Skip to main content

10 Worst BCS Bowl Performances


— by Mark Ross

With the 14th season of BCS bowl action about to take place, Athlon reviewed the tapes of the four (now five) biggest bowl games in college football. Since 1998, teams have been fighting to land a spot in the BCS and here are those teams whose performances didn’t live up to the spotlight and prestige attached to the bowl they played in.

Related: The Greatest BCS Offenses of the BCS Era
Related: The Greatest Non-BCS Offenses of the BCS Era

Here are the 10 Worst BCS Bowl Performances (year is the date of the game):

Also receiving votes: Illinois Fighting Illini, 2008 Rose Bowl (lost to USC 49-17); Cincinnati Bearcats, 2010 Sugar Bowl; Connecticut Huskies, 2011 Fiesta Bowl (lost to Oklahoma 48-20)

10. Hawaii Warriors, 2008 Sugar Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-0, No. 10 in AP, Coaches Polls and BCS standings, WAC Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-10 to No. 5 Georgia
Hawaii headed into this game undefeated for the first time since 1925 and the most wins in school history. The Warriors had an offense that was piling up the yards and points and, despite being a near 10-point underdog, were embracing the opportunity to face off with Georgia, one of college football’s so-called “blue bloods.” Well, if the Warriors were trying to send a message, it’s clear the Bulldogs weren’t ready to receive it.

Georgia jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead and had stretched it to a 38-point margin before Hawaii finally got into the end zone late in the fourth quarter to make the final score 41-10. The Bulldogs pressured and pounded Hawaii record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan all night, sacking him eight times and forcing him to commit five turnovers (three interceptions, two lost fumbles), while holding him to a career-low 169 yards passing.

Prior to this game, Hawaii had amassed no less than 430 yards of offense and scored no fewer than 28 points in any game. Georgia held the Warriors to 306 yards, a measly 10 points and forced a total of six turnovers.

9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2007 Sugar Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 10-2, No. 11 in AP, Coaches Polls and BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-14 to No. 4 LSU
Notre Dame was around an eight-point underdog headed into this game, but after LSU had jumped out to a 14-0 lead, the Fighting Irish were able to pull even late in the second quarter and at that point it looked like this game would be a close-knit affair.

That wouldn’t be the case, however, as the Tigers scored the final 27 points and Notre Dame managed just one first down and less than 30 yards of offense in the second half of the 41-14 loss. LSU overwhelmed the Irish defense to the tune of 577 total yards, including 245 on the ground alone. Notre Dame finished with less than 300 yards of offense and posted a second-straight disappointing bowl loss under Charlie Weis.

8. Pittsburgh Panthers, 2005 Fiesta Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 8-3, No. 19 in AP Poll, No. 20 in Coaches Poll and No. 21 in BCS standings, Big East Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 35-7 to No. 6 Utah
Utah was undefeated, the champion from the Mountain West Conference and a team that had put together an impressive regular season. The Utes earned the right and privilege of becoming the first team from a non-BCS conference in a BCS bowl. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was a team that “earned” a BCS bid by virtue of a tiebreaker between four two-loss teams within the Big East. You get the picture.

Utah then went out and made it clear which team deserved to be in a BCS bowl and which didn’t by thumping Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Utes were a 16-point favorite headed into the game and looked every bit of the part, scoring 28 points before the Panthers made it into the end zone. Utah put up 467 yards of offense on Pittsburgh, while the Panthers had just 17 yards rushing and 268 yards of total offense. You can argue all you want if you think the Utes should have gotten more consideration for at least a shot at the national title, but one thing’s clear – they definitely deserved a better opponent than Pittsburgh.

7. Virginia Tech Hokies, 2011 Orange Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 11-2, No. 12 in AP Poll, No. 11 in Coaches Poll, No. 13 in BCS, ACC Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 40-12 to No. 4 Stanford
If this list was based on worst halves in a BCS bowl, then Virginia Tech may have been at the top. The Hokies trailed Stanford by just one point, 13-12, at halftime of the 2011 Orange Bowl. Considering that the Cardinal were a three-point favorite headed into this game, indications were that this would be a close game throughout. And then the second half started.

