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The 10 Longest-Running Bowl Games

From the Fiesta Bowl to 'The Granddaddy of them All,' these bowls have been around for decades, creating many memories and crowning champions.

December 18, 2023

We kicked off bowl action last weekend, with seven total games taking place to this point in the season. We’ll have to wait a bit longer for the more traditional bowl games to be played, but those will offer the best matchups and the most storied history. In preparation, we’ll survey the 10 longest-running bowl games, highlighting some of the most memorable past matchups while also previewing the upcoming matchup for each game in the current bowl season.

Fiesta Bowl – 1971

The Fiesta Bowl is the “youngest” of the most historic bowl games, with the first game played occurring in 1971. It was born out of frustration of some of the West Coast programs being bypassed for the most prestigious existing games and is appropriately held in Tempe, Arizona. It’s since grown considerably in prestige, and since 2014, the Bowl hosts a playoff game on a rotating three-year basis.

Even prior to that, there have been memorable matchups. In 2003, the undefeated Miami Hurricanes met the also-unbeaten Ohio State Buckeyes. The two powerhouse programs battled through a double-overtime showdown, and the Buckeyes emerged victorious. Four years later, there was an incredible shootout between Boise State and Oklahoma. The teams scored 22 points in the final 86 seconds of the game in another matchup that took until overtime to decide, when the Broncos came away with a significant upset walkoff victory on their unforgettable “Statue of Liberty” trick play.

We could have a potential repeat of a G5 school going down to a Cinderella, as the Oregon Ducks will look to avoid an upset against the Liberty Flames. Oregon’s starting quarterback Bo Nix has surprisingly decided to take part in the New Year’s Day Bowl, leading to the Ducks being installed as a massive 16.5-point favorite (odds via Tipico Sportsbook as of this writing). If this one stays close, it will be because the Flames can keep pace offensively, which could result in an exciting shootout (o/u 65.6).

Peach Bowl – 1968

Given its name, the Peach Bowl is unsurprisingly hosted in Atlanta and has been played since 1968. Like the Fiesta Bowl, it hosts College Football Playoff matchups on a rotating basis, with its most recent coming in last year’s instant classic between Georgia and Ohio State. While the Buckeyes couldn’t come away with a win, the game helped C.J. Stroud’s draft stock, and propelled him to be picked by the Texans second overall. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs went on to win their second straight national title after winning in the semifinal.

This year’s game won’t feature a playoff showdown, but still has two quality programs in the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Ole Miss Rebels. Unlike some of the other high-profile, non-playoff contests, the majority of players on both teams will suit up for the matchup on December 30. That should lead to a competitive game, even if it doesn’t become a classic. The current odds reflect that, as the Nittany Lions are relatively narrow 3.5-point favorites with a 48.5 game point total.

Liberty Bowl – 1959

The Liberty Bowl has been running consecutively with the exception of only a few years since 1959. It was originally played in Philadelphia and it was also played once in Atlantic City. However, since 1964, Memphis has played host to the event. The SEC has appeared in the bowl a combined 32 times, the highest mark of any conference, with Arkansas leading the way of any single team with seven appearances.

Naturally, the Razorbacks were involved in one of the more memorable editions of the game, which came just last year when Arkansas matched up with Kansas. The teams combined for 108 points and was ultimately a tightly contested 55-53 win for the Razorbacks. Unsurprisingly, that was the highest point total of any Liberty Bowl game, the highest point total for a winning team and the highest point total for a losing team.

This year, Memphis and Iowa State will be tasked with following up that performance with kickoff set for December 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET. Despite playing a home game, the Tigers enter the game as 9.5-point underdogs with a game total of 57.5. To cover, Memphis will need its explosive offense to deliver (4th in EPA per play), but they’ll face an Iowa State defense that fared well in a Big 12 conference known for its explosive offenses. That matches strength against strength, with Iowa State’s offense and Memphis’s defense being relative weaknesses.

Citrus Bowl – 1946

The Citrus Bowl has gone through a couple of different iterations in terms of name, as it was identified as the Capital One Bowl from 2003 to 2014. More consistent has been its location, as Orlando has been host for all but one year since the first game was played in 1947. As a New Years Six Bowl, there have been many memorable and high-profile matchups in the bowl’s history.

The Citrus Bowl has gone through a couple of different iterations in terms of name, as it was identified as the Capital One Bowl from 2003 to 2014.

One of the more recent big matchups came in 2020, when Alabama and Michigan squared off, more notably marking the first meeting between coaches Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh. A trio of future first-round picks in Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and Jerry Jeudy led the Crimson Tide to victory that day.

If this year’s matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Tennessee Volunteers is to become a memorable part of the Citrus Bowl’s illustrious history, it will be because of a defensive struggle. The game will take place on New Year’s day and has a minuscule 36.5 point total, with Tennessee a 8.5-point favorite. Both defenses are ranked inside the top 30 in defensive EPA, so it may be a tall task for the Volunteers to cover a fairly significant spread.

Gator Bowl – 1945

We’ll stay in Florida for another classic bowl matchup, as the Gator Bowl was first played in 1946 with Jacksonville as the host city. The game has been in the headlines throughout its history, sometimes for positive events —other times quite the opposite. In the 1978 edition of the game, Woody Hayes infamously elbowed a Clemson player along the Ohio State sideline at the end of a loss. The legendary coach was fired the next day.

On a more positive note, Bobby Bowden coached the final game of his illustrious career in the 2010 edition of this contest. The Seminoles sent him off with a 33-21 victory and carried him off the field after the win.

This year, the game is a matchup between the Clemson Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats and will kick off at noon on December 29. The Tigers ended the season with four straight wins straight up and against the spread and enter this matchup as 5.5-point favorites. Their elite defense should shut down Kentucky’s offense, so it might be a defensive struggle relative to the 46.5 game total.

