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7-Step Drop: Who Has Momentum and Who Has Questions After Bowl Season?

Bryan Fischer@BryanDFischerNational College Football Columnist January 4, 2016

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin watches the action in the first  half of the Music City Bowl NCAA college football game against Louisville Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Hard as it is to believe, the 2015 college football season is down to just one game. While it seems like yesterday that North Carolina and South Carolina were kicking off in Charlotte, North Carolina, to open the year, here we are awaiting the end as Alabama and Clemson prepare to close things out with a bang.

It's a good thing we have such a juicy title game this season, with plenty of storylines on each side. That's because a record 40 bowl games this postseason gave us...not a whole lot, actually.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this was the most lopsided bowl season of the 21st century. Now that's saying something.

Still, for the teams involved, the bowl games were no laughing matter. Some will ride a surge of momentum from a win or close loss into the offseason—and perhaps, next season. Others have significant questions to answer about the state of their program. Going through the bowl games from first to last, here's who will be excited and who will be staring at a laundry list of things to figure out when the season formally concludes Jan. 11.

Momentum Building

Arizona: Finally healthy, the Wildcats in the New Mexico Bowl looked like a team that could make some noise in the Pac-12 South in 2016. Sure, they lose some talented players like Scooby Wright III, but they return more than all but one team in the division and get back Anu Solomon after another year of seasoning. On top of that, Rich Rodriguez's recommitted to the program after being pursued by South Carolina.

New Mexico: Sure, the Lobos lost to Arizona to finish 7-6, but few expected that kind of record when the season began. They closed the year with wins over Mountain West powers Utah State, Boise State and Air Force and a one-score loss to Colorado State, plus were competitive with a Pac-12 team in the postseason. Things might be looking up for Bob Davie's team, which is no longer stuck in a sub.-500 malaise.

Utah: The Utes turned in their most successful season in the Pac-12 and capped it with a Holy War win over rival BYU. They have to replace some talented players, but there's a sense of stability with the program, and that should pay off down the road.

Appalachian State: The Mountaineers closed their second FBS season with their 11th win, the program's first bowl victory. That's a sign of a bright future under Scott Satterfield. They should be the Sun Belt favorites next season.

San Jose State: The Spartans were 5-7 coming into the Cure Bowl, so it's safe to say they backed into it. But there's no denying how excited the team was when it finished off the Sun Belt's Georgia State for its sixth victory. They get all-purpose stud Tyler Ervin back, so that's reason enough to think SJSU can head into next year with a little positive energy.

Georgia State: Sure, losing to a 5-7 team in a bowl might be a show-stopper for some, but the simple fact that the Panthers were even in a bowl was cause for celebration for the young FBS program, which won its final four regular-season games, including a blowout of Georgia Southern. The loss will only leave the team wanting more in 2016.

Western Kentucky: It's hard to argue with one of the most explosive offenses in the country, a bowl win over the Hilltoppers' former coach and a 12-2 season.

Akron: Terry Bowden's team made a big jump from Year 3 of his tenure to this one. The program's first bowl win will no doubt send the Zips into the offseason with plenty of things to look forward to.

Toledo: Matt Campbell may be elsewhere, but the Rockets are still trending upward with Jason Candle thanks to a beatdown of Top 25 Temple in the Boca Raton Bowl.

ALBUQUERQUE, NM - DECEMBER 19: Head Coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats holds up the Gildan Bowl Trophy at University Stadium on December 19, 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Arizona won 45-37. (Photo by Aaron Sweet/Getty Images)
Aaron Sweet/Getty Images

Boise State: It was a bizarre season for the Broncos on the blue turf, but you could see the potential of the team in the biggest blowout of the bowl season. Sure Northern Illinois was overmatched, but that kind of win can propel a young team into next season.

Western Michigan: Is there any MAC program with more momentum than the one for which you "Row the Boat"? Hard to think otherwise given the energy P.J. Fleck brings to the table.

San Diego State: To end one of the best campaigns in program history, the Aztecs crushed preseason AAC favorite Cincinnati. Thanks to that success, they'll go into 2016 on more people's radars.

Marshall: It wasn't pretty at times, but a win is a win. A win in the team's favorite recruiting state was a nice bonus to beating UConn in the St. Petersburg Bowl. More than anything, this year proved that life after Rakeem Cato was going to be OK for the Thundering Herd.

