Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta: Which College Football Bowl Game Is Most Coveted?

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterJuly 28, 2011

Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta: Which College Football Bowl Game Is Most Coveted?

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    When it comes to the college football postseason, there is a clear divide between the BCS bowls and the rest in terms of both compensation and prestige.

    The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl each pay out hefty, eight-digit checks to their participants each year while hosting only the very best teams in the sport.

    Nowadays, there is also a measure of separation between the BCS National Championship Game and the other four BCS bowls.

    Where once, each of the original four doubled as the national title game on a rotating basis, now the champion of college football is decided in a fifth and final game, with each site taking its turn every fourth year.

    But what of those original four? How do they stack up against one another, and which grades out as the best overall?

    Each one carries its own distinct history and tradition, its own atmosphere, its own illustrious line of national champions, its greatest games and its fair share outstanding performances.

    With that in mind, let's take an in-depth look at each of the four BCS bowls, and when all is said and done, we'll crown one as the most coveted of all.

    Read on to find out which one wins out!

Rose Bowl: History and Tradition

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    What better to game with which to begin than the "Grand Daddy of Them All."

    The Rose Bowl Game is not only the oldest BCS bowl game around but also is in fact the oldest bowl game of all. The game itself serves as the culmination of the Tournament of Roses Parade, known colloquially as "America's New Year's Celebration."

    The first unofficial Rose Bowl was played on New Year's Day of 1902 and was originally known as the "Tournament East-West football game."

    That game pitted East representative Michigan, coached by the legendary Fielding H. Yost, against West representative Stanford. Yost's team triumphed rather easily, 49-0, as Stanford ditched the game in the third quarter.

    The first official Rose Bowl Game was played in 1916, with Washington State defeating Brown 14-0 at Tournament Park in Pasadena. The game remained at that location until 1923, when the Rose Bowl finally opened to the football-hungry masses on New Year's Day.

    Since then, the Rose Bowl Game has been staged on the very same field every year except for 1942, when the game was moved to Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina amidst fears during World War II that the Japanese might strike somewhere on the West Coast.

    The game's famed partnership between the now 12-team Big Ten and the Pac-12 began in 1946, back when the conferences were known as the Big Nine and the PCC, respectively.

    That relationship remains today, with the alignment shifting only when the champion from either conference is instead chosen to participate in the BCS National Championship Game. 

Rose Bowl: Location and Stadium

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    As mentioned previously, the Rose Bowl Game has been played at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California every year since 1923, except for 1942.

    The Rose Bowl Game has been the most heavily attended bowl game since 1945, and the Rose Bowl itself is still the largest stadium of any that currently plays host to a postseason game.

    Aside from the "Grand Daddy of Them All," the Rose Bowl is home to the UCLA Bruins football team and has played host to a slew of high profile events, including two Olympic Summer Games (1932 and 1984), five Super Bowls, the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.

    The stadium itself is located in the Arroyo Seco, less than an hour from downtown Los Angeles. As such, the Rose Bowl Game is often frequented by celebrities and football luminaries, as southern California has long been and remains one of the most prolific hot beds of athletic talent in the country.

    With the venue being in such close proximity to the "entertainment capital of the world," the glitz and glamour of the Rose Bowl Game is unmatched, at least as far as bowl games are concerned. 

Rose Bowl: Host of National Champions

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    As one might expect, the longest-running bowl also happens to be the one that has hosted the most national champions.

    Going by the number of titles claimed by the schools themselves, the Rose Bowl has hosted 43 national championship teams. That total, though mostly consisting of Rose Bowl games, also includes some losers who were nonetheless given the overall crown (for example, SMU in 1936) as well as some teams that competed against each other in the very same game.

    The most notorious example, of course, belongs to the 1927 edition, which saw Alabama and Stanford finish the game in a 7-7 tie and subsequently, a split national championship.

    Even in this age of rotating national title games, the Rose Bowl has managed to host an eventual champion in an off year, when the USC Trojans defeated the Michigan Wolverines in 2004 to claim the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll at season's end.

    The Trojans also boast the most appearances (32) and wins (24) in Rose Bowl history by far, with nine of those victories capping national championship seasons.

