Last spring, I conducted a first of its kind historical analysis where I objectively selected the greatest game in college football for every regular season and every postseason. This is my first annual update of the second of these two lists where I have added my selection for this year’s postseason game of the year.
This analysis begins much later than the regular season entry as bowl games didn’t start being played annually until 1915. Like my previous list, I try to avoid ties and blowouts in this article, but unfortunately since the Rose Bowl was the only bowl game played most seasons between 1915 and 1934, I had to feature a few games that weren’t close and two games that ended in a tie. Also, you will see that some of the games weren’t officially played in the year they are denoted. That is because regardless of whether a particular bowl game or national title game was played before or after New Year’s, I am classifying each game as being from the year of the regular season. (ex: the 1916 Rose Bowl actually took place on New Year’s 1917, etc)
I took into account several factors when determining which game was truly the best for a particular college football bowl season, including the game’s significance in determining the national champion, the improbability of the final outcome, and the overall excitement of the game. Without further ado, here is my selection for game of the year for every college football postseason season that has been played. The games in bold I have rated as best of the decade, and the ones with asteriks went into overtime. Feel free to comment or debate.
|1915||Washington State 14, Brown 0 (Rose)|
Cougars claim split championship as a result of winning the only bowl game in existence.
|1916||Oregon 14, Penn 0 (Rose)|
The Webfoots, as Oregon was known as at the time, claim their first Rose Bowl title with two second half touchdowns. Oregon wouldn’t win another Rose Bowl for 95 years.
|1917||Mare Island Marines 19, Camp Lewis Army 7 (Rose)|
With most college players involved in World War I, the Rose Bowl decided to match up two military base all-star squads.
|1918||Great Lakes Navy 17, Mare Island Marines 0 (Rose)|
George Halas, future NFL Hall of Fame coach, had a 77 yard interception return as Great Lakes Navy rolled over the Marines.
|1919||Harvard 7, Oregon 6 (Rose)|
Crimson win split national championship (sharing with Illinois) thanks to this narrow victory over the Webfoots of Oregon. This game established lasting pattern of matching a team from the east with one from the west.
|1920||California 28, Ohio State 0 (Rose)|
Only PCC (now Pac-12) Rose Bowl victory over a Big Ten team until the 1952 Rose Bowl. Bears win their first national championship as a result of this victory.
|1921||Texas A & M 22, Centre 14 (Dixie Classic)|
The Colonels Cinderella season, in which they knocked off Harvard, came to an end in postseason play as A & M upset them in the first of three Dixie Classics played intermittently in the 20’s and 30’s.
|1922||Southern Cal 14, Penn State 3 (Rose)|
This was the first bowl game for both of these perennial powerhouses. The Nittany Lions scored first but the Trojans dominated the rest of the way.
|1923||Washington 14, Navy 14 (Rose)|
I hate putting ties on this list but this was the only bowl game for the 1923 season so it unfortunately makes the list.
|1924||Notre Dame 27, Stanford 10 (Rose)|
Historic game in that it marked the Irish’s first bowl victory and first national championship. Elmer Layden, one of the Four Horsemen, was the hero.
|1925||Alabama 20, Washinton 19 (Rose)|
The game that put Alabama football on the map as Tide pull off a stunning upset with second half comeback.
|1926||Alabama 7, Stanford 7 (Rose)|
The Tide claim split championship with a tie in their second consecutive Rose Bowl nail-biter.
|1927||Stanford 7, Pittsburgh 6 (Rose)|
The Cardinal spoils Pitt’s national title with a third quarter scoop and score. However, the ultimate difference in the game ended up being a blocked Pittsburgh PAT earlier in the 3rd.
|1928||Georgia Tech 8, California 7 (Rose)|
This game is best known for Cal’s Roy Riegels running 64 yards towards the wrong end zone (pictured above) which led to a game deciding safety.
|1929||Southern Cal 47, Pittsburgh 14 (Rose)|
Trojans destroy Panthers in Pasasdena, denying them a national championship.
|1930||Alabama 24, Washington State 0 (Rose)|
Blowout win for the Tide but the game makes the list because it was only bowl game of the season.
