The Top 25 Individual Performances of Bowl Season
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Bowl season is behind us, but there is plenty to reflect on. We witnessed a wealth of impressive bowl performances over the few weeks.
AJ McCarron, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel are just a few of the stars who dazzled in the postseason. Now it's time to see how these performances stack up against one another.
Statistics are an indicator of success. But more important in this evaluation is the nature and extent of the player's influence in his team's bowl game.
Here, then, are the top 25 individual performances of the 2012-13 bowl season. The rankings were established based on the following criteria (not in any particular order):
Quality of opponent
Value to team
Impact on the game's outcome
No. 25: Lonnie Pryor
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It's not often a fullback wins MVP in a bowl game. In Florida State's 31-10 Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois, the choice was simple.
The 229-pound senior ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns on only five carries. Fittingly, he scored the Noles' first and final touchdowns.
Pryor's touchdown runs of 60 and 37 yards looked easy. The FSU O-line created gaping holes. What a treat for the fullback; his previous high for rushing was a mere 65 yards.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, a staggering 129 of Pryor's 134 yards came before contact.
Equal praise goes to the Seminole offensive line for paving a smooth road for Pryor and Co., who collectively rushed for 243 yards.
No. 24: Driphus Jackson
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It would've been if not for the incredible poise of freshman quarterback Driphus Jackson. The backup came into the contest early in the second quarter after starter Taylor McHargue went down with a concussion.
Jackson's performance belies his youth. He finished 15-of-21 for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
The Owls' path to victory was eased by a heavy dose of rushing. Jackson and Co. tallied 208 yards on 54 attempts to keep the Falcons at bay.
No. 23: David Fales
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Quarterback David Fales capped a sensational season with another great game. He completed 33-of-43 passes for 395 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. In doing so, he logged his sixth game this season throwing for 300 yards or more.
What a season for the Spartans, who won eight total games from 2009-11. They can enjoy their first bowl win since 2006 and look forward to a promising 2013.
And for Fales, he has to be over the moon about his junior campaign. He now has 4,193 yards on the season with 33 touchdowns and only nine picks. His 72.5 percent completion rate is No. 1 nationally.
No. 22: Beau Blankenship
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He may not be a household name, but Ohio Bobcat fans know him well.
Tailback Beau Blankenship was instrumental in his team's 45-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl. The junior ran for 104 yards and four touchdowns, fueling Ohio's rout of the Warhawks.
Three of Blankenship's scores came in the second half, killing any chance of a ULM comeback.
The bowl win capped a stellar year for the 5'9", 202-pound back. Blankenship totaled 1,604 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012. He also added 21 catches for 182 yards and another score in guiding the Bobcats to nine wins.
No. 21: Bishop Sankey
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Washington couldn't pull off the upset over Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. After losing 28-26 on a late field goal, the Huskies came agonizingly close.
Even though UW couldn't get the win, tailback Bishop Sankey turned in a top-notch performance.
The sophomore tallied 205 rushing yards (a UW bowl record) and a touchdown. He also caught six passes for 74 yards.
Despite Sankey's spirited effort, the Broncos pulled out their fourth straight bowl win. That doesn't make his 279-yard output any less impressive, though.
No. 20: Prince Tyson-Gulley
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And what a day for 'Cuse tailback Prince-Tyson Gulley.
The junior exploded for 213 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 56 yards and another score.
If we pitted Gulley against the Mountaineers, the final score would've been 18-14. Hardly the expectation for Geno Smith and Co. after averaging almost 42 points this season.
Sure, West Virginia doesn't feature a robust defense. Nevertheless, Gulley had the game of his life in an important win for his program.
No. 19: Taylor Kelly
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Kelly's passing stats were impressive enough. He finished 17-of-19 for 268 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The sophomore added 81 yards and another touchdown on the ground to complete a 349-yard, five-touchdown performance.
The game wasn't exactly high-profile. The matchup wasn't compelling. But Taylor Kelly gets props for his impeccable numbers in directing his team to victory to cap an eight-win season.
No. 18: Brendon Kay
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Cincinnati's 48-34 Belk Bowl win over Duke saw an exhilarating finish and an amazing effort from Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay.
Kay's squad faced an early deficit and a four-quarter dogfight with the Blue Devils.
The fourth quarter was about as dramatic as possible. Tied at 34, Kay needed one more drive to lead Cincy to the win.
He did just that. After firing a precise strike to wideout Travis Kelce, Kay watched as his top receiver broke away from defenders for an 83-yard touchdown.
