Predicting MVPs for Every College Football Bowl Game

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2013

Predicting MVPs for Every College Football Bowl Game

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    Picking the winners of each of the 35 bowl games that cap off the 2013 college football season is easy. Anyone can make an educated guess as to who will come out on top in every contest, from the BCS National Championship Game to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

    But predicting each game's Most Valuable Player? Well, that takes a little more insight.

    Will it be the star quarterback? The workhorse running back? The veteran wide receiver? Or maybe some defensive standout will rise above the rest and make so many big plays that his team couldn't have won without him.

    Heck, it could be the punter.

    With all of that in mind, check out some (very well-researched) choices for the MVPs of every 2013 bowl game.

    Update: Eight correctly picked MVPs. Was hoping for seven, so we overachieved.

New Mexico Bowl

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    Kapri Bibbs, RB, Colorado State

    After scoring only three times in the first four games of the season, Bibbs turned into a touchdown machine. He rushed for at least three scores in all but two of the Rams' final nine games, helping propel the team to their first bowl appearance in five years.

    The sophomore scored 28 TDs this season, 22 coming over the final seven games of the year. He had only two subpar performances during that stretch, both of which came in CSU losses.

    Look for the Rams to go to Bibbs early and often as a way to keep Washington State's potent passing game off the field. With enough carries, yards and TDs, Bibbs will receive the lion's share of the credit if CSU wins.

    Update: Washington State QB Connor Halliday (410 yards, bowl record-tying six touchdowns) was named the offensive MVP, while Colorado State LB Shaquil Barrett was the defensive MVP. Bibbs finished with 169 rushing yards and three TDs.

Las Vegas Bowl

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    Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

    The younger brother of former No. 1 NFL draft pick David Carr obliterated all of his brother's single-season school records this year. With 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns, Carr almost single-handedly ushered the Bulldogs into a BCS bowl game.

    He threw for at least four TDs seven times this season, completed more than 70 percent of his throws and tossed only seven interceptions. Having a stable of talented receivers certainly helps, but Carr deserves credit for finding the right one more often than not.

    USC will try to pressure Carr as best as possible, but they won't be able to shut him down completely. He's going to make some big, MVP-worthy throws.

    Update: USC QB Cody Kessler was named the game's MVP after throwing for 344 yards and four touchdowns in the Trojans' 45-20 win.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

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    Quinn Kaehler, QB, San Diego State

    His numbers won't blow you away—Kaehler threw for 2,796 yards and just 17 touchdowns this season—but the junior keeps finding a way to be money in the clutch.

    Since taking over as the starter early in the Aztecs' second game of the season, Kaehler led his team to eight fourth-quarter comebacks that either resulted in victory or forced overtime. And that magic continued in the extra sessions, as SDSU went 3-1 in OT to turn an 0-3 start into the school's fourth straight bowl appearance.

    If the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is close in the final quarter, look for Kaehler to lead a late drive for an SDSU win over Buffalo.

    Update: San Diego State RB Adam Muema was named MVP after rushing for 229 yards and three touchowns in the Aztecs' 49-24 win.

New Orleans Bowl

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    Darryl Surgent, WR/KR/PR, Louisiana-Lafayette

    The 6'0" senior is dangerous no matter how he gets his hands on the ball. He caught five touchdown passes despite only snagging 29 receptions this season, while he ranked 16th in the nation as a return man by averaging 27.2 yards on kickoff returns, per

    Surgent had a 100-yard kickoff return TD against Kansas State and also brought back a punt 67 yards for a score against Troy. With ULL facing Tulane's rather stingy defense, it will need to find points however possible, which means Surgent should play a key role in the Ragin' Cajuns' bid for a third straight New Orleans Bowl title.

    Update: Tulane RB Orleans Darkwa was named MVP in a losing effort, thanks to his three rushing TDs.

Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl

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    Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina

    As the main cog in one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks, Carden threw for 3,866 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 71 percent of his throws this season. Considering he attempted 42 passes per game, that's none too shabby. 

    Carden's arm led the Pirates to road wins over two ACC teams (North Carolina and NC State), and he'll be entering this game looking to redeem himself after getting intercepted three times in a regular-season-ending loss at Marshall. That game prevented ECU from making the Conference USA title game, instead sending the Pirates to a matchup with Ohio in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

    Update: East Carolina running back Vintavious Cooper earned the MVP, rushing for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Pirates' 37-20 win.

Hawaii Bowl

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    Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

    Cooks won this year's Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top pass-catcher. The junior exploded for 120 receptions, 1,670 yards and 15 touchdowns while serving as the go-to guy for prolific OSU QB Sean Mannion.

