A recent sports column noted that today's college students have little, if any, recollection of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly I-A) before the creation of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.
The majority of today's college undergraduates had yet to be born when the 1987 Fiesta Bowl arranged what was considered the de facto "National Championship Game" between consensus (AP and UPI) No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State.
This game represented much more than a rare 1 vs. 2 bowl match-up. Its ripple effects continue to be felt a generation later.
Despite moving from late December to January 1st in the 1981-82 season, the Fiesta Bowl was considered a "second-tier" bowl before 1987.
By taking advantage of the rare opportunity presented by two independents (neither Penn State nor Miami were bound by conference bowl affiliations) being the only two undefeated teams in FBS (I-A), the Fiesta Bowl immediately jumped to "first-tier" status along with the other January 1st bowl games: the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Cotton.
By moving the '87 Fiesta Bowl from January 1st to January 2nd, this game changed from NBC's lead-in to the Rose Bowl Game to a sui generis "must-see-TV" prime-time NBC event. The separation of a "national championship" game from the line-up of traditional Jan. 1st bowls was adopted by the BCS.
The move alienated the older bowls from their traditions and reinforced the importance of television contracts and corporate sponsorship to the viability of bowl games.
Within a decade, the influence of ESPN in particular would be felt, as the number of bowls—more or less stable at 16-18 from 1978-1996)—began to proliferate.
The increased importance of television contracts in generating revenue for FBS programs, which was a direct consequence of the Supreme Court decision made only two years earlier, also resulted in the virtual disappearance of independents from the college football landscape.
There were 22 independent football programs competing in the 1986-87 FBS/I-A season. Here is the list by season record, in descending order: Penn State, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Tulsa, Florida State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Temple, Southern Miss, Army, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Tulane, West Virginia, South Carolina, Navy, Louisville, East Carolina, Northern Illinois.
Ten years later, in the 1996-97 season, the number was halved to the six schools underlined above, plus these five: Louisiana Tech, Lousiana-Monroe, UAB, Central Florida, Arkansas State. And, of course, by 2006-07 the number was down to four: Army, Navy, Notre Dame, and Temple.
As an example of what "Your Father's Bowl Games" looked like, here is a slideshow tour through the bowl season of 25 years ago in chronological order.
[Stay tuned for upcoming slideshows on "Your Grandfather's Bowl Games" (1961-62 season) and "Your Great-Grandfather's Bowl Games" (1936-37 season).]
The California Bowl was a relatively new bowl in 1986, though not the newest of the 18 bowls that year.
It began in the 1981-82 season with the aim of giving the champions of the now-defunct Pacific Coast Athletic Association (later known as the Big West Conference) and the Mid-American Conference the opportunity to play in a postseason game.
The 1986 game was the sixth of eleven California Bowls (the game moved to Las Vegas in the 1992-93 season and became the Las Vegas Bowl). For most of its existence, this bowl led off the bowl season.
San Jose State came into the game 9-2 and ranked No. 19 by UPI (unranked by AP, at this time both polls ranked only 20 teams). The highlight of the Spartans' regular season was a 45-41 victory over then-AP No. 19 (UPI No. 18) Fresno State. Notably, the Spartans also won two of their four non-conference games against the Pac-10, beating Washington State 20-13 and California 35-14.
Miami-Ohio finished the regular season unranked and with an 8-3 record. A 6-2 conference record was enough to win the MAC outright, but the Redhawks could claim an even bigger scalp than the Spartans. They had gone into Death Valley against consensus No. 8 LSU and come out with a 21-12 win.
To add to the impressiveness of the win, this was not an off year for LSU. The Bayou Bengals finished the regular season as Southeastern Conference (SEC) champions with a 9-2 record (the other loss also coming at home to Ole Miss) and ranked AP No. 5 (UPI No. 6).
A good case could have been made for watching this "third-tier" bowl game, as it matched two of that year's nine FBS (I-A) conference champions.
Unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations, as San Jose State cruised to 37-7 win.
The Independence Bowl is notable for being one of the first bowls to succumb to corporate sponsorship, awarding naming rights in 1990 to AB Electrolux Home Products. The product AB Electrolux infamously chose for the bowl?
In its eleventh year in 1986, however, the game was still the plain ol' Independence Bowl. It matched two unranked teams—Mississippi from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Texas Tech from the Southwest Conference (SWC).
Ole Miss had a memorable season. In late October the Rebels had beaten then-ranked AP No. 12 (UPI No. 11) LSU in Baton Rouge 21-19. The Rebels managed to crack the AP Top 20 for a week in November (at No. 20), but lost that same week and finished the regular season at 7-3-1 in a 4-way tie (with Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia) for second place in the SEC.
[Note that the 10-team SEC played a six-game conference schedule which contributed to the frequent ties in SEC conference standings.]
Ole MIss' season was memorable for a bad reason as well. In early December, Mississippi was found to have violated NCAA regulations and was placed on probation for two years. This was part of a greater wave of penalties against programs that had committed infractions. SMU received its "death penalty" for the 1987 season two months after this.
Texas Tech had finished the regular season 7-4 and in fourth place in the SWC (behind Texas A&M, Baylor, and Arkansas). The highlight of the season for the Red Raiders was their 17-7 win over then-AP No. 8 (UPI No. 10) Arkansas.
Coach David McWilliams, in his first year coaching the Red Raiders, was named SWC Coach of the Year. He left before the bowl game to take the head coaching job at Texas (the Longhorns were struggling at the time).
Defensive co-ordinator Spike Dykes took over the helm for the Independence Bowl and ended up coaching Tech through the 1999 season (after which he was succeeded by Mike Leach).
Mississippi led 17-7 at halftime, with the lone Texas Tech score coming on a 1-yard run by James Gray (pictured). The Red Raiders' defense stiffened in the second half with an interception return for a touchdown keying their comeback. Early in the fourth quarter the score was tied, 17-17.
While Dyke's defense held the Rebels to only a field goal in the second half, those proved to be the winning points. Tech wasn't able to score again, and Ole Miss won 20-17.
1986 was the first year the Hall of Fame Bowl was held in its new location in Tampa, Florida.
From 1977 to 1985, the game had been held at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama (now site of the BBVA Compass Bowl). The National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame, the organizers of the game, broke their ties with the Birmingham site in order to raise the profile of their bowl game.
It proved to be a wise decision, as the game prospered in Tampa. The 1986 game was the only time the game has not been played on Jan. 1st or 2nd. While the first decade or so saw no specific conference affliations, since the 1996-97 season there has been an SEC-Big Ten pairing.
