SPORTS FOCUS: Penn State’s best bowl games

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I’ve written in a past column how the College Football Playoff has diminished the value of bowl games.

It was true even before the CFP came into existence in 2014. It was true for the brief duration of the Bowl Alliance and the longer tenure of the confusing Bowl Championship Series.

It takes a lot of perspective to appreciate the current bowl season. And, what better way to wrap it into a nice present and put a bow on it than reflecting on the   of Penn State’s bowl appearances.

Here’s a Top 5:

  1. 1994 Rose Bowl, Penn State 38, Oregon 20. Oregon was a lucky duck in 1994. The Ducks bested traditional Pac-10 powers USC and Washington to win the conference and represent the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl. The opponent? Penn State, which, in its second year in the Big 10, won the conference title and went on to finish the season with a 12-0 record. It was a remarkable season, the team’s first unbeaten campaign since winning the national championship in 1986. But, this year wasn’t going to be like eight years ago. Later that night, Nebraska beat Miami, 24-17, in the Orange Bowl. The next day, the Cornhuskers were crowned “mythical” national champs by the Associated Press and in the Coach’s Poll. The next season, the Bowl Alliance was born, paving the way for a national playoff. Indeed, the 1994 season provided a glimpse into the irony of college football’s postseason: an undefeated season tainted by not accomplishing the ultimate goal of a national title.
  2. 1989 Holiday Bowl, Penn State 50, Brigham Young 39. Perhaps the most exciting bowl game ever when college football was “still a game.” The image of Andre Collins returning a two-point conversion pass by Ty Detmer for two points is cemented on the minds of Penn State fans. Instead of the game being tied 41-41, the Nittany Lions took a 43-39 lead. For good measure, Penn State’s defense scored the clinching touchdown when Gary Brown returned a fumble 53 yards to seal the win. The game took 4 hours, 17 minutes.
  3. 1981 Fiesta Bowl, Penn State 26, USC 10. The final game of the 1981 season proved to be a tune-up for the 1982 season when the Nittany Lions won the national championship. It was also a showcase game for the defense, which shut down vaunted USC running back Marcus Allen. The Heisman Trophy winner who rushed for 2,000 yards during the season was stuffed, and the Trojans gained only 60 yards on the ground.
  4. 1986 Fiesta Bowl, Penn State 14, Miami 10. If you look at the statistics, Penn State should have never won the game. But the Nittany Lions defense intercepted Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde five times, including perhaps the most memorable pick in team history by Pete Giftopoulos deep in the red zone in the waning moments of the game. Miami outgained Penn State 445-162 and ran 93 plays compared to 59 for Penn State. One year earlier, the Nittany Lions were denied a national championship after losing to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The 1986 season ended much differently.
  5. 2005 Orange Bowl, Penn State 26, Florida State 23 (3 OT). In a matchup of legendary head coaches – Joe Paterno (Penn State) and Bobby Bowden (Florida State), the Nittany Lions capped a memorable 11-1 season with a bowl victory. Florida State had a down season by its standards, losing four games during the season but managing to beat Virginia Tech in the first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference title game. Penn State had a bounce-back season after going 3-9 and 4-7 in the previous two seasons. The Lions were one play from a national title shot but lost to Michigan on the last play of the game earlier in the season. Penn State finished third in the final AP poll.

Penn State plays Arkansas in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.