With two improbable comebacks this bowl season by Michigan State Spartans and Houston Cougars, we take a look at the most unlikely bowl comebacks in the last 10 seasons based on a team’s minimum win probability (lowest chance to win) throughout the game. Two of the top five most unlikely wins occurred in the last two days.
10. Oregon State def. Missouri (39-38) in the Sun Bowl
Dec. 29, 2006: min win prob = 2.7%
Oregon State converted a 4th-and-3 with 47 seconds remaining and then scored a 14-yard touchdown to pull within 1-point of Missouri. The Beavers were successful on a two-point conversion to take the lead with 22 seconds remaining and ended up winning the game, their fourth win by three points or fewer on the season.
9. Colorado State def. Washington State (48-45) in the New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 21, 2013: min win prob = 2.4%
In last year’s New Mexico Bowl, Colorado State scored 18 points in the final three minutes of the game, including a game-winning field goal as time expired. Washington State had two fumbles in those final three minutes to complete one of the worst collapses in a bowl game.
8. Louisiana-Lafayette def. San Diego State (32-30) in the New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 17, 2011: min win prob = 2.4%
San Diego State scored a go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds remaining to take a one-point lead. When the game seemed all but over, the Ragin' Cajuns drove 49 yards and kicked a game-winning 50-yard field goal.
7. North Carolina def. Tennessee (30-27, 2OT) in the Music City Bowl
Dec. 30, 2010: min win prob = 1.8%
Highlighted by a controversial ending in regulation in which it appeared that time had run out, North Carolina was given another chance to kick a game-tying field goal. The Tar Heels went on to win the game in overtime.
6. Arizona def. Nevada (49-48) in the New Mexico Bowl
Dec. 15, 2012: min win prob = 0.8%
Arizona outscored Nevada 21-3 in the fourth quarter and scored twice in the final 46 seconds to win the New Mexico Bowl. It was the first of two straight improbable New Mexico Bowl victories (see No. 9 above).
5. Houston def. Pittsburgh (35-34) in the Armed Forces Bowl
Jan. 2, 2015: min win prob = 0.7%
Houston recovered two onside kicks and overcame the largest fourth-quarter deficit in a bowl game (25 points) to defeat Pittsburgh on Friday. At its lowest point, when trailing by 25 points early in the fourth quarter, Houston had a 0.7 percent chance to win.
4. Texas Tech def. Minnesota (44-41, OT) in the Insight Bowl
Dec. 29, 2006: min win prob = 0.5%
The Red Raiders trailed by 31 points early in the third quarter before scoring 31 unanswered points to send the game to overtime. Texas Tech won it there, marking the largest comeback in bowl history.
3. Michigan State def. Baylor (42-41) in the Cotton Bowl
Jan. 1, 2015: min win prob = 0.4%
Trailing by 20 entering the fourth quarter, Michigan State had a win probability as low as 0.4 percent before blocking a Baylor field goal with 1:05 remaining that would have put the Bears up by nine. The Spartans scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds remaining, to complete their improbable comeback.
2. Boise State def. Oklahoma (43-42, OT) in the Fiesta Bowl
Jan. 1, 2007: min win prob = 0.1%
Trailing by seven points under a minute to play, Boise State completed a 50-yard hook-and-ladder play on 4th-and-18 to tie the game against Oklahoma. The Broncos won the game in overtime on the famed "Statue of Liberty" play.
1. Idaho def. Bowling Green (43-42) in the Humanitarian Bowl
Dec. 30, 2009: min win prob 0.1%
Trailing by seven points with 32 seconds remaining, Idaho drove the length of the field for a touchdown and converted a two-point conversion to take a 43-42 lead and win the game.