The Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve afternoon between Louisville and Boise State lived up to lofty expectations by providing a captivating game, lots of scoring and an exciting finish in the 44-40 Louisville win.
The Cardinals and Broncos entered the game as the two highest-scoring offenses in college football with Louisville racking up 50.3 ppg and Boise State 49.7ppg coming into the contest. The Cardinals had topped the 55-point mark in each of their last five games while the Broncos had done so in their last four games.
When the game ended with Louisville picking off a Boise State desperation heave on the last play of the game, the Cardinals had become the first team to beat the Broncos since September 20, 2003 - a run of 22 consecutive Boise State victories. The Broncos will open the 2005 season with a couple of other long streaks still intact - they have won 25 straight home games and 26 in-a-row against WAC foes.
Both teams finished the season 11-1 which is Louisville's best record ever. Boise State went 12-1 in 2002 and 13-1 in 2003. Louisville moves from CUSA to the Big East next season.
Also on New Year's Eve, Arizona State rallied to beat Purdue 27-23 in the Sun Bowl. The Sun Devils scored the game-winning touchdown on a 19-yard pass with 44 seconds left, just 30 seconds after Purdue had claimed the lead. The Boilermakers' final chance to sneak out with a win ended with an incomplete bomb to the end zone.
Arizona State's bowl victory completed a one-year turnaround that saw the Sun Devils improve from 5-7 a year ago to 9-3 this season. It was ASU's first bowl win since a 1997 Sun Bowl victory over Iowa, snapping a three-game postseason losing streak.
Purdue's season was marred by a host of late-game losses. They fell to Wisconsin in the final three minutes when the Badgers returned a fumble for a score. A week later, Michigan beat the Boilermakers on a field goal with 2:45 to play. The following week, Northwestern scored the winning touchdown with 38 seconds remaining. Then, a comeback against Iowa fell two points short when an on-side kick was recovered by the Hawkeyes in the closing seconds. By the way, Purdue lost to Georgia in last year's Alamo Bowl in overtime.
In another New Year's Eve game, Minnesota won the Music City Bowl 20-16 over Alabama. The Golden Gophers, who began the season with fives straight victories but only won one of their last six, secured their third straight bowl win. Alabama finished at 6-6 after going 4-9 last season. That marks the first consecutive non-winning seasons by the Tide since 1954-1957.
Miami won the Peach Bowl 27-10 over state rival Florida leaving the Gators winless against the 'Canes since 1985. Florida was coached by defensive coordinator Charlie Strong after head coach Ron Zook was fired following a regular season loss to Mississippi State that dropped the Gators record to 4-3. Zook was allowed to coach the team through the end of the regular season and Florida went 3-1 in those last four games, including its first win in Tallahassee over Florida State since the Galen Hall era in 1986.
The Hurricanes have won seven of their last eight bowl games with the only loss coming against Ohio State in the 2002 BCS national title game. Florida's only bowl win in its last six attempts came in the 2001 Orange Bowl over Maryland.
California, heavy favorites to win the Holiday Bowl after being snubbed by the BCS' Rose Bowl in favor of Texas, was torched for 520 yards passing by Sonny Cumbie and bowled over 45-31 by a 7-4 Texas Tech team on Thursday night (December 30).
After Cal took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, the Red Raiders outscored the Golden Bears 31-3 over the next two quarters. The final result was not what California was looking for to prove they deserved the Rose Bowl bid more than Texas. The Longhorns beat Texas Tech 51-21 in the regular season.
The loss dropped California to 10-2 for the season and 7-8 in postseason history as snubbed Cal became drubbed Cal. Texas Tech improved its bowl record to 9-18 with its third straight bowl win while scoring more than 40 points for just the fourth time this season.
One bright spot for the Golden Bears was running back J. J. Arrington who passed the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the year with a 173-yard effort that brought his season total to 2,018, the third-highest total in PAC-10 history.
In other December 30 games:
Navy beat favored New Mexico 34-19 in the newly-renamed Emerald Bowl, formerly known as the San Francisco Bowl, to complete the season at 10-2 and earn its first 10-win season since 1905 when the Midshipmen went 10-1-1. The win improved Navy's all-time bowl mark to 6-5 while New Mexico fell to 3-6 in postseason games. The Lobos last bowl win came in the 1961 Aviation Bowl.
Boston College won the third annual Continental Tire Bowl 37-24 over North Carolina in Charlotte on Thursday (December 30). It was the Eagles last game as a member of the Big East. Boston College joins UNC in the ACC next season. It was the Eagles' fifth bowl win in-a-row and seventh in their last eight postseason outings. Boston College is 10-6 all-time in bowl games.