Along with the much older Gator and Capital One (originally Florida Citrus) Bowls, the Outback Bowl (as it's been known since that same 1996-97 season) is one of the "trifecta" of second-tier Florida bowls matching the two most prestigious conferences in FBS (I-A) football.
The first year, however, matched independent program Boston College against SEC stalwalt Georgia.
Boston College was still in its heyday under coach Jack Bicknell. Two years earlier quarterback Doug Flutie had led the Golden Eagles to an impressive 47-45 win over the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes, a berth in the Cotton Bowl, and a 10-2 record. Flutie won the Heisman Trophy and moved on to the USFL, while Bicknell's team continued to emphasize the passing game.
The Golden Eagles came into the game with an 8-3 record and unranked. As an independent, they had no conference games. The three losses were all within the first four games against Rutgers, Penn State, and SMU. Penn State was the only ranked opponent that Boston College faced that season prior to Georgia.
This was in direct contrast to Vince Dooley's AP No. 17 (UPI unranked) Georgia Bulldogs. Also with an 8-3 record, Georgia was known as the quintessential running team. No one player rushed for over 1,000 yards, but four backs (including the quarterback) had 400 or more yards rushing for the season.
An early-season loss to Clemson and a late-season loss to Florida represent the games that the Bulldogs wish they had back. The only other loss was to then-consensus No. 16 (and eventual SEC champion) LSU.
Except for the weather (torrential rain), the game was as expected. Boston College relied on its passing game while Georgia relied on stifling defense and ball-control offense. It was almost all BC in the first half, as they led 20-7 at halftime.
However, Georgia's defense proved key.
After a field goal and an interception return for a touchdown, BC's lead was down to three points, at 20-17. Georgia scored to go up 24-20, but its defense wasn't able to keep the second-half shutout intact. The Golden Eagles scored on a passing touchdown and won 27-24.
Whereas the Hall of Fame Bowl two days earlier had just held its premiere game, the Sun Bowl was holding its 53rd game.
The 1986 Sun Bowl was notable for two things: it was Ray Perkins' last game as head coach of Alabama, and it sealed the reputation of Cornelius Bennett as one of the nation's most impressive defensive players of the 1980s.
The Crimson Tide entered the game with a 9-3 record and ranked AP No. 13 (UPI No. 14). However, Perkins had been under fire from alumni and boosters almost from the start. Having replaced Alabama icon Paul "Bear" Bryant, Perkins was never going to be given much slack. When the Crimson Tide finished 5-6 in 1984 (its first losing season in 27 years), the grumbling grew louder still. In his four years as Alabama coach, Perkins took the Tide to the Sun Bowl twice, and to the Aloha Bowl once.
So a 9-3 season with wins over Ohio State (in one of the special pre-season "12th games" common in the 1980s and early 1990s) and Notre Dame (remembered for "The Sack", Bennett's ferocious tackle of Fighting Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein) proved not to be enough to quiet the naysayers. The three losses had come to Penn State, LSU, and perhaps most damaging, Auburn. Frustrated with the criticisms, Perkins took the head coaching job with the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of the season.
Washington was in the middle of the Don James era in which the Huskies went to six Rose Bowls in sixteen years, and in which they expected to be in a bowl every year. The Sun Bowl was the 8th of 9 consecutive bowls for the Huskies from 1979 through 1987. They had finished the regular season with an 8-2-1 record, losing only to then-consensus No. 12 Southern California and then-consensus No. 7 (and eventual Pac-10 champion) Arizona State. The tie came against then-AP No. 19 (UPI unranked) UCLA.
The Huskies had also beaten Ohio State early in the season, but that win was in Seattle. Alabama had beaten the Buckeyes on a neutral field in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Though the game seemed to be an even match, it didn't turn out that way. Perhaps motivated by the fact that their coach was more or less hounded out by disgruntled boosters, the Alabama defense laid the hits on the Washington offense, limiting the Huskies' ground game and forcing quarterback Chris Chandler to pass.
Washington only managed two field goals, and Alabama cruised to an easy 28-6 win on the efforts of running back Bobby Humphrey, who had two runs for touchdowns as well as one touchdown reception.
Bennett had 11 tackles and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
The Aloha Bowl, like the California Bowl, was relatively new on the scene, having started in the 1982-83 season. There had been two previous bowls in Hawaii, both before statehood—The Poi Bowl (1935-36 through 1938-39 seasons) and the Pineapple Bowl (1939-40 and 1940-41, then 1946-47 through 1951-52 seasons).
Whereas the pre-statehood bowl games featured the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors regardless of record, the Aloha Bowl most frequently invited a Pac-10 team despite no formal affiliation. 14 of the 19 games of the Aloha Bowl's history (1982-83 through 2000-2001) featured a Pac-10 team.
The 1986 game featured the 8-3 Arizona Wildcats vs. the 7-3-1 North Carolina Tar Heels. Arizona was in its last season under head coach Larry Smith, who was to take the Southern California head coaching job after the season. Smith had led the Wildcats to six straight winning seasons, though he never took them to the promised land: a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Arizona reached as high as consensus No. 10 before it lost to UCLA. The team's other two losses that year were to then-ranked AP No. 18 (UPI No. 19) Southern California and to unranked Stanford (in Tokyo). The highlight of the season was undoubtedly their 34-17 upset win over rival and then-ranked consensus No. 4 (Rose-Bowl bound) Arizona State.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, were a program in decline. Coach Dick Crum had led them to an 11-1 record and a final AP ranking of No. 10 (UPI No. 9) in 1980, but in the last few years of his term the Tar Heels struggled. Nevertheless, UNC was ranked as high as AP No. 18 (UPI No. 17) before its first loss, a 35-34 heartbreaker to bitter rival North Carolina State.
Also, the tie and the other two losses had come against teams ranked at the time: AP No. 15 (UPI No. 18) Florida State (the tie); AP No. 12 (UPI No. 11) LSU; and AP No. 20 (UPI unranked) Clemson.
Sadly, the game proved to be a mismatch, as Arizona led 13-0 at halftime and 30-0 at one point in the third quarter. The Tar Heels reeled off 21 unanswered points, but their comeback fell two scores short.
Clemson has a history with the Gator Bowl. As of the 2012 edition, only Florida has played in the game as often as Clemson (both will have 9 appearances).
Although the ACC champion did not have an automatic invitation to a specific bowl game during this era, its status as one of the older, more prestigious bowls, along with its geographic proximity to most of the ACC schools, made it one of the two favorite destinations for ACC programs (the other being the Peach Bowl in Atlanta).
