There is nothing quite as good in sports as a good college bowl game. Of course, there is nothing quite the opposite as a bad one. But let’s focus on the good. In 1923, the Tournament of Roses moved its annual East-West college football game to the brand new Rose Bowl, and the “bowl game” was born. Thus, as Keith Jackson would say, the Rose Bowl is the “grand daddy of them all!”
Let’s go back and take a look at the best bowl games ever played…or at least the ones we have video or film footage of. Here are the Top 5 Greatest College Football Bowl Games of All Time:
5.) 1984 Orange Bowl: Miami 31, Nebraska 30
The Cornhuskers, under coach Tom Osborne, entered the game as the undefeated and number one team in the country. They had averaged 52 points a game, and scored 84 in one contest against Minnesota. Howard Schnellenberger’s fifth ranked Hurricanes lost their first game of the season, but had since been on a roll. Miami led 31-17 after three quarters and had to hold on when Nebraska scored 13 points in the fourth. With :48 seconds to go, Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill hit Irving Fryar with a 24 yard touchdown pass; however, instead of trying for a 1-point conversion and the tie, they went for two. The try failed on a tipped pass and Miami secured the win and the national title. It was also Schnellenberger’s last game as Miami’s head coach as he left for the USFL.
4.) 1973 Sugar Bowl: Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23
A memorable game for many reasons, the 1973 Sugar Bowl was a classic. It was the final Sugar Bowl game to be played outdoors. This memorable game was played in a cold rain at Tulane Stadium. The following year, the game was moved to the brand-new Superdome. It was also a matchup of two undefeated teams: Alabama was number one and Notre Dame was ranked fourth. It was also the first time the two legendary college football programs had met. With 9:33 left in the game, Crimson Tide quarterback Richard Todd tossed a 25-yard TD pass to Mike Stock, but the extra point was missed, giving Bear Bryant’s team a two point lead at 23-21. The Fighting Irish came back to take the lead on a 19 yard field goal from Bob Thomas. Later in the quarter, Notre Dame was able to run out the clock for the win, even though Alabama, at one time, had the Irish pinned back at the three yard line on third and eight. Ara Parseghian’s team was named the AP national champ after the win, but Alabama was the UPI national champion. Back in those days, the final UPI “coaches” poll was taken before the bowl games. They never made that mistake again.
3.) 2006 Rose Bowl: Texas 41, USC 38
There are many who say this is the greatest bowl game ever played. The reasons are valid: the only two undefeated teams left in Division I college football, number one (USC) versus number two (Texas) and three of the best college players of all time: Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart (USC) versus Vince Young (Texas). In the wild fourth quarter, a 26-yard touchdown run by Bush put the game seemingly out of reach. Texas responded with a field goal to cut the Trojans’ lead to 31-26. However, two minutes later when Leinart found Dwayne Jarrett in the end zone, they were ready to celebrate in Los Angeles. But Young engineered two scoring drives and ran the ball in the end zone both times to rally the Longhorns to the thrilling win and the title. The game winner came on fourth and five from the USC 8-yard line with :19 seconds to go in the game.
2.) 2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, OT
Aside from the terrible, over-the-top commentary (another Fox production), this game was spectacular. Trailing 28-10 at the 8:05 mark of the third quarter, the Sooners rolled off 25 straight points to take a 35-28 lead with 1:02 to go in the game. On the ensuing drive, the Broncos drove to midfield and were faced with a fourth and 18. Quarterback Jared Zabransky hit wide receiver Dristan James with a 15 yard pass at the Sooners’ 35. James then lateraled the ball to Jerard Rabb who scampered for the touchdown with a mere :07 to go in the game. The extra point tied things at 35 and sent the game to overtime. On the Sooners’ overtime possession, Adrian Peterson ran 25 yards for a score and with the extra point Oklahoma led 42-35. Boise State, on its overtime possession, scored a touchdown on a pass from wide receiver Vinny Perretta running out of the “Wildcat” formation. Broncos coach Chris Peterson then went for the 2-point conversion and the win. The play called was a version of the old “Statue of Liberty” with running back Ian Johnson crossing the goal line for the thrilling 43-42 win. Three trick plays by Boise State won the game, all executed to perfection.
1.) 1979 Sugar Bowl: Alabama 14, Penn State 7
This low scoring affair is best known for one of the best goal line stands in college football history. Alabama led the game 7-0 at the half, but a 17-yard touchdown pass from Penn State’s Chuck Fusina to Scott Fitzkee and the following extra point tied the game at 7-7. Alabama retook the lead in the third on a 10 yard run by Major Ogilvie. The moment of truth came in the fourth when Penn State moved the ball all the way down to the Alabama eight yard line. Three plays later it was fourth and goal from the one-foot line. The Crimson Tide defense plowed under Nittany Lions tailback Matt Guman on the fourth down attempt. It is known as “The Stand.” It was the defining moment of the game and it gave Bear Bryant his sixth and final national championship.