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Bowl Coalition

The Bowl Coalition was formed through an agreement among Division I-A college football bowl games and conferences for the purpose of forcing a national championship game between the top two teams and to provide quality bowl game matchups for the champions of its member conferences. It was established for the 1992 season after co-national champions in both 1990 and 1991. The agreement was in place for the 1992, 1993, and 1994 college football seasons. It was the predecessor of the Bowl Alliance, and later the Bowl Championship Series.


  • Background 1
  • Criticism 2
  • Demise 3
  • Bowl Coalition National Championship games 4
  • Bowl Coalition games 5
    • 1992 season 5.1
    • 1993 season 5.2
    • 1994 season 5.3
  • Appearances by team 6
  • References 7


Following two consecutive seasons of split national championships in 1990 and 1991, there was a renewed effort in devising a system that would help create a #1 vs. #2 national championship bowl game. Since the AP Poll began crowning its national champion after the bowl games in 1968, the two top-ranked teams going into the bowls had only played each other in a bowl six times, most recently after the 1987 season.

The Bowl Coalition consisted of five conferences (the SEC, Big 8, SWC, ACC, and Big East), independent Notre Dame, and seven bowl games (the Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Gator, John Hancock, and Blockbuster bowls).

Under the agreement, bowl bids would be extended to the five member conference champions plus five at-large teams. The at-large teams would come from a pool of the five member conferences' runners-up, the runner-up of the Pac-10, the SEC's third-place team (since the SEC started playing a championship game in the 1992 season; and the championship game loser was tied to the Florida Citrus Bowl) and independent Notre Dame. The Orange, Sugar, Cotton, and Fiesta Bowls were "Tier 1 Bowls" under the Coalition agreement, and the Gator, John Hancock Sun, and Blockbuster were "Tier 2 Bowls." The Orange, Sugar, and Cotton bowls retained their long-standing agreements to invite the Big 8, SEC, and SWC champs, respectively. However, the SEC, Big 8, and SWC champs would be released to play in another bowl if it was necessary to force a "title game." For example, if the SEC and SWC champions were ranked first and second, the Cotton Bowl would have released the SWC champ to play in the Sugar Bowl, or the Sugar Bowl would have released the SEC champ to play in the Cotton Bowl. This did not happen in any of the three years, as either the Big East or ACC champion qualified for the championship in those years.

The top “host” team played the top “at-large” team in the host team’s affiliated bowl. Slots for the games were chosen by the "Bowl Poll" in which the points from the AP and Coaches polls were combined. If the top 2 teams were both “at-large”, then the Fiesta would have hosted the "title game." The #3 team from the SEC hosted the Gator Bowl. The American Football Coaches Association agreed to rank the winner of the Bowl Coalition's "title game" as the top team in the final Coaches' Poll, thus guaranteeing the winner of the game at least a share of the national championship.

The system worked perfectly in its first year. Miami, the Big East champion, was ranked first in both polls, while SEC champion Alabama was ranked second. Miami was free to choose a bowl, and it opted to play in the 1993 Sugar Bowl against host Alabama.


The Coalition was flawed in several respects. Most significantly, it didn't include the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10, both of whom were contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl. The Coalition's founders tried to get the Tournament of Roses Association to release the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions to play in a title game if one of them was ranked #1 or #2 in the Bowl Poll, but it refused to do so due to concerns about this potentially violating its television contract with ABC.

The possibility also still existed that an undefeated and untied team would not get a chance to play for the national championship. This actually occurred during the 1993 season. Nebraska and West Virginia both finished the season undefeated and untied. However, West Virginia, ranked #2 in the final regular season Coaches Poll behind #1 Nebraska, was ranked #3 in the final regular season AP Poll behind #1 Florida State and #2 Nebraska. The margin between West Virginia and Florida State was large enough to drop the Mountaineers to third in the Bowl Coalition Poll, forcing them to settle for a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Also, the Coalition did not include the so-called "mid-major" I-A conferences—the WAC, Big West, and Mid-American, as well as the other independents. However, it was argued that most of these schools did not have schedules strong enough to be legitimate title contenders. For example, when BYU won the national championship in 1984—the last time a team from a mid-major conference has won a national championship as of the 2014 season—some college football pundits argued that the Cougars had not played a legitimate schedule, since they had only played one ranked team all season. The Cougars were the closest thing at the time to a major football power playing in a mid-major conference. They won 10 straight WAC championships from 1976 to 1985, and regularly defeated foes from the Pac-10, Big Ten, and SWC during this time. Despite criticism of their schedule, the Cougars were a near-unanimous pick as national champion at the end of the season. The Coalition made it impossible for this to ever happen again. However, BYU's impact in college football would again put pressure on the upper-tier bowl agreements for the 1996 season.