The Tigers were only five years removed from their "national championship" season of 1981. They were still coached by the legendary Danny Ford, and they had finished the regular season 7-2-2, narrowly winning the ACC title with a 5-1-1 conference record.
Clemson's one conference loss was to North Carolina State, which finished only a half-game behind the Tigers. The conference tie was in the last conference game vs. Maryland. The non-conference loss was to Virginia Tech in the season opener, and the non-conference tie was with bitter rival South Carolina in the regular season finale. The Tigers finished the season ranked in the UPI poll (No. 18) but unranked in the AP poll.
Stanford was coming off its best season since 1978, the last season that Bill Walsh coached the Cardinal. This would be coach Jack Elway's (yes, John's father) only winning season in his five years at Stanford.
The Cardinal finished the regular season with an 8-3 record, the three losses coming to then-ranked consensus No. 12 Washington, then-unranked Southern California, and unranked California. The highlight of the regular season was a 28-23 upset win against then-ranked consensus No. 12 UCLA. Stanford finished the regular season ranked AP No. 20 (UPI No. 17).
The game, surprisingly enough, played very similar to the other ACC vs. Pac-10 matchup held the same day in the Aloha Bowl. However, this time it was the ACC team sprinting out to the lead, as Clemson led 27-0 at one point.
In the second half it was the Pac-10 team staging the furious comeback. Led by fullback Brad Muster's three touchdowns (one rushing, two receiving), Stanford scored 21 points. But the comeback fell short. Clemson won 27-21.
This is the first bowl of the series thus far that unquestionably could qualify as mediocre.
Both finished the regular season 6-5. If nothing else, this proves that the old bowl system, despite having about half the number of bowls as today, still managed to place status (a team's history and popularity) over merit (a team's current season record).
Tennessee was in the middle of the Johnny Majors era. Majors had coached the Pitt Panthers and Tony Dorsett to a "national championship" in 1976. He was hired by his alma mater Tennessee the next year to bring the same level of success to Knoxville. He never did, but he laid the groundwork for his successor, Phillip Fulmer, who did win a title... the first BCS "national championship" game.
The Volunteers' 6-5 record included non-conference losses to Army and Georgia Tech as well as a good old-fashioned whuppin' at the hands of traditional foe Alabama. Their invite to the Liberty Bowl was unquestionably a matter of geographic proximity. The more Vols fans that made the trek across the state to Memphis, the better.
Minnesota's 6-5 record was equally unimpressive. Its lone non-conference win came against Bowling Green, while it was humiliated 63-0 by then-consensus No. 1 Oklahoma and embarrassed 24-20 at home by relative unknown Big West member Pacific (which no longer plays football). A 33-0 drubbing by Ohio State was the lowlight of the Gophers' conference schedule.
The highlight of the season was unquestionably the 20-17 upset win on the road over then-consensus No. 2 Michigan in the penultimate game of the season, knocking the Wolverines out of the national championship picture and allowing Penn State to move to No. 2 and set up the aforementioned Fiesta Bowl showdown with No. 1 Miami (Fla.). It was likely the upset win over Michigan that propelled the Gophers to a bowl game.
This game was won by Tennessee, 21-14. Vols quarterback Jeff Francis was named the Most Valuable Player. It was unremarkable enough that there seem to be no surviving videos, photos, or game summaries—not online, and not even on the respective programs' own web sites.
The 1986 Holiday Bowl was a classic example of what seems to happen so often in the Holiday Bowl—an offensive shootout.
The atmosphere was helped by the fact that "little program" San Diego State was playing the game on its home field. The majority of the near-sellout crowd of almost 60,000 was rooting for the Aztecs.
Both teams entered the game with 8-3 records. San Diego State, led by first-year coach Denny Stolz, earned the automatic bid to the Holiday Bowl as champion of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
Two of its three losses were to ranked Pac-10 teams: then-ranked AP No. 19 UCLA (UPI not ranked) and then-ranked UPI No. 20 Stanford (AP not ranked). The third loss was in conference to Air Force. The season-ending win over Brigham Young clinched the WAC title for the Aztecs.
Led by veteran coach Hayden Fry (who would take the Hawkeyes to bowl games in 14 of his 20 seasons coaching Iowa), Iowa had climbed as high as consensus No. 8. Losses to then-ranked consensus No. 4 Michigan, then-ranked consensus No. 17 Ohio State, and unranked Illinois dashed any hopes the Hawkeyes had of playing in a New Year's Day bowl. The highlight of the season was a win over then-ranked AP No. 17 (UPI No. 16) Michigan State.
Iowa scored first, taking advantage of a short field after intercepting Aztecs quarterback Todd Santos. Santos threw for three first-half touchdowns to give San Diego State a 21-13 halftime lead.
SDSU led 35-21 early in the fourth quarter after a touchdown run by Chris Hardy (who had also scored the Aztec's first touchdown on a pass reception from Santos). Iowa quarterback Mark Vlasic then engineered two touchdown drives and a two-point conversion to put the Hawkeyes up 36-35 late in the game.
When San Diego State kicked a field goal with less than a minute remaining to recapture the lead at 38-36, it seemed over. But it wasn't.
A clutch kickoff return gave Iowa good field position, and they kicked the game-winning field goal as time ran out.
You can watch the highlights of this back-and-forth offensive shootout here.
The third Freedom Bowl represented a mostly forgettable game in what ultimately became a forgettable bowl.
The Freedom Bowl only lasted 11 years, from the 1984-85 season through the 1994-95 season. The lack of success in obtaining a sponsor was a crucial factor in the Freedom Bowl's demise.
The participating teams were usually, but not always, from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and/or the Pac-10.
Brigham Young came into the game with an 8-4 record and had finished second to San Diego State in the WAC (this was one of those rare years where BYU didn't make its virtually annual pilgrimage to the Holiday Bowl as WAC champion).
The 1986 season was roughly in the middle of coach LaVell Edwards' 29-year term (1972-2000) as BYU coach. Only two years prior, Edwards had guided the Cougars to an undefeated 12-0 season and the consensus "national championship".
But 1986 was decidedly ordinary. Two of the Cougar's losses were out of conference to Washington and Oregon State. Two of them were in conference to Colorado State and (crucially) San Diego State. There were no signature wins as such.
For its part, UCLA was also experiencing a bit of a down year. The Bruins sported a 7-3-1 record, which was only one loss more than the previous year's 8-2-1, but that previous year ended in the Rose Bowl.
The three losses came to pre-season consensus No. 1 Oklahoma (UCLA had been pre-season consensus No. 4), to then-ranked AP No. 16 (UPI No. 14) Arizona State, and to then-ranked UPI No. 19-t (AP unranked) Stanford. The tie was on the road against then-consensus No. 10 Washington, which was a moral victory of sorts. The signature win was a 45-25 trouncing of bitter rival and then-consensus No. 10 Southern California the very next week.
