Winners and Losers of Bowl Season Part 2
The second week of bowl season was filled with defensive battles and historic performances that helped teams across the country finish their 2022 campaign on a strong note.
A couple of matchups spotlighted a turning point for several programs such as Duke and East Carolina. These postseason games have highlighted the progress they've undergone throughout the season, helping each of these squads gain national attention.
Beyond that, we're going to take a look at the most recent winners and losers of bowl season, as the champion of college football is soon to be crowned.
Winner: Middle Tennessee Ends the Season Hot
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders entered the Hawai'i Bowl on a three-game winning streak. They picked up right where they left off despite starting their bowl game down 14 points in the first quarter. MT took home the narrow 25-23 victory after a low-scoring second half from both teams.
Quarterback Chase Cunningham had a whopping 43 attempts and posted 236 passing yards. He didn't play particularly well, ending the contest with a 27.1 QBR. Yet, Middle Tennessee made a tremendous impact on the defensive end. The Blue Raiders forced five turnovers, with San Diego State adding nine crucial penalties.
MT's 8-5 record came from multiple winning streaks throughout the season, having three or more straight wins on two separate occasions. It ended the season with phenomenal games on the defensive end after having some trouble midway through the year.
Middle Tennessee finished with its best record since 2018. Head coach Rick Stockstill earned his third bowl win in 17 seasons with the Raiders. They finished as the No. 4 team in Conference USA, steadily climbing toward a possible C-USA title in the near future.
Loser: Bowling Green's Offense Was Absent Against New Mexico State
New Mexico State continued its bowl streak, having never lost a postseason contest in program history. The Aggies defeated the Green Falcons 24-19 in the Quick Lane Bowl earlier this week.
Bowling Green had trouble finding any rhythm on the offensive end, handing the team its seventh loss of the season.
The Green Falcons went scoreless in the first half, falling down 14-0 heading into halftime. Quarterback Matt McDonald was intercepted on the Falcons' first drive, giving the Aggies a chance to score first in the opening quarter and in the third quarter when they started with the ball.
After his team trailed 17-0 at the start of the second half, Bowling Green's Ta'ron Keith returned a kickoff 75 yards to the house to give the Falcons hope.
Throughout the game, Bowling Green only converted three first downs and gave up two turnovers. The Falcons punted just twice, but BG missed two crucial field goals in the first half that had it desperate entering the final quarter.
The offense had 294 total yards on the day and an extremely poor outing on the ground. A combined rushing attack of 3.5 yards per carry for 73 total yards simply isn't enough to secure a bowl win. Keith, the Falcons' leading receiver on the day, had just three receptions for 69 yards, and their leading ball-carrier, Jaison Patterson, had 23 yards on six attempts.
Winner: Mike Elko Helps Push Duke Toward a Bowl Victory in 1st Season as Head Coach
The Duke Blue Devils are far from being recognized as a football school, and that may never happen, but they're no longer a bottom-feeder in the ACC.
Duke went 5-18 over the last two seasons before the departure of longtime head coach David Cutcliffe. After searching for a new face to revive the program, the Blue Devils brought in a former defensive coordinator in Mike Elko.
This looks like one of the Blue Devils' best decisions in years after the team went 9-4. Duke ended the season as the No. 3 team in the ACC Coastal and grabbed its first nine-win season since 2014. This included a 5-1 record in Durham, and each loss on the season came by a single-digit scoring margin.
Duke dropped those four games by a combined 16 points, which might be frustrating for the Blue Devils fanbase, but there's much more to be proud of with Elko leading them into the future. Their win against UCF in the Military Bowl was impressive on both sides of the ball, but the defense stood out by forcing the Knights into two turnovers and 5-of-14 third down.
The 30-13 victory looks like a turning point for a team with a young roster led by sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard.
Loser: Utah State Has Down Year with a Long List of Injuries
After an 11-3 season in 2021 with an LA Bowl victory, Utah State spent the past several months on a massive decline. It finished 2022 with a 6-7 record after getting demolished in the First Responder Bowl against the Memphis Tigers.
The Aggies lost 38-10, ending their season on a two-game losing streak.
They've had years of success in the past decade, with double-digit-win seasons in 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2021. Utah State has definitely seen bright spots in its program, but the consistency is not yet embedded. This is the main reason the Aggies have gone through four different head coaches and one interim since that 2012 season.
