's game-winning touchdown run was named the fifth greatest play in college football history by ESPN. The game is the highest-rated BCS game in TV history with 21.7% of households watching it. It is widely considered one of the greatest games in college football history.
Texas' Rose Bowl win was the 800th victory in school history and the Longhorns ended the season ranked third in Division I history in both wins and winning percentage (.7143). It was only the third time that the two top-ranked teams had faced each other in the history of the Rose Bowl, with the 1963 Rose Bowl and 1969 Rose Bowl games being the others.
1984 Orange Bowl (Miami 31, Nebraska 30)
The Orange Bowl Classic, played on January 2, 1984, between the unbeaten Nebraska Cornhuskers and the once-beaten Miami Hurricanes, for the national championship. After leading 31-17 in the fourth quarter, Miami held on for a 31-30 victory. Nebraska pulled to within one with :48 left to play, but a two-point conversion attempt by Nebraska failed when quarterback Turner Gill's pass was tipped away by Miami safety Ken Calhoun.
The win gave Miami its first national championship, it was also the last game for Howard Schnellenberger as he left the team in pursuit of a USFL team in Miami.
2003 Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)
The 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl took place on January 3, 2003 in Tempe, Arizona at Sun Devil Stadium. The Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Miami Hurricanes by a score of 31–24 in double overtime. It also served as the BCS National Championship Game for the 2002 NCAA Division I-A football season. The game was the second overtime result in either the Bowl Championship Series, or its predecessors, the Bowl Alliance or the Bowl Coalition, the first being the January 1, 2000 Orange Bowl between Alabama and Michigan.
2007 Fiesta Bowl (Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (OT)
The 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was a college football bowl game played as part of the 2006–2007 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) of the 2006 NCAA Division I FBS football season. Played annually since 1971, originally at Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona through 2006, the game was played on January 1, 2007, at the game's new home field, the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and pitted the Big 12 champion No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners against the WAC champion No. 9 Boise State Broncos. The contest was televised on Fox. With this broadcast, the Fiesta Bowl became the first bowl game to air on all the "big four" television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) – the Orange Bowl became the second, the following night.
The game featured a series of "fantastic finishes" – Oklahoma scoring 25 unanswered points to take its first lead with just over one minute remaining in the game, the teams scoring 22 points in the final 1:26 of regulation and 15 points in overtime, culminating with Boise State completing three do-or-die trick plays (the first of which was called with 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter) to win the game.
1994 Orange Bowl (Florida State 18, Nebraska 16)
This 60th edition to the Orange Bowl featured the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the Florida State Seminoles. Florida State came into the game 11-1, and ranked first in the nation. Nebraska came into the game undefeated at 11-0, and with a number 2 ranking. Despite their unbeaten record, the Huskers were underdogs by as much as 17½ points before the game.
Florida State had finished the season number 1 in the nation to claim their first national championship, just ahead of the only team to beat them in 1993: Notre Dame. Notre Dame had lost on a last second field goal to #15 Boston College in their last home game of the season, just a week after they defeated the Seminoles. B.C.'s triumph opened the door for Florida State to challenge undefeated Nebraska for the national crown. The win was Bobby Bowden's first championship, and left Nebraska coach Tom Osborne still searching for his first.
2004 Sugar Bowl (LSU 21, Oklahoma 14)
BCS #2 ranked LSU came into The National Championship Title Game 12-1, with their one loss at home to #17 Florida 19-7. Top-ranked Oklahoma (but #3 in the AP poll) was 12-1, with the lone defeat coming at a neutral site in the Big 12 Championship Game against Kansas State 35-7. There was substantial media and fan controversy as to which teams deserved to play in the National Title game. USC was ranked #3 in the BCS standings but #1 by both of the human polls, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and the AP poll, which made up a portion of the BCS Standings. Southern Cal owned a record of 11-1, with its one loss coming in triple overtime at unranked Cal 34-31.
LSU's #1 ranked defense held the country's most prolific offense, which had averaged 45.2 points and 461 yards per game, to 154 total yards (32 in the first half) and just one touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. The Sooners' Heisman Trophy-winning QB Jason White completed only 13 of his 37 passing attempts for just 102 yards. He was also sacked seven times and intercepted twice.
1980 Holiday Bowl (BYU 46, SMU 45)
It was part of the 1980 NCAA Division I-A football season. The game is famous due to a furious fourth quarter rally—including a last-second "miracle" touchdown—that gave the BYU Cougars a 46-45 victory over the SMU Mustangs. Thus, the game is known as the “Miracle Bowl”, especially among BYU fans
2001 GMAC Bowl (Marshall 64, East Carolina 61 (2OT)
This game featured what was then the biggest comeback in NCAA Division I-A (now Division I FBS) bowl history, as Marshall came back from a 38-8 halftime deficit to force overtime and eventually win 64-61 in double overtime. It was also the highest-scoring bowl game in history, breaking the previous record set when Texas Tech defeated Air Force 55-41 in the 1995 Copper Bowl. Although the record for greatest bowl comeback was broken by Texas Tech when it returned to the Copper Bowl, by then renamed the Insight Bowl, in 2006, the 2001 GMAC Bowl remains the highest-scoring bowl game ever.