The game started out as slow as molasses, with punts being exchanged and the almost perceptible sight of grass growing.
UCLA led 7-3 at the end of the first quarter and 7-3 at halftime. But in the second half UCLA running back Gaston Green caught fire. He added two more rushing touchdowns to the one he scored in the first quarter (the latter of those a 79-yard dash that put the game out of reach at 24-3) and threw a TD a pass to Karl Dorrell.
Green finished with 266 rushing yards on 33 attempts, fourth highest in NCAA bowl history, and was the game's MVP.
The Cougars scored a touchdown in the game's closing minutes to lessen the embarrassment.
[FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a junior at UCLA during the 1986-87 school year, and I attended this game with my father.]
Baylor in a bowl game?
Yes, Virginia (and Texas A&M). The Bears are pretty good this year, and despite what everyone thinks they're not the 98-pound weaklings of Texas college football (that would be the Rice University Owls).
Baylor was actually pretty good for a sustained period in the 1980s, as coach Grant Teaff had a 128-105-6 record over his 21 years (1972-92) in Waco.
In 1986, Baylor came into the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston with an 8-3 record and tied for 2nd place in the Southwest Conference (SWC). They began the season ranked consensus No. 12 in the preseason polls, and finished the regular season ranked AP No. 14 (UPI No. 16). The three losses were notable in that they were all "revenge wins" by teams that the Bears had beaten the previous year, in 1985 (when they had finished with an identical 8-3 regular-season record):
Lost 17-14 to UPI No. 20 (AP unranked) Southern California (the Bears had memorably upset the then-consensus No. 3 Trojans in the L.A. Coliseum the year before, 20-13);
Lost 27-21 to then-unranked SMU (the Bears had beaten the then-ranked AP No. 16 (UPI probation) Mustangs the year before); and
Lost in dramatic fashion 31-30 (after having led 17-0) to then-consensus No. 11 Texas A&M. This loss cost Baylor a chance at the SWC title (the previous year the Bears had beaten the Aggies 20-15).
Baylor's highlight win was a 29-14 win over then-ranked AP No. 10 (UPI No. 9) Arkansas, which spoiled the Razorbacks' own hopes of winning the SWC.
Colorado, on the other hand, had a season of extremes in 1986.
A 6-1 conference record and a 2nd place finish in the Big Eight was just enough to counter an 0-4 start to the season, in which the Buffaloes lost all their non-conference games (including the season opener to Colorado State). The one conference loss came predictably enough to eventual Big Eight champion Oklahoma. The highlight of the Buffaloes' season was the 20-10 upset of then-consensus No. 3 Nebraska.
Under coach Bill McCartney Colorado had been steadily improving since 1982. At the end of the 1980s they would achieve back-to-back 11-win seasons, Big Eight titles, Orange Bowls, and in 1990-91 the AP "national championship" (Georgia Tech was the UPI "national champion" that year).
Whereas the Baylor of 2011 is known for its prolific offense (and its now-Heisman-winning quarterback), the Baylor of the 1980s was known for its suffocating defense. One example is linebacker Mike Singletary, who was a consensus All-American at linebacker and led the Bears to the SWC title and the Cotton Bowl in his senior year, 1980-81.
This was the second year running that the game was held at Rice Stadium (where it had originated in 1959), rather than at the Houston Astrodome. This would prove to be the penultimate Bluebonnet Bowl. The game folded after the 1987-88 season due to financial woes.
The game itself was true to form.
Baylor's defense dominated, forcing six fumbles, recovering two of them, and tallying one interception. The turnovers were key to giving the Bears' offense a short field, and 14 of Baylor's points came off of turnovers.
Baylor led 7-0 after the first quarter and 21-9 at halftime. The second half was scoreless.
Baylor linebacker Ray Berry earned the game's MVP award, having made 12 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, and a blocked two-point conversion attempt. Defense ruled the day.
Not the most exciting of games, but a memorable win for Baylor fans. It would have to be. part from bowls after the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons, Baylor would not return to a bowl game until the 2010-11 season.
The All-American Bowl was in its first year with that name. For the previous eight years of its existence the game had been known as the Hall of Fame Classic. But for reasons already explained eight slides previous, that name was no longer available.
Birmingham chose to continue staging the game and chose a name that would have a similar connotation of high-quality performances by top student-athletes.
Unfortunately, the lack of a suitable sponsor and the impending expansion of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) led Birmingham officials to drop the bowl after the 1990-91 season to focus on hosting the conference championship game beginning in 1992.
The All-American Bowl could be considered a "third-tier" bowl. It was never able to land very attractive matchups, and thus usually resorted to inviting teams that were either geographically close and/or teams for whom a bowl game was a rare event.
In Florida State's case, it was the former. The drive between the Florida and Alabama state capitals was relatively short. In Indiana's case, it was the latter. This would be the Hoosiers' first bowl since 1979 and only their second bowl since 1967.
Both teams had mediocre records. Florida State came into the game with a record of 6-4-1. They boasted no wins of note whatsoever. All five games against quality opponents were losses (Nebraska, Michigan, Miami-Fla., and Florida) or a tie (North Carolina).
Indiana finished the regular season with a 6-5 record. The Hoosiers played in streaks, opening the season 4-0, then losing three straight (to bowl bound Ohio State, Minnesota, and Michigan), winning two more, and losing two more.
The only win against at team with a winning record came versus fellow 6-5 team Michigan State. The Spartans actually had a better conference record (4-4 to 3-5), but they had been to the All-American Bowl the previous year. As is the case with most bowls, the All-American Bowl wanted new blood.
The game was a tale of Indiana miscues, as kicker Pete Stoyanovich missed three of his five field goal attempts. Florida State relied almost exclusively on its running game, with tailback Sammie Smith scoring two first-half touchdowns and fullback Tanner Holloman scoring two second-half touchdowns.
The Hoosiers managed a touchdown to narrow the Seminoles' lead to 20-13 early in the fourth quarter, but that was it for their sputtering offense. FSU responded with a touchdown drive of its own, and closed out the scoring at 27-13. Smith finished with 205 yards rushing for the Seminoles and took home the game's MVP trophy.
The 1986 Peach Bowl closed out the year on a high note with a thrilling, hard-hitting, dynamic contest between two teams eager to prove themselves worthy of national attention.
It matched independent Virginia Tech against nearby rival and ACC member North Carolina State. Both teams felt they had something to prove.