    Surprisingly enough, Alabama still stands as the second-most frequent national champion to have played in the Rose Bowl, with the win over Texas in 2010 giving the Crimson Tide their fifth title claimed in Pasadena. 

Rose Bowl: Best Game

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    The Rose Bowl has played host to more than its fair share of unbelievable games, though none can quite hold up against the 2006 edition that pitted No. 2 Texas against No. 1 USC.

    The Longhorns, led by quarterback Vince Young on offense and safety Michael Huff on defense, defeated the heavily favored Trojans, 41-38, thereby preventing USC and its pair of Heisman Trophy winners, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, from capturing their third consecutive AP national championship.

    The game proved to be a back-and-forth affair, with the two teams combining for 53 points in what was a spectacular display of football in the second half.

    In the end, the victory gave the Longhorns their fourth national championship and 800th overall win in school history.

    And, for good measure, what was arguably one of the greatest games in the history of college football also happened to be the last one on the mic for Hall of Fame announcer Keith Jackson, who retired from the booth shortly thereafter.

Rose Bowl: Best Performance

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    The Rose Bowl's best game also happened to see its best performance, put forth by Texas' Vince Young.

    The Longhorns quarterback accounted for a Rose Bowl-record 479 yards of total offense—267 passing and 200 rushing—along with three touchdowns. The last of those scores came on a brilliant run by Young into the end zone with 19 seconds left to seal the victory for Texas.

    With that performance, Young became only the fourth two-time MVP in the history of the Rose Bowl, and the first to come from a school outside of the Pac-10 and the Big Ten, after having put up a similarly brilliant performance against Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl Game.

Orange Bowl: History and Tradition

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    The Orange Bowl isn't quite as old as the Rose Bowl, though it owes its inspiration to the "Grand Daddy of the Them All."

    The roots of the game stem back to 1926, when the city of Miami decided to host its own New Year's Day showcase like that put on by the Tournament of Roses. The idea began as the "Fiesta of the American Tropics" and was revived in 1933 as the "Palm Festival," with an adjoining game geared toward boosting the city's ailing economy amidst the Great Depression.

    The game officially became the Orange Bowl in 1935 when it was first played at Miami Field, later giving way to the Orange Bowl and now what is known as Sun Life Stadium.

    The Orange Bowl helped to usher college football into the television age when, in 1965, it became the first bowl game ever broadcast in prime time. That edition featured a stellar matchup between Texas and Alabama, with the Longhorns coming out on top, 21-17.

    As far as tie-ins are concerned, the Orange Bowl first partnered up with the Big Eight (later the Big 12) in 1968 and became the official "Home of the ACC Champion" in 2006.

Orange Bowl: Location and Stadium

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    The first three editions of the Orange Bowl were played at Miami Field until the official opening of the Miami Orange Bowl in 1938. From then on, the game was held continuously at its namesake stadium until 1996, when it moved to what was then known as Dolphins Stadium in Miami Gardens (now Sun Life Stadium).

    The game returned to the Orange Bowl one last unintentional hurrah in 1999, when Dolphins Stadium played host to an AFC Wild Card Game, thereby forcing the bowl game to move back to its long-time location for a day.

    Since then, the Orange Bowl has been played each year at Sun Life Stadium.

    The old Orange Bowl, known as Burdine Stadium from 1937 until 1959, was demolished in 2008 to make way for the new home of the soon-to-be-renamed Florida Marlins, set to open in 2012.

    That stadium hosted the University of Miami Hurricanes football team from 1937 until 2007, the NFL's Miami Dolphins from 1966 until 1986, five Super Bowls, the 1975 Pro Bowl and the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

    Sun Life Stadium, the current home of the Orange Bowl, is the only stadium in the country that is home to an NFL, MLB and NCAA college football team. It has also hosted five Super Bowls, two World Series and the 2010 Pro Bowl.

    As for the city of Miami, it is easily one of the most festive in the entire country, known for exciting nightlife so prevalent on world-famous South Beach.

Orange Bowl: Host of National Champions

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    Of the four BCS bowl games, the Orange Bowl has seen the second-most national champions of all with 29.

    Oklahoma still stands as both the most frequent participant (18) and victor (12) in the game, with 10 of those wins boosting the Sooners to national championships, official or otherwise.

