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Top 25 Fiesta Bowls of All Time

SCOTTSDALE, AZ – In advance of the 47th Annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl has released a ranking of the Top 25 Fiesta Bowls of all time. Penn Stat...
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ – In advance of the 47th Annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl has released a ranking of the Top 25 Fiesta Bowls of all time.

Penn State’s  1987 National Championship victory over Miami lands at #3.  Could Penn State’s 2017 Fiesta Bowl appearance top that?  Tune in on December 30 at 4:00 PM to find out.

A selection committee, comprised of Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors, Yellow Jacket Committee members, college football industry professionals, media and staff, reviewed all 46 Fiesta Bowl game histories and individually ranked the Top 25 Fiesta Bowl games to help decide the all-time list.

Since 1971, the Fiesta Bowl has annually brought the Valley of the Sun a world-class college football bowl game. In its 46 years, the bowl has served over three million fans, hosted seven national championship games, fielded 12 Heisman Trophy winners and has become an integral part of college football’s postseason. Currently, the Fiesta Bowl is part of the College Football Playoff’s group of six bowls, hosting a CFP semifinal every three years.

The Top 25 Fiesta Bowl list captures all the exciting moments in bowl history – double-overtimes, trick plays, goal line stands and national championships. Read below to relive some of the most exciting moments in Fiesta Bowl history and see which game was voted the top game in bowl history.

  1. Louisville vs. Alabama, 1991

The 1991 Fiesta Bowl brought unprecedented waters for Louisville and Alabama, both making their first Fiesta Bowl appearance. Alabama, the first-ever SEC representative in the Fiesta Bowl, was highly favorited but wasn’t able to overcome a first-quarter, 25-0 deficit. Louisville took the victory, 34-7.

  1. Clemson vs. Ohio State, December 2016

The 46th Annual PlayStation Fiesta Bowl was the first-ever College Football Playoff Semifinal in the Valley of the Sun and brought together two college football powerhouses for a showdown in the desert. With a trip to the national championship game on the line, Clemson overpowered Ohio State in all facets of the game, walking away with a 31-0 victory – only the second shutout in bowl history.

  1. Arizona vs. Miami, 1994

A game that was previewed to be “A Defensive Dual in the Desert,” turned out to be the first shutout in Fiesta Bowl history with Arizona taking down Miami, 29-0. The Wildcat defense, known as the Desert Swarm, proved to be just as dominant as its nickname.

  1. Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, January 2016

The 45th Annual Fiesta Bowl featured a classic matchup between two iconic programs, Ohio State and Notre Dame. The Buckeyes used offensive weapons J.T Barrett (319 total years) and (Ezekiel Elliott 160 rushing yards) to defeat the Fighting Irish, 44-28.

  1. University of Central Florida vs. Baylor, January 2014 

In one of the biggest upsets of the Bowl Championship Series, No. 15 University of Central Florida upset No. 6 Baylor, 52-42. The 94 combined points between the two teams broke a Fiesta Bowl record and had the second most combined yards (1,106) in bowl history. Additionally, this was the first BCS bowl game for both programs.

  1. Arizona State University vs. Pitt, 1973

The third Fiesta Bowl featured a back-and-forth battle for almost three quarters before Arizona State broke loose for three touchdowns and a field goal in the final 16 minutes to beat Pittsburgh, 28-7. The sellout crowd witnessed the Sun Devils hold Pittsburgh’s freshman, All-America running back, Tony Dorsett to 100 yards on 30 carries.

  1. Arkansas vs. UCLA, 1978

The 1978 Fiesta Bowl between Arkansas and UCLA finished as the only tie in bowl history, 10-10. The Razorbacks, led by Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz, made the school’s first and only Fiesta Bowl appearance as both teams put on a defensive clinic.

  1. ASU vs. Oklahoma, 1983

In just 12 years of the Fiesta Bowl’s existence, 1983 was Arizona State’s sixth appearance and fifth win for the Sun Devils, beating Oklahoma, 32-21.  While ASU walked away victorious, the 70,553 fans in attendance witnessed eventual Offensive Player of the Game and Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree rush for a Fiesta Bowl record 239 yards on 17 carries before leaving the game in the third quarter with a pulled hamstring.

  1. Boise State vs. Arizona, December 2014

Returning to the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in seven years, Boise State rode the momentum from a fast start to upset Arizona, 38-30. Jumping out to a 21-0 lead, the Broncos allowed Arizona to get back into the game before a late defensive stop helped Boise State move to an undefeated, 3-0 record in the Fiesta Bowl.

  1. Kansas State vs. Syracuse, 1997

Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop threw four touchdown passes and helped lead the Wildcats past Syracuse, 35-18. Orangemen quarterback and one of the nation’s most exciting players, Donovan McNabb, was limited by the Kansas State defense. With the win, the Wildcats finished their season 11-1 for the first time in program history.

  1. Nebraska vs. ASU, 1975

Frank Kush will always be remembered as a legendary coach at Arizona State. But in the 1975 Fiesta Bowl, it was the other Kush – Frank’s son Danny – who will most likely be remembered. Danny Kush booted a 29-yard field goal with 4:50 remaining in the game and ASU held on to defeat Nebraska, 17-14, in front of a record 51,396 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

  1. Nebraska vs. Florida, 1996

The 1996 Fiesta Bowl was the perfect match-up, featuring No. 1 Nebraska against No. 2 Florida. Both teams were undefeated and untied – only the fifth time in college football history that this had happened in a bowl game. Without hesitation, Nebraska flexed its muscles and rolled over Florida, 62-24, to claim its second consecutive national championship.

