Bowl season is upon us. This weekend, the first of 40 games in 15 days will kick off, giving you plenty to watch as you open gifts, visit your family, and avoid awkward conversations with your grandmother about why you aren’t married yet. It’s one of the most exciting times in any sport, and no matter how you feel about the countless bowl games that are simply played for financial purposes, there is no arguing that they produce amazing moments every single year.
We mostly focus on the big bowl games each season; be it the Rose Bowl or now the national semifinals and championship game. However, some of the less significant games often produce entertaining matchups. Here are our picks for the top bowl game in each of the past five seasons. We can only hope to have some similarly exciting games this year.
2010-11: Wisconsin vs. TCU
This game served as the Rose Bowl (which was still a BCS bowl back then) for the 2010 season and featured a heavyweight matchup between No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 3 TCU. The Badgers featured one of the greatest collegiate backs of all-time in Montee Ball and the Horned Frogs had senior QB Andy Dalton looking to end his collegiate career on a high note.
TCU led by one point heading into halftime before adding a touchdown in the third quarter to create an eight-point advantage. With two minutes remaining, Ball scored a touchdown to bring Wisconsin within two points, but a failed two-point conversion sealed the Badgers’ fate. TCU won the game 21-19 to secure an undefeated season at 13-0.
2011-12: Stanford vs. Oklahoma State
In a game that featured two QBs who were eventually selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck’s Stanford Cardinal team couldn’t overcome Brandon Weeden’s Oklahoma State Cowboys. This game, which served as the Fiesta Bowl, was an absolute shootout. Tied at 21 going into the locker room, Luck gave the Cardinal the lead in the third with a touchdown pass to Zach Ertz, which was one of two touchdowns on the day for Luck.
Things got wild in the fourth though, as Weeden found Justin Blackmon to tie the game early in the quarter. With about four minutes left, the Cardinal regained the lead with a rushing touchdown. The Cowboys responded though, sending the game to overtime with a late rushing touchdown of their own. A missed field goal by Stanford set up Oklahoma State to steal the victory, winning 41-38. Weeden had the last laugh in this one, but when you compare his pro career to that of Luck’s, things look OK for Luck.
2012-13: LSU vs. Clemson
In a game that featured some of the top young receivers in the NFL today, the Clemson Tigers and LSU Tigers faced off in the Chick-fil-A Bowl back in the 2012-13 season. For most of the game, LSU appeared to be the superior team, leading by 11 points heading into the fourth quarter. However, this only set up Clemson for a wild comeback in the final period.
After a Clemson field goal, quarterback Tajh Boyd found DeAndre Hopkins for a 12-yard touchdown with about 2:47 remaining in the game to get Clemson within two. They failed on the conversion though, seemingly giving LSU the win. But an LSU three-and-out gave Clemson one final chance, which they capitalized on with a last-second, game-winning field goal for a thrilling 25-24 victory.
Some of the key stats from the main players in this game included Hopkins’ 191 yards and 2 touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry played in this game for LSU, with Landry grabbing a touchdown. Sammy Watkins represented Clemson, but did no damage.
2013-14: Auburn vs. Florida State
It’s always great when the championship game is one of the best games of the entire season, and that was the case for college football’s 2013-14 season. In the last season of the BCS, Auburn and Florida State sent the old championship system off in style with a classic battle. A game that featured several great players (most notably FSU’s Jameis Winston at QB) saw the underdog Auburn Tigers take a commanding 21-3 lead late in the second quarter.
The Seminoles responded before halftime to bring the game back within 11 points, beginning their epic resurgence. After a field goal in the third quarter, Winston tossed a touchdown early in the fourth to bring the Seminoles within a point. Auburn responded with a field goal before FSU returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to give them their first lead of the game. The Tigers weren’t finished though, as running back Tre Mason had a beautiful run for a touchdown with 1:19 left, giving Auburn the lead at 31-27.
Then, Jameis Winston staked his claim to collegiate greatness. The Heisman winner led the Seminoles on a last-minute, game-winning drive, tossing a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining to give Florida State a 34-31 victory and the national championship. In all honesty, this is likely one of the greatest championship games that college football has ever seen.
2014-15: Michigan State vs. Baylor
Finally, we have last season’s best bowl game. In a matchup of contradicting styles, defensive-minded Michigan State faced off against the high-octane Baylor Bears in the Cotton Bowl. Connor Cook was at the Spartans’ helm, as was Bryce Petty for the Bears. MSU went into the locker room trailing 24-14, in danger of letting the game slip away. To make matters worse, Baylor added 17 more points in the third quarter, giving them a commanding 41-21 advantage heading into the final period. That’s when the game got interesting.
Early in the fourth, Cook found receiver Josiah Price for a touchdown to get within two scores. Then, with less than five minutes remaining, Spartans running back Jeremy Langford scored his third touchdown of the game to get them within one score. With one final drive late in the game, Cook did what we have seen him do numerous times in his brilliant Michigan State career. He led the Spartans down the field and threw a touchdown with 17 seconds left, giving the Spartans a shocking comeback win by a score of 42-41. Their victory came in spite of Petty’s 550-yard, 3-touchdown performance.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.go.com