    Fittingly enough, Nebraska, Oklahoma's long-time foe dating back to the days of the Big Eight, has the second-most appearances in the Orange Bowl with 17 (eight victories) and four national titles won.

Orange Bowl: Best Game

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    Picking one game from among the greatest played in the Orange Bowl is a difficult task, though the nod ultimately goes to the 1983 edition, in which Miami defeated Nebraska, 31-30.

    The Cornhuskers rode into that game as the clear favorites, having averaged 52 points per game during the regular season while looking invincible on the gridiron.

    However, with the backing of 70,000 fans and the spectacular passing of freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Hurricanes stormed out to a big lead and held on for dear life in the end to deliver the first of five national titles in school history.

    Honorable mention goes to the 1975 Orange Bowl Classic, in which Notre Dame downed heavily favored Alabama, 13-11, in the last game ever coached by the legendary Ara Parseghian. 

Orange Bowl: Best Performance

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    The best and most dramatic performance in the history of the Orange Bowl is undeniably that put on by Nebraska's Tommie Frazier in 1994.

    The Cornhuskers quarterback spent much of the 1993 season struggling with blood clots in his right leg but was able to return in time for the Orange Bowl against Miami to defend the MVP honors he earned in a losing effort the year before.

    After not playing in a live game for the better part of three months, Frazier spent most of the game on the bench after throwing an ill-advised pass that resulted in an interception on Big Red's first drive.

    With seven minutes to go and the Huskers down 17-9, coach Tom Osbourne put Frazier back in the game and watched as his quarterback led two touchdown drives against the vaunted Hurricanes defense to give Nebraska a 24-17 victory and its first national championship since 1971.

Sugar Bowl: History and Tradition

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    Like the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl originally drew its inspiration from the Rose Bowl, with idea for a New Year's Day football game in New Orleans first being floated in 1927 by Colonel James M. Thomsen.

    The first Sugar Bowl was played at Tulane Stadium on New Year's Day, 1935, the same day as the first official Orange Bowl, with Tulane triumphing over Temple, 20-14.

    The Sugar Bowl has seen perhaps the most controversy of any major bowl game, from the debate in 1956 over whether Bobby Grier should be allowed to play with the Pittsburgh Panthers against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets given Georgia governor Marvin Griffith's opposition to integration, to the Pentagon's decision in 1967 to disallow Army from participating in what would've been its first-ever bowl game due to the Vietnam War.

    The Sugar Bowl has long played host to the champion of the SEC, though the conference's success in sending teams to the BCS National Championship Game has altered that tradition somewhat.

Sugar Bowl: Location and Stadium

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    The Sugar Bowl spent its first 50 years of existence at Tulane Stadium, on the campus of Tulane University.

    It was from this location that the game derived its name, as Tulane's campus had previously been the sugar plantation of Paul Foucher, whose father-in-law, Etienne de Bore, first discovered how to granulate sugar from cane syrup.

    The game moved to the Louisiana Superdome in 1976 and has been held there every year since except for 2006, when the tragedy and destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina forced the organizers to move the game to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

    Tulane Stadium, which was officially closed in 1979 and was fully demolished by 1980, had also hosted three Super Bowls and the NFL's New Orleans Saints from 1967 until 1974.

    The Superdome has since had quite a run of its own, playing home to the Saints, the Tulane Green Wave and the New Orleans Jazz of the NBA (1975-79) while hosting five NCAA Men's Basketball Final Fours and six Super Bowls.

    The city of New Orleans is known and celebrated around the world for its vibrant Creole culture, its rich history of art and music and of course, the party that invades Bourbon Street and the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. 

Sugar Bowl: Host of National Champions

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    The Sugar Bowl has seen one fewer national champion than the Orange Bowl, with a total of 28 to date.

    Alabama and LSU are currently tied for the most appearances all-time with 13 apiece, though the Crimson Tide hold the edge in wins (eight to six) and national championships earned in the contest (five to three).

Sugar Bowl: Best Game

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    Interestingly enough, the greatest Sugar Bowl game to date featured a team from the SEC on the losing side of the ledger.

    That game, the 1983 Sugar Bowl, still stands as one of the greatest college football games of all time.

    In that game, second-ranked Penn State edged top-ranked Georgia, 27-23, on the way to the national championship in what was then a de facto title game in a then-rare postseason meeting between the two top-ranked teams in college football.

