CFN Bowl Special: Top 15 Non-AQ Bowl Teams
When Utah and Boise State won BCS bowls, the non-AQ teams in this sport began to command respect. With that reality in mind, here are the top 15 non-AQ programs in college football – not at the moment, but in the context of the sport's 142-season history. A number of these programs came from a power league – the Southwest Conference – but they shouldn't be forgotten in the lower tier of the FBS.
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NOTE: These bowl totals include unsanctioned (unofficial) bowl games. After all, if Temple can get excluded from a bowl game while UTEP and Middle Tennessee get included (no offense to those schools), why should one honor the current bowl system? Let's honor the teams that have done more with less, not to mention the Southwest Conference refugees that have added much to the tapestry of college football and deserve better than what they've received in their more humble dwelling places over the years.
These programs won't be ranked, because the stature of their respective bowl wins varies from one school to another. A few other programs have five bowl wins to their credit, but this assessment selected the five-time bowl winners whose scalps carry a premium value.
The Top 15 Non-AQ Bowl Teams
Utah (13-3 bowl record)
Utah is of only two non-AQ schools (Boise State being the other) to win two BCS bowl games during the BCS era (2005 Fiesta, 2009 Sugar).
Two Sugar Bowl wins (1936, 1939), two Cotton Bowl wins (1937, 1957), and now a recent crashing of the BCS — in many ways, this team has created a bond with its proud past.
Brigham Young (10-17-1)
This resume might be heavy on Holiday Bowl wins, but then again, BYU had to scratch and claw for everything it attained in San Diego, including the 1984 national championship.
Fresno State (10-9)
The Bulldogs have shown BCS-bowl potential at times over the past several years. After coming close to beating USC in 2005, they looked like a team worthy of playing in a big-time game. Then, however, the Bulldogs stumbled to the finish line. Nevertheless, their 1992 Freedom Bowl win, a convincing 24-7 victory over USC, gave a lot of momentum to teams from Western conferences outside the Pac-10.
Southern Mississippi (10-10)
The Golden Eagles don't have a crowning postseason conquest to tout, but their consistency under former coach Jeff Bower remains something to admire three years after the puzzling decision to terminate him. Bower merely managed to make nine bowls in a 10-season span.
Only one bowl win in the last 30 years, but two Cotton Bowl wins in the 1970s provide ballast to the portfolio of a current Conference USA inhabitant.
The 1978 Holiday Bowl win was special for coach George Welsh. The 2004 Emerald Bowl gave coach Paul Johnson his first bowl win in Annapolis. The 2009 Texas Bowl win over Missouri was sweet for the current sideline boss at the Naval Academy, Ken Niumatalolo. However, the bowl breakthroughs that will tower above the rest in Navy football lore are the 1955 Sugar Bowl shutout of Mississippi and the 1958 Cotton Bowl victory over Rice. Navy is one of those non-AQ program with credentials that would outstrip a number of power-conference programs.
The Golden Hurricane have reached several bowls over the past decade, but the proudest moment in the program's history came in the 1945 Orange Bowl, when TU toppled Georgia Tech in Miami. That – not the 28-27 win over Notre Dame earlier this season – was the greatest win in the annals of Tulsa football.
The Rockets haven't won any major bowls, but when they make a bowl, they normally prevail. There's a lot to be said for that kind of consistency.
The 64-61 win over East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl will long remain one of the greatest comebacks in the history of bowl games. The Thundering Herd rallied from a 30-point deficit to outlast ECU in double overtime.
Miami University (6-3)
The RedHawks would have many more bowl appearances if the current glut of bowl games existed in the 1960s and ‘70s. Bo Schembecher – ever heard of him? – compiled six straight winning seasons in Oxford but never received a bowl invite.
The Cowboys were able to taste the big-time at least once. On January 1, 1968, the boys from Laramie traveled to New Orleans to take on LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Coach Lloyd Eaton's athletes were surely wide-eyed when they took the field, but they put up a good fight before losing, 20-13.
Boise State (6-4)
Two Fiesta bowl wins (2007, 2010) have enabled the Broncos to compile a formidable FBS bowl resume in a very short amount of time.
An almost non-existent postseason player in the last five decades, the Owls can still point to a body of achievement many current power-conference teams would envy. Three Cotton Bowl wins (1938, 1950, 1954) and an Orange Bowl victory (1947) represent a body of work that Vanderbilt and Northwestern fans would fall over themselves to acquire.
Like TCU, Houston and Rice, today's Mustangs stand on the tall shoulders of their predecessors during the Southwest Conference years. Throw out the pay-for-play years of the 1980s; before that time, SMU still reached three Cotton Bowls, winning one, and a Rose Bowl as well. The Ponies encountered TCU in epic battles that shaped the college football landscape in the 1930s.
CORRECTION/LATE ADDITION: East Carolina (6-6)
The Pirates do have an 8-8 record in bowls, a fact that emerged after some cross-referencing plus a number of e-mails from vigilant CFN readers and the discovery of more off-the-radar bowls that were not previously identified. Therefore, East Carolina definitely belongs on this list.
The 1992 Peach Bowl win over North Carolina State represented a particularly sweet backyard breakthrough for the ECU program, which once thrived under former coaches Steve Logan and Skip Holtz before returning to a bowl this season under new boss Ruffin McNeill. ECU has now made five straight bowls with its inclusion in the 2010 field. Apologies to ECU fans for the improper omission. -M.Z.