By Ian Blum
As bowl season comes to a close I’ve decided to take it upon myself to rank the 10 best Bowl games in FBS college football. It was not easy and I definitely didn’t do this on the fly, but it had to be done.
#10 The Liberty Bowl
The Liberty is number 10 on the list for a few reasons. First and foremost the game has been played since 1959 and has become a staple of Bowl season. When then Villanova AD A. F. “Bud” Dudley started the Liberty Bowl it was played in Philadelphia. The bad news was nobody showed up as it was the only cold weather bowl at the time. Before moving the game to Memphis in 1965 the game was actually played indoors in Atlantic City making it the first college football game played inside.
First Game: 1959 #12 Penn State 7 #10 Alabama 0
Last Game: 2020 West Virginia 24 Army 21
#9 The Sun Bowl
The Sun Bowl finds itself in the top 10 for a reason similar to the Liberty Bowl that being history. The first Sun Bowl was played in 1935 making it among the oldest of all the bowl games. Funny enough the first game in the history of this bowl was played by high school teams. The El Paso All-Stars beat Ranger High School 25-21. The next season it would begin its tradition as a college bowl when Hardin-Simmons tied New Mexico A&M 14 a piece.
Today it as known as the “Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl” making it arguably the best sponsored bowl we have.
First Game: 1935 El Paso All Stars 25 Ranger 21
Last Game: 2019 Arizona State 20 Florida State 14
#8 The Outback Bowl
The Outback Bowl’s first game under its current name was in 1996 after being called the Hall of Fame Bowl since 1986. Along with the name change an agreement with the SEC and Big Ten was established to make the game a cross over between the two conferences. The first game in the format was a blowout victory for #14 Penn State 43 to 14 over Auburn.
Of course we can’t talk Outback Bowl without bringing up its greatest moment:
First Game: 1986 Boston College 27 Georgia 24
Last Game: 2021 Mississippi 26 Indiana 20
#7 The Holiday Bowl
I’m throwing in two personal favorites before we get to the top 5 and the first one is the Holiday Bowl. The Holiday historically is like the BYU Bowl with the Cougars representing the WAC Conference in the first 7 games of the Bowl’s history and it helped them seal a national title.
In 1984 BYU was the only unbeaten team in the nation and WAC Champions going into bowl season. It was considered an obligation to accept the automatic bid to the Holiday Bowl because of their conference title and were paired with a 6-5 Michigan team. QB Robbie Bosco drove BYU down the field and lifted BYU to a 24-17 win and secured the #1 ranking in the Polls.
Today a team from the PAC 12 gets an automatic bid to the Holiday Bowl to play an ACC team.
First Game: 1978 Navy 23 BYU 16
Last Game: 2019 #19 Iowa 49 #22 USC 24
#6 The Pinstripe Bowl
Nobody is putting the Pinstripe Bowl in their top 6 but me. How can I not? There are only a handful of things in life more sexy than a football game inside Yankee Stadium. I mean just look at it:
Playing a bowl game in a venue like Yankee Stadium is something that purists of the game like myself absolutely eat up. Students of college football will recall those big games in the old Yankee Stadium between Army and Notre Dame in the 40’s when college football was at the height of its popularity. College Football like the Yankees has become a staple of Americana over the years so to have a bowl game played there is very fitting.
This bowl was the first played in New York since 1962 when the “Gotham Bowl” was played between Miami (FL) and Nebraska at the old Yankee Stadium. The Gotham Bowl could’ve landed on the top 10 for the name alone but its better thrown in here.
First Game: 2010 Syracuse 36 Kansas State 34
Last Game: 2019 Michigan State 27 Wake Forest 21
Welcome to the top 5 where you will find the usual suspects, the founding fathers. You all have these in yours only the order is different.
#5 The Cotton Bowl Classic
The origin of the Cotten Bowl is the coolest thing about it. J. Curtis Sanford was a proud Texan and oil executive who I assume wore a very large hat. His hat must’ve been big because he had the big brain idea of having a college football game played at the Texas State Fair Grounds. He paid out of pocket for the first game to be played in 1937. Though it was not profitable till the next year he stuck with it and it grew into what we know now as the Goodyear Cotten Bowl Classic.
As part of the New Years 6 slate of Bowls the Cotton Bowl has hosted two CFP Semifinals in 2015 and 2018.
#4 The Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is great because for the longest time it was played in the Orange Bowl. If you are younger and never saw the old Miami Orange Bowl take the time to look it up because it is one the coolest stadiums American sports has ever had.
By the way, the Fedex Orange Bowl Logo is an all time logo
Anyways, the Miami Orange Bowl hosted the game from 1936 to 1996 (once more in 1999 because of a Dolphins playoff game).
History was made by the bowl game on January 1st 1965 when Texas and Alabama played in the first primetime college game aired live on tv.
In 2014 the ACC got a deal thru 2025 for its champion to have an automatic bid to the game. If the highest rated ACC team is the playoff the next highest gets the bid.
A game in southern Florida, a trophy that is a bowl of fruit, what more could you want in a Bowl game?
First Game: Bucknell 26 Miami (FL) 0
Last Game: 2021 Miami North Carolina
#3 The Fiesta Bowl
Fun fact the WAC created this bowl game because they kept being left out of the others.
Arizona State took part in the first three of them.