Cotton Bowl – 1937

The Cotton Bowl was the latest of a quartet of bowl games to pop up in the mid-1930s and has been played in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since. It’s  another game with a claim of a playoff matchup on a rotating basis, though that won’t be the case this year as the Ohio State Buckeyes will square off against the Missouri Tigers.

Ohio State’s roster is decimated by opt0outs and transfers, leaving Missouri as perhaps a surprising 2.5-point favorite. The game should mean more to the Tigers, who posted their first 10-win season since 2014, when they played in the aforementioned Citrus Bowl.

Given the status of Ohio State’s roster, this year’s game isn’t likely to turn into a classic. However, there have been a number of iconic games in the Cotton Bowl, with 2015 worth highlighted as the first time the bowl was a College Football Playoff matchup. Michigan State ultimately took down Baylor 42-41 in a frantic 20-point comeback effort that was the highest scoring Cotton Bowl matchup in its history at the time.

Sun Bowl – 1935

The first edition of the Sun Bowl actually featured a pair of high school teams, but has been college squads since 1936. Played in El Paso, Texas, the bowl has typically featured a Pac 12 and ACC school, though Texas institutions such as Texas Tech and UTEP historically have the most appearances in the game. One of the best performances in the history of the event came in 1994, when Longhorns running back Priest Holmes carried the team to a 35-31 win over North Carolina with an inspired four-touchdown performance.

One of the best performances in the history of the event came in 1994, when Longhorns running back Priest Holmes carried the team to a 35-31 win over North Carolina with an inspired four-touchdown performance.

This year’s matchup features the Oregon State Beavers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, though unfortunately it’s been watered down by both QBs leaving — Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman has opted out of the game while Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei is in the transfer portal. That will leave two backup quarterbacks to lead their respective teams when the game kicks off at 2:00 p.m. ET on December 29. The Irish are set at 6.5-point favorites with a game total of 42.5, but there are a lot of moving pieces to this matchup that could affect both numbers prior to the contest getting underway.

Sugar Bowl – 1935

The Sugar Bowl has been a staple of college football and New Orleans since 1935, and is tied with the Orange Bowl and Sun Bowl as the second-oldest bowl game in history. This year, it will host No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the College Football Playoff as the Texas Longhorns and Washington Huskies will square off. We don’t have to worry about opt-outs or transfers in this one, with the Longhorns heading in as 4.5-point favorites. With a 63.5 total and an elite Washington offense on the other side, perhaps this could join the ranks of the classics in this storied game.

The first playoff game in Sugar Bowl history was a showdown between Alabama and Ohio State that took place on New Year’s Day of 2015 in a game that featured a ton of current NFL talent. Some of the biggest names included star running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry as well as pass catchers Michael Thomas and Amari Cooper. The Buckeyes came away with an upset win, and the Huskies will look to repeat that path with Michael Penix under center on New Year’s Day.

Orange Bowl – 1935

The Orange was the third bowl game added to the repertoire in 1935 and has regularly been hosted in the Miami area since. Yet another New Years Six Bowl, the Orange Bowl will host its next playoff game in 2024.

In 2023, the game will feature two teams that will be bitter to not be involved in the CFP, with the Florida State Seminoles being one of the most significant snubs in the format’s history. At 14-0, the ACC champs have every right to be angered by their exclusion from the top four. That frustration has shown through in the deterioration of the roster for this matchup, as top skill-position players Johnny Wilson and Trey Benson have opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.

The (1984) game was defined by the decision of Nebraska coach Tom Osborne to go for two to win the matchup with just over a minute left…

Being shorthanded against Georgia isn’t a good thing, even if the Bulldogs may lack some motivation after going down in the SEC Championship to Alabama. However, quarterback Carson Beck is officially set to play in the game, a big boost that has led to Georgia being set as a 13.5-point favorite as we head towards the December 30 kickoff.

While the 2023 game isn’t likely to join the ranks of the classics, the Orange Bowl hosted traditional powers throughout the 1980s and 90s. In 1984, freshman Bernie Kozar led the Miami Hurricanes to a victory against undefeated Nebraska to win the national title. The game was defined by the decision of Nebraska coach Tom Osborne to go for two to win the matchup with just over a minute left, rather than to tie the game with an extra point — even though a tie would almost have certainly given the Huskers the title due to results in the games. Instead, Miami was crowned national champion.

Rose Bowl — 1902

The iconic Rose Bowl isn’t known as the “Granddaddy of Them All” for no reason, as it has taken place in the Pasadena stadium it shares a name with almost every year since 1902, and is the longest running of all bowl games. The traditional matchup was a Pac-10 vs. Big 10 showdown, though that shifts when the game hosts a CFP matchup.

That’s the case this year, as No. 1 Michigan will take on No. 4 Alabama on New Year’s Day. It will feature a rematch of Saban and Harbaugh discussed above, but this time with some higher stakes. The undefeated Wolverines are current 1.5-point favorites, though this one projects to be a defensive showdown as compared to the Sugar Bowl, with only a 45.5 point total.

The historic showdowns in Pasadena are too numerous to name, though Vince Young’s epic performance against USC to deliver the Longhorns their fourth national title in 2006 stands out above the rest in recent memory. Down 38-26 with just seven minutes left in the game, Young led Texas on a pair of scoring drives — the game-winner coming with just 19 seconds remaining on the clock.

Dale Weber
Dale began working at RotoWire in 2017 writing MLB game wraps. He now covers primarily MLB, NFL and racing, but also has experience writing in a wide range of sports, including MMA, golf and soccer.
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