Saturday’s showdown between Alabama and Oklahoma will be one of the biggest Orange Bowls ever played. Whether it will be one of the greatest Orange Bowls ever played will be determined on the field.
Since its founding in 1935, the Orange Bowl has seen several breathtaking contests, many of which impacted the national championship. Here are the five greatest games ever.
5. Oklahoma 18, Florida State 17
Jan. 1, 1981
Tied 10-10 late in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma’s Mike Keeling lined up deep in his own territory to punt, but the snap sailed over his head into the end zone. Florida State pounced on the ball in the end zone to give the Seminoles a 17-10 lead. The Sooners wishbone quarterback, J.C. Watts, used his passing to lead the team 78 yards and punctuated the drive with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Steve Rhodes with 1:27 left. Head coach Barry Switzer opted to go for two and Watts hit tight end Forest Valora to go ahead by one. Florida State kicker Bill Capece attempted a 62-yard field goal as time expired, but it fell short.
4. Florida State 18, Nebraska 16
Jan. 1, 1994
Nebraska had lost six straight bowl appearances and entered the game as a 16.5-point underdog despite being 11-0. But Florida State quickly realized it was dealing with a different Husker squad in what would be a war of attrition. Then with 1:16 left in the game, kicker Byron Bennett booted a 27-yard field goal to give Nebraska a 16-15 lead. Two penalties gave the Seminoles excellent field position and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward drove his team inside Nebraska’s 10-yard line where kicker Scott Bentley kicked a 22-yarder with 21 seconds left to give FSU an 18-16 lead. A decent return gave Nebraska the ball back on its 46-yard line and quarterback Tommie Frazier hit tight end Trumane Bell with a pass to get the Cornhuskers to the Seminoles’ 28-yard line. Time seemed to expire and FSU head coach Bobby Bowden was doused with Gatorade. However, officials determined there was one second left and Bennett lined up for a 45-yard attempt. This one went wide left, giving Florida State and Bowden their first national title.
3. Michigan 35, Alabama 34
Jan. 1, 2000
SEC champion Alabama jumped out to a 14-0 second-quarter lead, but Tom Brady led Michigan back to tie the game with a 57-yard touchdown pass to David Terrell early in the third quarter. Then Alabama went up 28-14 thanks to a 50-yard touchdown run by Shaun Alexander and a 62-yard punt return by Freddie Milons. Michigan tied the game before the end of the third quarter with a 20-yard pass TD from Brady to Terrell and a three-yard scoring run by Anthony Thomas. Alabama blocked a Wolverine field goal as time expired and the game went into overtime for the first time in the history of BCS Bowls. Michigan got the ball and Brady hit Shawn Thompson for a 25-yard touchdown strike on the first play. Alabama responded with a 21-yard pass from Andrew Zow to Antonio Carter, but Ryan Pflugner missed the extra point, giving the Wolverines a one-point win.
2. Miami 31, Nebraska 30
Jan. 2, 1984
Undefeated Nebraska’s offense averaged 52 points a game and included running back and Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier and wingback and the first pick in the 1984 NFL Draft, Irving Fryar. Miami was 10-1 and an 11-point underdog. No matter. Freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar overwhelmed Nebraska’s secondary and put the ‘Canes ahead 17-0 in the first quarter. The Huskers tied the game at 17-17 in the third quarter, but Miami responded with touchdown drives of 75 and 73 yards to take a commanding 31-17 lead. Nebraska responded with a 76-yard touchdown drive to make the score 31-24. Miami kicker Jeff Davis then missed a 43-yard field goal that would have secured the win and gave Nebraska the ball back on its 26-yard line with 1:47 left. After moving down the field, Nebraska faced 4th-and-8 on Miami’s 24-yard line. Head coach Tom Osborne called an option run and Gill pitched the ball to running back Jeff Smith who sprinted into the end zone. Of course, Osborne chose to go for two (watch below) in one of the most famous decisions in college football history and Gill’s pass fell incomplete. Miami won its first national title and a new era in college football began.
1. Nebraska 24, Miami 17
Jan. 1, 1995
Some would argue this ranking, but the 1995 Orange Bowl bookends the 1984 Orange Bowl and was just as dramatic. The undefeated Cornhuskers found themselves back in the Orange Bowl facing a 10-1 Miami team. Going into the game, Osborne made a controversial decision to start Tommie Frazier, who had been out since September with blood clots in his leg, over backup quarterback Brook Berringer. Miami kicked a field goal on its first possession to go ahead 3-0. Frazier then threw an interception, which the ‘Canes capitalized on with a 97-yard touchdown drive to extend the lead to 10-0. In the second quarter, Osborne put Berringer in as quarterback and he completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mark Gilman. Miami took the opening kickoff in the second half and drove 78-yards for a score that made the game 17-7. Nebraska’s Dwayne Harris later sacked Miami quarterback Frank Costa in the end zone for a safety that made the score 17-9. With Berringer unable to move the ball against Warren Sapp and the rest of Miami’s defense, Osborne put Frazier back in with 12:07 left in the game. The rejuvenated quarterback moved the ball down the field on a drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown run by fullback Cory Schlesinger to make the score 17-15. Frazier then tied it with a pass to Eric Alford to successfully convert the two-point play. Nebraska got the ball back and marched down the field for another score to go ahead 24-17. On Miami’s final drive, Costa was sacked twice and threw an interception to secure Osborne’s first national championship.
— 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.