The Top 10 BCS Bowl Games of All Time
The Bowl Championship Series system has been in place since 1998 with the intent to determine the best two college football teams in the nation and have them square off for the title at the end of the season.
It has been moderately successful in doing so as it has provided exciting games and unforgettable matchups.
Nothing is perfect, though, as the criticism surrounding its flawed ranking system and inability to acknowledge up to three undefeated teams prompted the discussion of a playoff in college football practically since the BCS' inception.
After years of talk, the current system will finally come to an end when the 2014 season kicks off. A new era of college football will be ushered in; one with a four-team playoff.
Exactly how the four teams are chosen is still undecided. Most likely, the new “BCS Playoff” or whatever the powers-that-be decide to call it will resemble the current system that weighs a team’s record, strength of schedule and factor in coaches votes when determining their rank.
Before we look forward to a playoff and the expected controversy from teams that finish outside of the top four, let’s take a look back and remember the 10 best* BCS bowl games that the current system has provided.
*I realize this list is highly debatable depending on someone’s rooting interest but I tried to form an unbiased opinion of the “best” games as those that 1) were highly competitive, 2) had national championship implications, 3) came down to the last play of the game, and 4) offered fans something extra that has rarely, if ever, been seen before.
I know not everyone will agree, but hopefully these choices will spark a friendly debate at the very least.
10. 2011 Rose Bowl: #3 TCU Horned Frogs vs. #5 Wisconsin Badgers
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The Mountain West is a non-automatic qualifying conference for the BCS but due to their undefeated record, the Horned Frogs (12-0) were ranked high enough in the BCS polls to justify a BCS bowl berth.
TCU was three-point favorites and had the nation’s top-ranked defense heading into the Rose Bowl.
The Big Ten Champion Wisconsin Badgers (11-1) had a highly ranked defense as well, but were better known for their three-headed rushing attack as John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White all had at least 13 touchdowns for the year.
This game featured great defense and conservative play, resulting in zero turnovers. After some early back-and-forth scoring, TCU opened up a 21-13 lead in the third quarter.
Late in the game, Wisconsin drove 77 yards in 10 plays, capping it off with Ball running in for the score with 2:00 remaining. They were unable to make the two-point conversion as linebacker Tank Carder swatted down the pass attempt.
TCU recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to win 21-19.
9. 2009 Fiesta Bowl: #3 Texas Longhorns vs. #10 Ohio State Buckeyes
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The first half between these two powerhouse programs was a complete snoozer with Ohio State (10-2) leading 6-3 at the break.
Texas (11-1) scored two touchdowns in the third quarter while shutting out OSU to take the lead, 17-6.
The fourth quarter featured 22 points, 15 of them from the Buckeyes with three straight scores to regain control 21-17.
With 2:05 remaining and two time-outs, the Longhorns had plenty of time to put themselves in a position to win the game.
Quarterback Colt McCoy completed seven out of 10 passes driving his team down the field, including the go-ahead 26-yard touchdown to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds left to give Texas the dramatic 24-21 win.
8. 2011 BCS Championship: #1 Auburn Tigers vs. #2 Oregon Ducks
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Two undefeated schools clashed for the right to be the 2010-2011 National Champion.
The Oregon Ducks (12-0) averaged 49.3 points per game with a prolific offense led by quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James.
The Auburn Tigers (12-0) were known for their tough defense, but more so for their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton and his athletic ability.
After a scoreless first quarter, both teams woke up to score 27 second-quarter points with Auburn taking a 16-11 lead into halftime.
Late in the game, the Tigers led 19-11, but Oregon scored a touchdown and completed a two-point conversion to tie it up with 2:33 remaining.
That’s when Newton calmly drove the Tigers down the length of the field and Wes Byrum kicked a chip-shot 19 yard field goal to give Auburn the 22-19 triumph.
7. 2000 Orange Bowl: #4 Alabama Crimson Tide vs. #8 Michigan Wolverines
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Michigan and Alabama have combined for a whopping 25 national championships – the most in the FBS (all apologies to Princeton and Yale who have 28 and 26, respectively). This marked the third time facing each other.
The favored Crimson Tide (10-2) put up a few early touchdowns on the Wolverines (9-2) and it appeared that Alabama was going to run away with this game.
Michigan was undeterred and fought their way back twice from 14-point deficits to tie the game before the final quarter.
The Wolverines then squandered two chances to seal the game by fumbling in the end zone on one possession and missing a field goal at the end of regulation.
In the BCS era’s first overtime period, Michigan quarterback Tom Brady connected with receiver Shawn Ferguson for a 25-yard touchdown.
The Crimson Tide responded with a touchdown of their own and appeared to be sending the game into a second overtime.
However, Alabama’s placekicker Ryan Pflugner missed the extra-point attempt to preserve the 35-34 Michigan victory.
This game could have been higher on the list if it were not for the anticlimactic ending.
