Orange Bowl: Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays of the BCS Era

Sebastian Lena@SP7988Analyst IDecember 28, 2013

Orange Bowl: Power Ranking the Top 10 Plays of the BCS Era

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    Austin (center) made himself a household name in this game.
    Austin (center) made himself a household name in this game.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    With the 2014 Orange Bowl quickly approaching, it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane.

    Ever since 1999, the Orange Bowl has been a part of the BCS. It’s even hosted two BCS title games (2001, 2005).

    Over the years, the bowl has hosted some of the best college football games during that span. That includes four games decided by three points or less.

    Not surprisingly, there have been several great plays during that time as well.

    Join Bleacher Report as we take a closer look at all 15 games and compile a list of the 10 greatest plays in the BCS era. 

10. Stanford-Virginia Tech (2011): Fleener Makes Hokies D Look Silly

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    Game Result: Stanford 40, Virginia Tech 12; Jan. 3, 2011

    Why It’s Here

    Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener had one heck of an Orange Bowl in 2011.

    The senior finished with six catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns. His three scores went for 58, 41 and 38 yards, respectively.

    But Fleener’s most impressive play came on a simple first-down grab.

    With Stanford leading 13-12 in the third quarter, Andrew Luck rolled out to the right and found Fleener streaking up the field uncovered. After catching the ball, he turned up field and hurdled over the body of an outstretched Hokies defender.

    Fleener may not have gained too many yards after the hurdle, but it was a great heads-up play and show of athleticism.

9. Oklahoma-Florida State (2001): Sooners Use Strip to Seal BCS Title

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    Game Result: Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2; Jan. 3, 2001 (BCS title)

    Why It’s Here

    In what turned out to be a defensive battle, neither the Sooners nor Seminoles could do much in terms of offense.

    With under nine minutes remaining in the game, Oklahoma only held a 6-0 lead. Florida State had the ball deep in its territory on 3rd-and-6.

    As Seminoles quarterback Chris Weinke dropped back to pass, he noticed space in front of him and took off. It looked like he was going to get enough for the first down before a Sooners defender tackled him from behind and jarred the ball free.

    Oklahoma recovered the ball, and two plays later, running back Quentin Griffin ran into the end zone for the game-clinching touchdown.

    It was only fitting that the Sooners defense would be the one to secure the team its first BCS title.

8. Virginia Tech-Cincinnati (2009): Diving Interception Saves the Day for Hokies

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    Game Result: Virginia Tech 20, Cincinnati 7; Jan. 1, 2009

    Why It’s Here

    For much of the 2008 season, the Hokies defense fueled the team.

    So it was no surprise that the unit came up big in the 2009 Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech forced Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike into four interceptions.

    One of those interceptions proved costly in the fourth quarter.

    Only down 13-7 at the time, Cincinnati began a drive inside its own 20. After receiving the snap, Pike looked to dump off the pass to his running back.

    Except the Hokies’ Orion Martin was there to make a spectacular diving interception.

    The play gave Virginia Tech’s offense the ball at the Bearcats 10. Three plays later, Darren Evans plunged into the end zone for the game-sealing score.

7. Florida State-Northern Illinois (2013): Greene with Spectacular TD Grab

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    Game Result: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 10; Jan. 1, 2013

    Why It’s Here

    This game was a lot closer than the final score might lead you to believe. In fact, the Seminoles needed 14 fourth-quarter points to finally put those pesky Huskies away.

    However, it was a score right at the end of the first half that stood out the most.

    Only up 7-3, Florida State was fighting to increase the lead before the half. On 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line, quarterback EJ Manuel scrambled to the right before finding wide receiver Rashad Greene streaking to the right corner of the end zone.

    The ball was placed perfectly, and Greene made a spectacular effort to get his left foot inbounds to haul in the touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

    Not only was the play impressive, but it also was a big boost of momentum for the Seminoles heading into the locker room.

    A 14-3 lead is a heck of a lot better than a 10-3 lead.

6. Alabama-Michigan (2000): Alexander Goes Beast Mode for the TD

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    Game Result: Michigan 35, Alabama 34 (OT); Jan. 1, 2000

    Why It’s Here

    If we were counting down the top 10 greatest Orange Bowls played during the BCS era, this game would easily be near the top of the list.

    Regardless, this game still had its fair share of great plays.

    A lot of them came from Crimson Tide running back Shaun Alexander, who finished with 161 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. He single-handedly put Alabama on his back.