The Bowl Coalition's demise came about, in large part, as the result of two events that occurred in the 1994 season. First, the Southwest Conference, which had seen a marked decline in its quality of play over the past decade, announced it would dissolve after the 1995 season. Also, Notre Dame slipped from 10–1–1 in 1992 and 11–1 in 1993 to 6–4–1 in 1994. Notre Dame was still invited to the Fiesta Bowl in the 1994 season, losing 41–24 to Colorado in a game played on January 2, 1995. The sudden fall of Notre Dame led some involved in the Bowl Coalition to be concerned about the possibility of Notre Dame failing to win the minimum six games to be eligible for a bowl invitation. To alleviate these concerns, before the 1995 season the Bowl Coalition was reconfigured into the Bowl Alliance, breaking up the conference tie-ins and tweaking a system that still did not include the Big Ten and the Pac 10.

The final year of the Bowl Coalition saw Nebraska and Penn State both finish the regular season 12-0. Nebraska finished ranked #1 and Penn State #2 in both the AP and coaches' polls. However, Penn State had given up its independent status to join the Big Ten a year earlier and thus was bound, as the conference's champion, to play Pac-10 champion Oregon in the Rose Bowl. This created a distinct possibility for a split national championship, as Nebraska would take on #3 Miami, on New Year's night in the Orange Bowl; if Miami won, they would be declared the Bowl Coalition National Champions and would be consensus champion if Penn State lost the Rose Bowl. As it turned out, Nebraska defeated Miami to win the Orange Bowl and clinch the national championship in both polls despite Penn State's win against Oregon the next day.

One legacy of the Bowl Coalition was that it cemented the status of the Fiesta Bowl, the youngest of the member bowls, as a major bowl.

Bowl Coalition National Championship games

Season Bowl Date Winner Score Loser Score Notes
1992 Sugar Bowl January 1, 1993 2 Alabama 34 1 Miami (FL) 13 notes
1993 Orange Bowl January 1, 1994 1 Florida St. 18 2 Nebraska 16 notes
1994 Orange Bowl January 1, 1995 1 Nebraska 24 3 Miami (FL) 17 notes

Bowl Coalition games

1992 season

Tier I
Bowl Date Winner Con. Score Loser Con. Score
Cotton January 1, 1993 5 Notre Dame (10–1–1) Ind. 28 4 Texas A&M (12–1) SWC 3
Fiesta January 1, 1993 6 Syracuse (10–2) Big East #2 26 10 Colorado (9–2–1) Big 8 #2 22
Orange January 1, 1993 3 Florida State (11–1) ACC 27 11 Nebraska (9–3) Big 8 14
Sugar January 1, 1993 2 Alabama (12–0) SEC 34 1 Miami (FL) (11–0) Big East 13
Tier II
Bowl Date Winner Con. Score Loser Con. Score
Hancock December 31, 1992 Baylor (7–5) SWC #2 20 22 Arizona (6–5–1) Pac-10 15
Gator December 31, 1992 14 Florida (9–4) SEC #3 27 12 NC State (9–3–1) ACC #2 10
Blockbuster January 1, 1993 13 Stanford (9–3) Pac-10 #2 24 21 Penn State (7–5) Ind. 3

1993 season

Tier I
Bowl Date Winner Con. Score Loser Con. Score
Cotton January 1, 1994 4 Notre Dame (10–1) Ind. 24 7 Texas A&M (10–1) SWC 21
Fiesta January 1, 1994 16 Arizona (9–2) Pac-10 #2 29 10 Miami (FL) (9–2) Big East #2 0
Sugar January 1, 1994 8 Florida (10–2) SEC 41 3 West Virginia (11–0) Big East 7
Orange January 1, 1994 1 Florida State (11–1) ACC 18 2 Nebraska (11–0) Big 8 16
Tier II
Bowl Date Winner Con. Score Loser Con. Score
Hancock December 24, 1993 19 Oklahoma (8–3) Big 8 #2 41 Texas Tech (6–5) SWC #2 10
Gator December 31, 1993 18 Alabama (8–3–1) SEC #3 24 12 North Carolina (10–2) ACC #2 10