    Cooks' numbers tailed off in the second half of the season, though, as the Beavers lost five straight to end the year. He "only" averaged 8.8 catches and 98.8 yards in those five losses.

    With a few weeks to prepare and retool the offense, look for Cooks to get his groove back at the expense of Boise State's secondary.

    Update: Oregon State CB Rashaad Reynolds was named MVP after returning a pair of fumbles for touchdowns in the Beavers' 38-23 win.

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

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    Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green

    Johnson had his coming-out party in the Mid-American Conference title game, outplaying Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch by throwing for a career-high 393 yards and five touchdowns to pace the upset victory.

    Now the sophomore gets to face off against the country's top defensive lineman in Aaron Donald and a Pittsburgh defense that's allowing only 213.5 passing yards per game, per

    Johnson didn't play particularly well in either of the Falcons' previous games against BCS opponents (losses at Indiana and Mississippi State), so don't expect him to waste a third chance.

    Update: Pittsburgh RB James Conner was named MVP after rushing for 229 yards and a touchdown in the Panthers' 30-27 win.

Poinsettia Bowl

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    Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois

    Lynch is one of the most explosive and exciting quarterbacks in college football, with the unique blend of being able to throw well but also to outrun opposing defenses. He twice set the FBS record for rushing yards by a QB this season and earned a third-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.

    But Lynch fell short in trying to lead NIU back to a BCS bowl, struggling in the Mid-American title-game loss to Bowling Green. With this being his final college game, expect Lynch to go off against a Utah State team that's ranked 10th in the country in rushing defense, per

    Update: Utah State RB Joey DeMartino was named MVP after rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Aggies' 21-14 win.


Military Bowl

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    Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall

    Cato is a junior gunslinger who's been throwing the ball over the place for the past three seasons. He tossed two touchdown passes in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl as a freshman two years ago, but his receiver, Aaron Dobson, earned the MVP in that victory.

    This season, Cato threw for 3,579 yards, 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions, leading the Thundering Herd to its best record in 11 years. Maryland only allows 215.8 passing yards per game, according to, but look for Cato to overcome that to post another MVP-worthy performance.

    Update: Cato did win the game's MVP award, completing 28-of-44 passes for 337 yards and three TDs in the Thundering Herd's 31-20 win.

Texas Bowl

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    David Cobb, RB, Minnesota

    Minnesota's offense hasn't been anything to write home about this season, but it was efficient enough to pace an eight-win campaign. Cobb played a big role in that, rushing for 1,111 yards and averaging more than five yards per carry.

    It's been a breakout year for the junior, who had just 11 carries in his first two seasons with the Golden Gophers. He was especially effective during a four-game win streak in October and November, averaging 142 yards per contest.

    Syracuse will be keying on Cobb with its defensive game plan, but he should still find some daylight to put up another 100-yard day.

    Update: Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt was named MVP after throwing for 188 yards and rushing for 74 yards and two touchdowns in the Orange's 21-17 win.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

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    Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

    Hill has been an integral part of everything the Cougars have done offensively this season. He ran for more than 1,200 yards and finished with 2,645 and 19 touchdowns through the air.

    While not as flashy as Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois, Hill presents a similar dual-threat challenge for opponents. He ran for 259 yards and three TDs in a blowout win over Texas early in the season, then gained 154 yards with a score (while also completing 14 of 18 passes with two TDs) in a comeback win at Nevada to end the year.

    He'll be going up against a Washington defense that has numerous playmakers, but Hill will find a way to lead the Cougars to victory.

    Update: Washington RB Bishop Sankey (95 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and DL Hau'oli Kikaha (three sacks) were the offensive and defensive MVP's following the Huskies' 31-16 win.

Pinstripe Bowl

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    Tommy Rees, QB, Notre Dame

    The much-maligned senior has been the subject of criticism throughout this season, fueled by a handful of subpar performances. In five separate games, he threw two or more interceptions, with nine of those 13 picks coming in the Fighting Irish's four losses.

    But now, Rees gets a chance to end his career on a high note, facing one of the worst passing defenses in the country in Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights fired their defensive coordinator and allow 304 pass yards per game, per

    Update: Notre Dame OL Zach Martin was named MVP following the Fighting Irish's 29-16 win.

Belk Bowl

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    Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

    Ebron wasted no time announcing his future plans, declaring for the NFL draft two days after the Tar Heels' regular-season finale. Considered the top tight end coming out this year, the 6'4" junior has been a beast thanks to his size, speed and hands.