|1931||Southern Cal 21, Tulane 12 (Rose)|
The first-ever # 1 vs. # 2 meeting in a bowl game! Tulane outgained the Trojans by over 150 yards but USC got off to an early lead and held on to win the school’s first national title.
|1932||Southern Cal 35, Pittsburgh 0 (Rose)|
Trojans win back-to-back national championships with dominant Rose Bowl win over the #3 team in the country.
|1933||Columbia 7, Stanford 0 (Rose)|
Lions score only touchdown of the game with a 25 yard trick play reverse to pull off the major upset.
|1934||Tulane 20, Temple 14 (Sugar)|
The first-ever Sugar Bowl featured a 14 point come from behind victory for the hometown Green Wave.
|1935||Stanford 7, SMU 0 (Rose)|
The Cardinals deny the Mustangs a national championship thanks to a key SMU fumble inside Stanford’s five yard line.
|1936||(14) Duquesne 13, Mississippi State 12 (Orange)|
Duquesne’s Boyd Brunbaugh throws a 72 yard fourth quarter touchdown pass to squeak by the Maroons (MSU’s mascot at the time).
|1937||Fresno State 27, Central Arkansas 26 (Charity)|
This one-hit wonder bowl game played in Los Angeles featured a nail-biting shootout by 1930’s standards.
|1938||(7) Southern Cal 7, (3) Duke 3 (Rose)|
Trojans deny Blue Devils their first bowl victory with a touchdown pass to Al Krueger in the final two minutes of the 4th. Those were the first points scored against Duke all season.
|1939||(3) Southern Cal 14, (2) Tennessee 0 (Rose)|
Vols give up their first two touchdowns of the entire season in their Pasadena defeat.
|1940||(5) Boston College 19, (4) Tennessee 13 (Sugar)|
BC wins battle of unbeatens with a 24 yard fourth quarter touchdown run that set up by a fake pass.
|1941||(12) Oregon State 20, (2) Duke 16 (Rose)|
Beavers pull off huge road upset in the lone Rose Bowl game that was moved to Durham because of fear of an attack from the Japanese (game was played less than a month after Pearl Harbor). Bob Dethman comes up with game-saving interception on the final play of the game.
|1942||(11) Texas 14, (5) Georgia Tech 7 (Cotton)|
The Longhorns, playing in their first bowl game in school history, hold off Yellow Jacket comeback with late defensive stop inside the Texas five yard line.
|1943||(13) Georgia Tech 20, (15) Tulsa 18 (Sugar)|
The Yellow Jackets score 13 unanswered in the second half to pull off a come from behind victory in dramatic fashion.
|1944||(11) Duke 29, Alabama 26 (Sugar)|
Blue Devils hold off Crimson Tide in a tight affair that was decided with a George Clark 20 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. See epic “squashing Hitler” program cover above.
|1945||Miami-FL 13, (16) Holy Cross 6 (Orange)|
As wild an ending as you will ever see in a bowl game, as the Hurricanes win first bowl game in school history with 89 yard pick six on the final play of the game.
|1946||(3) Georgia 20, (9) North Carolina 10 (Sugar)|
Bulldogs overcome seven point halftime deficit to win first Sugar bowl in school history.
|1947||(10) Georgia Tech 20, (12) Kansas 14 (Orange)|
Jayhawks blow opportunity at comeback victory by fumbling quarterback sneak deep in Yellow Jacket territory with 37 seconds left in the game.
|1948||(7) Northwestern 20, (4) California 14 (Rose)|
Wildcats use Statute of Liberty trick play in fourth quarter scoring drive to win their only bowl game until 2013 and deny Cal a shot at a national title.
|1949||(6) Ohio State 17, (3) California 14 (Rose)|
Bears fall victim to a second consecutive Rose Bowl upset with game winning 18 yard field goal by the Buckeyes’ Jimmy Hague in the fourth quarter.
|1950||(7) Kentucky 13, (1) Oklahoma 7 (Sugar)|
Bear Bryant’s Kentucky squad pulls massive upset to end Oklahoma’s 31-game win streak and deny the Sooners the national title.
