The upcoming Fiesta Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal matchup between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson will be one of the biggest in a game that has seen some amazing contests. Since being put on the map in 1986, this bowl out in the desert has hosted four national championship games and 11 matchups between top-five teams.
The Fiesta Bowl launched in 1971 and has had a long journey to becoming one of the “New Year’s Six.” Here are the five greatest games that it has hosted along the way.
5. Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)
Jan. 3, 2003 – Tempe, Ariz.
The defending national champion Hurricanes had won 34 straight games with one of the most talent-laden teams in college football history. The scrappy and second-ranked Buckeyes had won six games by a touchdown or less and came in as 11.5-point underdogs. Miami jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass from Ken Dorsey to Roscoe Parrish. Ohio State’s defense then shut down Miami for the next two quarters and put together two touchdown drives to take a 14-7 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Ohio State was on Miami’s six-yard line when quarterback Craig Krenzel threw a pass that was intercepted by Sean Taylor. The future All-American returned it 28 yards before Buckeye running back Maurice Clarett ran him down, stripped the ball and recovered it. Ohio State then kicked a field goal to take a 17-7 lead with 8:33 to go in the third quarter. Miami rallied and tied the game 17-17 with a field goal as time expired.
In overtime, the Hurricanes got the ball first and Dorsey converted on fourth down, connecting with tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. on a seven-yard touchdown pass. On Ohio State’s possession, Krenzel faced 4th-and-three on Miami’s five-yard line. He attempted a pass to Michael Jenkins that was broken up by Hurricane Glenn Sharpe. Miami players rushed the field to celebrate, but a late and very, very controversial pass interference call on Sharpe sent them back to the sidelines. Krenzel quickly scored and Ohio State got the ball first in the next overtime. Clarett spun into the end zone on a dramatic five-yard run. On its possession, Miami made it all the way to Ohio State’s one-yard line, but Donnie Nickey batted down Dorsey’s pass on fourth down. To this day, Miami players and fans feel robbed of what they think should have been the school’s sixth national title.
4. UCLA 39, Miami 37
Jan. 1, 1985 – Tempe, Ariz.
All-American wide receiver Eddie Brown returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown and quarterback Bernie Kosar threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Brian Blades to put Miami up 21-7 in the second quarter. UCLA responded with a 72-yard touchdown run by Gaston Green, tackled Miami punter Rick Tuten in the end zone for a safety and kicked two field goals to take a 22-21 halftime lead.
A 31-yard field goal in the third quarter gave the Hurricanes the lead, but Bruins quarterback Steve Bono responded by throwing two touchdown passes to put the Bruins up 36-24 early in the fourth. Miami roared back with two touchdowns to take a 37-36 lead with just under four minutes to go, but Bono led the Bruins on 10-play, 63-yard drive that was punctuated with a 22-yard field goal by John Lee with 51 seconds left. The Hurricanes drove to midfield but UCLA nose guard Terry Tumey forced a Kosar fumble that was recovered by linebacker Eric Smith to clinch the win for the Bruins.
3. Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38 (OT)
Jan. 2, 2012 – Glendale, Ariz.
With LSU and Alabama slated to play a rematch in the BCS Championship Game, the eyes of the college world were on this Fiesta Bowl matchup between third-ranked Oklahoma State and fourth-ranked Stanford. Both teams were 11-1 and had a legitimate gripe for being excluded from the championship, but channeled their frustration through this high-scoring game.
Stanford jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Ty Montgomery and a 24-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Stewart. Oklahoma State tied the game in a little more than two and a half minutes with two deep passes from Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon. The two teams then traded scores to go into halftime tied 21-21.
In the fourth quarter, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor scored on a one-yard touchdown run to put his team ahead 38-31 with 4:33 to go. Two minutes later, Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle sprinted four yards into the end zone to tie the game. Luck drove his team into field goal range, but kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yard attempt as time expired. Stanford got the ball first in overtime and Williamson missed again. On the Cowboys’ possession, Weeden hit Colton Chelf with a 24-yard pass, setting up a chip shot field goal that kicker Quinn Sharp nailed for the win.
2. Penn State 14, Miami 10
Jan. 2, 1987 – Tempe, Ariz.
The Fiesta Bowl became a major player with this game because in 1986 it was a uniquely positioned to host the national championship for the first time. Miami was No. 1 and Penn State No. 2 and both teams were independents at the time. Since the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Cotton Bowls had contracts with conferences and the Fiesta Bowl did not, it was able to sign both schools to play for the national title. The machinations to making it happen and subsequent hype surrounding this game warrants its own book so I’ll stick to what happened on the field.
Penn State only gained 162 yards and Miami gained 445, but committed seven turnovers, including five interceptions thrown by Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde. A crucial one came in the fourth quarter when Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan intercepted a Testaverde pass and ran it 38 yards to the Miami five-yard line. There, D.J. Dozier ran in to the end zone to the put the Nittany Lions up 14-10. The Hurricanes answered with a dramatic drive and faced 4th-and-goal on Penn State’s 13-yard line with 18 seconds left. Testaverde fired a pass to wide receiver Brett Perriman, but linebacker Pete Giftopoulos grabbed his third interception of the game, securing Penn State’s second national title.
1. Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 (OT)
Jan. 1, 2007 – Glendale, Ariz.
Undefeated Boise State, playing in its first BCS game, shocked Oklahoma by jumping out to 28-10 third quarter lead. The Sooners quickly reminded the Broncos why they were 11-1 and Big 12 champions. Adrian Peterson ran eight yards into the end zone with 4:29 left in the third quarter, setting off a scoring run that ended with Oklahoma taking a 35-28 lead with 1:02 to go in the game. Facing 4th-and-18 from the 50, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky threw to Drisan James who lateralled the ball to Jerard Rabb, who sprinted and leapt to the left pylon to tie the game with seven seconds left.
In overtime, Peterson ran 25 yards into the end zone on the first play. The Broncos responded with another trick play, where Zabransky went into motion and the ball was snapped to receiver Vinny Perretta, who threw it to tight end Derek Schouman for the score. Boise State head coach Chris Petersen surprisingly went for two, where Zabransky took the snap faked a pass and made a Statue of Liberty handoff to running back Ian Johnson, who sprinted untouched into the end zone for the win. Regardless of what happens this New Year’s Eve, it will be hard to top the magic of this game.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of boisestate.edu)