    Though he only caught three touchdown passes this season, Ebron did average more than 16 yards on his team-leading 55 receptions. Cincinnati's undersized defensive backs will have their hands full with him during the Belk Bowl.

    Update: North Carolina WR/PR Ryan Switzer was named MVP after tying an FBS record with his fifth punt return touchdown of the season.

Russell Athletic Bowl

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    Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

    This might be the easiest MVP pick of them all. At times this season, with all the hype the junior quarterback received, it felt like Louisville's mascot was the Teddys rather than the Cardinals.

    But Bridgewater has been more than deserving of those accolades, thanks to a stellar season in which he threw for 3,523 yards and 28 touchdowns with a mere four interceptions. He can't be blamed for Louisville's home loss to Central Florida in October, which prevented the Cards from earning another BCS bid.

    Instead, Bridgewater gets to play in Florida against the school he nearly went to (Miami) and against Hurricanes players he squared off against during high school in South Florida. As if he needed extra motivation to excel.

    Update: Bridgewater earned the MVP by throwing for a career-high 447 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinals' 36-9 win.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

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    Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan

    When last we saw Gardner, his two-point conversion pass to upset Ohio State was intercepted, putting a sour end onto an otherwise stellar final home game. The performance (451 yards and four touchdowns) showed what Gardner can do, even if his senior year was uneven and inconsistent. (Gardner can return next season, as the NCAA gave him a fifth year of eligibility due to a medical redshirt.)

    Though nursing a turf toe injury that has kept him from practicing, don't think that will keep the QB from getting on the field against Kansas State. Given the way the Wolverines' year fell apart, the last thing Gardner will want is to end this season on the sidelines. 

    Update: Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett was named MVP after catching 10 passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats' 31-14 win.

Armed Forces Bowl

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    Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

    Reynolds is the heart and soul of the Midshipmen team, carrying far more of a load in the triple-option attack than most quarterbacks would. He has 40 percent of Navy's carries and 32 percent of the rushing yards, but also has scored an FBS-leading 29 touchdowns on the ground to go with eight TD passes.

    The sophomore scored at least three rushing TDs in seven different games and set the FBS record for TD runs by a QB when he tallied seven in a triple-overtime win at San Jose State.

    Navy asks Reynolds to do a lot, but the stud QB usually comes through. Look for him to pick apart a Middle Tennessee defense that allows 185 rushing yards per game.

    Update: Reynolds was named MVP, rushing for 86 yards and two touchdowns in Navy's 24-6 win.

Music City Bowl

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    Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss

    By the time Wallace takes the field for the Music City Bowl, it will have been more than a month since he became an internet meme following his ill-fated overtime fumble in the regular-season-ending loss to Mississippi State. The junior is actually entering this matchup with Georgia Tech on the heels of back-to-back subpar performances, which have clouded what has otherwise been a strong season.

    Wallace had some clutch games, such as his 30-of-39, 346-yard effort in the October upset of LSU, and he's not afraid to air it out. With Georgia Tech likely eating up chunks of clock with its option game, look for Wallace to counter with some big plays of his own.

    Update: Wallace earned MVP honors by gaining 342 yards of total offense, throwing two touchdown passes and rushing for one in the Rebels' 25-17 win.

Alamo Bowl

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    De'Anthony Thomas, RB/PR, Oregon

    It's been a very disappointing junior year for Thomas, one of college football's most electrifying players in his first two seasons. Hampered by injuries and overall ineffectiveness, Thomas didn't manage to break off any of his signature "how did he do that" plays that made him a star.

    Oregon always seems to bring out some new wrinkle for its bowl games, but instead of a fancy new uniform variation—which was announced on Dec. 20—the smart money is that the Ducks will find a new way to get Thomas going. Texas is susceptible to big plays and breakout performances, and Thomas will cash in on that reputation.

    Update: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was named MVP, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and adding 133 rushing yards in the Ducks' 30-7 win.

Holiday Bowl

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    Robert Nelson, CB, Arizona State

    The Arizona State-Texas Tech matchup has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring bowl games on the slate thanks to the potent offenses that both teams will bring to the table. With that in mind, it might take a big play on defense to set one team apart from the other.

    Cue Nelson, who has six interceptions this season and 11 for his career. Nelson could get matched up with top Tech targets Jace Amaro or Kevin Ward, which means he's apt to cash in on a mistake-filled passing attack that's thrown 18 picks this year.