|1951||(5) Georgia Tech 17, (9) Baylor 14 (Orange)|
Jackets cap off a come from behind victory with 22 yard game winning field goal by Pepper Rodger late in the fourth quarter, despite being outgained by over 60 yards.
|1952||(15) Florida 14, (12) Tulsa 13 (Gator)|
Golden Hurricane lose heartbreaker thanks to missed fourth quarter extra point. This was the University of Florida’s first ever bowl appearance.
|1953||(4) Oklahoma 7, (1) Maryland 0 (Orange)|
Sooners knock off the AP/Coaches national champ to claim retroactive national title. The key to the game was a Larry Grigg interception in the end zone with four minutes left in the fourth quarter that enabled Oklahoma to hold on.
|1954||(13) Georgia Tech 14, (8) Arkansas 6 (Cotton)|
Bobby Dodd’s Yellow Jackets overcome six point halftime deficit to win their ninth bowl game in what was the only relatively close game of the ’54 bowl season.
|1955||(7) Georgia Tech 7, (11) Pittsburgh 0 (Sugar)|
Controversial pass interference call gives Yellow Jackets win in first-ever integrated Sugar Bowl.
|1956||(14) TCU 28, (8) Syracuse 27 (Cotton)|
Turnovers doom Orange despite three touchdowns by Syracuse star running back Jim Brown (pictured above)
|1957||(2) Ohio State 10, Oregon 7 (Rose)|
Buckeyes make 34 yard field goal in 4th quarter to take lead and then hold on with a late interception and fourth down stop.
|1958||(1) LSU 7, (12) Clemson 0 (Sugar)|
Ironically, this was a forecast of last year’s national championship as this game involved the same teams at exact same location as this year’s past champioship. Bayou Bengals won both games to claim two of their four national championships.
|1959||(12) Penn State 7, (10) Alabama 0 (Liberty)|
In a foreshadowing of their epic Sugar Bowl battles in the 1970’s, the Nittany Lions win this defensive struggle with a 17 yard touchdown pass.
|1960||(16) Florida 13, (12) Baylor 12 (Gator)|
The Bears frantic fourth quarter comeback comes up just short as Baylor elects to go for two and the win the final seconds just to have running back Ronnie Goodwin drop the winning pass in the end zone.
|1961||(16) Syracuse 15, (19) Miami-FL 14 (Liberty)|
Ernie Davis leads Syracuse to victory with 140 yards rushing. Orange convert game winning touchdown in the fourth quarter following a Miami fumble.
|1962||(1) Southern Cal 42, (2) Wisconsin 37 (Rose)|
Badgers’ epic 4th quarter comeback comes up just short. The two teams broke 11 Rose Bowl records with this offensive shootout.
|1963||Oregon 21, SMU 14 (Sun)|
The Mustangs’ frantic fourth quarter comeback comes to an end when SMU’s onside kick goes out of bounds in final minutes. This is Oregon’s only bowl win between 1917 and 1989.
|1964||(5) Texas 21, (1) Alabama 17 (Orange)|
Joe Namath gets stuffed at the goal line late in the fourth quarter (pictured above) robbing the Tide of a national championship.
|1965||(5) UCLA 14, (1) Michigan State 12 (Rose)|
The Bruins spoil Michigan State’s national title hopes with consecutive denials of fourth quarter two point conversion attempts.
|1966||(6) Purdue 14, (18) Southern Cal 13 (Rose)|
Trojan coach John McKay elects to go for two down one point with less than two minutes to play. The two point pass is intercepted in the end zone and the Boilermaker hold on for their first, and only, Rose Bowl victory in school history.
|1967||(3) Oklahoma 26, (2) Tennessee 24 (Orange)|
An epic battle between two of the top three teams in the country decided by a 43 yard missed Volunteer field goal on the final play of the game.
|1968||(3) Penn State 15, (6) Kansas 14 (Orange)|
Nittany Lions win this thriller with a two point conversion in the final 15 seconds of the fourth quarter. Penn State actually failed to convert on their first two point attempt but a 12 man on the field penalty on Kansas gave the Nittany Lions another shot at it.