1994 season

Tier I
Bowl Date Winner Con. Score Loser Con. Score
Cotton January 2, 1995 21 USC (7–3–1) Pac-10 #2 55 Texas Tech (6–5) SWC 14
Fiesta January 2, 1995 4 Colorado (10–1) Big 8 #2 41 Notre Dame (6–4–1) Ind. 24
Sugar January 2, 1995 7 Florida State (9–1–1) ACC 23 5 Florida (10–1–1) SEC 17
Orange January 1, 1995 1 Nebraska (12–0) Big 8 24 3 Miami (10–1) Big East 17
Tier II
Bowl Date Winner Con. Score Loser Con. Score
Sun December 30, 1994 Texas (8–3) SWC #2 35 19 North Carolina (8–3) ACC #2 31
Gator December 30, 1994 Tennessee (7–4) SEC #3 45 17 Virginia Tech (8–3) Big East #2 23


  • Rankings are from the AP Poll. Records and Rankings are prior to bowl games.
  • The Blockbuster Bowl was a coalition bowl in 1992, but not in 1993 or 1994. The John Hancock Bowl, which had previously pitted the final Coalition team against an at-large opponent, inherited the Blockbuster's coalition pick, and pitted the final two Coalition teams against each other in 1993 and 1994
  • After the 1993 game, the John Hancock Bowl reverted to its original name of the Sun Bowl.

Appearances by team

Appearances School W L Pct Games
3 Florida State 3 0 1.000 Won 1993 Orange Bowl
Won 1994 Orange Bowl+
Won 1995 Sugar Bowl (January)
3 Florida 2 1 .666 Won 1992 Gator Bowl
Won 1994 Sugar Bowl
Lost 1995 Sugar Bowl (January)
3 Notre Dame 2 1 .666 Won 1993 Cotton Bowl Classic
Won 1994 Cotton Bowl Classic
Lost 1995 Fiesta Bowl
3 Nebraska 1 2 0.333 Lost 1993 Orange Bowl
Lost 1994 Orange Bowl+
Won 1995 Orange Bowl+
3 Miami (FL) 0 3 .000 Lost 1993 Sugar Bowl+
Lost 1994 Orange Bowl
Lost 1995 Orange Bowl+
2 Alabama 2 0 1.000 Won 1993 Sugar Bowl+
Won 1993 Gator Bowl
2 Arizona 1 1 .500 Lost 1992 John Hancock Bowl
Won 1994 Fiesta Bowl
2 Colorado 1 1 .500 Lost 1993 Fiesta Bowl
Won 1994 Fiesta Bowl
2 North Carolina 0 2 .000 Lost 1993 Gator Bowl
Lost 1994 Sun Bowl
2 Texas A&M 0 2 .000 Lost 1993 Cotton Bowl Classic
Lost 1994 Cotton Bowl Classic
2 Texas Tech 0 2 .000 Lost 1993 John Hancock Bowl
Lost1995 Cotton Bowl Classic
1 Baylor 1 0 1.000 Won 1992 John Hancock Bowl
1 Oklahoma 1 0 1.000 Won 1993 John Hancock Bowl
1 Stanford 1 0 1.000 Won 1992 Blockbuster Bowl
1 Syracuse 1 0 1.000 Won 1993 Fiesta Bowl
1 Tennessee 1 0 1.000 Won 1994 Gator Bowl
1 Texas 1 0 1.000 Won 1994 Sun Bowl
1 USC 1 0 1.000 Won 1995 Cotton Bowl Classic
1 N.C. State 0 1 .000 Lost 1992 Gator Bowl
1 Penn State 0 1 .000 Lost 1992 Blockbuster Bowl
1 Virginia Tech 0 1 .000 Lost 1994 Gator Bowl
1 West Virginia 0 1 .000 Lost 1994 Sugar Bowl

+ Denotes Bowl Coalition National Championship Game


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