    Update: Texas Tech QB Davis Webb was named MVP, throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns in the Red Raiders' 37-23 win.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl

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    Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona

    In a stroke of made-for-television luck, the top two running backs in the country (in terms of yards per game) will face off in this otherwise meaningless game. With so much rushing talent on one field, odds are one of those standout backs will earn the MVP award.

    The advantage goes to the more consistent of the two: Carey, who gained at least 119 yards in every game this season and is riding a school-record 15-game streak of 100-plus rushing yards.

    The junior gets his yards no matter what opposing teams do to stop him, mostly because he tends to keep his feet moving even after contact, pushing for a few extra yards. That kind of perseverance leads to big chunks on later runs and should lead to an MVP trophy for the probable NFL early departure.

    Update: Arizona QB B.J. Denker was named MVP thanks to his 275 passing yards and two touchdowns along with 51 rushing yards and a score in the Wildcats' 42-19 win.

Sun Bowl

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    Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

    Thomas was a 4-star tight end recruit coming out of high school who was converted into a quarterback. And despite all the promise in the world, Thomas never really lived up to the hype.

    This will be his last chance to go out on top, something he's failed to do in many big games, including the Hokies' bowl appearances the previous two seasons. His best game this year came in one of the most critical matchups, when he threw for 366 yards in an upset of Miami (Fla.).

    UCLA is just as talented, if not more so, than that Miami team. Maybe that's the spark Thomas needs to have a big day.

    Update: UCLA QB Brett Hundley was named MVP after throwing for 227 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 161 yards and two scores in the Bruins' 42-12 victory.

Liberty Bowl

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    Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

    Prescott had a Willis Reed-like moment when he came off the bench (despite a shoulder injury) to lead the Bulldogs to a fourth-quarter comeback and eventual win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl last month. 

    The sophomore had missed the previous two games, and his ability to run and throw efficiently was sorely missed. Now healthy again, he'll be a handful for Rice's defense.

    Update: Prescott was named MVP after accounting for 361 yards and five total touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 44-7 win over Rice.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl

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    Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

    It's been a wild two-year ride for Johnny Football, the first (but no longer only) freshman to win the Heisman. Manziel never ceases to amaze with his ability to elude defenders and make big plays.

    He's a modern-day Brett Favre with his gunslinging play and tendency to improvise, welcome or not. And in what is almost certainly his final college game, why should anything be any different?

    Duke had a great year, but it couldn't contain Jameis Winston all game in the ACC title game and won't be able to slow down Manziel here.

    Update: Manziel was named MVP after accounting for 455 yards and five touchdowns in A&M's 52-48 win over Duke.

Gator Bowl

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    Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

    Gurley's midseason ankle injury, which like so many others hampered the Bulldogs' season, kept the sophomore from matching the stellar output he had as a freshman. But now that he's all healed up—and with Georgia being led by an inexperienced quarterback—Gurley is once again a focal point of the offense.

    He ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns and caught a TD pass in the overtime win over Georgia Tech last month, and should have an equally strong game against a beaten-down Nebraska defense.

    Update: Nebraska WR Quincy Enunwa was named MVP, hauling in a 99-yard touchdown catch in the Cornhuskers' 24-19 win.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

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    Tim Cornett, RB, UNLV

    Assuming he has a good game in the Runnin' Rebels' first bowl appearance in 13 years, Cornett is deserving of an MVP as much for his performance as for sticking it out with a program that won a combined six games in his first three years.

    Cornett has been a workhorse throughout his career, amassing more than 3,700 yards from scrimmage (including back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons) and providing consistency with a five-yards-per-carry average. North Texas is solid against the run, but this senior will be tough to stop in his final game.

    Update: North Texas QB Derek Thompson was named MVP after throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns in the Mean Green's 36-14 win.

Capital One Bowl

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    Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

    Gordon finished the year with 1,466 yards and 12 touchdowns, but in the second half of the season, he took a back seat to James White in the Badgers' two-back tandem.

    With no more than 22 carries in any game this year, Gordon is well-rested and should be primed for a breakout game like the ones he had early in the season. South Carolina's run defense can be stingy, but Gordon has averaged eight yards per carry for a reason.

    Update: South Carolina QB Connor Shaw earned the MVP, throwing for 311 yards and three touchdowns while also catching and running for TDs in the Gamecocks' 34-24 win.

Outback Bowl

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    Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

    One of two standout receivers for the Tigers (along with Odell Beckham), Landry has been the more consistent throughout the year. While Beckham sort of disappeared in some of LSU's losses, Landry was a reliable target week in and week out.

    And with Anthony Jennings making his first start at QB, he'll want to rely on dependable receivers that are able to get open. Look for the Jennings-Landry connection to be a big one, no matter how hard Iowa tries to prevent that.

