The Liberty Bowl is an annual American college football bowl game played in late December or early January since 1959. For its first five years, it was played at Philadelphia Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia before being held at Atlantic City (New Jersey) Convention Hall in 1964. Since 1965, the game has been held at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. Because of the scheduling of the bowl game near the end of the calendar year, no game was played during calendar years 2008 or 2015, while two games were played in calendar years 2010 and 2016.
Since 2004, the game has been sponsored by Memphis-based auto parts retailer AutoZone and officially known as the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Previous sponsors include St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (1993–1996) and AXA Financial (1997–2003).
A. F. "Bud" Dudley, a former Villanova athletic director, created the Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia in 1959. The game was played at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium. It was the only cold-weather bowl game of its time, and was plagued by poor attendance. The inaugural game was the most successful of the five held in Philadelphia, as 38,000 fans watched Penn State beat Alabama 7–0 in 1959.
A group of Atlantic City businessmen convinced Dudley to move his game from Philadelphia to Atlantic City's Convention Hall for 1964 and guaranteed Dudley $25,000. It would be the first major (University Division, now Division I) bowl game played indoors. AstroTurf was still in its developmental stages and was unavailable for the game. Convention Hall was equipped with a 4-inch-thick (100 mm) grass surface with two inches of burlap underneath it (as padding) on top of concrete. To keep the grass growing, artificial lighting was installed and kept on 24 hours a day. The entire process cost about $16,000. End-zones were only 8 yards long. 6,059 fans saw Utah rout West Virginia. Dudley was paid $25,000 from Atlantic City businessmen, $60,000 from the gate, and $95,000 from television revenues, and cleared $10,000 net profit.
Dudley moved the game to Memphis in 1965, where it has made its home at what became Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to much larger crowds and has established itself as one of the oldest non-BCS bowls.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Liberty Bowl offered an automatic invitation to the winner of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, if that team was bowl eligible. Due to the general lack of power of service academy football during this era, the only academy team ever actually to appear in the Liberty Bowl as a result of this arrangement was Air Force, which appeared in three consecutive games, 1989–1991.
Beginning in 1996, the Liberty Bowl began an affiliation with the newly launched Conference USA, offering its champion an automatic bid. Beginning in 2005, the winner of C-USA was determined by the newly created C-USA championship game. The winner of that game was customarily offered the bowl berth from 2005–2013.
In 1996 and 1997, the opponent for the C-USA champion was a team from the Big East. In 1998, the Liberty Bowl replaced the Holiday Bowl in a shared contract with the Cotton Bowl and had second choice between the WAC champion and a team from the SEC. From 1999 to 2005, the opponent for the C-USA champion was the Mountain West champion. There were two exceptions:
- 2004: Mountain West champion Utah qualified for the BCS. In their place, the Liberty Bowl chose WAC champion Boise State.
- 2005: Mountain West champion TCU chose to play in the 2005 Houston Bowl. At-large WAC team Fresno State took their place.
In 1999, the Mountain West Conference did not have an outright champion, as three teams tied for the conference lead. The conference's bid for the game was given to Colorado State.
The bowl's contract from 2006 until 2013 pitted the winner of the C-USA championship game against the eighth pick from the SEC. The American was to provide its fifth-place team as an alternate if the SEC could not provide a team. The SEC was also given veto power for the bowl, and elected to use it in 2011 to block C-USA champion Southern Miss from playing Vanderbilt; instead Cincinnati got the spot and Southern Miss accepted an invitation to the 2011 Hawaii Bowl instead.
Since 2014, the matchup features a team from the SEC against the #4 pick from the Big 12 Conference. The Liberty Bowl is part of a six-bowl SEC pool arrangement that also involves the Belk, Music City, Outback, TaxSlayer, and Texas bowls; these bowls will choose one representative from the conference each, while the College Football Playoff receiving first choice (usually the Sugar Bowl in years it does not serve as a national semifinal) and the Citrus Bowl second choice.
The game is televised nationally on ESPN, and is carried nationwide by ESPN Radio, and internationally by ESPN International.
Recent matchups of note
The 2010 win by UCF was the program's first-ever bowl victory.
The 2011 game matched Coaches' Poll #24 ranked Cincinnati against upstart Vanderbilt, and unlike most lower tier bowls, it aired on the broadcast network ABC rather than its cable brethren ESPN. Cincinnati defeated Vanderbilt in a second-half comeback.
The 2012 Liberty Bowl featured an unusual rematch of a regular season game between the Iowa State Cyclones (9th place in the Big 12) and the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (Conference USA champions). Iowa State defeated Tulsa 38–23 in the season's first weekend, however Tulsa defeated Iowa State 31–17 in the Liberty Bowl. Though the bowl normally selects a team from the SEC, it invited Iowa State because the SEC did not have enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of its contracted bowl games.
Rankings are based on the AP Poll prior to the game being played.
