The Greatest Bowl Games in College Football History

From shocking upsets, to defensive battles, comebacks and the most unlikely finishes, college football's best games are some of the most memorable across all sports. In honor of the 150th anniversary of college football, herewith an all-time ranking of the best bowl games in the history of the sport. Note: This list does not include any national championship games. To find those, please visit our list of the Greatest Games in college football history.


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10. 1963 Rose Bowl

USC vs. Wisconsin

The 1963 Rose Bowl was the first-ever bowl game between college football’s top two teams, but three quarters in it looked like a major dud. USC pulled to a 42-14 lead at the start of the fourth quarter—and then the Badgers woke up. Behind Wisconsin quarterback Ron Vander Kelen, the Badgers put up 23 unanswered points before running out of time, a performance that’s still considered one of the greatest comebacks in college football history—even though it ultimately came up short.

9. 2017 Rose Bowl

USC vs. Penn State

One of the highest-scoring Rose Bowls of all time featured two future New York football pros (Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley) at the height of their collegiate careers.  Barkley had 194 rushing yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving), but Darnold and USC came out on top in this back-and-forth affair, erasing a fourth quarter lead by scoring the game’s last 17 points.

8. 1979 Cotton Bowl

Houston vs. Notre Dame

Commonly known as “The Chicken Soup Game”, this matchup saw the Irish and Cougars battling it out on an unusually cold New Year’s Day in Dallas. Amid the elements, Irish quarterback Joe Montana struggled with hypothermia and flu-like symptoms—and a string of interceptions—but when the game was on the line, he couldn’t be stopped.  After a stint in the locker room, where he received a heavy dose of chicken soup, Montana returned to the field with Notre Dame trailing 34-12. The rest is history: A re-energized Montana helped the Irish outscore the Cougars 23-0 in the fourth quarter to pull off an unlikely 35-34 comeback.

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7. 2018 Rose Bowl

Oklahoma vs. Georgia

This high-scoring College Football Playoff semifinal was a game of runs. Oklahoma cruised in the first half, heading to the locker room with a 31-17 lead. But Georgia couldn’t be stopped in the second half, and at the end of regulation both teams were deadlocked at 48. The teams traded field goals in the first overtime of the College Football Playoff era and then went to 2OT, where Georgia blocked an Oklahoma field goal attempt. Any score would give the Bulldogs a berth in the CFP title game, and they did not disappoint, with Sony Michel quickly breaking free for a 27-yard, game-clinching rushing touchdown.

6. 1979 Sugar Bowl

Penn State vs. Alabama

This defensive battle featured 20 punts, four fumbles, 19 penalties and one iconic goal-line stand. Midway through the fourth, Alabama was clinging to a 14-7 lead while Penn State marched down the field. On 4th-and-inches at the 1-yard line, the Nittany Lions tried to go up the middle with running back Mike Guman, but Alabama was prepared.  The Crimson Tide, led by linebacker Barry Krauss, surged through the line and stopped Guman in his tracks, preserving Alabama’s case for a second straight national title.

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5. 1973 Sugar Bowl

Notre Dame vs. Alabama

Billed as the game of the century, this matchup between Notre Dame and Alabama lived up to the hype. All told, there were six lead changes between these two undefeated squads, with Notre Dame pulling into the lead on a 19-yard field goal that barely went through the uprights with four minutes left. But the lasting memory of the game came with the Irish pinned against their end zone, looking to run out the clock. Notre Dame quarterback Tom Clements surprised everyone by faking the handoff and then lofting the ball down the field to Robin Weber, who caught the ball and sealed the win for the Irish. 

4. 1980 Holiday Bowl

SMU vs. BYU

Behind the rushing talents of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, SMU cruised to a 45-25 lead over BYU with less than three minutes remaining in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. And then the BYU comeback began. A quick Jim McMahon touchdown toss, followed by a recovered onside kick, another score, plus a blocked punt, gave the Cougars one final chance to rally. After two incomplete passes, McMahon tossed a Hail Mary pass toward the end zone from 41 yards out.  And despite being blanketed by several SMU defenders, BYU’s Clay Brown came down with the ball, giving the Cougars an improbable 46-45 victory.

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3. 1987 Fiesta Bowl

Penn State vs. Miami

Perhaps Miami’s first mistake was arriving for the Fiesta Bowl in army fatigues. Once the game kicked off, the Hurricane miscues kept piling on. Miami dominated Penn State all night on paper, gaining three times the yardage, with Penn State quarterback John Shaffer completing a putrid 5-of-16 passes for 53 yards. Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde completed 31 passes that night, but unfortunately for him, five of those went to Penn State defenders, including his last pass of the night with nine seconds to play.

2. 1984 Orange Bowl

Miami vs. Nebraska

Miami staked its claim to its first national title playing against unbeaten and top-ranked Nebraska. The Huskers hadn’t been challenged all year, but found themselves down 17-0 early, before making a furious comeback. Jeff Smith’s 24-yard touchdown got the Huskers within one at 31-30. Coach Tom Osborne opted to go for the win over the tie, and on the subsequent two-point conversion quarterback Turner Gill’s pass to Smith was swatted down. The decision sealed the upset for Miami and led to an 11-year title drought for Osborne and Nebraska. 

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1. 2007 Fiesta Bowl

Oklahoma vs. Boise State

On paper, this game had no business being competitive. Boise State, a mid-major upstart, was a touchdown underdog against Oklahoma, a member of college football royalty. The two teams scored 22 points in the final 90 seconds of regulation, with Boise blowing an 18-point lead along the way before using a 50-yard hook-and-lateral play on 4th-and-18 in the final seconds of regulation to tie the game. Down by a point in overtime, Boise continued its trickery, using a Statue of Liberty play to win the game, setting off a wild celebration, complete with a marriage proposal.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)