Great football games are the single greatest reason that fans come back year after year to watch college football. Bowl games give the selection committees a perfect opportunity to set up games that should provide exceptional entertainment for viewers through the months of December and January.
Sometimes that happens, and other times fans get to see 50-0 blowouts that are over before the first quarter ends. Those are certainly fun for the winning team's fans to watch, but they are not great football games.
To determine the 10 best non-BCS bowl games of the BCS era, only a few criteria were used:
Margin of Victory
Only games decided by seven or fewer points were considered. There were a total of 160 non-BCS bowls that fit this bill between the 1998 and 2012 seasons.
Games that went into overtime were taken up first, and that put 17 games into consideration.
Turnovers: Round I
Emphasis was on clean football, so any game of the other 143 that had three or fewer turnovers was pulled into consideration. The field stood at 86 games.
Using the AP Poll from immediately before the bowls started, all 86 games were ranked by size of upset. (The higher-ranked team's position was subtracted from the lower-ranked team's. Any unranked team was automatically considered to be ranked 26th.)
This cut the field to 16 matches, and the top three from this edition of the list were guaranteed spots (but not necessarily the top three positions).
Turnovers: Round II
If the winning team had more turnovers than the losing team, the game was eliminated from consideration. This left nine games on the list, with one to fill.
The 10th Team
At this point, there were nine games on the list and 151 that had been eliminated. For the 10th game, the biggest upset left in the field of 151 was selected, regardless of number of turnovers or margin of victory.
All 10 games were ranked in order of the quality of play by the winner. The fewer turnovers by the winning team, the higher the rank. All ties were settled by margin of victory (the smaller the better), turnovers (the fewer the better), size of upset and/or whether the game went into overtime.
Here are the 10 best non-BCS bowl games of the BCS era.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III came out on top in this 67-56 shooting match, and the game had only three total turnovers. While it was a horrible display of defense, it was one of the most exciting postseason matches since 1998.
Each team amassed well over 500 yards of total offense for a total of 1,397 combined offensive yards between the two. Baylor outscored the Huskies 14-7 in the fourth quarter to win the game by a scant 11 points.
With an honorable mention to the highest-scoring game of the era, a hat-tip to the lowest-scoring certainly makes sense.
The 2008 Sun Bowl featured a combined score of three points when the final whistle blew, and it was a defensive work of art complete with five turnovers. Three of them were committed by the winning team.
The No. 24 Oregon State Beavers upset the No. 18 Pittsburgh Panthers 3-0. The only score in the game was a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter, courtesy of Justin Kahut of the Beavers.
Kansas State and Purdue faced off in the 1998 Alamo Bowl. Kansas State was ranked No. 4 in the AP, and many may wonder what the Wildcats were doing in the subpar bowl in the first place.
The answer? Losing to Drew Brees and the unranked Purdue Boilermakers. It wasn't the prettiest game, as the teams combined for nine turnovers, but an upset this huge is beautiful on its own.
Brees pulled off the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Kansas State outscored Purdue 21-10 in the final segment, but it simply was too little, too late for the Wildcats.
Purdue scored one of the biggest upsets in history that day, and it is definitely deserving of the No. 10 spot here.
The 2005 Holiday Bowl was another huge upset. The Oklahoma Sooners overthrew the No. 6 Oregon Ducks 17-14 by stifling an attempted comeback in the fourth quarter.
The Ducks took a 7-3 lead into the halftime break, but Oklahoma's coaches must have said something right in the locker room. Oklahoma came out in the second half and scored twice in the third quarter.
Oregon couldn't find an answer until the last quarter, but the Sooners defense did not give up. After cutting the lead to three points with three minutes left, Oregon simply couldn't find a way around Oklahoma again.
The Sooners tried to hand Oregon the game by losing the turnover battle 2-to-1, but the day ultimately belonged to the Oklahoma defense.
The 2000 Outback Bowl (following the 1999 season) pitted the No. 21 Georgia Bulldogs against the No. 19 Purdue Boilermakers. Georgia started slow but finished strong.
Purdue blanked the Bulldogs 19-0 in the first quarter, but Georgia took heart after seeing the 25-10 deficit at halftime. Purdue would not score again, and Georgia would take the game into overtime.
The nail in the coffin for Purdue was a simple 21-yard field goal to bring home the three-point win over Drew Brees and the Boilermakers.
The 2003 Sun Bowl comes in at No. 7 here. The 31-30 Minnesota win over Oregon was exciting all the way until the final minute.
Oregon had worked steadily to gain a two-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the match. Minnesota took the ball and drove 55 yards in 16 plays. The Golden Gophers didn't find the end zone, but they did pull off a 42-yard field goal with 23 seconds left.