6. 2012 Rose Bowl: #5 Oregon Ducks vs. #10 Wisconsin Badgers
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The 2012 Rose Bowl featured Oregon’s (11-2) third-ranked scoring offense in the country vs. Wisconsin's (11-2) sixth.
While the Badgers could brag about having the 13th-ranked scoring defense, the Ducks only had a pedestrian rank of 52. The result was the highest scoring game in Rose Bowl history. Needless to say, there wasn’t much defense.
After back-and-forth scores for the first 30 minutes, the game was tied up for the fourth time, 28-28 at the half.
Oregon scored just 49 seconds into the third quarter to take their first lead. Wisconsin reclaimed that lead with a field goal and when Russell Wilson found Nick Toon on an 18-yard touchdown strike to make it 38-35 at the end of the quarter.
The final period saw Oregon jump back in the lead with 10 straight points before eventually punting the ball to Wisconsin’s 13-yard line with only 16 seconds left.
Down seven with no timeouts, the Badgers drove into the red zone but their attempt to spike the ball and stop the clock was not performed in time. After a review, the call was confirmed and the game was over.
Oregon won a slightly anticlimactic but overall thrilling game, 45-38.
5. 2012 Fiesta Bowl: #3 Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. #4 Stanford Cardinal
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Oklahoma State (11-1) lost its only game of the 2011 regular season in a double overtime thriller to an inferior Iowa State team playing at their best. Had it not been for that loss, the Cowboys would have played for the national title instead of Alabama.
Stanford’s (11-1) one loss was a high-scoring blowout to the previously mentioned Rose Bowl champs of Oregon, 53-30
2012 first round draft picks Andrew Luck (No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts for those living in a cave) and Brandon Weeden (22nd pick to the Cleveland Browns) threw for 750 combined yards and had six TDs in the contest, but the outcome ultimately came down to the kicking game, or lack-thereof.
After an Oklahoma State touchdown to tie the game at 38 late in the fourth quarter, Stanford had 2:35 to win the game. Luck drove the Cardinal down the field but Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yard field goal as time expired.
In overtime, Williamson did not get any help from the offense as they failed to move the ball on their first possession and he missed another field goal – a 43-yarder this time – setting the table for OK State to win if they scored.
It only took three plays to set up Quinn Sharp’s 22-yard kick and the Cowboys victory, 41-38. The final score was the only time Oklahoma State led the game.
If this game is played two years from now, it would most likely have been the other semi-final matchup under the newly proposed playoff format.
4. 2005 Rose Bowl: #4 Texas Longhorns vs. #13 Michigan Wolverines
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The storied programs of the Texas Longhorns and Michigan Wolverines have played intercollegiate football since 1893 and 1879, respectively, but had not faced each other prior to this matchup.
This evenly matched game came down to which team had the ball last and whose kicker would come through for them.
Michigan (9-2), led by freshman quarterback Chad Henne and his four touchdown passes, took a 31-21 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Not to be outdone, his counterpart Vince Young (more on him later) rallied the Longhorns (10-1) to a 35-34 score with 4:56 left as he scampered 23 yards for his fourth rushing touchdown of the game.
A Garret Rivas field goal put the Wolverines back on top 37-35, but with three minutes still remaining, Young guided his team down the field and Dusty Mangum kicked the winning 37-yard field goal as the clock expired. Texas won 38-37.
Young rushed 21 times for 192 yards with four touchdowns. He also had 180 yards passing and one touchdown to make him the obvious Rose Bowl MVP. His biggest game had yet to come, however.
3. 2003 Fiesta Bowl: #1 Miami Hurricanes vs. #2 Ohio State Buckeyes
The infamous "pass interference" play.
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When college football fans think of controversial games, this one should be at the top of everyone’s list. These elite and undefeated programs battled for four quarters before things became “must-see-TV.”
Miami (12-0) lost their star running back Willis McGahee to a nasty injury late in the game, but tied the score at 17 with Todd Sievers’ 40-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
The Hurricanes controlled the ball first in overtime and scored five plays into their possession when Ken Dorsey connected with Kellen Winslow for a seven yard touchdown.
Ohio State (13-0) needed 10 plays, including a 17-yard conversion on fourth-and-14, and a huge controversial call going their way to keep the game/drive going.
On fourth-and-3, quarterback Craig Krenzel attempted a pass to Chris Gamble, but it was broken up by Miami’s Glenn Sharpe. Miami started to celebrate when a flag was thrown (late) for pass interference.
It is pretty clear that there was minimal (if any) contact from Sharpe once the ball was in the air to justify pass interference. A few plays later, Krenzel scored to tie the game, 24-24.
In the second overtime, Ohio State did not need any theatrics on their opening drive, scoring on a Maurice Clarett five-yard touchdown run, making it 31-24 Buckeyes.
Needing a touchdown to send the game to a third overtime, Miami had first-and-goal from the one-yard line. After two unsuccessful rushing attempts and an incomplete pass, they faced fourth down.