North Carolina saw its five-game bowl winning streak snapped and the Tar heels fell to 6-6 for the season, 12-13 in the postseason.
Also on December 30, Northern Illinois beat bowl first-timer Troy 34-21 in the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose. NIU was playing in its second-ever bowl game and first since the 1983 California Bowl, a 20-13 win over Cal-Fullerton. The Huskies surrendered the games' first 14 points, then ran off 34 unanswered points and sloshed their way to the win in the midst of a downpour. The Trojans, who moved up to 1-A in 2001, allowed ten more points than they gave up in any regular season contest.
Colorado started the year embroiled in controversy but ended it on a positive note with a 33-28 win in the Houston Bowl over UTEP on December 29. The football program was investigated for a number of lurid charges dating back to 1997 and head coach Gary Barnett was suspended for three months of the offseason for insensitive remarks about a former female kicker who claimed she was sexually abused in 2000 by one of her teammates.
Putting the pieces of a fractured program back together was a difficult process and the Buffaloes were just 4-4 after an October 30 loss to Texas. But Colorado won four of its last five games, including the bowl win, with the only blemish coming in the Big 12 title game to Oklahoma.
In the Houston Bowl, the Buffaloes took a first quarter lead of 3-0 but fell behind 2:30 later and never led again until scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown with 8:43 left in the game.
UTEP concluded the season at 8-4, tying the 2000 squad for the best Miners' record since the 1988 team went 10-3. It was only the school's second winning season in 16 years. Their success came in the first season under head coach Mike Price who was given the opportunity to resurrect his career after being fired from Alabama for alleged misconduct at a booster golf outing in 2003 before he even coached a game for the Crimson Tide.
The win provided Colorado with its first bowl victory since the 1999 Insight.com Bowl. and boosted their over-all bowl record to 12-14. UTEP has not won a bowl game since the 1967 Sun Bowl as their bowl record dropped to 5-6.
In the only other December 29 game, the Alamo Bowl was never close as Ohio State jumped to a 23-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 33-7 win over Oklahoma State to extend its bowl winning streak to three games. The Cowboys only score came with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
It wasn't as bad as the 41-9 shellacking Oregon State administered in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, but the 38-21 beating they delivered Notre Dame in this year's Insight.com Bowl on December 28 was bad enough. It served to give further evidence of Notre Dame's decline over the past decade when even minor bowl games can not be won. It was the sixth consecutive bowl loss from Notre Dame and the Irish remained winless in the postseason since a 1993 triumph in the Cotton Bowl. Notre Dame, which for a long time in its history shunned bowl games, is now 13-13 all-time in such affairs. The win gave the Beavers a sixth win in their last seven games after a 1-4 start. However, Notre Dame is the only team they beat that sported a winning record.
Iowa State, playing in just its eighth bowl game ever but fourth in the last five years, upset Miami (Ohio) 17-13 in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport on December 28 for the second bowl win in Cyclone football history. The RedHawks were playing their final game under Terry Hoeppner who is leaving for Indiana. Hoeppner's offensive coordinator, Shane Montgomery, was announced as the new head coach in the locker room prior to kick-off. Miami, favored by double-digits, was playing in its second consecutive bowl game after being shutout of the postseason for sixteen seasons from 1987 through 2002. The RedHawks fell to 6-3 all-time in bowl games.
Fresno State has made it a habit to beat schools from BCS conferences. On December 27 in the MPC Computers Bowl, the Bulldogs rallied from a 14-point deficit to stun Virginia 37-34 in overtime. Virginia had its way with Fresno State in the opening 21 minutes as the Cavaliers scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and staked out a 21-7 lead. It looked like a rout was on. But the Bulldog defense began to stiffen and the tide turned. Fresno State tied Virginia early in the fourth quarter and, after the Cavaliers regained the lead with a long drive, the Bulldogs returned the favor to send the game into overtime. UVa was held to a field goal on the opening possession of the extra period and Fresno State needed just one play to win the game on a 25-yard pass.
It was the third consecutive bowl win for the Bulldogs who were playing in their fifth straight bowl game but their first trip to anything other than the Silicon Valley Classic since the 1999 Las Vegas Bowl. Fresno State improved to 9-6 in bowl games while Virginia fell to 6-9.
Also on December 27, the fifth-place team in the Big East crushed the MAC champions in the Motor City Bowl. UConn jumped to a 17-0 first quarter lead and rolled to a 39-10 victory over Toledo. The Huskies were making their very first bowl appearance after moving up from 1-AA in 2000. For Toledo, it was just their third bowl loss ever as their bowl record fell to 6-3.