The Bearcats put a final exclamation point on the night with a pick-six the following drive to win 48-34.
Kay played as well as possible in the last game of his college career. He finished 17-of-25 with 332 yards and four touchdowns. He added 76 on the ground to boost his yardage total to 398.
No. 17: Marquise Goodwin
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Texas wideout Marquise Goodwin touched the ball a mere five times in the Longhorns' Alamo Bowl win. When he did get the ball, he made a difference.
Goodwin provided the first and last touchdowns in his team's 31-27 victory over Oregon State. The first score came on a nifty 64-yard reverse and showcased the receiver's speed.
Late in the fourth quarter, trailing 24-27, Goodwin struck again. His 36-yard touchdown catch put UT up for good and capped a 10-point comeback.
One must give credit to Texas quarterback David Ash for leading his team to the win. But Goodwin's contributions were just as important. His first score ignited the Horns. His second score sealed the win.
No. 16: David Ash
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Trailing Oregon State 20-10 at halftime, Texas quarterback David Ash had to be frustrated. Apart from a 75-yard touchdown drive after a Marquise Goodwin reverse, UT had tallied a paltry 43 total offensive yards.
The second half couldn't have been more unlike the first. An inspired Ash scored on an 11-yard run to pull within three of the Beavers late in the third quarter.
In the game's final stanza, the sophomore made clear his utter will to win. He fired two touchdown strikes, the second coming with only 2:24 remaining, to give the Longhorns a 31-27 lead and ultimately the victory.
The Horns had never led before Ash's final touchdown. After a weak first half, he showed impressive leadership in rallying his team to an important win. He finished with 263 total yards, three total touchdowns and an interception.
No. 15: De'Anthony Thomas
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All-purpose threat De'Anthony Thomas figured to be an X-factor in the Fiesta Bowl bout between Oregon and Kansas State.
The 5'9" speedster proved to be a nightmare from the get-go for the Wildcats.
Thomas catalyzed Oregon's 35-17 victory with a scintillating 94-yard touchdown return of the opening kickoff.
K-State was well aware of his ability to score. Even after pinning Thomas in the corner with a well-placed kick, the Wildcats had no chance of stopping the electrifying back.
The sophomore's following score, a 23-yard catch and run, showed Thomas' deceptive strength. He weaved expertly through the defense and dragged Wildcats defenders into the end zone with him.
Thanks to Thomas' early effort, the Ducks held a 15-0 lead at the end of the first quarter (they went for two after the first score). This set the tone for the entire game.
Thomas finished with 195 total yards and two touchdowns. His versatility has powered the Ducks all season, and it came in handy once again in the emphatic win over Kansas State.
No. 14: Terrance Broadway
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Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway turned in a performance reminiscent of Johnny Manziel in the Ragin' Cajuns 43-34 bowl victory over East Carolina.
Playing in his own backyard in the New Orleans Bowl, Broadway totaled 424 yards (316 passing, 108 rushing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). His only blemish was an interception early in the fourth quarter.
Broadway was the player of the game in a contest that saw more than 1,000 yards of combined offense. With help from tailback Alonzo Harris and kicker Brett Baer, he never let the Pirates enjoy a lead.
Louisiana-Lafayette can enjoy the offseason after two consecutive New Orleans Bowl victories.
No. 13: Chris Conley
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He only caught two passes in the Capital One Bowl, but Chris Conley was clutch for UGA against Nebraska.
The sophomore's first catch went for a 49-yard touchdown to bring the Bulldogs within two of the Huskers in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Georgia held a 38-31 lead. Conley helped seal the contest with a 87-yard touchdown catch to put his team up 45-31, which ended up being the final score.
You'd be hard-pressed to find another player who did more with two receptions. Conley tallied 136 yards with his two snags. His touchdowns came at key junctures and were probably the most important scores in his team's victory.
No. 12: Jadeveon Clowney
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If you haven't seen Jadeveon Clowney's superhuman hit and fumble recovery, watch it now. Words cannot do it justice.
The South Carolina defensive end's monster collision tore the helmet from poor Michigan tailback Vincent Smith. It also separated him from the ball, which Clowney nonchalantly palmed from the ground.
It was without a doubt the most impressive play of bowl season. It was also incredibly clutch. The play gave the Gamecocks the ball back with just more than eight minutes left in the game, trailing by one point.
The USC offense took advantage immediately. Connor Shaw connected with Ace Sanders for a 31-yard score the very next play.