|1969||(1) Texas 21, (9) Notre Dame 17 (Cotton)|
The Horns had to rebound from game of the century win over Arkansas to clinch national title a month later with win over # 9 Notre Dame.
|1970||(3) Nebraska 17, (5) LSU 12 (Orange)|
The Cornhusker football dynasty begins with this fourth quarter come from behind victory that gave the program its first national championship.
|1971||(16) Stanford 13, (4) Michigan 12 (Rose)|
The Indians of Stanford, who changed their name to the Cardinals after this game, win this one with a field goal (pictured above) in the final 16 seconds of the 4th quarter. It would be Stanford’s last Rose Bowl win until 2012.
|1972||(14) North Carolina 32, Texas Tech 28 (Sun)|
Bill Dooley’s Tar Heels win back and forth shootout against the Red Raiders with a touchdown pass in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
|1973||(3) Notre Dame 24, (1) Alabama 23 (Sugar)|
This was the first time these historic programs ever played. Irish squeak out a back and forth classic thanks to Tom Clements’ 35 yard touchdown pass.
|1974||(9) Notre Dame 13, (2) Alabama 11 (Orange)|
Irish rob Tide of national title for second consecutive season with Reggie Barnett interception in final two minutes.
|1975||West Virginia 13, NC State 10 (Peach)|
Mountaineers win their fourth bowl game with a fourth quarter “immaculate reception” that deflected off two NC State defenders before being caught by receiver Scott MacDanoald for the game-winning touchdown.
|1976||McNeese State 20, Tulsa 16 (Independence)|
The Cowboys of McNeese score a fourth quarter touchdown to pull off upset bowl win despite having sixteen players ruled ineligible prior to kickoff.
|1977||(13) Washington 27, (4) Michigan 20 (Rose)|
Warren Moon’s Huskies deny Wolverines a shot at the national title with two fourth quarter interceptions of Michigan’s Rick Leach deep in Huskies territory.
|1978||(2) Alabama 14, (1) Penn State 7 (Sugar)|
The most famous goal line stand (see above) in college football history gives Bear Bryant his sixth national championship.
|1979||(3) Southern Cal 17, (1) Ohio State 16 (Rose)|
Running back Charles White (see above) leads Trojans on game winning 83 yard touchdown drive in final 3 minutes to deny the Buckeyes a national championship.
|1980||(14) Brigham Young 46, (19) SMU 45 (Holiday)|
Cougars mount incredible twenty point comeback in final four minutes of the fourth quarter to pull out victory.
|1981||(8) Pittsburgh 24, (2) Georgia 20 (Sugar)|
One of the great bowl upsets of all-time as Dan Marino leads the Panthers to victory with 33 yard touchdown pass in game’s final 35 seconds.
|1982||(2) Penn State 27, (1) Georgia 23 (Sugar)|
Joe Paterno finally wins a national title thanks to Todd Blackledge’s 47 yard fourth quarter TD pass.
|1983||(5) Miami-FL 31, (1) Nebraska 30 (Orange)|
Osborne’s failed two point conversion lives in sports folklore as no one wants to win a national title with a tie.
|1984||(1) Brigham Young 24, Michigan 17 (Holiday)|
Cougars overcome six turnovers and seven point fourth quarter deficit to pull out historic victory with a Robbie Bosco touchdown pass in final 90 seconds of the game. This was the last non-power 5 national title in the sport.
|1985||(12) Arkansas 18, Arizona State 17 (Holiday)|
Razorbacks win back and forth thriller with Kendall Trainor 37 yard field goal with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
|1986||(2) Penn State 14, (1) Miami-FL 10 (Fiesta)|
Nittany Lions pull off upset despite getting outgained by nearly 300 yards.
|1987||(3) Florida State 31, (5) Nebraska 28 (Fiesta)|
Trailing by three, the Noles force a fourth quarter Nebraska fumble on their own goal line and then proceed to march the length of the field for the winning score.
|1988||(4) Florida State 13, (7) Auburn 7 (Sugar)|
Noles hold on for the victory with a controversial no call on a clear defensive pass interference in the end zone on Auburn’s final drive.