  1. Michigan vs. Nebraska, 1986

Michigan defensive back Garland Rivers intercepted Nebraska’s Steve Taylor in the end zone with 28 seconds left in the game to preserve the Wolverines’ 27-23 victory in an exciting 1986 Fiesta Bowl shootout. The victory was the first bowl win for Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler since 1981 and only his third in 13 tries.

  1. Florida State vs. Nebraska, 1988

Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden took a chance on a critical fourth-and-15 with 3:07 left to play and his Seminoles trailing, 28-24. The gamble paid off as quarterback Danny McManus hit Ronald Lewis on a 15-yard slant pattern that produced a game-winning touchdown and a 31-28 Florida State victory in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl, another classic gridiron tug-of-war.

  1. UCLA vs. Miami, 1985

The 1985 Fiesta Bowl was an electrifying shootout as UCLA and Miami combined for 827 yards in total offense, 76 points and six lead changes. When the smoke finally cleared, the Bruins pulled off the upset, 39-37, over the stunned Hurricanes.

  1. Syracuse vs. Colorado, 1993

Syracuse and Colorado – two very explosive football teams – found the going tough in a first half, producing only one touchdown and a 7-6 lead for the Buffaloes. But with the help of an exciting Syracuse kickoff return, the two teams easily entertained the crowd of more than 70,000 in the second half, as Syracuse prevailed, 26-22.

  1. Boise State vs. Texas Christian University, 2010

Boise State reached into its bag of tricks and pulled out another dramatic victory in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos used a nervy fake punt in their own territory to stun TCU, 17-10, in a duel of two unbeaten teams and the first BCS match-up of non-automatic qualifiers.

  1. 8Ohio State vs. Pitt, 1984

Ohio State quarterback Mike Tomczak engineered a 13-play, 89-yard drive in the final 2:39 to lead the Buckeyes to a 28-23 victory over Pittsburgh in the 1984 Fiesta Bowl. Tomczak capped the winning drive with a 39-yard scoring pass to split end Thad Jemison with just 39 seconds remaining.

  1. Tennessee vs. Florida State, 1999

The 28th Fiesta Bowl was the first Bowl Championship Series championship game, featuring Tennessee and Florida State in front of a Fiesta Bowl record 80,470 fans at Sun Devil Stadium. Tennessee’s Peerless Price caught four passes for a career-high 199 yards, including a 79-yard game-clinching touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, to lead the Volunteers to a 23-16 victory.

  1. Ohio State vs. Texas, 2009

After narrowly being left out of the BCS National Championship Game and finishing second in the Heisman Trophy race, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy hit Quan Cosby for a 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds to play to cap an 11-play, 78-yard drive and give the Longhorns a 24-21 win over Ohio State in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

  1. Arizona State vs. Florida State, 1971

The 1971 Fiesta Bowl was the first contest held, and some call it the most exciting bowl game of the 1970s, with ASU winning 45-38. The combined 83 points was the highest ever for a major bowl game, and 51,098 fans jammed Sun Devil Stadium, marking the largest crowd to watch a bowl game’s initial effort. Arizona State’s Woody Green put an end to the offensive shootout, scoring on a two-yard burst with 34 seconds to go to give the Sun Devils the first-ever Fiesta Bowl title.

  1. Notre Dame vs. West Virginia, 1989

The 1989 Fiesta Bowl featured top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 3 West Virginia, the second Fiesta Bowl game in three years that decided college football’s national championship. Led by coach Lou Holtz, the Fighting Irish exploded to a 23-6 halftime lead over the Mountaineers and never looked back, recording a 34-21 victory and the national championship.

  1. Penn State vs. Miami, 1987

Dubbed the “Battle for Number 1,” the 1987 Fiesta Bowl featured top-ranked Miami and second-ranked Penn State, who battled to the final nine seconds of the game when Penn State’s Pete Giftopoulos intercepted a Vinny Testaverde pass to preserve the Nittany Lions’ victory and the national championship. With the win, Penn State claimed its second national title in five years. The Nittany Lions intercepted Heisman Trophy winner Testaverde five times, but none was bigger than the fourth and goal play with just nine ticks on the clock.

  1. Ohio State vs. Miami, 2003

Miami entered the 2003 Fiesta Bowl having won 34 consecutive games and as the defending national champions. At the end of the first overtime and facing a critical fourth down, Buckeye quarterback Craig Krenzel’s pass fell incomplete and Miami, thinking they had prevailed, rushed the field. However, a late flag on a holding call kept the Ohio State drive alive, ultimately forcing a second overtime. In a game that had it all, Ohio State was able to stop Miami on three consecutive plays from the 1-yard line in the game’s second overtime to escape with a 31-24 victory and claim the school’s fifth national championship. Of the 43 players who started the game, 37 were eventual NFL draft picks.

  1. Boise State vs. Oklahoma, 2007

Voted number one for a reason, the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was one of the most memorable and improbable games in college football history. Boise State, showing plenty of heart and resilience, used a series of trick plays to upset Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma, 43-42, in overtime in the first college football game ever played at University of Phoenix Stadium. In the final 1:26 of regulation, the two teams combined to score 22 points and 15 more in overtime. In overtime, Broncos first-year head coach Chris Petersen not only opted to go for two but did it in one of the most unforgettable ways – a Statue of Liberty play. BSU took the game and finished the season at a perfect 13-0.