    The Nittany Lions dominated the first half of the game before the Bulldogs narrowed the margin to 20-17 in the third quarter.

    With his team's lead now tenuous, quarterback Todd Blackledge led Penn State to the end zone in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to stretch the lead back to 10 points.

    Georgia, with Herschel Walker in the backfield, would add one more score with 3:54 remaining in the game, though a failed two-point conversion essentially sealed the deal and gave Joe Paterno his first national championship in Happy Valley.

Sugar Bowl: Best Performance

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    Tim Tebow's virtuoso performance in the 2010 Sugar Bowl may not have been particularly dramatic as far as the game was concerned, but it was darn impressive nonetheless.

    The game served as something of a consolation for Florida after the Gators fell to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, thereby ceding the opportunity to defend their national championship.

    Though with the way Tebow played, you'd have never known he wasn't playing for another ring.

    Tebow torched Cincinnati for 482 yards and three touchdowns through the air along with 51 yards and another score on the ground to help the Gators chomp and stomp all over the poor Bearcats by a final score of 51-24.

    That performance was more than a fitting end to Tebow's career at Florida, which may one day go down as one of the greatest ever seen in the history of college football. 

Fiesta Bowl: History and Tradition

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    Last but (perhaps) not least is the Fiesta Bowl.

    The Fiesta Bowl is by far the youngest of the four BCS bowls. It was originally borne out of the frustration of the Western Athletic Conference, which had grown tired of watching member schools and conference champions get passed over for selection in postseason bowl games.

    Therefore, in 1971, the powers that be in the WAC organized a bowl game with an automatic tie-in for their conference champion and fielded what turned out to be a rather exciting matchup between two ranked teams, Arizona State and Florida State. 

    By 1975, the Fiesta Bowl was attracting big-name schools like Nebraska and Penn State.

    The WAC's tie-in with the game ended in 1978 when Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-10, but the Fiesta Bowl itself continued on, joining the New Year's Day crowd in 1981.

    The game truly came into its own in 1987, when it hosted a de facto national championship game between Miami and Penn State, both of which were independents at the time.

    The Nittany Lions triumphed, 14-10, in what was then the most watched game in the history of college football.

    From then on, the Fiesta Bowl became a key fixture in the college football postseason, slowly but surely overtaking the Cotton Bow Classic as the fourth-largest bowl game on the way to becoming a key member of the Bowl Championship Series.

    Like many of the big bowl games, the Fiesta Bowl hasn't exactly escaped from controversy unscathed. As far as prevailing politics are concerned, several invitees boycotted the 1991 edition of the game when the state of Arizona refused to adopt the Martin Luther King Holiday.

    In 1996, BYU took umbrage with the Fiesta Bowl when its organizers chose Penn State over the more highly ranked Cougars.

    And most recently, the Fiesta Bowl came under fire when it was discovered that CEO John Junker, along with a number of other bowl officials, spent frivolously to curry favor with the powers that be in the BCS while also encouraging employees to make donations to certain political campaigns, a strict no-no for non-profit organizations.

    Which, ironically enough, the Fiesta Bowl had not been, as it had managed to turn a profit and pass those earnings onto its higher-ups while most of its participants operated at a net loss. 

Fiesta Bowl: Location and Stadium

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    The Fiesta Bowl has always found its home in Arizona, with only one move in its 40-year history.

    For the first 35 years of its existence, the Fiesta Bowl was played at Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State in Tempe. Built in 1958, Sun Devil Stadium was once the home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and has hosted both the Super Bowl and a mass led by the Pope, though obviously on separate occasions.

    In 2007, the Fiesta Bowl moved on up to the brand-new University of Phoenix Stadium, where it has been held ever since. Though still quite new, University of Phoenix Stadium has already housed a Super Bowl, two BCS National Championship Games and even WWE's Wrestlemania.

Fiesta Bowl: Host of National Champions

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    The Fiesta Bowl has hosted far fewer national champions than any of the other three BCS bowls and understandably so.

    After all, the Sugar and Orange Bowls are each 36 years older than the Fiesta Bowl and, technically speaking, the Rose Bowl is a whopping 69 years older.

    Nonetheless, the Fiesta Bowl's nine national champions are nothing to sneeze at.