    That was completely evident in his third-quarter score.

    With the game knotted at 14-14, the Tide were desperate to answer back. That’s when quarterback Andrew Zow handed the ball off to Alexander, who went straight up the middle and bounced through several Wolverines defenders, rumbling for a 50-yard score.

    It was one of those plays that showcased Alexander’s ability and hinted that he would have a very successful career in the NFL.

5. Virginia Tech-Kansas (2008): Hokies Utilize Reverse on Punt Return for TD

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    Game Result: Kansas 24, Virginia Tech 21; Jan. 3, 2008

    Why It’s Here

    For much of the 2008 Orange Bowl, the Hokies couldn’t solve the Jayhawks defense.

    Aside from gifting Kansas a first-quarter score—via a Aqib Talib 60-yard interception return—Virginia Tech only mustered 306 yards of total offense. The team also had three turnovers that all led to points for the Jayhawks.

    But early in the third quarter, down 17-7, the Hokies knew they had to do something.

    On a punt return, Eddie Royal caught the ball and ran right. He then tossed the ball to Justin Harper on a reverse who took it back 84 yards untouched for six.

    Harper would also add a 20-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter.

    Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be enough to lead Virginia Tech to victory.

4. West Virginia-Clemson (2012): Austin Jukes out Entire Tigers D

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    Game Result: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33; Jan. 4, 2012

    Why It’s Here

    Many know wide receiver Tavon Austin for his big-play ability with the St. Louis Rams. But few know that it all started back with the Mountaineers during his collegiate years.

    That was completely evident during the team’s 2012 Orange Bowl thrashing of the Tigers.

    Austin caught 11 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 46 yards on four carries.

    But none of his touchdowns showed off his spectacular footwork and ability to make defenders miss more than his second-quarter grab.

    With the Mountaineers down 17-14 early in the second quarter, Austin came around on the jet sweep and received the toss from quarterback Geno Smith. Then the fun really began.

    Austin jukes right past one Clemson defender, avoids another and then breaks a tackle, all while tiptoeing down the sideline. Finally, he makes his way into the end zone. 

    It was just a glimpse of the full explosiveness that Austin possesses.

3. Alabama-Michigan (2000): Milons Carves Through Wolverines D

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    Game Result: Michigan 35, Alabama 34 (OT); Jan. 1, 2000

    Why It’s Here

    As we mentioned earlier, the 2000 Orange Bowl was filled with several great plays.

    Although it’s hard to imagine a play topping Alexander’s electrifying run, the Crimson Tide did just that. By way of a punt return, nonetheless.

    With a 21-14 lead, Freddie Milons returned a punt from the Alabama 38 and cut the ball inside. He then juked a Wolverines defender out of his shoes and burst into open space, outrunning everyone else on the field.

    The play put the Tide up two scores and all but likely wrapped things up.

    Unfortunately, Tom Brady and Michigan had other plans.

2. Florida-Maryland (2002): Gillespie Spins His Way to a TD

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    Game Result: Florida 56, Maryland 23; Jan. 2, 2002

    Why It’s Here

    The result of the 2002 Orange Bowl was never in doubt.

    From the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated. The team put up 56 points and over 600 yards of total offense.

    But no play stood out like the 11-yard touchdown run of Robert Gillespie.

    With the lead at 35-10, Florida was just showing off at this point. That’s when Gillespie took the handoff, spun past one defender then spun past another, before breaking a couple more tackles on his way to the end zone.

    It was a fitting end to what was a lopsided bowl game.

    On this play and in the entire game, the Terrapins couldn’t touch the Gators.

1. West Virginia-Clemson (2012): Game-Changing, 99-Yard Fumble Return

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    Game Result: West Virginia 70, Clemson 33; Jan. 4, 2012

    Why It’s Here

    Although the score might suggest otherwise, this was actually a very close game at first.

    Early in the second quarter, the Tigers were trailing 21-17. That’s when quarterback Tajh Boyd led the team down to the Mountaineers 3. 

    On the next play, running back Andre Ellington took the ball to the goal line, and it appeared he had scored. However, West Virginia’s Darwin Cook had stolen the ball out of Ellington’s hands and took it back 99 yards for the score.

    That play seemed to open the floodgates, as the Mountaineers piled on 35 points in the second quarter alone.

    It not only was a heads-up play by the defense, but it also provided the momentum changer that sealed Clemson’s fate.