Clowney finished the Outback Bowl with four tackles and an additional tackle for loss. We'll probably never see a more emphatic or athletic single play from a D-lineman for a long, long time. His memorable play was key in his team's 33-28 win.
No. 11: Kyle Van Noy
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BYU trailed San Diego State 6-3 entering the fourth quarter of the Poinsettia Bowl.
That's when Cougar linebacker Kyle Van Noy took over.
Van Noy's first feat was separating SDSU quarterback Adam Dingwell from the football and recovering it for a touchdown. The climatic play put the Cougars up 10-6 after the PAT.
That would've been enough, but Van Noy wasn't done.
Later in the period, with a 16-6 lead, Van Noy continued his assault on the Aztecs. This time, he intercepted Dingwell and converted the turnover into a 17-yard touchdown.
BYU ultimately won 23-6. The junior single-handedly outscored SDSU 12-0 in the fourth quarter. Before his first touchdown, the Cougars had never led in the contest.
No. 10: Eddie Lacy
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Junior tailback Eddie Lacy is doing his part to live up to the standards set by Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
The BCS title game offensive MVP was a force against Notre Dame in Alabama's 42-14 win. He gashed the highly touted Irish defense for 140 yards and a touchdown on only 20 carries.
The spin artist also added a crucial 11-yard receiving touchdown just before halftime to push the Alabama lead to 28-0 and put the dagger in the Fighting Irish.
Lacy, one of the best backs in the country in 2012, made it easy to forget how stingy the Notre Dame run defense had been this season. Manti Te'o and his colleagues had allowed fewer than 95 yards per game and only two touchdowns on the ground before facing the Crimson Tide.
That shows how gifted Lacy truly is. An additional 108 yards from fellow tailback T.J. Yeldon didn't hurt, either. And don't forget to credit Barrett Jones and the 'Bama O-line, one of the nation's best.
No. 9: Ace Sanders
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What an Outback Bowl for Ace Sanders.
South Carolina's wide receiver/return man was integral in his team's 33-28 win over Michigan. His three touchdowns came at key points of the game for the Gamecocks and were huge for momentum.
The 5'8" speed demon kicked things off with a 63-yard punt return late in the first quarter to put USC up 14-3.
After the Wolverines answered with a long touchdown drive, Sanders struck once again, this time on a four-yard touchdown catch.
Fast-forward to the fourth quarter. With his team down 21-22, Sanders hauls in a 31-yard touchdown to regain the lead.
His touchdowns weren't quite as clutch as Bruce Ellington's game-winner, but Ace Sanders was the player of the game for South Carolina against UM.
No. 8: Matt Scott
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We saw several thrilling finishes this bowl season, but it's hard to top the New Mexico Bowl.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott led a furious comeback to shock Nevada and leave Albuquerque with a 49-48 win.
Scott and the Wildcats were down 45-28 entering the fourth quarter. Things got interesting after Scott's 63-yard touchdown pass to Austin Hill sixteen seconds later.
With less than two minutes to go, Rich Rodriguez's bunch still trailed the Wolf Pack 48-35.
Scott and Hill connected again for a two-yard touchdown to narrow the margin to 48-42 with 46 seconds left.
Amazingly, the Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick, giving them a chance to pull off the unthinkable.
Which is exactly what Scott and Co. did. They drove 51 yards in three plays. Terrence Miller's three-yard touchdown catch tied the game, and John Bonano's crucial PAT put 'Zona up 49-48.
After the Wildcats picked off Nevada on the ensuing drive, the comeback was complete.
Scott overcame two costly interceptions to throw for 382 yards and three scores. With two touchdown passes in the final minute, he was the epitome of clutch in the first bowl of the postseason.
No. 7: DeAndre Hopkins
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Tajh Boyd led the Clemson Tigers to victory, but he couldn't have done so without DeAndre Hopkins.
The junior wideout capped a phenomenal junior campaign with 13 catches for 191 yards and two huge touchdowns in Clemson's 25-24 victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Hopkins' second touchdown came with 2:47 remaining in the fourth quarter to bring Clemson within two points of LSU before Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning field goal on the following drive.
Without a doubt, the receiver was essential to his team's victory. He scored two of his team's three total touchdowns and accounted for more than half the Tigers' passing yards.
Clemson surely couldn't have beat LSU without the efforts of its stud pass-catcher.
No. 6: Teddy Bridgewater
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In the biggest game of his collegiate career, Teddy Bridgewater shined.
