End of Era: Top 10 Most Significant BCS Bowl Games

After Auburn plays Florida State next Monday for the BCS national title, the BCS, a controversial system that worked more than it did not, will come to an end as college football begins its four-team College Football Playoff system next year, with the Rose and Sugar Bowls hosting the national semifinal games and AT&T Stadium (Cowboys Stadium) hosting the national title game.

As the BCS era comes to an end, here are the ten most significant BCS Bowl games that were played. 

1. FIESTA BOWL, 2007: No. 9 Boise State 43, No. 8 Oklahoma 42

This game was not only one of the best, most insane college football games ever played, but it was the most significant game in the BCS era and one of the more important in the history of the sport.

First, it proved to the world that the little guys from a non-BCS conference could knock off the BCS Goliaths. And it made people realize that college football, more than ever, needed to march toward a playoff system, which will finally be ushered in in the 2014 season. 

After Oklahoma came back to tie the game on a two-point conversion and then took the lead on a Pick-6 interception return for a touchdown in the game's waning moments, Boise State just would not die. The Broncos tied the game on an incredible hook and lateral play. They scored a touchdown in overtime on a halfback pass after quarterback Jared Zabransky went to the slot. And then, instead of playing it carefully, Boise State went for two--even though they didn't have to in the first overtime--and won the game on a Statue of Liberty play when running back Ian Johnson took the football from Zabransky and ran into to the end zone and into college football history and the hearts of Americans everywhere. To cap that off, Johnson found his girlfriend, a cheerleader for the Broncos, and proposed to her on national television. She said "yes"--like nearly everyone who was watching the game, including the normally staid and jaded reporters in the booth who were rooting for Boise State, the anti-establishment "BCS Buster" the big-time schools did not want to play or be bothered by. 

In later years, Boise State would defeat Chip Kelly's Oregon team in a game in which Oregon did not get a first down in the first half. They would beat Virginia Tech and Georgia on the road and become perennial BCS contenders under Petersen and Moore. But the legend started in this game

I have written that Sarah Palin (who has a base of supporters as rabid as Alabama) is the politician most like Chris Petersen's Boise State teams, and this game forever rocked and disrupted the college football establishment like Palin has done to the political world. 

2. NATIONAL TITLE GAME, 2006: Rose Bowl: No. 2 Texas 41, No. 1 USC 38

This game was the best BCS title game and one of the best games in college football history. It was also legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson’s last broadcoast and saw everything from awkward laterals by Reggie Bush, which resulted in a fumble, a failed fourth-down conversion by LenDale White, poor clock management by Pete Carroll and a Texas quarterback in Vince Young, as he had done since high school, just finding a way to will his team to win on college football’s greatest stage in college football’s most storied venue. USC was going for a three-peat with two Heisman Trophy winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, and the game capped off a season in which USC was involved in two of more thrilling games of the year--the "Bush Push" against Notre Dame and USC's win over Fresno State when Bush zig-zagged through the Bulldogs defense. Keith Jackson's call of Vince Young's touchdown ("Vince. Young. Scores.") was one helluva way for him to go out at his best. 

3. ROSE BOWL, 2011: No. 3 TCU 21, No. 5 Wisconsin 19 

TCU fans--and college football fans--will always wonder whether Andy Dalton and Tank Carter and the Horned Frogs could have beaten either Auburn or Oregon in the national title game. Because college football did not have a playoff, TCU went undefeated but was denied a shot at the title. But TCU, the first non-BCS conference team to play in the historic Rose Bowl, and Wisconsin played a doozy of a game. Wisconsin's two-point conversion attempt fell short in the end, and TCU had its moment of glory for underdogs everywhere and put more pressure on college football to adopt a playoff system. 

4. NATIONAL TITLE GAME, 2003: Fiesta Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State 34, No. 1 Miami 24

Miami was trying for back-to-back titles and lost the game on a controversial pass interference call that allowed Ohio State one more play to send the game into overtime. Ohio State's Craig Krenzel took advantage of the gift with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. Miami running back Willis McGahee tore his ACL in the game, which was also the high point of Ohio State phenom Maurice Clarett, whose story was documented in a captivating ESPN "30 for 30" episode,"The Youngstown Boys."

