The other 34 bowl games have a lot to live up to after one of the year's most improbable finishes on Saturday. Colorado State rallied from 15 points down against Washington State with just 2:52 left to win the New Mexico Bowl 48-45.
Fourth-quarter rallies have become something of a tradition in Albuquerque. The circumstances and final score of Colorado State's win mirrors Arizona's 14-point, 42-second rally against Nevada in last year's edition, a 49-48 Wildcats victory.
Few teams this postseason will make as many game-changing plays over the course of an entire bowl as Colorado State made in under three minutes. To rally, the Rams needed three fumbles, as only two were credited as turnovers. The first, Rams linebacker Shaquil Barrett's strip of Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, was overturned on video review.
Video review also contributed to Colorado State's comeback, as a replay of running back Donnell Alexander's goal-line stretch off a Statue of Liberty handoff on a two-point conversion reversed the official's original call that he was short.
Barrett, the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, also made up for the negated fumble to force another. And the second effort was not to be overturned.
It was the kind of play indicative of what Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain described in his postgame press conference as Barrett letting his play do his talking, per Colorado State reporter Quentin Sickafoose:
McElwain on Shaquil Barrett: he doesn't do a lot of talkin', he did his job— Quentin Sickafoose (@QSickafoose) December 21, 2013
And none of those takeaways or the two-point attempt mean anything without the two touchdowns and field goal Colorado State also needed to complete the turnaround.
The resounding message the rest of this season's bowl participants can take from the Land of Enchantment is 60 full minutes are paramount. After all, Washington State controlled early and almost for the entire duration. Almost.
Halliday shook off an opening-drive interception—his only of the day—to connect with wide receiver River Cracraft on a 25-yard touchdown pass. An ugly, verbal altercation with Colorado State defensive line coach Greg Lupfer ensued, as did nearly 57 minutes of Washington State leading.
A one-yard pass from Halliday to wide receiver Gabe Marks one minute, 15 seconds later extended the lead to 14. From there, the gap never dipped below eight and swelled to as much as 22. Not until running back Kapri Bibbs scored the third of his rushing touchdowns with 33 seconds remaining, setting up the game-tying Statue of Liberty play.
Mike Leach has been on the opposite end of such wild turnarounds. Last season, his first at Washington State, ended with the Cougars knocking off rival Washington in overtime after an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter—coincidentally, the same as Colorado State's final flourish Saturday.
As Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated tweeted, Leach also coached Texas Tech to the biggest comeback in postseason history. The Red Raiders rallied from a 38-7 deficit against Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl to win in overtime, 44-41.
Leach/Texas Tech pulled off the biggest comeback in bowl history, cost Glen Mason his job. Today, the other side of that.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 21, 2013
Unfortunately for Washington State, it's been on the losing end of decisions like Saturday's to the extent that "Couging It" lives in the college football lexicon as a descriptor for gut-wrenching defeat. Former Oregon and current Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz tweeted of the ethos.
So Waazu just took "Couging it" to a whole new level.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) December 21, 2013
Saturday's outcome overshadows some of the magic Leach worked for the Cougars in their first bowl appearance since 2003. Halliday put on a clinic, going 37-of-58 for 410 yards and six touchdown passes.
Connor Halliday joins Geno Smith (WVU) and Chuck Long (IOWA) as only players with 6 Pass TD in a bowl game. #WSUvsCSU— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 21, 2013
Halliday's tremendous performance and the program's first bowl bid in a decade gives Leach plenty on which to build in the offseason. But until the Cougars kick off 2014 on Aug. 28 against Rutgers, the New Mexico Bowl will linger.
Such is the opposite side of the bowl-game coin.