UConn: Getting to a bowl game was an overachievement for Bob Diaco in his turnaround effort, so a close loss shouldn't do too much to alter course for the Huskies. 

Washington State: It seemed like all was lost after the Cougars lost to an FCS team in their opener. Instead, Mike Leach capped a remarkable campaign in Pullman with a big win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. This team won't be overlooked by anybody in 2016.

Miami: Sure, that Sun Bowl loss was lackluster, but all is well in Coral Gables. That's because Mark Richt is now in charge. The Hurricanes are killing it with great staff hires, and there's talent on the team just waiting to break through.

Washington: The Pac-12 North may be a toss-up next season. And there's already momentum building for the Huskies, who have a budding young core led by Myles Gaskin and Jake Browning.

Southern Miss: The team was so bad just a few years ago that not even a loss in a lower-tier bowl game can dampen what has been a remarkable turnaround. Expectations will be considerably higher for the Golden Eagles following this year's nine-win campaign.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies sent Frank Beamer out in style with another winning season. Now they can get to work with one of the best coaching hires in Justin Fuente.

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane put forth a furious rally in the second half of a 55-52 loss to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl. Falling short shouldn't halt the progress Philip Montgomery has made.

Navy: The Midshipmen had one of their greatest seasons ever. They capped it by beating a good Pitt team in their backyard, plus they kept their head coach away from BYU, which is just as big as the bowl win.

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Brett Rypien #4  of the Boise State Broncos prepares to pass the ball during a game against Northern Illinois Huskies in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on December 23, 2015 at Qualcomm Stadium i
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

LSU: Les Miles kept his job, got a huge win in a fertile recruiting territory, turned Leonard Fournette back into the Heisman Trophy favorite for next season and hired Dave Aranda to be his new defensive coordinator. Might the Tigers be a title contender next season? Seems like it after the Texas Bowl.

Louisville: The Cardinals were a young team that always seemed to be building for 2016. Add in a bowl win over an SEC team and the sky could be the limit next season, when just about everybody returns.

Houston: Is there a team with more momentum than Tom Herman's Cougars? Given the players coming back and next season's schedule, they may get some consideration for the College Football Playoff in 2016.

Tennessee: The hype train is already rolling for the Volunteers, but...it might just be warranted in 2016. They looked great against Northwestern, have solid returners and the rest of the SEC East is littered with question marks.

Michigan: Jim Harbaugh worked wonders in his first season in Ann Arbor, and the Citrus Bowl was a well-earned victory lap. If he can get the quarterback position settled, it won't be long before the Wolverines are thinking playoff.

Stanford: No offense to Ohio State, but the Cardinal may have advanced their case as the best non-playoff team with that Rose Bowl destruction of Iowa. Also, Christian McCaffrey showed everybody why he should have won the Heisman, so it was a double win for the faithful.

Ole Miss: Another New Year's Six bowl, but a very different result for the Rebels. Yes, they will lose a ton of talent, but the way they won (and had fun doing so) is an encouraging sign for Hugh Freeze.

Arkansas: The Razorbacks won six of their last seven games, with the final one coming in resounding fashion. That should send prognosticators into overdrive this offseason.

TCU: Gary Patterson may have done his best coaching job ever in 2015. The Alamo Bowl comeback for the ages was a fitting end to a wild season for the Horned Frogs.

Clemson/Alabama: Title game-bound in impressive fashion. Enough said.

Stuck in Neutral

Ohio: The Bobcats had a few puzzling losses and a handful of impressive wins. A narrow loss in a lower-tier bowl game likely isn't going to do much to change the course of the program for Frank Solich.

Arkansas State: A blowout loss to Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl slowed some of the momentum from a terrific season, but it's hard not to like what the Red Wolves have become after they got some stability under Blake Anderson.

South Florida: Willie Taggart went from the hot seat to an extension quickly this season, but the Bulls' momentum took a small hit when he lost to his former team in the Miami Beach Bowl.

Georgia Southern: Throttling a good Bowling Green team with an interim coaching staff was a great way to end the season, but the Eagles have to deal with a head coaching change.

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 29:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers waits on the bench during the second half of their game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Phot
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Duke: An 8-5 campaign is normally a good year, but—in a sign of how good David Cutcliffe has made the program—it felt like the Blue Devils could have done more. At least beating Indiana in a wild finish took the sting out of losing four of five to finish the regular season.

