The end of the college football season brings out conflicting emotions for fans. While it’s sad that the season is over, it does mean bowl games are on their way. Let’s see what the competition must top by remembering the most exhilarating college bowl games ever played.
1980 Holiday Bowl: BYU vs. SMU
With only three minutes remaining in the game, the Cougars trailed by 20 to the vaunted SMU rushing attack featuring Craig James and Eric Dickerson, who combined for over 300 yards and five of the Mustangs’ touchdowns.
The dynamic duo was on the sideline when BYU and Chicago Bear great Jim McMahon tossed a touchdown pass with 2:35 left on the clock. Still, the Cougars were trailing by two scores and would require a miracle to get it within striking distance.
After recovering an onside kick and scoring another touchdown within 40 seconds of the game clock, BYU had a chance but failed to recover the next onside kick. Yet, the Cougars forced a three-and-out and blocked the subsequent punt to get the ball back. McMahon had one last hurrah in him when he hooked up with Clay Brown in a sea of Mustang defenders for the final score. BYU won 46-45, making it one of the most improbable comebacks ever.
1984 Orange Bowl: Miami vs. Nebraska
“You play to win the game” is a motto many coaches live by. The best evidence of that credo is the 1984 Orange Bowl when Nebraska attempted — and failed — on a two-point conversion against the Miami Hurricanes. The reasoning behind the decision was that ties did occur back in 1984, and the media chose the national championship. Hence, Tom Osbourne wanted to leave little doubt that they were the best team in the country.
2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Oklahoma
In the era of the Bowl Championship Series, the non-title bowl games lacked the pizzazz. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl had a different feel because it welcomed someone new to the party in the Boise State Broncos. Although Boise State consistently won all season long, they still had naysayers who said they didn’t belong, especially against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Chris Petersen’s Broncos destroyed that narrative when they defeated the Sooners 43-42 in overtime, which included the unforgettable “Statue of Liberty” play for the game-winning two-point conversion by Ian Johnson.
2003 Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Miami
In the early 2000s, the Miami Hurricanes were a factory of NFL-ready talent. Riding into the national championship game with a 34-game winning streak, it felt like their victory was a foregone conclusion. The Ohio State Buckeyes were an 11.5-point underdog—and even with super freshmen running back Maurice Clarett, they lacked the firepower to hang with the Hurricanes.
Or so we thought.
Ohio State battled to defeat Miami 31-24 in double-overtime, aided by a controversial call in the first overtime period that extended the Buckeyes’ drive after a failed fourth-down attempt.
2006 Rose Bowl: Texas vs. USC
If you want star power, then the 2006 Rose Bowl was the game for you. Two powerhouse programs, the USC Trojans and Texas Longhorns, broke it out until one team stood. USC was amid a Miami Hurricane-like run, featuring one of the top offenses in college football history thanks to two Heisman winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. However, the heroics of the Heisman runner-up, Vince Young, was more than the Trojans could handle, winning 41-38 in an epic back-and-forth showdown.
The most exhilarating college bowl games will continue to live on forever. We can only hope that one of the games during the bowl season can replicate one of these classics.