|1989||(12) Southern Cal 17, (3) Michigan 10 (Rose)|
Tied in the fourth quarter, a controversial holding call negates a brilliant fake punt converted by the Wolverines on their own 46 yard line. Trojans respond by marching length of field for winning touchdown with just over a minute to play in what ended up being Bo Schembechler’s last game as Michigan head coach.
|1990||(1) Colorado 10, (5) Notre Dame 9 (Orange)|
The Buffaloes win national title thanks to controversial clipping call on Rocket Ismail punt return in final minute.
|1991||Georgia Tech 18, (17) Stanford 17 (Aloha)|
Following a 63 yard punt return, Bobby Ross’ Yellow Jackets convert a touchdown and subsequent two point conversion with 14 seconds left in the fourth to pull out thrilling victory.
|1992||(7) Michigan 38, (9) Washington 31 (Rose)|
A back and forth classic that featured six lead changes was won by the Wolverines with a fourth quarter touchdown catch by Elvis Grbac.
|1993||(1) Florida State 18, (2) Nebraska 16 (Orange)|
The Noles win their first national championship thanks to a Huskers missed field goal in the final seconds of the game (pictured above).
|1994||(1) Nebraska 24, (3) Miami-FL 17 (Orange)|
Tom Osborne wins first national championship by getting revenge against the Canes for heartbreaking ’83 Orange Bowl loss.
|1995||(18) Virginia 34, Georgia 27 (Peach)|
Cavs win game with 83 yard kickoff return touchdown (pictured above) in the final minute despite being outgained by nearly 300 yards.
|1996||(4) Ohio State 20, (2) Arizona State 17 (Rose)|
One of the first true college football heartbreakers I can remember, as Buckeyes steal game and deny Sun Devils a national title with two controversial pass interference calls on final drive.
|1997||(1) Michigan 21, (8) Washington State 16 (Rose)|
Wolverines hold off upset-minded Cougars in controversial fashion as Wazzu is denied a final play from Michigan’s 26 yard line because referees said Ryan Leaf spiked the ball after time had expired. This victory gave the Wolverines their most recent national championship.
|1998||(19) Georgia 35, (13) Virginia 33 (Peach)|
In rematch of their ’95 contest, Dawgs hold off hard-charging Cavs as Virginia almost pulls off epic comeback. Trailing by eight in the final two minutes, the Cavs score a touchdown, recover an onside kick, and then barely miss a game winning field goal.
|1999||(8) Michigan 35, (4) Alabama 34* (Orange)|
Bama loses heartbreaker when kicker Ryan Pflunger misses extra point that would have sent the game to double overtime.
|2000||Mississippi State 43, Texas A & M 41* (Independence)|
A wild overtime shootout played in a rare Louisiana snowstorm.
|2001||Marshall 64, East Carolina 61** (Mobile)|
The highest scoring bowl game ever played was won with a Byron Leftwich eight yard touchdown pass in the second overtime.
|2002||(2) Ohio State 31, (1) MIami-FL 24** (Fiesta)|
Believe it or not, this was a shocking upset at the time as the Canes were considered unbeatable. Controversial, late pass interference call (pictured above) still irks Miami fans.
|2003||Georgia 34, Purdue 27* (Capital One/Citrus)|
Dawgs win overtime thriller after choking away game in regulation with midfield fumble that set up game tying field goal.
|2004||(6) Texas 38, (13) Michigan 37 (Rose)|
The first of two consecutive classic Rose Bowl victories for Vince Young (pictured above) and his Longhorns.
|2005||(2) Texas 41, (1) Southern Cal 38 (Rose)|
I believe this game is immensely overrated in the annals of college football history, but I still have to call it the best game of that particular bowl season.
|2006||(9) Boise State 43, (7) Oklahoma 42* (Fiesta)|
In my opinion, this game is the greatest game in the history of college football given how it changed the landscape of the sport for “the little guy”.
|2007||Texas Tech 31, (20) Virginia 28 (Gator)|
Mike Leach’s Red Raiders score 17 unanswered points in the final 4 minutes of the game to pull off remarkable comeback.