Virginia Tech's Bill Dooley, at the end of his ninth year, was coaching his last game for Tech. Possible NCAA investigations and disagreements with the university's president had led to his forced resignation. The week before the game, his successor had been announced: Murray State head coach (and Virginia Tech alumnus) Frank Beamer.
The Hokies had been to four prior bowl games, all of which they lost. They came into this game with a 9-1-1 record, including one win by forfeit as Temple had used an ineligible player in its win over the Hokies. The one loss had come in the season opener at fellow independent Cincinnati, and the tie came against fellow independent South Carolina.
The only quality win the Hokies could boast was the 20-14 victory over eventual ACC champion Clemson in the second week of the season. Without Temple's forfeit, Virginia Tech's record would have been identical to North Carolina State's 8-2-1 record.
Coach Dick Sheridan was in his first year as head coach of the Wolfpack. He had coached Furman University to the Division I-AA championship game the year before, and had been named I-AA Coach of the Year. He led the Wolfpack to their best record (and their first bowl appearance) since 1978.
NC State's two losses were somewhat inexplicable—a 59-21 blowout defeat at the hands of mediocre Georgia Tech, and a 20-16 loss to ACC doormat Virginia. The tie came against a mediocre Pitt team. The only true standout game was a convincing 27-3 win over eventual ACC champion Clemson, though supporters would claim the 36-35 squeaker over the rival North Carolina Tar Heels (also bowl-bound) was important, too.
The game was a tale of two halves. The first half largely belonged to North Carolina State. Although they went down early due to a stellar 77-yard run by Tech's Maurice Williams which led to a touchdown, they ended up scoring all three of their touchdowns in the first half, one on a blocked punt recovery. At halftime, the Wolfpack led 21-10.
The second half belonged almost entirely to Virginia Tech. The Hokies shut down NC State's offense, twice forcing fumbles that resulted in Tech drives for touchdowns. However, Tech failed on two-point conversions after both of those touchdowns and led 22-21.
The Wolfpack managed a field goal to retake the lead at 24-22, but they were unable to put any further offensive pressure on Tech. The Hokies got the ball back with less than two minutes left, but got into their kicker's field goal range in the nick of time.
Virginia Tech kicked a field goal as time expired to win its first bowl game, 25-24.
This was the first year the Florida Citrus Bowl was played on New Year's Day. It made the move in part due to the Fiesta Bowl's shift to January 2nd.
With this move The Florida Citrus Bowl opened the door to other bowls to move to Jan. 1st. Wthin a few years the Hall of Fame, Gator, and Peach Bowls had all moved to Jan 1, creating an eight-team pileup (the Fiesta Bowl returned to playing the same day as the other bowls the next year).
Just a few short years earlier, the Citrus Bowl (known as the Tangerine Bowl before the 1983-84 season) had been one of the first games of the bowl season. With its new date, the organizers sought to find two teams that would be a good draw for television and game attendance.
They sent invitations to Auburn and Southern California before the season ended. At the time, Auburn was 8-2 and USC was 7-2. And while Auburn finished its regular season at 9-2 with a convincing win over bitter rival and then-consensus No. 7 Alabama, USC lost its last two games (to UCLA and Notre Dame) to finish 7-4.
Led by coach Pat Dye, Auburn was coming off Heisman-winner Bo Jackson's senior year the previous season. They actually had a better season in '86, perhaps as the result of having a more balanced offense. The Tigers' only two blemishes were close losses to Florida (18-17) and Georgia (20-16). They didn't play conference champion LSU. The season highlight was the aforementioned upset of Alabama.
Trojans coach Ted Tollner was fired at the end of the season in part because of his poor record against USC's two traditional rivals. He had gone 1-3 versus the Bruins and 0-4 against the Fighting Irish. The Citrus Bowl would be his last game as coach.
Southern Cal had been ranked as high as AP No. 9 (UPI No. 8) before losing two consecutive games to Washington State and eventual Pac-10 champion Arizona State. Both those teams were bowl-bound. The one distinguishing win was the early-season victory over then-consensus No. 9 Baylor in Waco.
As it turned out, both teams continued where they had left off the regular season. Auburn linebacker Aundray Bruce tallied three sacks of USC quarterback Rodney Peete as the Tigers all but shut the Trojans' offense down.
Auburn 16, Southern California 7.
The 1987 Cotton Bowl matched two of the stronger programs of the mid-1980s.
Jackie Sherrill's Texas A&M Aggies were in the middle of a three-year run as Southwest Conference (SWC) champions, while Earl Bruce's Ohio State Buckeyes were in the final year of an eight-year run of bowl appearances, winning four of their last five bowl games.
Texas A&M came into the game with a 9-2 record and ranked AP No. 8 (UPI No. 7). The two losses came to then-ranked AP No. 14 (UPI No. 17) LSU in Baton Rouge (at the beginning of the season) and to its conference foe, then-ranked AP No. 17 (UPI No. 16) Arkansas, in Little Rock (late in the season).
The Aggies' only win against a ranked team, however, was a 31-30 squeaker over then-consensus No. 20 Baylor in a game in which they trailed 17-0 at one point.
Ohio State came into the game with a 9-3 record, the extra game being a 16-10 loss in the season-opening showcase at Giants Stadium against then-consensus No. 5 Alabama. The only notable win was over then-AP No. 11 (UPI No. 12) Iowa.
The two other losses came in the second game of the season at then-ranked AP No. 17 (UPI No. 13) Washington, and most painfully in the last game of the season (at home)—a heartbreaking 26-24 loss against bitter rival and then-consensus No. 6 Michigan (the Buckeyes were consensus No. 7 at the time). The game decided who would go to the Rose Bowl. Instead of a trip to Pasadena, Ohio State would make its first-ever appearance in the Cotton Bowl.
The game turned out to be a personal showcase of the talents of Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman, one of two consensus All-Americans on the Buckeyes (the other was wide receiver Cris Carter). Spielman made 11 tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown early in the third quarter to give the Buckeyes the lead for good at 14-6.
Ohio State would go on to take advantage of multiple Texas A&M turnovers, including returning another interception for a touchdown, and coast to a 28-12 win.
The 1987 Rose Bowl marked Arizona State's debut in the "Granddaddy of Them All". It was the Sun Devils' first Pac-10 title in their tenth season in the conference.
Led by coach John Cooper (who would move on after the 1987 season to take the Ohio State job), ASU came into the game with a 9-1-1 record. A 21-21 tie with Washington State in the conference opener and a 34-17 loss at the hands of rival Arizona in the regular season finale were their only blemishes.
