Quips, quotes & notes on the No. 1 teams to have played in the Sugar Bowl
The formulas for identifying the No. 1 teams in college football have changed over the years. It didn’t even seem that important in the early days; just having good teams representing your school was sufficient. Voting after the regular season became the norm, then after the bowls, and now the top two teams are picked to play each other at a predetermined site.
However No. 1 is determined, since being established in 1934, no bowl has had more top teams pass through its portals than the Sugar Bowl.
1936 – Texas Christian 3, LSU 2:
After the 1935 season, three schools were the heart throbs of the sporting public, and two played in the Sugar Bowl. TCU nipped LSU, but both shared the Williamson System top spot, perhaps because they played in the muck and the better team was not clear-cut. Football icon Sammy Baugh was responsible for LSU’s safety when he threw incomplete in the end zone, then held for TCU’s game-winning field goal. “I guess you say I had a hand in all the scoring,” he quipped afterward.
1939 – Texas Christian 15, Carnegie Tech 7:
The Horned Frogs left New Orleans as the unquestioned champion of college football when Davey O’Brien threw a touchdown pass in the second half after trailing 7-6 at the half – the first time TCU was behind all season. “And that was that,” Frogs tackle Allie White assessed.
1940 – Texas A&M 14, Tulane 13:
Though the national champion was decided after the regular season, Aggie fullback John Kimbrough had a spectacular game with 159 yards on 25 carries, a 6.9 average, to complete A&M’s undefeated season. “He’s the greatest football player in the world,” said A&M coach Homer Norton. “And you can put my name on that with a picture.”
1951 – Kentucky 13, Oklahoma 7:
The Sooners, on a 31-game victory streak, were the No. 1 team in the land, but were upset by Bear Bryant’s Wildcats. It was accomplished by maximum effort. “Charlie McClendon came off the field with the side of his face torn off,” Bryant said in giving an example of that effort. “When I turned to call the trainer and looked around, he was already going back on the field with the defense.”
1952 – Maryland 28, Tennessee 13:
A crushed Tennessee coach, Bob Neyland, wouldn’t even meet with the press afterward; he simply sent out a release praising Maryland Coach Jim Tatum and the Terrapins. It was the second time Neyland brought a Tennessee team to a Sugar Bowl with an undefeated record only to lose.
1959 – LSU 7, Clemson 0:
In a game that had no bearing on the title, LSU Coach Paul Dietzel said decades later it was important that his team win and maintain its unblemished record. “Those Tigers wouldn’t be remembered in the same way,” Dietzel said, “if they were still national champions but with a 10-1 record after losing their last game.”
1961 – Ole Miss 14, Rice 6:
Coach Johnny Vaught’s Rebels didn’t play their best game against the Owls, but they won, completing a 10-0-1 season. The FWAA, unlike the wire service polls, cast their final ballots after the bowls. Noticing No. 2-ranked Ole Miss’ unbeaten season while then-No. 1-ranked Minnesota lost in the Rose Bowl, the Rebels moved to the top spot in the FWAA ranking. An enormously pleased Vaught said, “I’m happy the sportswriters saw fit to pick Ole Miss for the national championship.”
1962 – Alabama 10, Arkansas 3:
Although the No. 1 issue had been decided after Bama’s regular-season finale against Auburn, the Crimson Tide, playing for pride against Bear Bryant’s old state team, was extended. “I had nine heart attacks out there,” the Bear said, though his Razorback counterpart Frank Broyles said evenly, “We were in it on the scoreboard, but were never in it on the field.”
1973 – Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23:
In a seesaw game, the Sugar Bowl was decided with time running out by a third-and-six possession pass from the Irish end zone to a player who had not caught a pass all season. “If I had been a betting man,” said Bama Coach Bear Bryant, “I would have bet anything we were going to win.” Notre Dame leaped ahead of Alabama in the AP poll for the national title, while the Tide retained its No. 1 standing in the UPI poll, which closed its voting at the end of the regular season.
1977 – Pittsburgh 27, Georgia 3:
Coach Johnny Majors, reflecting on one of the favorite moments of his coaching career, said, “We were a balanced team, we could throw and we could run. We had the great Tony Dorsett, the Heisman Trophy winner, and Georgia stacked up on us in the first half and Dorsett only had about 40 yards rushing. But (quarterback) Matt Cavanaugh had thrown a couple of touchdown passes, opening things up for us. Dorsett ended up breaking the all-time Sugar Bowl record with 202 yards. Our balance really meant the national championship for us.”
1979 – Alabama 14, Penn State 7:
In one of the most memorable Sugar Bowls, a fourth-quarter goal-line stand by the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide prevented Joe Paterno’s No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions from winning their first No. 1 flag. When dazed linebacker Barry Krauss, who made the crucial fourth-down tackle, got up and wobbled his way back to the sidelines, Bryant embraced him and said, “A knock like that is the nicest kind of feeling you can get.”
1980 – Alabama 24, Arkansas 9:
Hogs’ coach Lou Holtz discussed the dilemma his team faced against the Crimson Tide: “Alabama’s defense is the fourth-best in the nation, and it’s their major weakness. How could we know the nation’s best team would play a perfect game?” That was the final Sugar Bowl appearance by Bear Bryant, who coached in nine, more than any other man.
1981 – Georgia 17, Notre Dame 10:
After seeing his phenomenal freshman tailback separate his shoulder on the second play of the game, Bulldog coach Vince Dooley recalled, “Next thing I knew Herschel (Walker) got back in the game and gained 150 yards on a great Notre Dame defense that had not given up a hundred yards to any single back all season. Herschel Walker enabled us to beat Notre Dame and to be recognized as the consensus, without a doubt, No. 1 football team in America.”