|2008||(3) Texas 24, (10) Ohio State 21 (Fiesta)|
Longhorns win back and forth thriller with 26 yard Colt McCoy touchdown pass in game’s final 20 seconds.
|2009||Auburn 38, Northwestern 35* (Outback)|
One of the wildest overtime periods you will ever see with Auburn mistakenly believing they won the game on two different occasions and Northwestern running a fumblerooski on the final play of the game just to come up two yards short of the goal line.
|2010||(1) Auburn 22, (2) Oregon 19 (BCS Title Game)|
Cam Newton’s Tigers win national title with chip shot field goal as time expired that was setup by a flukish 37 yard Michael Dyer run (pictured above).
|2011||(3) Oklahoma State 41, (4) Stanford 38* (Fiesta)|
The Pokes overcame their BCS Title Game snub to win this overtime thriller thanks to two late field goal misses by Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson.
|2012||(10) South Carolina 33, (18) Michigan 28 (Outback)|
An epic college football game that featured one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the sport in Clowney’s fourth quarter hit and forced fumble (pictured above).
|2013||(1) Florida State 34, (2) Auburn 31 (BCS Title Game)|
Jameis Winston’s touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left ends the SEC’s seven year stranglehold on the college football national championship.
|2014||Western Kentucky 49, Central Michigan 48 (Bahamas)|
The Chippewas pulled off one of the great 4th quarter comebacks of all-time culminating in one of the greatest hail mary touchdowns ever (pictured above), albeit in a losing effort.
|2015||(2) Alabama 45, (1) Clemson 40 (National Title Game)|
This was a back and forth tussle that you don’t often see Saban teams engage in. The Tide’s surprise onside kick early in the second half changed the momentum of the game.
|2016||(2) Clemson 35, (1) Alabama 31 (National Title Game)|
A controversial touchdown reception (most people would agree an offensive pass interference should have been called) in the final seconds (pictured above) give the Tigers the national title in a game featuring three lead changes in the final five minutes.
|2017||(4) Alabama 26, (3) Georgia 23* (National Title Game)|
Tua’s overtime bomb (pictured above) gives the Tide a shocking comeback overtime victory in the Georgia Dome.
|2018||Wake Forest 37, Memphis 34 (Birmingham)|
A back and forth classic decided by a missed Memphis field goal on the final play of the game.
|2019||(3) Clemson 29, (2) Ohio State 23 (Fiesta)|
The Tigers deny the Buckeyes the winning score with a critical interception in game’s final seconds. Clemson benefitted from several controversial calls throughout including a questionable ejection for targeting and an overturned Buckeye scoop and score.
|2020||Liberty 37, (12) Coastal Carolina 34* (Cure)|
The Flames deny the Chants an undefeated season with an overtime thriller featuring a stunning Liberty final minute fumble when Coastal was trying to let the Flames score.
Below you will find a breakdown of which bowls have had the most games of the year. Not surprisingly, the Rose Bowl is the run away winner based on the fact that they not only have hosted numerous classic football games but also because they had almost a twenty year head start on the rest of the bowl games.
|Games of the Year by Bowl|
Note: Italacized games are now defunct
|Games of Decade by Bowl|
In addition, I performed a team-by-team analysis similar to the regular season edition which I published last month. Kudos to Georgia Tech (7-1), Texas (6-0), and Florida State (4-0) for winning a multitude of classic bowl games. On the other hand, you will see that Tennessee (0-3), SMU (0-3), Pittsburgh (1-4), and Michigan (3-6) have struggled in such games. See full chart below:
|Bowl Team Participants|
|Texas A & M||2||1-1|
|Mare Island Marines||2||1-1|
|Great Lakes Navy||1||1-0|
|Camp Lewis Army||1||0-1|
Now that I have selected the games of the year for both the regular season and postseason, it is time to combine these two analyses to see how each team has performed in all of these classic college football games. The Crimson Tide have been the most frequent game of the year participant with 28 appearances; however, Bama is only 12-16 in such games. Here is the full chart:
|Cumulative Game of Year Participants|
|Texas A & M||4||3-1|
|Mare Island Marines||2||1-1|
|Great Lakes Navy||1||1-0|
|Camp Lewis Army||1||0-1|