Also I wanted noted that even though I’m a playstation guy I will prefer when Tostitos was the sponsor
So maybe its the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl I have ranked 3rd. Those games were awesome. Of course the greatest was arguably the Boise State Statue of Liberty game. And how could I not mention the absolute classic played on January 1st 2003. That year the Fiesta Bowl was the sight for the BCS National Championship between Ohio State and Miami (FL). Coach Jim Tressel got the Buckeyes to the title game in just his second season. Meanwhile Miami was the defending champ fielding a team of future NFL stars including, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Johnathan Vilma, Sean Taylor, and Antrel Rolle.
The game was close all night came down to overtime. With Miami up 24-17 they had the Buckeyes on the ropes at a 4th and 3. If Miami gets the stop they win the game and they would get that stop only for it to be taken away by a pass interference call. Ohio State went on to win the game.
It was a crossroads moment for two powers going in different directions and one of just a few great games we’ve seen at the Fiesta Bowl over the years. Of course Cam Newtons Auburn Tigers won a title in this bowl game, we had Blake Bortles lead UCF over Baylor and just last season a great matchup between Clemson and Ohio State in the CFP Playoff.
First Game: 1971 Arizona State 45 Florida State 38
Last Game: 2021 Iowa State 34 Oregon 17
#2 The Sugar Bowl
The sweetest of the bowls comes up a spot shy of number 1 on my list. The first Sugar Bowl ever was played in 1935 between Tulane and Temple thought an even more significant moment came in 1956.
Bobby Grier was an African American fullback for the Pitt Panthers and when they were set to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Georgia governor Marvin Griffith was opposed to intergration and many were calling for the Jackets to boycott the game. Despite the threats Pittsburgh and Grier showed up to play the game and thanks to Georgia Tech AD Blake R Van Leer who threatened to resign if the game wasn’t played, it all went on as planned. It is considered a big moment on the road to equality in the sport.
Over the years the Sugar Bowl has hosted multiple National Championship games as well as CFP Playoff semifinals.
This is a good spot for me to talk about what Justin Fields did in the Sugar Bowl this year. This years Ohio State team had something it normally doesn’t, skeptics. Many said they didn’t belong in the playoff including Dabo Swinney. Clemson tool an early lead and then Fields took a shot to the ribs and many thought they had assumed correct of the Buckeyes.
Then Justin Fields went on to have one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and 6 touchdowns against a defensive unit that is traditionally one of the best in the game. The way the Buckeyes unloaded on Clemson turned the playoff in its head and has created some potential NFL Draft drama as well.
First Game: 1935 Tulane 20 Temple 14
Last Game: 2021 Ohio State 49 Clemson 28
#1 The Rose Bowl
The Grand Daddy of them all is just that on this list. Only the Super Bowl ranks higher in sporting events I look forward to every single year.
It is the game that captures everything that is great about college football. The traditional powers we see play in the game, the pageantry of the Tournament of Roses Parade and the perfect playing conditions easily make it the best bowl.
I don’t know where this place is but its not on Earth:
Because the Rose Bowl is so special I’ve taken it upon myself to create………META RANKINGS. IAN’S TOP 5 ROSE BOWL GAMES HERE WE GO:
#5 Iowa vs Stanford (The Christian McCaffery Game)
McCaffery set the Rose Bowl record for all purpose yards with 368 (172 rushing, 105 receiving) and scored a touchdown on the first play of the game.
#4 Oregon vs. Florida State (Hello Playoff)
The Rose Bowl was the venue for the first college football playoff game in 2015. It was Jamies Winston and Florida State vs. Marcus Mariota and Oregon.
This game will forever be remembered as the game when Jamies fell over, but it was the first playoff game ever so it earns a spot on the list.
#3 Penn State vs. USC (Sam Darnold vs Saqoun Barkley)
In 2017 we were given an absolute treat with USC taking on Penn State. These are two blue bloods in the sport and seeing those uniforms on that field was awesome. On top of that we had notable NFL names having big games in a back and fourth affair.
Sam Darnold: 33 of 53, 453 yards, 5 touchdowns
Ronald Jones II: 20 carries 55 yards 1 touchdown
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 7 catches 133 yards 1 touchdown
Saqoun Barkley: 25 carries 194 yards 3 total touchdowns.
It was a track meet that came down to a USC field goal that sealed the win for the Trojans.
#2 Georgia vs Oklahoma (Best Playoff Game Ever?)
After that Penn State USC game I thought it couldn’t be topped. Then literally the next year the playoff came but to the Rose Bowl the Dawgs and Sooners put together an all time showing.
It was #2 Oklahoma and #3 Georgia in the semifinal. The high flying Big 12 vs the speed of the SEC. It was an explosion of points from start to finish. Baker Mayfield and Jake Fromm each threw a pair of touchdowns while the backs Sony Michel and Robbie Anderson combined for 5. Georgia would go on to win the game in overtime.
#1 USC vs Texas (The Greatest Game ever played)
Pete Carrolls USC dynasty fell to the hands of Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl game. There is a NFL Network special and a ESPN 30 for 30 on this game so I’m not going to say much more than “He’s going for the corner, he’s got it! Vince Young scores.”
First Game: 1902 Michigan 49 Stanford 0
Last Game: 2021 Alabama 31 Notre Dame 14
To close there are many, many bowl game memories I didn’t touch on and games that could’ve made the list. That’s why we love college football. There is never a shortage of great stories to be shared and moments to remember.
The 2020 season was a different type of challenge for the sport but the people behind the scenes handling testing and the players and coaches following protocols need credit. We aren’t us without college football and we are glad that you were here.