    Update: LSU running back Jeremy Hill was named MVP after rushing for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers' 21-14 win.

Cotton Bowl

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    Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

    Missouri had a lot of unknown quantities coming into its second season in the SEC, but several stars were born during the Tigers' 11-2 season. Green-Beckham was at the top of that list.

    At 6'6" and 225 pounds, the sophomore already looks like an NFL receiver with his ability to go up and get almost any pass thrown to him. In the second half of the season, he was unstoppable in several games, including a 100-yard, four-touchdown day against Kentucky.

    Oklahoma State struggled against the pass much of this year and will have its hands full trying to stop Green-Beckham.

    Update: Missouri running back Henry Josey was named MVP after rushing for three touchdowns in the Tigers' 41-31 victory.

Compass Bowl

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    Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

    The most prolific receiver in SEC history has surprisingly only found the end zone five times this season, despite 107 receptions and more than 1,300 yards. That is apt to change when he lines up against one of the worst secondaries in the country.

    Houston has allowed 276 passing yards a game, per, with numerous receivers having big nights against it this year. Look for Matthews to join that list.

    Update: Matthews was named MVP, catching five passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the Commodores' 41-24 victory.

GoDaddy Bowl

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    Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State

    Few players have had a quieter season (if not career) full of productivity than Wenning. He threw for 3,933 yards, 34 touchdowns and just six interceptions this year, finishing his career with more than 11,000 passing yards and 91 TDs.

    He's a huge part of why Ball State is 10-2 and is averaging more than 40 points per game, and he'll give Arkansas State fits all night.

    Update: Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten won the MVP, throwing a touchdown pass and rushing for 97 yards in the Red Wolves' 23-20 win over Ball State.

Rose Bowl

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    Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford

    Michigan State has the best run defense in the country by far, allowing only 80.77 rushing yards per game, according to But the Spartans haven't dealt with a runner as persistent as Gaffney.

    The senior rushed for more than 1,600 yards and scored at least one touchdown in all but one game this season. He provides the Cardinal a level of consistency and dependability that wears down even the best defenses.

    Gaffney scored three TDs to earn the MVP of the Pac-12 title game, so why not make it a clean sweep?

    Update: Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was named MVP, throwing for a career-high 332 yards in the Spartans' 24-20 victory.

Fiesta Bowl

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    Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

    So many players have been integral to Baylor's best season in school history, a luxury that has made it possible for the Bears to continue to excel despite some skill position injuries throughout the year.

    But without Petty, it's hard to imagine Baylor would be in its first-ever BCS bowl game. The junior had 140 career passing yards before this season, making it impossible to think he'd put up the numbers (3,844 yards, 30 touchdowns, two interceptions, 11 rushing TDs) he generated in 2013.

    Central Florida wasn't able to contain Teddy Bridgewater when it faced him in October, and the Knights won't be able to slow down Petty, either.

    Update: Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles won the MVP, tallying 394 yards of total offense and accounting for four touchdowns in the Knights' 52-42 victory.

Sugar Bowl

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    T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

    For two years now, Yeldon has been the epitome of consistency. Like clockwork, you can count on him to score a touchdown nearly every game and average six yards per carry. That's more than enough to be effective in Alabama's offense, and Yeldon rarely disappoints.

    Oklahoma's defense has been scorched in various ways this season, and Yeldon's unflappable ability to get yards and move the chains will no doubt cause Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to have several of his patented sideline meltdowns.

    Update: Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight earned the MVP by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Sooners' 45-31 win.

Orange Bowl

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    Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

    With eight straight 100-yard rushing games, Hyde has been nearly unstoppable since getting back to full speed following a season-opening suspension. The senior gained 1,408 yards on just 183 carries and scored 14 touchdowns.

    Clemson is pretty successful when it comes to stopping the run, but with the Tigers likely paying a lot of attention to Braxton Miller's running lanes, Hyde could take full advantage of scheme breakdowns and have one of his biggest performances of the season.

    Update: Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the MVP after catching 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers' 40-35 win.

BCS Championship Game

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    Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

    How can you not expect the landslide winner of the Heisman Trophy not to be the MVP of his team's first national championship in 14 years?

    Assuming the Seminoles are able to slow down Auburn's offense—at least enough to win the game—then Winston will be a big part of how FSU operates when it has the ball. The redshirt freshman has been nearly perfect all year, and there's no reason to expect that will change here.

    Update: Winston was named the Offensive MVP, throwing for 237 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score with 13 seconds left in the Seminoles' 34-31 victory.