Photo courtesy of Northwestern athletics
In a season unlike any other, there were a couple of college football programs who accomplished things they never had before.
Iowa State and North Carolina were among them as each made a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time. The Cyclones managed to take down Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl while the shorthanded Tar Heels fell to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl.
Following stellar seasons from Iowa State and North Carolina, there are now only 14 out of 65 Power 5 teams who have never played in a major bowl going back to the BCS era. We take a look at the schools from major conferences who have never played in a major bowl during the BCS and New Year’s Six era:
Best Season of Era: 2007: finished 11-3 (6-2 ACC), No. 10 in AP Poll
Overview: Boston College has never played in a New Year’s Six or BCS bowl, but did come close multiple times. In 2004, the Eagles finished in a 4-way tie atop the Big East standings, but Pittsburgh would ultimately get the Fiesta Bowl nod. In 2007 and 2008 under Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College won the ACC Atlantic division. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they were unable to get past Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship.
Best Season of Era: 2013: finished 10-4 (6-2 ACC), No. 23 in AP Poll.
Overview: Had the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six era began a year sooner, Duke may have received a bid in 2013. Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke won the ACC Coastal division, but ran into the buzz saw that was eventual national champion Florida State. Still, the Blue Devils had their first 10-win season ever and finished ranked for the first time since 1961.
Best Season of Era: 2002: finished 11-3 (5-3 ACC), No. 12 in AP Poll
Overview: NC State is one of only two Atlantic team division teams never to play for the ACC Championship, but in 2002 with a head coach named Chuck Amato and a quarterback named Philip Rivers, it set a school record with 11 wins. The Wolfpack lost three games by a total of 15 points. They closed the year with wins over top-15 Florida State and Notre Dame teams.
Best Season of Era: 2008: finished 11-2 (7-1 Big 12), No. 12 in AP Poll
Overview: Texas Tech is the lone Big 12 school never to play in a BCS or New Year’s Six bowl. Under Mike Leach in 2008, Texas Tech finished in a 3-way tie atop the Big 12 South with Oklahoma and Texas. Ultimately, the Sooners would get the nod to play for the conference crown and eventually, the national championship. The Red Raiders still finished with a school record-tying 11 wins and their highest AP ranking in 35 years.
Best Season of Era: 2020: finished 6-2 (6-1 Big Ten), No. 12 in AP Poll
Overview: Indiana hasn’t won a bowl game since 1991, but the Hoosiers are undoubtedly going in the right direction under head coach Tom Allen. This past season, Indiana won six Big Ten games for the first time in 33 years. The No. 12 national ranking is the best finish for the Hoosiers since 1987.
Best Season of Era: 2019: finished 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten), No. 10 in AP Poll
Overview: Since the start of the BCS era, Minnesota has just two 10-win seasons and three ranked finishes. The best of those seasons came in 2019 as the Golden Gophers won a school record 11 games. After beating Auburn in the Outback Bowl, Minnesota finished in the top 10 for the first time since 1962.
Best Season of Era: 2020: finished 7-2 (6-2 Big Ten), No. 10 in AP Poll
Overview: Northwestern won the Big Ten outright and reached the Rose Bowl in 1995, but that was three years prior to the BCS era. Since then, Northwestern has three 10-win seasons and five top-25 finishes, but this shortened past season may have been the most impressive. After falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship for the second time in three years, Northwestern handled Auburn in the Citrus Bowl to finish in the top 10 for the first time in 25 years.
Best Season of Era: 2006: finished 11-2 (5-2 Big East), No. 12 in AP Poll
Overview: The Big Ten has not been kind to Rutgers, but its final years in the Big East were quite promising. The best year came in 2006 when the Scarlet Knights won a program record-tying 11 games. The highlight of the campaign was an upset of No. 3 Louisville. That was the Cardinals’ lone loss as they received the BCS berth in the Big East.
Best Season of Era: 2014: finished 10-3 (6-3 Pac-12), No. 12 in AP Poll
Overview: Arizona State had made a bowl in eight of nine seasons before a 2-2 campaign in 2020, but hadn’t really come all that close to a major bowl game. The Sun Devils finished with 10 wins three times since 1998, but haven’t been able to secure the conference’s automatic bid. Arizona State shared the Pac-10 title with USC in 2007, but lost head-to-head against the Trojans. It was blasted by Stanford in its only Pac-12 Championship appearance in 2013.
Best Season of Era: 2004: finished 10-2 (7-1 Pac-10), No. 9 in AP Poll
Overview: California had a pair of 10-win seasons under Jeff Tedford, but was unable to secure an at-large BCS berth in either of those two years. Despite being ranked No. 4 at the end of the 2004 regular season, the Golden Bears had to settle for a trip to the Holiday Bowl. Their only loss that season came to eventual national champion USC. The quarterback for Cal at the time? Some guy named Aaron Rodgers.
Best Season of Era: 2018: finished 10-3 (5-3 SEC), No. 12 in AP Poll
Overview: With the exception of the 2018 season, Kentucky hasn’t won more than eight games in any season since 1998. Under Mark Stoops in 2018, the Wildcats had their first 10-win season and highest national ranking since 1977. It’s their only top-25 finish of the era.
Best Season of Era: 2007: finished 12-2 (7-1 Big 12), No. 4 in AP Poll
Overview: For Missouri, the story of the BCS era has been always a bridesmaid, but never a bride. The Tigers have played for the Big 12 title twice and the SEC Championship twice, but were never able to win a conference crown and secure an automatic major bowl bid. During the 2007 season, Missouri was actually ranked No. 1 when it fell to Oklahoma for the Big 12 Championship. The Tigers would go on to blast Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, but it was not yet a major bowl game. The No. 4 national ranking is their highest ever.
Best Season of Era: 2013: finished 11-2 (6-2 SEC), No. 4 in AP Poll
Overview: From 2011 to 2013, South Carolina finished 11-2 in three straight seasons, but was never able to secure a BCS berth. The Gamecocks finished in the top 10 in each of those seasons, but never managed to win the SEC East or secure an at-large berth in a major bowl. The lone SEC East title for South Carolina came in 2010, but it was blasted by eventual national champion Auburn in the SEC Championship, 56-17. South Carolina’s No. 4 national ranking in 2013 is its highest ever.
Best Season of Era: 2012: finished 9-4 (5-3 SEC), No. 23 in AP Poll
Overview: Since 1998, Vanderbilt has just two winning seasons and they came in back-to-back years under James Franklin. In 2012, the Commodores tied a school record with five SEC wins and nine total wins. Vanderbilt finished ranked for the first time since 1948.