Stanford would score four touchdowns while Virginia Tech would enter the red zone just once in the final two quarters as the Cardinal would post a convincing 40-12 win. Led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck’s four touchdown passes, Stanford would pile up 534 yards of total offense on the Hokies, while Virginia Tech, who came into this game with no fewer than 106 rushing yards in any game, could only manage 66 yards on the ground. This was the second-worst loss in 18 bowl games for the Hokies under Frank Beamer.

6. Maryland Terrapins, 2002 Orange Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 10-1, No. 6 in AP and Coaches Polls, No. 10 in BCS standings, ACC Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 56-23 to No. 5 Florida
Maryland, under first-year head coach Ralph Friedgen, was looking for the storybook ending to its 2001 season. Having already posted the most wins in a season since 1976, winning the ACC and earning their first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1956, the Terrapins were looking to cap it all off with a win over the Florida Gators, one of college football’s premiere programs. The Terps’ hopes for a happy ending ended up turning into a nightmare.

In the first half alone, Maryland surrendered 28 points and 360 yards to Florida and just weren’t able to keep up with the stronger and faster Gators. To make matters worse, Florida played most of the first half with a backup quarterback as Brock Berlin took Heisman runner-up Rex Grossman’s place in the starting line up after Grossman was benched for missing curfew. Berlin threw for one touchdown, but also tossed two interceptions helping keep Maryland in the game, trailing just 14-10. Grossman replaced Berlin with 6:03 remaining the second quarter and promptly led the Gators to six straight touchdowns, including 35 unanswered points. As a team that Gators piled up an Orange Bowl-record 659 yards of total offense. Up until that point, the most Maryland had surrendered in any game was 497.

5. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 2002 Rose Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 11-1, No. 4 in AP and Coaches Polls, No. 2 in BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 37-14 to No. 1 Miami (Fla.)
Nebraska, even though it was coming off of a 62-36 thrashing by Colorado which meant the Cornhuskers didn't even play in the Big 12 Championship, finished No. 2 in the BCS standings thanks in large part to its strength of schedule component of the calculations. As a result, a one-loss, non-conference-championship-winning Nebraska team was given the opportunity to play No. 1 and undefeated Miami (Fla.) in the Rose Bowl for a chance at another national title.

The Hurricanes quickly erased any and all thoughts regarding that, however, as they jumped out to a 34-0 halftime lead and coasted to a convincing 37-14 victory. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch had one of the worst games of his career as the Miami defense held him to just 176 total yards.

As a team, the Cornhuskers only managed 259 yards of offense, nearly 200 less than they were averaging as a team prior to this game. On top of that, Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey, who had finished third in the Heisman voting, threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns versus the vaunted Nebraska Blackshirts defense.

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 2001 Fiesta Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 9-2, No. 10 in AP Poll, No. 11 in BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-9 to No. 5 Oregon State
The Irish were anything but Fighting as Oregon State thoroughly outplayed Notre Dame in the 41-9 Fiesta Bowl debacle. At that time, this represented the sixth-worst loss for Notre Dame since 1946 and its worst bowl loss since a 40-6 defeat to Nebraska in the 1973 Orange Bowl.

Had it not been for Oregon State’s 18 penalties for 174 yards, it might have been much worse as the Irish didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter against the Beaver reserves. Notre Dame came into this game averaging nearly 350 yards per game on offense, including more than 200 on the ground, but could only muster a total of 155 against Oregon State, including a meager 17 yards on the ground.

3. Oklahoma Sooners, 2005 Orange Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-0, No. 2 in BCS standings, Big 12 Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 55-19 to No. 1 USC
Oklahoma rolled through the regular season pretty much unchallenged and was coming off of a 42-3 dismantling of Colorado in the Big 12 title game. All that remained was the much-anticipated match up with undefeated USC for the national title in the Orange Bowl.

