Unlike last season, the Sugar Bowl between Baylor and Ole Miss won't also serve as one of the College Football Playoff semifinal games. But the Sugar Bowl has long been the stage for some of the sport's biggest contests before the introduction of the playoff. Here are the five best games in the Sugar Bowl's rich history.
5. Texas A&M 14, Tulane 13
Jan. 1, 1940 – New Orleans
No. 1 Texas A&M faced off against SEC champ Tulane and the two teams were tied 7-7 at the end of the third quarter. The Green Wave took the lead when Monnett Butler scored on a two-yard touchdown run midway through the final period. However, Aggies end Herbert Smith blocked the extra point to keep the lead to six. A&M then drove 68 yards and John Kimbrough scored to tie the game. The Aggies then booted the extra point to take the lead, forced Tulane to punt, and ran out the clock.
4. Tennessee 23, Virginia 22
Jan. 1, 1991 – New Orleans
The Cavaliers built a workmanlike 16-0 halftime lead over a lackluster Volunteers team. Tennessee could only manage a field goal in the third quarter, but things got interesting in the fourth. First, Tennessee running back Tony Thompson scored on a seven-yard touchdown run that ended a 94-yard drive. Virginia responded with a field goal. Vol quarterback Andy Kelly hit Carl Pickens with a 15-yard touchdown pass and the Cavaliers kicked another field goal to take a 22-17 lead with 2:31 left. Two clutch receptions by Pickens and Alvin Harper put the Vols on the Virginia four-yard line with 40 seconds to go. Two plays later, Thompson scored for the win.
3. Alabama 14, Penn State 7
Jan. 1, 1979 – New Orleans
This matchup between No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Alabama was more akin to a knife fight in a ditch. While the Crimson Tide held the Nittany Lions offense in check for most of the game and led 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Penn State had an opportunity to tie the game when it recovered a fumble deep in Alabama territory. The Nittany Lions worked their way inside the one-yard line where they faced fourth-and-inches. They attempted to power it in, but the Tide held in one of the greatest goal-line stands in college football history. That defensive series proved to be the difference and Alabama won the game and Bear Bryant's fifth national title.
2. Pittsburgh 24, Georgia 20
Jan. 1, 1982 – New Orleans
Herschel Walker and the Georgia Bulldogs had a shot at winning the national title if they could beat Dan Marino and the Pittsburgh Panthers and Clemson lost to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Pitt held Walker to a season-low 84 rushing yards, but the Bulldogs still led 20-17 with less than four minutes to play. But facing fourth down on Georgia’s 33-yard line, Marino hit John Brown with a touchdown pass for the win. Panthers head coach Jackie Sherrill had considered kicking a field goal until Marino convinced him to go for the win and then produced.
1. Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23
Dec. 31, 1973 – New Orleans
In one of the greatest college football games ever played, Notre Dame led 21-17 after three back-and-forth quarters. In the fourth, the Crimson Tide took the lead on a picture-perfect trick play where running back Mike Stock threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Richard Todd, but kicker Bill Davis missed the extra point. The Irish pulled ahead with a field goal, but Alabama pinned them deep in their own territory and forced a third-and-10 on the one-yard line. Then Notre Dame quarterback Tom Clements threw a long pass to tight end Robin Weber who caught the ball along the sidelines. This allowed the Irish to run out the clock and win the AP national championship (Alabama had won the Coaches' Poll title, which was awarded before the bowl games for the last time that season.).
— 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.