The high points of the regular season were road wins over both UCLA and USC (both were ranked at the time the Sun Devils beat them), and a convincing 34-21 win at home against then-consensus No. 6 Washington (ASU was then-consensus No. 7) which ultimately decided the Pac-10 title.
Michigan came into the game with an 11-1 record (thanks to an extra game at Hawaii, a 27-10 win). The season had signature wins against then-consensus No. 20 Florida State, then-consensus No. 8 Iowa, and finally, then-consensus No. 7 Ohio State to claim a share of the Big Ten conference title and (due to the head-to-head tiebreaker) a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Only the upset loss to Minnesota late in the season kept the Wolverines from a 12-0 regular season record and a claim to be considered co-national champions with the Miami (Fla.) vs. Penn State winner... assuming had they won the Rose Bowl, of course.
Coach Bo Schembechler was close to the end of his 21-year career, and though he never won a "national championship" he would lead the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl ten times during that 21-year span. This was the eighth of his ten visits to Pasadena.
The Michigan offense relied on the talents of running back Jamie Morris and quarterback Jim Harbaugh (recent coach of Stanford University and current coach of the San Francisco 49ers). Harbaugh finished third in the 1986 vote for the Heisman Trophy behind Miami (Fla.) quarterback Vinnie Testaverde and Temple running back Paul Palmer.
The Wolverines started the game brightly. Both Morris and Harbaugh ran for touchdowns and the defense limited Arizona State to two field goals until late in the first half when ASU quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst led a touchdown drive to narrow the score to 15-13.
The second half was all Arizona State.
Another drive by Van Raaphorst concluding in his second touchdown pass put the Sun Devils ahead for good at 19-15. Arizona State took advantage of turnovers (three Harbaugh interceptions) and a ball-control offense to shut out the Wolverines in the second half.
The Sun Devils added a field goal in the fourth quarter, and won the game finished 22-15.
On paper, the Sugar Bowl seemed to have the best matchup after the Fiesta Bowl. It matched SEC champion and AP No. 5 (UPI No. 6) LSU versus Big Eight runner-up and AP No. 6 (UPI No. 5) Nebraska.
There was also a "revenge factor" to the matchup. Nebraska had beaten LSU on New Year's Day in two of the previous four seasons: 21-20 in the 1983 Orange Bowl (1982-83 season), and 28-10 in the 1985 Sugar Bowl (1984-85 season).
The Tigers, therefore, came into the 1987 Sugar Bowl with the goal of getting the program's first win ever over the Cornhuskers, who were 4-0-1 all time against the Bayou Bengals: the two aforementioned bowl wins; a 17-12 win in the 1971 Orange Bowl (1970-71 season); a 10-7 win in the 1975 season-opener at Lincoln; and a 6-6 tie in the 1976 season-opener at Baton Rouge.
LSU coach Bill Arnsparger was in his third and final year at the helm, having agreed to become athletic director at Florida a few weeks earlier. The Tigers' two losses had both been upsets; the first came at home against unranked Miami (Ohio) in the second week of the season, while the second loss (also at home) came against unranked Mississippi.
Those losses were outweighed, however, by the quality wins: a 35-17 win over then-consensus No. 7 Texas A&M; a 23-14 win over then-unranked Georgia; and most importantly, a 14-10 win in Birmingham over then-consensus No. 6 Alabama. Added to wins over Florida (which was ineligible for the postseason) and North Carolina (which made it to the postseason), these wins demonstrated that LSU was a worthy New Year's Day bowl participant (if not quite a title contender).
Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne was then in the middle of his 25-year term at Nebraska. Although he had not yet won a first "national championship" in 1986-87, he continued the streak of consecutive bowl appearances that had begun under Bob Devaney in the 1969-70 season throughout his entire career (and which didn't end until the 2004-05 season, seven years after he retired as coach). He also continued the streak of seasons with at least nine wins (including bowl games) that also began in 1969-70 and which ended only in 2002-03.
Nebraska's season, like LSU's, had only two blemishes. One--the 20-10 loss at unranked Colorado--knocked them from consensus No. 3 to consensus No. 9, effectively dashing their national title hopes (coincidentally, then-consensus No. 2 Alabama also had lost to Penn State that weekend, clearing the way for the Nittany Lions to challenge Miami (Fla.) should they run the table).
The other loss--a 20-17 defeat at home to hated rival and consensus No. 3 Oklahoma--cost Nebraska a share of the Big Eight title and a berth in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers then "settled" for an invitation to the Sugar Bowl. However, there was only one true signature win, in the season opener against then-consensus No. 11 Florida State.
It was clear in the run-up to the game that Nebraska felt a bit insulted by having to face LSU in a bowl game for the third time in five seasons. Indeed, the Cornhuskers' trash talking to the media ended up giving their opponents ample "bulletin board" material.
The Tigers came out like they had converted the news clippings to high-octane fuel; on the very first play from scrimmage, quarterback Tommy Hodson completed a 43-yard pass to Wendell Davis, and several plays later, scored on a Harvey Williams 1-yard run to take a 7-0 lead. The total elapsed game time: two minutes and 54 seconds.
That must have been the slap in the face that the Cornhuskers needed to take the game seriously, as they didn't allow LSU to score again until less than four minutes remained in the game. They were helped by the over-emotional Tigers, who twice took themselves out of scoring range in the first quarter with penalties, coming away empty, and ended up committing 12 penalties for 130 yards in the game.
Nebraska scored 30 unanswered points over the rest of the game, as quarterback Steve Taylor rushed for one touchdown and passed for another; running back Tyrese Knox had two rushing touchdowns. And as the game recap shows, the Cornhuskers virtually shut down the Tigers' running game. Taylor was named the game's MVP, and Nebraska finished the season as AP No. 5 (UPI No. 6) and one of the early favorites to win the "national championship" in the 1987-88 season... along with Oklahoma.
The 1987 Orange Bowl was memorable for who didn't play in it and for what happened off the field.
It matched the Big Eight champion Oklahoma Sooners (10-1) against the Arkansas Razorbacks (9-2), who had tied for second in the Southwest Conference (SWC).
Led by coach Barry Switzer, the Sooners featured the option offense. Quarterback Jamelle Holieway was the team's main rushing threat. When the passing game was necessary, tight end Keith Jackson was the go-to receiver.
Oklahoma's only loss of the season was to Miami (Fla.), when OU was then-consensus No. 1 and the Hurricanes then-consensus No. 2. Needless to say, the next week the Hurricanes were consensus No. 1, where they remained until the Fiesta Bowl. The rest of the Sooners' season included a season-opening win over then-consensus No. 4 UCLA, five shutouts (of Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Missouri, and Colorado), and a big signature win over then-consensus No. 5 Nebraska, 20-17, to claim the Big Eight title.