|Date Played||Winning Team||Losing Team||Attnd.||Notes|
|December 19, 1959||No. 12 Penn State||7||No. 10 Alabama||0||36,211||notes|
|December 20, 1960||No. 16 Penn State||41||Oregon||12||16,624||notes|
|December 16, 1961||No. 14 Syracuse||15||Miami (Florida)||14||15,712||notes|
|December 15, 1962||Oregon State||6||Villanova||0||17,048||notes|
|December 21, 1963||Mississippi State||16||NC State||12||8,309||notes|
|December 19, 1964||Utah||32||West Virginia||6||6,059||notes|
|December 18, 1965||Ole Miss||13||Auburn||7||38,607||notes|
|December 10, 1966||No. 9 Miami (Florida)||14||Virginia Tech||7||39,101||notes|
|December 16, 1967||NC State||14||Georgia||7||35,045||notes|
|December 14, 1968||Ole Miss||34||Virginia Tech||17||46,206||notes|
|December 13, 1969||Colorado||47||Alabama||33||50,042||notes|
|December 12, 1970||Tulane||17||Colorado||3||44,640||notes|
|December 20, 1971||No. 9 Tennessee||14||No. 18 Arkansas||13||51,410||notes|
|December 18, 1972||Georgia Tech||31||Iowa State||30||50,021||notes|
|December 17, 1973||No. 16 NC State||31||No. 19 Kansas||18||50,011||notes|
|December 16, 1974||Tennessee||7||No. 10 Maryland||3||51,284||notes|
|December 22, 1975||USC||20||No. 2 Texas A&M||0||52,129||notes|
|December 20, 1976||No. 16 Alabama||36||No. 7 UCLA||6||52,736||notes|
|December 19, 1977||No. 12 Nebraska||21||No. 14 North Carolina||17||49,456||notes|
|December 23, 1978||No. 18 Missouri||20||LSU||15||53,064||notes|
|December 22, 1979||Penn State||9||No. 15 Tulane||6||50,021||notes|
|December 27, 1980||No. 16 Purdue||28||Missouri||25||35,667||notes|
|December 30, 1981||No. 15 Ohio State||31||Navy||28||43,216||notes|
|December 29, 1982||Alabama||21||Illinois||15||54,123||notes|
|December 29, 1983||Notre Dame||19||No. 13 Boston College||18||47,071||notes|
|December 27, 1984||No. 16 Auburn||21||Arkansas||15||50,180||notes|
|December 27, 1985||Baylor||21||No. 12 LSU||7||40,186||notes|
|December 29, 1986||Tennessee||21||Minnesota||14||51,327||notes|
|December 29, 1987||No. 15 Georgia||20||Arkansas||17||53,249||notes|
|December 28, 1988||Indiana||34||South Carolina||10||39,210||notes|
|December 29, 1989||Ole Miss||42||Air Force||29||60,128||notes|
|December 27, 1990||Air Force||23||No. 24 Ohio State||11||39,262||notes|
|December 29, 1991||Air Force||38||Mississippi State||15||61,497||notes|
|December 31, 1992||No. 20 Ole Miss||13||Air Force||0||32,107||notes|
|December 28, 1993||No. 25 Louisville||18||Michigan State||7||34,216||notes|
|December 31, 1994||Illinois||30||East Carolina||0||33,280||notes|
|December 30, 1995||East Carolina||19||Stanford||13||47,398||notes|
|December 27, 1996||No. 23 Syracuse||30||Houston||17||49,163||notes|
|December 31, 1997||Southern Miss||41||Pittsburgh||7||50,209||notes|
|December 31, 1998||No. 10 Tulane||41||BYU||27||52,192||notes|
|December 31, 1999||No. 16 Southern Miss||23||Colorado State||17||54,866||notes|
|December 29, 2000||No. 23 Colorado State||22||No. 22 Louisville||17||58,302||notes|
|December 31, 2001||No. 23 Louisville||28||No. 19 BYU||10||58,968||notes|
|December 31, 2002||TCU||17||No. 23 Colorado State||3||55,207||notes|
|December 31, 2003||No. 25 Utah||17||Southern Miss||0||55,989||notes|
|December 31, 2004||No. 7 Louisville||44||No. 10 Boise State||40||58,355||notes|
|December 31, 2005||Tulsa||31||Fresno State||24||54,894||notes|
|December 29, 2006||South Carolina||44||Houston||36||56,103||notes|
|December 29, 2007||Mississippi State||10||Central Florida||3||63,816||notes|
|January 2, 2009||Kentucky||25||East Carolina||19||56,125||notes|
|January 2, 2010||Arkansas||20||East Carolina||17||62,742||notes|
|December 31, 2010||Central Florida||10||Georgia||6||51,231||notes|
|December 31, 2011||Cincinnati||31||Vanderbilt||24||57,103||notes|
|December 31, 2012||Tulsa||31||Iowa State||17||53,687||notes|
|December 31, 2013||Mississippi State||44||Rice||7||57,846||notes|
|December 29, 2014||Texas A&M||45||West Virginia||37||51,282||notes|
|January 2, 2016||Arkansas||45||Kansas State||23||61,136||notes|
|December 30, 2016||Georgia||31||TCU||23||51,087||notes|
|December 30, 2017||Iowa State||21||No. 18 Memphis||20||57,266||notes|
|December 31, 2018||Oklahoma State||38||No. 24 Missouri||33||51,587||notes|
Source: :67, 70
Updated through the December 2018 edition (60 games, 120 total appearances).
- Teams with multiple appearances
- Teams with a single appearance
Won (11): Baylor, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Purdue, USC
Lost (18): Boise State, Boston College, Fresno State, Kansas, Kansas State, Maryland, Memphis, Michigan State, Minnesota, Navy, North Carolina, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Rice, Stanford, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Villanova
Appearances by conference
Updated through the December 2018 edition (60 games, 120 total appearances).
- Every SEC member except Florida has played in the game. All told, 44 of the 64 current Power Five conferences' members have played in the game.
The inaugural Liberty Bowl in 1959 was televised by NBC, followed by ABC for 11 years. Between 1981 and 1988, the game was broadcast by several different networks. Since 1990, the game has been broadcast annually by ABC or ESPN.
- "Liberty Bowl teams with Big 12". ESPN.com. Associated Press. August 23, 2013.
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- Mazda, Jason (Dec 31, 2014). "50 years ago, indoor college football debuted in Atlantic City". Press of Atlantic City.
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