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9 Biggest Bowl Upsets of All Time

by: Esteban On  Friday, February 21, 2014

biggest bowl upsets

With the best in bowl games behind us, it’s time to take a look back at some of the most heartbreaking, shocking and/or downright unfathomably quizzical bowl games in the history of college football. It’s pretty much impossible to make one of these lists without the inclusion of big guns like The Ohio State University, Miami, Penn State and more, but what makes this list intriguing are the in-betweener teams that have managed to bubble up as a fly in the ointment for some of these major programs. So join us as we delve into nine of the biggest bowl upsets of all time, won’t you?


Capitol One Bowl: 2008

9. Capitol One Bowl 2008

This was meant to be a going-away present for outgoing Michigan Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr. After a strong career, Carr’s team wasn’t even ranked and they were lucky to even be in a bowl game, let alone against a rival as formidable as Florida. The SCC has a history of stomping down teams from up north once they make it below the Mason Dixon line, but this wasn’t one of those occasions. Even though Timothy Tebow has had a history of bringing the magic, the legendary QB and his twelfth-ranked Florida Gators were unable to recover from giving the Wolverines the advantage in the first half; eventually they lost to one of their oldest rivals and Lloyd Carr was able to walk off into the sunset a happy man.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: 2013

8. BWW Bowl 2013

This was such an oddball game. The Michigan Wolverines, normally a strong squadron overall, had a rough year after an injury to quarterback Devin Gardner thrust freshman Shane Morris into the sudden position of on-field captain. But Morris actually performed decently considering his limited time off the bench that year. The strangest part of this game was the superlative performance of underdog Kansas State under longtime workhorse/coach Bill Snyder. Snyder’s boys Jack Waters and Tyler Lockett were a QB-receiver machine, playing the medium-pass game and wearing down the seemingly dog-tired Michigan defensive line. In the end, the fantastic juniors gave Snyder a 2014 season to look forward to.

Orange Bowl: 1984

7. Orange Bowl 1984

Tom Osborne, in his heyday, could be known to be a bit of a gambler. 1984 was a strong season for his Nebraska Cornhuskers, with the team ranked number one in the entire kingdom of college football. The Huskers were facing off against the seemingly-constant threat of the Miami Hurricanes, who were behind the entire game…until they tied it. By the end of the game, the Huskers were facing a 31-31 tie game that they could have simply rectified in overtime. All the boys in red had to do was make their field goal at the 31-30 mark and continue into said potential tie…but Osborne got greedy and went for the two-point conversion. The play failed and Miami won this shocker by one point.


Rose Bowl: 2006

6. Rose Bowl 2006

As far as bowl games go, this has been the grandaddy champeen of the lot going back to when the helmets were still made out of pigskin. Anyway, the Texas Longhorns were looking to defend their title, as they took home the Rose Bowl trophy the previous season, and for diehard and new fans alike they did not disappoint. USC was coming into the game with a highly impressive streak of 34 wins in a row, which meant history was made when Texas managed to take them down. Even crazier is that the victory marked the 800th win on record for Texas, and the game-winning run by Vince Young has been revered during many a bowl-game recap montage ever since. Don’t mess with Texas!


Fiesta Bowl: 2003

5. Fiesta Bowl 2003

Longtime coach of The Ohio State University Jim Tressel was like a machine. The man could squeeze wins out of his teams with lineups that ranged from hot to shot. In this particular year, the Buckeyes were ranked second behind usual suspect the Miami Hurricanes, who came in with a 34-game winning streak. However,  OSU’s Craig Krenzel managed to carry the ball for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns to match the strong performance of running back Maurice Clarett. And in the end, the Buckeyes took down the Hurricanes 31-24 with one of their most infamous teams since the good old days when Woody was around.


Holiday Bowl: 2013

4. Holiday Bowl 2013

This is an example of pure willpower and determination. The defensive line of the Texas Tech Red Raiders poured on a tyrannical onslaught over the Arizona State Sun Devils, lead by gigantic linebacker Will Smith and fellow linemen Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush. On the offensive blitzkrieg, freshman Davis Webb kept taking the ball deep to junior Jace Amaro, who finished up his season with the most yards for a tight end in NCAA history. The flight of foot Amaro has stated that he’ll be forgoing his senior year at Texas Tech to enter the NFL draft. It’s amazing to see a relatively unknown team in the grand scheme of bowl games assemble and hone such an impressive squad, like something out “The Waterboy.”

FedEx Orange Bowl: 2000

3. Fedex Orange Bowl 2000

Showing up for the second time on this list, Lloyd Carr was up to his old tricks with his Wolverines again. Team captain Tom Brady ushered his Michigan Wolverines to victory against No.4-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide with a straight touchdown shot to tight end Shawn Thompson—the first play that went down in overtime to spark one of the biggest wins in Michigan history. Millions of viewers watched Ryan Plugner miss a field goal that would’ve kept the teams tied. With the clock winding down, Brady’s heroes were able to lock a nail-biting 35-34 victory that would be recalled for years to come.


Fiesta Bowl: 1987

2. Fiesta Bowl 1987

Clocking in 45 years as the Penn State Nittany Lions head coach, it would be almost impossible to compile a “best of” list in post-season college football and not include the man’s name. Heck, one could make a decent list of JoePa’s post-season victories alone. That said, the Fiesta Bowl had become a big deal by 1987. Penn State, while formidably ranked at number two, were not expected to be able to overcome the number one-ranked Miami Hurricanes with Vinny Testaverde quarterbacking. But JoePa and his boys were never ones to back down from tough odds, and the Nittany Lions took home a 14-10 victory that saw both defense-heavy teams taking a serious beating.

Cotton Bowl: 1978

1. Cotton Bowl 1978

Another wonky game for the record books, this time fans were shocked by the Texas Longhorns when they were taken on by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The gold-topped  gentlemen were ranked at number five and were not expected to even scratch their opponents who were sitting pretty at number one. The team performed far beyond expectations, though, with Bob Golic bringing in MVP honors as the team stream-rolled the Longhorns with a 38-10 win. It should not be overlooked that Joe Montana was on the squad in those days, bringing its own level of prestige and magic to the team. The freakish win meant that Notre Dame leapfrogged Alabama in the final rankings.