Arkansas' resume was nowhere near as impressive. Led by Ken Hatfield, the Razorbacks lost two conference games, to Texas Tech and Baylor. Their one big win was over eventual SWC champion and then-consensus No. 7 Texas A&M.
At the end of the regular season, the consensus No. 3 Sooners had a major gripe when the Fiesta Bowl locked in consensus No. 1 Miami (Fla.) and consensus No. 2 Penn State. They felt entitled to a rematch with the Hurricanes, since ordinarily (i.e. when the top two teams weren't both independents) Miami (Fla.) would have ended up in the Orange Bowl simply because of sheer proximity. After all, the Orange Bowl Stadium was the Hurricanes' home field.
The problem with this was that the Hurricanes and the Nittany Lions were the only two remaining undefeated teams.
Had Michigan not suffered an upset loss to Minnesota, they would have likely remained the consensus No. 2, and a "1 vs. 2" matchup would have been impossible. Oklahoma would've then got its rematch with the Hurricanes. Even then, however, they might have still been denied a share of the "national championship" if Michigan had won out and finished 13-0 to the Sooners' (and Hurricanes') 11-1.
However, all this (and the game itself) was overshadowed by the media circus surrounding Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth.
"The Boz", as he called himself, was a self-created publicity magnet with a bleached mohawk/mullet hybrid. There was no question he was an outstanding player. Otherwise, Switzer wouldn't have tolerated him as long as he did. He was a key component of the Sooners' defense that helped them win the "national championship" the prior year.
It all came to a head in the weeks before the Orange Bowl, as Bosworth (along with several other college football athletes) tested positive for steroids. As a result, he was prohibited from playing in the Orange Bowl. He was still technically on the team and could accompany them to the game as long as he remained on the sidelines.
While on the sidelines Bosworth managed to steal the spotlight. He participated in the Orange Bowl media day the week before the game and garnered much of the media's attention to the apparent dismay of Switzer (pictured above and also described in this article).
But The Boz went too far.
During the game, he wore this T-shirt declaring his opinion of the NCAA's decision to ban him from playing. Not surprisingly, the nearby reporters and photographers took notice (as mentioned in the AP article published after the game). Bosworth the player had vanished, but The Boz was holding court where he pleased, bringing him the attention he craved.
Within days Switzer had kicked him off the team.
Oh, I almost forgot. The game.
Oklahoma 42, Arkansas 8
The last two standing were two undefeated independents.
The 1987 Fiesta Bowl was a historical occasion, matching consensus No. 1 Miami (Fla.) vs. consensus No. 2 Penn State. Coach Joe Paterno, reserved and traditional, was in his 21st year as head coach of Penn State, while coach Jimmy Johnson, brash and outspoken, was in his 3rd year as head coach of Miami.
What is sometimes overlooked is that the Hurricanes and the Nittany Lions had four common opponents:
|Opponent||Miami (Fla.)||Penn State|
|Cincinnati||away 45-13||home 23-17|
|E. Carolina||home 36-10||home 42-17|
|Pittsburgh||away 37-10||home 34-14|
|W. Virginia||away 58-14||away 19-0|
Obviously, Miami had the more impressive stats.
They played three of the four common opponents on the road, while Penn State played three of the four at home. The Hurricanes also beat each opponent by a larger margin than Penn State beat that opponent.
Also, Miami had three signature wins during the season: 23-15 over then-AP No. 13 (UPI probation) Florida, 28-6 over then-consensus No. 1 Oklahoma, and 41-23 over then-AP No. 20 (UPI unranked) Florida State.
Penn State only had one signature win: 23-3 over then-consensus No. 2 Alabama.
As the regular season wound down, both Miami and Oklahoma seemed to prefer a rematch between them in the Orange Bowl. But due in part to prodding and scheming by NBC's sports executive, Miami was sufficiently prodded and provoked into accepting Penn State's challenge to a "Duel in the Desert" (another one of the catchy titles for the big game).
The only way to do justice to the pre-game controversies, which make the Brian Bosworth media circus (discussed in the previous slide) seem tame by comparison, is by providing this link.
Needless to say, almost no game could have lived up to the hype that preceded this one. Perhaps a 42-41 thriller decided on a last minute touchdown or on a goal-line stand... but that's not what we got.
It more or less took the whole first quarter for the two teams to get their adrenaline and emotions in check, as the game remained scoreless going into the second quarter.
Both teams' offenses struggled against hard-hitting and quick defenses (shades of the LSU vs. Alabama rematch in the 2011-12 "National Championship Game").
Miami took advantage of a Penn State fumble deep in its own territory to score the first touchdown midway through the second quarter. The Nittany Lions, however, responded with what turned out to be the only long touchdown drive of the night for either team, and tied the score late in the first half. The halftime score was 7-7.
Instead of the game opening up, the defenses closed it back down.
The third quarter ended scoreless. Early in the fourth quarter Miami managed a field goal to take the lead at 10-7, but the rest of the game was a shambles for the Hurricanes, as Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan intercepted a Miami quarterback Vinnie Testaverde pass and returned it all the way to the Miami 5-yard line. Nittany Lion running back D.J. Dozier ran in for the touchdown a few plays later, and Penn State took the lead at 14-10.
Those turned out to be the last points of the game. Testaverde led the Hurricanes from their own 23 to the Penn State 6 within the last few minutes of the game, but his fourth-down pass was intercepted by Penn State linebacker Pete Giftopoulos at the goal line.
The Nittany Lions had won the turnover battle, intercepting Testaverde five times in total (they also sacked him four times, including in the picture above). As is so often the case in football, the turnover battle decided the outcome of the game.
It seems quaint, doesn't it?
Only eighteen bowl games. Only five bowl games on New Year's Day. Two independents meeting for the... what was it, anyway? A trophy full of Sunkist oranges? It certainly wasn't an NCAA trophy, much as some would have liked it to have been.
There was speculation that significant changes were going to be made to the bowl postseason, and that a playoff for I-A football was surely in the near future.
That speculation turned out to be half-right. The bowl season has undergone dramatic change in the past twenty-five years. An FBS playoff? We're still waiting...
So, here is a quick summary of "Your Father's Bowl Games," a quarter-century ago (1986-87):
- California Bowl: San Jose State 37, Miami (Ohio) 7.
- Independence Bowl: Mississippi 20, Texas Tech 17.
- Hall of Fame Bowl: Boston College 27, Georgia 24.