1983 – Penn State 27, Georgia 23:
“We heard about the polls (and the No. 2 Nittany Lions rising to No. 1 after beating the top-ranked Bulldogs) on the plane ride home,” said Penn State defensive back Don Biondi. “We all cheered and basically went nuts.” Receiver Kenny Jackson added, “Riding home tonight all this stuff was going on and I found myself thinking, ‘Wait a minute. Is this for real?’ . . . I know it’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever experienced, but, at the same time, it’s unreal. I guess dreams are meant to be that way.”
1990 – Miami 33, Alabama 25:
All-SEC defensive back Lee Ozmint from Alabama put it best: “Give them (Miami) credit. They’re the best team we’ve played and (Craig) Erickson is the best quarterback we faced.” When the Hurricanes were voted No. 1 the next day, new Miami Coach Dennis Erickson (no relation to the QB) became the first man to win a national title in his first season as head coach at a school since Bennie Oosterban at Michigan in 1948.
1993 – Alabama 34, Miami 13:
The Crimson Tide gained a measure of revenge for the loss to the Hurricanes three years before. Bama cornerback Antonio Langham said, “I was shocked. I expected it to be a whole lot tougher.” Alabama, an eight-and-a-half point underdog, equaled the biggest upset in the Sugar Bowl – and claimed the national championship in the process.
1997 – Florida 52, Florida State 20:
“The (Sugar Bowl) has really grown,” said former Gators Coach Steve Spurrier, who was the MVP of the 1966 game when he was the Florida quarterback. “We were fortunate to win against FSU (after) the 1996 season. That, obviously, as a college coach has been my biggest win ever.”
2000 – Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29:
“It was an exciting football game with a lot of points, which people like,” FSU coach Bobby Bowden said. “Michael Vick was the quarterback for Virginia Tech, and we simply could not stop him – but we outscored him. The star was Peter Warrick. He returned a punt for a touchdown, he caught at least two touchdown passes and made one of the best catches that we have ever had at Florida State.”
2004 – LSU 21, Oklahoma 14:
“I don’t think you will ever have the opportunity to be in a greater venue,” former Tigers’ Coach Nick Saban said. “The Sugar Bowl is a great event, New Orleans is a great town, and you’re really playing for the national championship at home in your home state, and we had almost 100,000 people that couldn’t get into the game that were on Bourbon Street. So, you’re talking about an atmosphere that would be hard to re-create in any venue, and then it was a great football game against a great team. Our team played well and we were fortunate to win. Those are memories that you never, ever forget.”
2008 – LSU 38, Ohio State 24:
“We’re a team of fight, a team of destiny,” LSU’s Kirston Pittman said after LSU won the BCS National Championship Game. “There were people who didn’t think we belonged here,” he added as a big roar went up as Ricky Jean-Francois, the game’s defensive MVP, held aloft the Waterford, symbol of the national championship. “But you see who’s holding the crystal trophy now.”
2012 – Alabama 21, LSU 0:
LSU had upended the Crimson Tide during the regular season as Alabama’s kickers missed 4-of-6 field goals. However, Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said, “Well, guess what, not everything’s always going to be perfect. I’ve got the utmost faith in both our kickers. . . . They’ll get the job done.” In the rematch between the two fierce rivals in the Superdome for the National Championship, Jeremy Shelley booted five field goals to put the game out of reach for ‘Bama. Afterwards, Shelley summed up his two games with LSU with a simple description: “Lowest of lows, highest of highs.”
2015 – Ohio State 42, Alabama 35:
When the first College Football Playoff teams were announced, many questioned whether Ohio State deserved to be included. The Buckeyes had suffered an early loss to Virginia Tech and the Big Ten was seen as having had a down year. Meanwhile, top-ranked Alabama was a heavy favorite. However, in the Playoff Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it was Ohio State emerging on top – and the Buckeyes went on to win the first College Football Playoff National Championship as well. “That’s true that there’s a perception out there that we’re not [every bit as good as Alabama],” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer after the semifinal win. “And I think Lou Holtz was the only guy that picked Ohio State, if I’m remember right. I think Robert Smith, maybe but he’s a Buckeye. There’s a perception out here. I’ll tell you when I think the tide turned a little bit when Wisconsin beat Auburn. Everybody on our team knew that. I made sure they knew that. When Michigan State came back and beat an excellent Baylor team. And maybe the Big Ten’s not that bad. Maybe the Big Ten is pretty damned good. And it’s certainly getting better. And because the mind is a fragile thing. You know, all of a sudden you get down against a team like that, that’s No. 1 in recruiting every year for the past six, seven years, our guys know that. You see them on film. Great team. But we’re pretty good, too.”
2018 – Alabama 24, Clemson 6:
The Crimson Tide came back to New Orleans for another Playoff Semifinal, but the roles were reversed as this time, the Tide was considered the team that didn’t belong, taking on the top-ranked ACC Champion. And Bama matched the Buckeyes from the 2015 Sugar Bowl, winning that semifinal and advancing to capture the national title. Alabama nose tackle Da’Ron Payne, the Defensive MVP said after the Sugar Bowl, “We definitely heard the world [talking about Alabama’s dynasty maybe coming to an end], but we did a good job of just focusing in on the team and just executing anything coach wanted us to do and just locking in and just being all about the team and just keeping distractions outside.”
Initially compiled by Marty Mulé, author of the history of the Sugar Bowl Classic. Updates followed by the Sugar Bowl Staff.