    The lead for most frequent visitor to the game consists of a four-way tie between Penn State, Arizona State, Nebraska and Oklahoma, though the Nittany Lions win out by way of their 6-0 record in the Fiesta Bowl and their two national championships earned as a result of said victories.

Fiesta Bowl: Best Game

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    That being said, Penn State did not have the privilege of playing the best Fiesta Bowl game, which also happens to be one of the most entertaining games in the history of the sport.

    The 2007 Fiesta Bowl was about as quintessential a David vs. Goliath matchup as you'll ever see in a bowl game.

    The role of David was played rather perfectly by WAC champion Boise State, which rode into the game with a 12-0 record under first-year coach Chris Petersen.

    Big 12 champion Oklahoma fell in naturally as Goliath, a powerhouse college football program that had persevered through a rather trying season during which the Sooners lost quarterback Rhett Bomar and running back Adrian Peterson, who returned in time for the game.

    The game itself was explosive to say the least.

    The Broncos stormed out to a rather commanding 28-10 lead in the third quarter before Bob Stoops' squad answered with 25 unanswered points of their own to pull into the lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game.

    The last 1:26 of the game was arguably the most exciting ever played in college football, with the Sooners scoring two touchdowns and succeeding with a two-point conversion to go from down eight points to up seven within the span of 24 seconds.

    Immediately after throwing a pick-six to Oklahoma's Marcus Walker, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky managed to regroup and lead the Broncos on a stunning 77-yard drive that culminated in a 35-yard touchdown catch by Jerard Rabb on a hook-and-lateral with a mere seven seconds left in the game.

    The game fittingly went to overtime, during which the Sooners scored a touchdown on their opening drive, only to watch the Broncos run two more trick plays—a half-back pass for a touchdown and a Statue of Liberty play for a two-point conversion—to secure a stunning victory and etch Boise State into the history books as only the second school from a non-BCS conference to win in a top-four bowl game.

    More importantly, the victory gave the Broncos a 13-0 record for the season, thereby reinvigorating the debate in the college football world over whether or not the sport needs a legitimate playoff system and to what extent the BCS should be allowed to exclude teams from outside the Big Six conferences to compete for a national championship.

Fiesta Bowl: Best Performance

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    The Fiesta Bowl has seen some tremendous individual performances in recent years—Zabransky for Boise State, West Virginia's Pat White in the 2008 edition and Ohio State's Craig Krenzel come to mind—though perhaps no one will ever best the show put on by Tommie Frazier on New Year's Day in 1996.

    The legendary Nebraska quarterback earned his third straight MVP award in a national championship game by leading the Huskers to a 62-24 demolition of Steve Spurrier's Gators, whose "Fun-N-Gun" offense convinced most pundits to pick Florida over the more traditionally ground-oriented Cornhuskers.

    Sure, most of the credit could reasonably go to the Black Shirt defense, which held Florida to minus-28 yards rushing. However, that wouldn't do any justice to the sheer brilliance of Frazier, who threw for 105 yards and a touchdown and ran for 199 yards and two more scores.

    The second of those rushing touchdowns came on perhaps the single most amazing carry in college football history (seen above), as Frazier broke through seven tacklers before scampering 75 yards to the end zone.

    It's no fluke that Frazier, arguably the most amazing athlete to ever play college football, owns the greatest performance in each of two top bowl games. 

And the Winner Is...

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    ...the Rose Bowl.

    C'mon, folks. There's really not much of a debate here, if there's one to be had at all.

    They don't call it the "Grand Daddy of Them All" for nothing. The Rose Bowl is far and away the oldest, most storied and most celebrated bowl game of them all, having hosted the most national championships at the most historic venue in college football.

    And for good measure, the Rose Bowl Game hasn't changed sites since 1942, when fear of another Japanese attack during World War II necessitated a one-year switch to the East Coast.

    Each of the other three, on the other hand, has found a new permanent home in the last 36 years.

    One could argue for the other three holding the edge in the "best game" or "best performance" categories, though even then it's not as though the stunning display of football put on by Vince Young and Texas against USC in 2006 can be dismissed as anything close to subpar.

    Of course, this is but one man's opinion. Feel free to agree, disagree or remain entirely indifferent.

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