Dorsey scrambled and threw the ball in desperation but it fell to the ground as Ohio State players poured out onto the field to celebrate their controversial 31-24 national championship.
2. 2006 Rose Bowl: #1 USC Trojans vs. #2 Texas Longhorns
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The undefeated and top-ranked USC Trojans (12-0) faced the second-ranked and also undefeated Texas Longhorns (12-0) in an epic clash for the 2006 National Championship.
Neither team faced a deficit more than 12 points in this closely contested back-and-forth scoring affair.
USC, led by quarterback Matt Leinart and running backs LenDale White and Reggie Bush, trailed Vince Young’s Longhorns 10-16 at halftime.
The third quarter saw the Trojans pull back into the lead, 24-23 after two White rushing touchdowns.
In the final quarter with 6:42 left, Texas fell behind even further, 26-38 when Leinart connected with Dwayne Jarrett on a 22-yard scoring strike.
Now it was time for Vince Young to take over this game, much like he did in the 2005 Rose Bowl. He dink-and-dunked his way down the field with short passes and on his second rush of the drive he found the end zone with a 17-yard dash. Texas trailed 33-38 with 4:03 remaining.
On USC’s next possession they gambled and tried to ice the game by going for it on fourth-and-two near midfield instead of punting. LenDale White was stuffed after gaining only one yard and the Trojans turned the ball over to Texas with 2:13.
This was a highly criticized decision since it now gave Young and the Longhorn offense a short field to work with.
Facing a tired USC defense that had not shown they were capable of stopping Vince Young’s rushing attempts all day, the momentum was back on Texas’ sideline.
Young used the same script from the last scoring drive as he calmly led his team deep into Trojan territory. When facing the pinnacle play of the game, a fourth-and-five from the 8-yard line, Young took the ball himself for the touchdown run.
Then for an encore, he rushed again for the two-point conversion making the score 41-38 in favor of Texas. Young was 9-for-13 passing and rushed for 45 yards on their final two scoring drives.
USC had the ball back with only 19 seconds left and although they were able to get to the Longhorns’ 43-yard line, a field goal from this distance was highly unlikely.
The very next play time expired on an incomplete pass and Texas mobbed the field. Final score: 41-38.
How can this game be ranked second-best on this list when it featured two undefeated teams that went wire-to-wire as the top-ranked football teams for the entire season?
Although it was a great game that featured five lead changes and over 1100 yards of offense, I believe the top-ranked game provided more fireworks even though it wasn’t played on as big of a stage.
1. 2007 Fiesta Bowl: #8 Boise State Broncos vs. #10 Oklahoma Sooners
Rabb diving to the pylon after the "hook-and-ladder."
This matchup was billed as “David vs. Goliath” as the undefeated Boise State Broncos (12-0) from the unheralded Western Athletic Conference took on one of college football's most elite programs: the Oklahoma Sooners (11-2). What proceeded was the most unbelievable game I have ever witnessed.
The Broncos built a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter before the Sooners came storming back. Oklahoma ripped off three unanswered scores (and needed three attempts for a successful two-point conversion due to penalties) to tie it, 28-28 with 1:26 remaining in the game.
After receiving the ball, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky’s very next pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown giving Oklahoma a 35-28 lead with only 1:02 on the clock.
The Sooners’ sidelines were in pandemonium due to the 25 unanswered points, and had confidence that their defense could hold on for the victory.
On Boise State’s ensuing possession, they were faced with converting an improbable fourth-and-18 from the 50 with 26 seconds left.
Zabransky passed complete to receiver Drisan James for 15 yards and then James lateraled the ball to Jerard Rabb to pull off the "hook-and-ladder" play as Rabb ran the remaining 35 yards and dove into the end zone to tie the game in jaw-dropping fashion.
In overtime, it took only one play for Adrian Peterson and Oklahoma to get back on top, as he ran 25 yards for the touchdown.
After driving to the six-yard line the Broncos needed to convert a fourth-and-two to keep the game going. The Boise State coaching staff reached into their bag of tricks once again: wide receiver Vinny Perretta had the ball tossed to him and it appeared the play was a run until Perretta lobbed the ball over the defense and found Derek Schouman for the touchdown.
Down 41-42, most teams would kick the extra point and send the game into a second overtime. Not the underdog Broncos. They lined up for a two-point conversion to win it all.
Zabransky took the snap and faked a throw to the right side where he had three receivers set, but instead he handed the ball off to Ian Johnson with his non-throwing hand for an unbelievable scoring play known as the “Statue of Liberty.” Boise State wins 43-42.
Here is the final minute of regulation and the scoring plays in overtime so you can experience the end of this amazing game.
This game had it all: high powered offenses, interceptions returned for touchdowns, multiple trick plays, and even a marriage proposal at the end.
Boise State vs. Oklahoma edges out the competition for the best BCS bowl game because it reads like a Hollywood script and it will be tough to replicate this kind of excitement even when the playoffs are implemented in 2014.