Minnesota barely avoided the upset, but the back-and-forth game provided more entertainment than expected via six full lead changes.
The No. 6 game on the list is the Texas Tech upset of the No. 21 Virginia Cavaliers in the 2008 Gator Bowl. The game was all Virginia until halftime, to the point that Texas Tech looked grossly outmatched.
Virginia took a 21-7 lead into halftime, and the Red Raiders had not scored since roughly six minutes after opening kickoff. Virginia didn't expect the Raiders to come out incredibly strong after halftime, and it cost the Cavaliers dearly.
Texas Tech mirrored the first half by outscoring the Cavaliers 21-7, leaving the game tied with about three minutes to go. Tech didn't have to wait for overtime, though, as the Red Raiders kicked a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left.
It was good, and they took home the three-point win.
The 2000 Mobile Alabama Bowl was between No. 13 TCU and unranked Southern Miss. Despite the gross difference in the rankings, the Golden Eagles proved that anyone can win on any given day in the college football world.
TCU helped the Golden Eagles out a lot by committing the game's only two turnovers. The game was tied at seven entering halftime, and the Horned Frogs pulled out to a touchdown lead in the third quarter.
Southern Miss fumbled zero times and had zero passes picked off. In the fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles outscored TCU 14-0 to take the 28-21 lead all the way to the final whistle.
TCU fans would love to have that 50-yard pick-six or 56-yard Southern Miss touchdown pass back. Either one would have meant overtime for this already great game.
The 2013 GoDaddy.com Bowl pitted No. 25 Kent State against the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Despite the fact that this bowl is a bit disappointing sandwiched between major BCS bowls, the Golden Flashes and Red Wolves proved that great football can come from any conference.
This was one of the cleanest, most entertaining football games on the list. The entire game yielded only one turnover, and that was by the losing team.
After trading scores in the early going, Arkansas State stood firm and kept Kent State out of the end zone for the rest of the game. The four-point difference came from the Red Wolves' 31-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
This wasn't the most exciting game on the list, but it was clean, fundamentally sound football for four quarters. The lack of lead changes in the second half does make it look less exciting on paper than it was in person.
Anyone familiar with Kent State's running back, Dri Archer, knows how tense this game was until the end. Archer is capable of breaking off a gigantic touchdown run at any moment, thus preserving the excitement until the clock struck 00:00.
Unranked Boston College took on No. 16 Georgia in the 2001 Music City Bowl, and things turned out to be extremely entertaining. The Bulldogs got out to a quick 7-3 lead after the first 15 minutes.
Boston College regained the lead by halftime, but Georgia wouldn't go away. The third quarter saw the Dawgs pull ahead by three, but the game was far from over.
Despite the fact that William Green had gained fewer than 20 yards in the second half at the time, Green pushed out a seven-yard touchdown run with under five minutes to go. That turned out to be the only points Boston College would need to finish the upset.
Georgia was the first ranked team that Boston College had beaten since 1995.
The slushy train wreck that was the field for the 2010 Capital One Bowl simply made things more interesting. Given the effects of the rain on the playing surface, it's even more impressive that there were only three turnovers throughout the entire match.
No. 13 LSU and No. 11 Penn State put on quite a show, and the icing on the cake for general college football fans was the demise of an SEC power. There aren't a lot of teams that can claim victories over Alabama or LSU recently, and the Nittany Lions made sure that they were one of them.
Penn State allowed LSU only three points in the first half while scoring 13 of its own. While LSU did hold Penn State to field goals for the entire second half, the Nittany Lions allowed LSU into the end zone only twice.
The Lions did just enough to stave off the LSU comeback, and they had the game 19-17 when the mud settled.
The No. 1 non-BCS bowl of the BCS era featured an overtime victory, a big upset, 71 combined points and zero total turnovers. It was one of the cleanest, closest and most exciting games since 1998, and it was definitely tops when it came to second-tier bowls.
No. 18 Virginia came out firing and had put the Fresno State Bulldogs at a seven-point deficit within three minutes of opening kickoff of the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl. Fresno matched the touchdown, but it was all Virginia until halftime. After the break, Fresno didn't waste time getting things back to manageable.
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Fresno had the game knotted. The Cavaliers came back and took the lead with six minutes left in the game. The Bulldogs simply tied it up again with 11 seconds left.
Virginia took a full five plays to land an overtime field goal, leaving Fresno needing a touchdown to win. The Bulldogs scored on a 25-yard pass on their first offensive play in extra play.
From good, sound fundamentals to all the intangibles of a great game, this one had it all. That gets it a solid spot at No. 1, and there's only one set of bowls left to contend for the title.