Unfortunately, the No. 1 vs. No. 2 billing didn’t live up to the hype as the Trojans jumped out to a 38-10 halftime lead and added to it in the second half, cruising to a 55-19 win. Matt Leinart shredded the Sooners’ defense to the tune of 332 yards and five touchdowns, putting up the second-most impressive BCS National Championship performance in the process.

The Sooners couldn’t even get out of their own way as they turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions thrown by 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White. This was the second straight loss by Oklahoma in the national championship game and the Sooners also would go on to lose in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game to Florida. Of the three losses, however, nothing compares to how poorly Oklahoma played against USC, as this 36-point loss represents the largest margin of defeat in BCS history to date. It’s probably little to no consolation to Sooner fans that USC ended up vacating this win in June 2010 as part of its punishment for committing numerous NCAA violations.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 Sugar Bowl
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-1, No. 4 in BCS standings
BCS Bowl result: Lost 31-17 to No. 6 Utah
Maybe Alabama was still smarting over its 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC title game less than a month ago, a first loss that cost the Crimson Tide a shot at the national title. Or perhaps they just didn’t take the undefeated Mountain West Conference champion Utah Utes seriously, as the Crimson Tide was a 10-point favorite headed into their match up. But one thing’s for sure, Utah clearly showed who the better team was in New Orleans on Jan. 2, 2009.

Utah jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and then withstood an Alabama comeback to earn a 31-17 victory and cap off a perfect 13-0 season. Alabama was on its heels from the start and could never quite recover, as the Crimson Tide allowed 336 yards passing, had just 31 yards rushing on offense, and turned the ball over three times. Alabama would rebound from this loss and go on to capture the national title the following season, but that doesn’t erase how the Tide ended their 2008 season.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes, 2007 BCS National Championship Game
Record headed into BCS bowl: 12-0, No. 1 in BCS standings, Big Ten Champion
BCS Bowl result: Lost 41-14 to No. 2 Florida
Going into the 2007 BCS National Championship Game everything seemed to be in No. 1 Ohio State’s favor. Not only were the mighty Buckeyes a touchdown-favorite, many of the so-called experts weren’t even sure the second-ranked Florida Gators could stay that close. After all this Ohio State team had Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at quarterback and boasted one of the top defenses in the country.

When they finally kicked things off in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2007, Ohio State wasted no time in showing why it was the No. 1 team in the nation, as Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kick off 93 yards for the score. After that, however, it was all Florida as the Gators scored the next 21 points and in total out-scored Ohio State 41-7 following Ginn’s fireworks. The Gator defense dominated the line of scrimmage and, led by Derrick Harvey’s dominating performance (No. 12 among Greatest BCS National Championship Performances), held the Buckeyes to just 82 yards of offense. Smith fared even worse as he was just 4-of-14 for 35 yards passing with an interception, had minus-29 yards rushing and was sacked five times. The Gators’ offense gashed the vaunted Buckeyes defense for 370 total yards, didn’t turn the ball over once and had possession of the football for more than 40 minutes.

For Ohio State, this would be the first of consecutive losses as the No. 1 team in the BCS National Championship Game, while Florida would return to the title game two years later and beat another No. 1 to win its second national title in three seasons.

Athlon Sports Ranks the Best Teams in Every BCS League:

The Top 10 Big East Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 ACC Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Big Ten Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 Pac-12 Teams of the BSC Era
The Top 10 Big 12 Teams of the BCS Era
The Top 10 SEC Teams of the BCS Era

Athlon Sports Ranks the Top Performances from each BCS Bowl:

Top 15 BCS National Championship Performances
Top 5 Rose Bowl Performances
Top 5 Orange Bowl Performances
Top 5 Sugar Bowl Performances
Top 5 Fiesta Bowl Performances

Other BCS-related content:

The BCS' Greatest Offenses
The Greatest Non-BCS Offenses