Injuries played a huge role in the Aggies' downfall, losing key players such as wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen, quarterback Logan Bonner and defensive tackles Phillip Paea and Seni Tuiaki. The list goes on for the Aggies, as they lost Cooper Legas, Levi Williams and linebacker MJ Tafisi for several weeks.
It'll always be difficult for a team to game-plan its season when a quarterback switch is happening every other week.
Their injuries were highlighted in the loss to Memphis, but it's not entirely discouraging since the Aggies roster is young. They had steady play at running back and receiver with Calvin Tyler Jr. and Brian Cobbs, but a season with three different quarterbacks at the helm led Utah State to a losing season.
Winner: Mike Houston Grabs 1st Bowl Win with East Carolina
The East Carolina Pirates were absolutely rolling in their 53-29 Birmingham Bowl win over Coastal Carolina. East Carolina entered the matchup as the underdog, with Coastal Carolina carrying the more experienced roster and star players such as Grayson McCall.
The quarterback was sidelined by an upper-body injury early in the game with his team trailing 14-10.
East Carolina was led by quarterback Holton Ahlers, who recorded 300 yards and five touchdowns on 26 completions. The the Pirates posted double-digit points in every quarter and made sure to pressure the Chanticleers from kickoff. They seized a 10-0 lead and headed into halftime up 24-14.
Head coach Mike Houston has been gradually building something special at East Carolina. In his first year, 2019, the Pirates were 4-8. After going 8-5 this season, Houston handed the Pirates community their first bowl win since 2013 and first in the American Athletic Conference.
Loser: Kansas' Short-Lived Cinderella Story
Head coach Lance Leipold's Kansas Jayhawks were "America's team" early this season after they started 5-0. They were ranked for the first time since 2009, and the hype around the program led to an ESPN College GameDay appearance in October.
TCU handed the Jayhawks their first loss on Oct. 8, and everything was downhill from there.
Kansas barely made it into a bowl game, winning just one of its last seven games. Part of this had to do with the shoulder injury to starting quarterback Jalon Daniels during the TCU loss, but even when he returned Nov. 19, the Jayhawks couldn't rekindle their spark.
They finished 6-7 and ranked as the No. 7 team in the Big 12. Leipold seemed to have Kansas pointed in the right direction, but adversity hit and KU didn't have an answer. It was 3-6 in conference play and ended on a four-game losing streak.
In the Liberty Bowl, Leipold had a chance to show Kansas was still a competent team, but the Jayhawks dug themselves into a 31-7 hole and lost in triple overtime. They were certainly an improved team, having posted a combined 2-19 record in the previous two seasons, but the year could've ended much better.
Winner: Florida State Clinches Its 1st 10-Win Season Since 2016
The Florida State Seminoles have been on an up-and-down rollercoaster in the past decade. After a three-year stretch of mediocrity between Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart, FSU brought in Mike Norvell from Memphis. He started his first two season at Florida State with a combined 8-13 record, but he turned it around in year three.
FSU secured its first 10-win season since 2016 and first bowl win since 2017 with a Cheez-It Bowl victory against the Oklahoma Sooners. The Seminoles were the favorites as the de facto home team against a squad that has yet to find its identity. In an uneven performance, the Seminoles edged the Sooners 35-32, but it's something that Florida State has to celebrate either way.
A massive part of the Noles' success has been veteran quarterback Jordan Travis, who's improved tremendously in 2022. Travis had two touchdowns and 418 yards on Thursday, receiving the Cheez-It Bowl MVP. The Noles may be losing some talent to the 2023 NFL draft, but the future's bright in Tallahassee.
Loser: Mike Gundy and the Cowboys
OSU has had an incredible run under head coach Mike Gundy, but the Cowboys may have hit their peak last season. They were 12-2 in 2021 and won the Fiesta Bowl. They've made it to a bowl game in 17 of Gundy's 18 years, so they'll stay competitive, but this down season shows that competing for a Big 12 title won't be a yearly occurrence.
Oklahoma State lost the Guaranteed Rate Bowl to the Wisconsin Badgers 24-17. They finished the season having lost five or their last six games, hitting a massive wall when Gundy had to juggle multiple quarterbacks because of a shoulder injury to starter Spencer Sanders.
Oklahoma State is losing key veterans that built the team into what it was in 2021, and a loss to Wisconsin, which is working through on-boarding a new head coach in Luke Fickell, doesn't look pretty.
Some might argue that bowl games can meaningless at times, but this one could've been a healthy win for the Cowboys.