5. NATIONAL TITLE GAME, 2010: Rose Bowl: No. 1 Alabama 37- No. 2 Texas 21

The Alabama dynasty started in the venue where Southern football got respect nearly a century ago when Alabama defeated Washington in the Rose Bowl. The fates of both programs since then could not have been more different. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has gotten on the Mount Rushmore of college football head coaches with Bear Bryant, Frank Leahy, and John McKay. Brown was shoved out of Austin this year. 

6. NATIONAL TITLE GAME, 2011: Fiesta Bowl: No. 1 Auburn 22 - No. 2 Oregon 19

Though one player can carry college basketball teams to national titles, this was the first season in which one player (Cam Newton) seemed like he was the type of "one-and-done" players that have been prevalent in college basketball. Auburn won on a memorable drive in which Michael Dyer's knees never hit the ground and set up the game-winning and championship-clinching season. Both teams also looked vulnerable, and some wondered whether undefeated TCU, a team that won the Rose Bowl, and Boise State, which had defeated No. 6 Virginia Tech on the road to start the season but lost a heartbreaker to Nevada to get eliminated from BCS contention, could have beaten either team. That made the calls for a playoff system get louder. 

7. Rose Bowl, 2005: No. 6 Texas 38, No. 13 Michigan 37

The game was significant because a Big 10 school did not face a Pac-12 school since USC was in the BCS title game. California fans will never forgive Texas coach Mack Brown for stealing the Rose Bowl bid from them after shamelessly lobbying voters in the last week of the season to get Texas to No. 4 in the BCS. Regardless, it was a dramatic game that saw three lead changes in the fourth quarter. And Vince Young, in what was a bit of foreshadowing for the next year, led Texas on a game-winning drive in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter for the win. 

8. NATIONAL TITLE GAME, 2013: Orange Bowl: No. 1 Alabama 42, No. 2 Notre Dame 14

The game was significant because it put Nick Saban on the Mount Rushmore of college football coaches along with Bear Bryant, John McKay, and Frank Leahy as the only coaches to win 4 titles in the poll era and made Alabama the first team to win back-to-back BCS championship games in the BCS era. And it ironically occurred in the stadium in which Saban had perhaps his only professional failure as a coach when he was with the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. The game wasn't close between two of college football's most storied programs, but it was one of the most significant victories for Alabama, the state of Alabama (fourth straight), college football, the SEC (seventh straight title), and Saban. 

9. NATIONAL TITLE GAME, 2007: Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Florida 41, No. 1 Ohio State 14

This was the first of Urban Meyer’s two titles at Florida. Chris Leak, a quarterback who was under-appreciated for much of his time at Florida and had to endure topsy-turvy coaching changes, went out as a winner with a brilliant game. Most importantly, this game started the SEC’s streak of seven consecutive BCS titles. 

10. FIESTA BOWL, 2012: No. 3 Oklahoma State 41, No. 3 Stanford 38 

This game was Andrew Luck’s last game at Stanford and took place in David Shaw’s first year as head coach. Though No. 4 Stanford lost the game to a No. 3 Oklahoma State team when Shaw, showing the caution that made him different from Harbaugh, refused to let Luck go for the game-winning touchdown and opted to try for a Jordan Williamson field goal to win the game in regulation. Williamson missed, and Stanford lost in overtime when he missed again. 

Stanford and Alabama hired Harbaugh and Nick Saban, respectively, before the start of the 2007 season. What Harbaugh managed to do at Stanford, a school that has the strictest academic requirements in big-time D-1 football that eliminates nearly every blue-chip recruit from the recruiting pool, may be as impressive as what Saban built at Alabama. And the Oklahoma State game—and that season—showed Harbaugh built a program—and instilled a “win with character and cruelty” ethos—that would outlast him. Currently, Stanford is the only school that has made four straight BCS bowl games, something no SEC team can claim to have done. Oklahoma State, if not for an overtime loss to Paul Rhoads’s Iowa State Cyclones, would have played for the title game. Instead, Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl and defeated LSU for the first of its back-to-back titles.

Though the Cowboys won 41-38 in a thrilling overtime game, Stanford’s kicker Jordan Williamson would redeem himself the next year in Eugene when Stanford knocked off then-undefeated Oregon from BCS-title contention.

Photo credit: Sports Illustrated


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