The Louisville quarterback didn't light up the stat sheet, but he led his team to the biggest upset of bowl season. The Cardinals topped third-ranked Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl. Charlie Strong's team made it clear it can hang with the nation's best.
Bridgewater finished 20-of-32 for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Bridgewater's true value, however, isn't reflected in his final stats.
The sophomore deserves praise for guiding his team to a win over an elite opponent. Taking advantage of great defense, the UL offense protected the ball and took advantage of its opportunities.
Against an elite defense, the Cardinal offense delivered. And nobody deserves more credit for this than Teddy Bridgewater. He was one of the best players in college football this season.
No. 5: Tajh Boyd
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In one of the most thrilling finishes in recent memory, quarterback Tajh Boyd led Clemson to an improbable 25-24 win over No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A bowl.
Late in the fourth quarter, Clemson trailed 24-16. Facing a melting clock and a stout LSU defense, the Tigers' hopes were dwindling.
But Boyd calmly led his team to the end zone. He capped off an 11-play, 77-yard drive with a touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins to pull within two points of LSU.
After a failed two-point conversion, Boyd and Co. seemed to be toast. But the Tiger defense forced an LSU three-and-out. Clemson had one final chance.
Following a decisive sack on third down, Clemson needed a near-miracle on 4th-and-16.
Amazingly, Boyd connected with Hopkins for a 26-yard gain to keep his team alive.
Six plays, later, kicker Chandler Catanzaro nailed a 37-yard field goal to give Clemson a shocking 25-24 win.
Boyd's final stats: 36-of-50 for 346 yards and three total touchdowns (one rushing). He rose to the occasion against one of the SEC's best defenses.
His team never led until the final field goal. Boyd persevered and guided his team with maturity and composure to an incredible win.
No. 4: Aaron Murray
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Forget an SEC Championship hangover.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray lit up Nebraska in the Dawgs' 45-31 Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska.
The senior bounced back from a heartbreaking loss to Alabama by shredding the touted Husker pass D for a career-high 427 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. In doing so, he set a school bowl record for touchdown tosses.
UGA, considered heavy favorites by many, faced a stiff challenged from Big Red.
Entering the fourth quarter, the score was tied at 31. In the final 15 minutes, Murray fired touchdown strikes of 24 and 87 yards to put his team up for good.
Georgia was a play away from the national championship this season. Instead of dwelling on his team's loss, Murray showed maturity by leading his team to victory to finish 12-2.
No. 3: Kerwynn Williams
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Utah State tailback Kerwynn Williams' fourth quarter alone probably cemented his inclusion in this list.
In the final period of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Williams ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns. His final stats included 18 carries for 235 yards and three touchdowns along with 34 yards receiving. Not a bad finish to his college career.
Williams was the reason for the Aggies' lopsided 41-15 win over Toledo. It's hard to believe USU was only up 13-6 at the end of the third quarter. At that point, Williams had a mere 37 rushing yards and zero touchdowns.
What a difference a quarter makes. Williams' insane finish capped an 11-win season for the Aggies and their first bowl win since 1993.
No. 2: AJ McCarron
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It's scary how well AJ McCarron has played in big games for Alabama.
His performance in the Crimson Tide's 42-14 rout of Notre Dame for the BCS title was his best yet. The junior quarterback finished 20-of-28 for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
'Bama manhandled the Irish defense, one of the nation's best entering the game. McCarron completed passes to eight different receivers and was supremely composed from start to finish.
It's hard to believe Notre Dame had only allowed seven passing touchdowns before the title game. McCarron probably could've doubled that number if he wanted to.
Instead, the Tide relied on its powerful tailback duo of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. The two backs combined for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
In his two national championship wins, McCarron is a combined 43-of-62 for 498 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
No. 1: Johnny Manziel
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Johnny Manziel was unstoppable in the Cotton Bowl. He accounted for a record 516 total yards en route to a 41-13 stomping of No. 11 Oklahoma.
After much discussion about whether the Heisman Trophy winner would live up to the hype, Manziel played as well as anyone could have imagined. He was 22-of-34 for 287 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
More impressively, Manziel ran for 229 yards (the most ever by an FBS quarterback in a bowl game) and two more scores.
The Sooners had more than a month to prepare for Manziel. But they were overwhelmed by the Aggie offense. Manziel gashed the defense with the grace of a top-tier tailback and fueled his team's blowout win
What a debut season it's been for the Texas A&M gunslinger. It's scary to think he has three more seasons of eligibility.