Hawaii outscored UAB 31-14 in the second half to secure a 59-40 win in the Hawai'i Bowl, played in its home stadium on Christmas Eve. Perhaps no other team in college football performed more drastically different at home than away. After losing its season opener at home to Florida Atlantic, the Warriors swept their last seven regular season home games (eight including the bowl game). On the road, the Warriors were 0-4 and sported a record of just 4-5 after a 70-14 loss at Fresno State on November 12. But they won three consecutive home games to end the regular season in a streak that included victories over two decent Big 10 teams, Northwestern and Michigan State. On the mainland, they also were routed 69-3 at Boise State and 51-20 at UTEP. For the year, they won their home games by an average score of 45-30 and lost their road games by an average score of 58-17. UAB was playing its first bowl game ever after moving up from Division 1-AA in 1996. Hawaii quarterback Timmy Chang became the first college player ever to end his career with over 17,000 passing yards as he finished with 17,072.
Wyoming, who surprised everyone by going 6-5 to earn a bowl bid, upset UCLA 24-21 on December 23 in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cowboys began the year picked to finish at, or near, the bottom of the Mountain West conference. As it was, their conference record of 3-4 was far from scintillating. But Wyoming had not even posted a winning season since 1999 and was playing in its first bowl game since the 1993 Copper Bowl. Furthermore, the Cowboys had not won a bowl game since the 1966 Sun Bowl.
Also on December 23, Cincinnati won the second Ft. Worth Bowl 32-14 over Marshall to hand the Herd its first loss in a bowl game since 1997. The game was played in below-freezing weather that saw temperatures plunge in to the 20's with wind chills in the teens. Marshall had emerged victorious from its last five bowl trips while Cincinnati had not won a bowl game since 1997 and had lost its last three postseason contests. It was Marshall's last game as a member of the MAC and Cincinnati's last contest in CUSA. The Thundering Herd will move to CUSA next year while the Bearcats exit CUSA to join the Big East.
On December 22, a sparse crowd that was drenched by a downpour saw Bowling Green drown Memphis in the second half to pull away for a 52-35 GMAC Bowl victory in Mobile, Alabama. The win raised head coach Gregg Brandon's record to 20-6 with two bowl victories in two seasons. Brandon was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at BGSU. He was elevated to head coach when Meyer took the job at Utah after the 2002 season. Meyer was 17-6 as head coach of the Falcons but never received a bowl bid.
Memphis had appeared in just two bowl games in its history before Tommy West took over as head coach in 2001. After going just 8-15 in his first two campaigns, West has guided the Tigers to two consecutive bowl games and a record of 17-8 over the last two seasons. Memphis beat North Texas 27-17 in last year's New Orleans Bowl, its first bowl game since the 1971 Pasadena Bowl. Despite the limited number of postseason appearances, Memphis had won all three of its previous bowl games.
Bowling Green is now 4-3 all-time in bowl games with victories in its last four postseason appearances. Ironically, its first four bowl games were all against Fresno State in the 1961 Mercy Bowl, 1982 and 1985 California Bowls, and 1991 California Raisin Bowl.
The 1961 Mercy Bowl was played as a special fundraiser in memory of 17 Cal Poly football players killed in a plane crash following a Bowling Green vs. Cal Poly game a year earlier. The game raised $200,000 for the surviving widows and children and to dedicate a memorial in their honor.
Tragically, the Mercy Bowl was played again in 1971 in memory of 14 surviving children of three Fullerton State assistant coaches and a pilot who died in an airplane crash only a month earlier. Fullerton State came from behind to take the 17-14 Mercy Bowl II victory over Fresno State.
Paul Pasqualoni went back on the hot seat after Syracuse was routed 51-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando on December 21. Georgia Tech raced to a 35-6 halftime lead and never looked back in the battle between two teams that finished 6-5 in the regular season. The Yellow Jackets' all-time bowl record improved to 22-11 with the win. The 51 points was 17 better than the Ramblin' Wreck had scored in any of their regular season games. For Syracuse, it was the fifth game of the year in which the defense allowed an opponent to score over 40 points.
Southern Miss beat North Texas 31-10 in the fourth annual New Orleans Bowl on December 14 at the Louisiana Superdome. It was just the first of 28 bowl games that fill the 2004 postseason. The Golden Eagles ended the regular season with a disappointing 6-5 mark, their win at Nebraska a distant memory, but a bowl win gave them reason to celebrate. North Texas has appeared in the New Orleans Bowl every year of its existence. An automatic bid goes to the Sun Belt conference champions and UNT has won that title every season since its formation in 2001.
Southern Miss had the shortest bowl preparation period of any team. The Golden Eagles finished the regular season on December 4 against California in a game that was originally scheduled for early September but postponed by Hurricane Ivan.