- Sun Bowl: Alabama 28, Washington 6.
- Aloha Bowl: Arizona 30, North Carolina 21.
- Gator Bowl: Clemson 27, Stanford 21.
- Liberty Bowl: Tennessee 21, Minnesota 14.
- Holiday Bowl: Iowa 39, San Diego State 38.
- Freedom Bowl: UCLA 31, Brigham Young 10.
- Bluebonnet Bowl: Baylor 21, Colorado 9.
- All-American Bowl: Florida State 27, Indiana 13.
- Peach Bowl: Virginia Tech 25, North Carolina State 24.
- Florida Citrus Bowl: Auburn 16, Southern California 7.
- Cotton Bowl: Ohio State 28, Texas A&M 12.
- Rose Bowl: Arizona State 22, Michigan 15.
- Sugar Bowl: Nebraska 30, LSU 15.
- Orange Bowl: Oklahoma 42, Arkansas 8.
- Fiesta Bowl: Penn State 14, Miami (Fla.) 10.
There were some duds and there were a few teams that perhaps should not have been in a bowl game, but there was unquestionably less padding of the bowl schedule than there is now.
For instance, by looking at the list of teams ranked by regular season records and identifying which teams went to bowl games we can see that there was very little bowl game inflation.
|Miami (Fla.)||11-0||Fiesta Bowl|
|Penn State||11-0||Fiesta Bowl|
|Arizona State||9-1-1||Rose Bowl|
|Texas A&M||9-2||Cotton Bowl|
|Auburn||9-2||Florida Citrus Bowl|
|San Jose State||9-2||California Bowl|
|Ohio State||9-3||Cotton Bowl|
|North Carolina State||8-2-1||Peach Bowl|
|Virginia Tech||8-2-1||Peach Bowl|
|Georgia||8-3||Hall of Fame Bowl|
|San Diego State||8-3||Holiday Bowl|
|Boston College||8-3||Hall of Fame Bowl|
|Miami (Ohio)||8-3||California Bowl|
|Brigham Young||8-4||Freedom Bowl|
|North Carolina||7-3-1||Aloha Bowl|
|Texas Tech||7-4||Independence Bowl|
|Southern California||7-4||Florida Citrus Bowl|
|Tulsa||7-4||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Florida State||6-4-1||All-American Bowl|
|Oklahoma State||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Iowa State||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Mississippi State||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Long Beach State||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|UNLV||6-5||**only 4 eligible wins|
|Eastern Michigan||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Ball State**||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|La.-Lafayette**||6-5||**only 3 eligible wins|
|Temple*||6-5||*all wins forfeited|
|Southern Miss**||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Army**||6-5||**only 5 eligible wins|
|Wyoming||6-6||****no winning record|
Of 57 teams with 6 wins or more, 2 of those teams were ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA violations (Florida and SMU); 1 because it forfeited all its wins for the season due to fielding an ineligible player (Temple); 1 had the required six wins but also six losses (Wyoming); and a whopping 11 had fewer than six wins against Div. I-A opponents.
That leaves 42 possible teams for a possible 21 bowl games.
The 1986-87 season had 18 bowl games featuring 36 teams, so only six teams missed out (the ones shown in bold and with blank space in the third column).
What's changed between then and now, of course, is the financial power of television has relaxed the criteria for postseason qualification.
First, the "I-A wins" requirement was loosened so that a program could count one win over a I-AA program toward bowl eligibility every few seasons (not every season). Second, the season schedule was expanded to 12 games with no corresponding increase in the number of wins required to be bowl-eligible.
The two changes together have significant impacted the number of teams eligible for bowls. The number of bowl games dramatically increased as well.
Within the span of about 15 years (1996-2011), the number of bowl games has approximately doubled, from 18 to 35.
You will get no prizes for guessing which sports television outlet has been the primary beneficiary of this expansion. The unpublicized truth—that most bowl games are losing propositions financially for the teams involved—means that institutions with the primary mission of education (why are you laughing?) are helping to subsidize civic and/or corporate promotional efforts.
Travel to sunny Arizona!
Drink delicious Sunkist beverages!
Since the turning point of the 1986-87 season and its "National Championship Game", the college football landscape has shifted for the profits.
Whether that is better or worse depends on whether you see the sport as a potential money-making venture or an amateur sport. I see it as having shifted for the worse.
Traditional conference rivalries (and indeed conferences) have been tossed aside. The first to go was the Southwest Conference in 1996 when the politically powerful half of the conference merged with the Big Eight (which technically also ceased to exist). The most meaningful rivalry in the Big Eight, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, was lost in the merger.
The Cotton Bowl, which was traditionally hosted by the SWC champion, lost its relevance and continues to suffer from being demoted in favor of the Fiesta Bowl once the Bowl Championship Series was formed.
In effect, the Big 12 was not more than the sum of its parts, but less. Sadly, there is no recovering the lost Big Eight and SWC rivalries, especially as the ugly business (and it is now a business) of conference realignment intensifies.
The Big East is as troubled as the Big 12, albeit for the opposite reasons.
Whereas the Big 12 removed two long-standing historical conferences from the college football landscape the Big East had an existing base to build from in its geographic region but never took advantage of that to create an Eastern power conference out of the available independents.
It did attempt to create a football conference, but it came too late. It lost key programs to other conferences and was unable to consolidate its identity as a powerful football and basketball conference in football.
If the basketball-only schools had accepted "football school" Penn State when it wanted to join in the mid-1980s, the present Big East would almost certainly look quite different. It might have included not only the Nittany Lions, but also Florida State and the schools that it did add in the early 1990s—Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, and West Virginia.
Instead, it is on the verge of duplicating the proposed Mountain West/Conference USA alliance, having lost not only short-term members Miami (Fla.), Virginia Tech, and West Virginia, but also long-term Big East members Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse.
The BCS (in collaboration with television) has diluted the quality of the traditional postseason, severed important traditional rivalries, and cast aside long-lived conferences. Not in the name of betterment of the sport, but in the name of maximizing revenue.
Every historic conference has also diluted its quality in the name of quantity.
By expanding to 12 members and creating conference championship games, they receive more revenue without actually enhancing the conference competitively. In fact, teams that do well but not well enough to win their division often have a competitive edge over those that do win. In that sense, the conference championship games are anti-playoffs.
The SEC, ACC, Pac-12, and the increasingly inaccurate Big Ten have all literally sold out and put monetary considerations over competitive integrity.
In the meantime, two dozen or so schools with 6-6 records get to experience the postseason—not because they played particularly well, but for finishing at a 50% success level.
Enjoy the 2011-12 postseason, kids. These are your bowl games.