Indiana: The Hoosiers were one of the more entertaining teams to watch in 2015 and saved their head coach's job by getting to a bowl game. Still, it seems things could go either way in Bloomington.

Nebraska: The extra practices were no doubt appreciated by Mike Riley and his staff after a 5-7 regular season. But beating up on UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl also had the effect of causing Cornhuskers fans to ponder what might have been with this year's team.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers backed into a bowl game but ended up winning it, so you'd think that would be a positive. But it remains to be seen where the program is headed under new head coach Tracy Claeys.

Central Michigan: It was a great season for the Chippewas given everything that happened on and off the field, but losing to 5-7 Minnesota wasn't the best look.

Cal: The Bears rolled in the Armed Forces Bowl, putting up yards and points left and right. Now comes the hard part: figuring out what to do without the reason for all those yards and points since Jared Goff is headed to the NFL. It was a great season given where the program was prior to 2015, but there are real issues at hand that may prevent the team from carrying things over to 2016.

Air Force: The Falcons finished 8-6, a unique record for a unique team. Winning their MWC division was a positive, but the program is still a few ticks behind counterpart Navy after getting blown out in Fort Worth.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 26: Head coach David Cutcliffe of the Duke Blue Devils waits to lead his team on to the field to take on the Indiana Hoosiers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 26, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York Cit
Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Baylor: The Russell Athletic Bowl wasn't exactly where the Bears aimed to be at the end of the year, but that's where they found themselves. They were one of the postseason's biggest surprises, however, with a new-look offense that played to the personnel on hand. It was a disappointing season, but at least the final win can help cover up some of the painful losses.

North Carolina: There was bound to be a letdown after the Tar Heels came so close in the ACC title game, but who expected that kind of defensive performance by Baylor? The coaching staff will need to regroup and double down on its recruiting efforts.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack appeared jubilant in winning the Arizona Bowl, but how much momentum can one take from a conference clash played before only a few thousand spectators?

Colorado State: See above.

Mississippi State: The Dak Prescott farewell tour underscored the need to replace the best quarterback in program history.

Wisconsin: It was a strange season for the Badgers. The only decent team they beat was the one they narrowly topped in the Holiday Bowl.

Florida State: The Seminoles probably overachieved in getting to a New Year's Six game given their youth and what they lost to the NFL, but being embarrassed in the Peach Bowl isn't what Jimbo Fisher had in mind to start the offseason.

Oklahoma: Another game in which Big Game Bob came up short will only prompt more questions for the Sooners fanbase after a remarkable year that was more than anybody expected in August.

Northwestern: Wildcats grads are pretty smart, so surely they'll look beyond the score of the Outback Bowl and celebrate what a turnaround it was for Pat Fitzgerald.

Ohio State: "What if?" is going to haunt the Buckeyes given how well they played in the Fiesta Bowl.

Notre Dame: A good season finished on the wrong note for the Irish. Now comes an interesting quarterback competition during an important offseason for Brian Kelly.

Iowa: A shellacking like the one the Hawkeyes took at the hands of Stanford in the team's first trip to Pasadena in 25 years will be tough to get over.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys overachieved this season given how young they were, but the way they closed things out (with another bowl loss to Ole Miss) left a bitter taste in their mouths.

Kansas State: Expect the Wildcats to be the same team with the same work ethic thanks to their head coach.

West Virginia: Dana Holgorsen adapted to fit his team's personnel this season. It paid off with a strong finish to the year. In doing so, he raised expectations for next year.

Questions Abound

BYU: The Cougars have some nice pieces coming back for next year (notably quarterback Tanner Mangum) but an entirely new coaching staff without a ton of experience means the bowl loss to their Salt Lake City rivals will sting a little more than normal. There's so many questions about what kind of team this will be going forward.

Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs capped a 9-4 season with a blowout win over a good Arkansas State team, but the New Orleans Bowl only served as a reminder that Skip Holtz has to replace a ton of key contributors, starting with running back Kenneth Dixon and quarterback Jeff Driskel. The program is on solid footing, but that's a lot of firepower leaving Ruston.

Utah State: The Aggies appeared to be the class of the MWC when they throttled Boise State in October, but that turned out to be a mirage in what was an otherwise forgettable season. After losing to Akron and facing a number of staff changes, Matt Wells has a work-heavy offseason coming up.

Temple: A great, great season for the Owls ended with a thud after losses in the AAC title game and the Boca Raton Bowl. With key departures looming, one wonders if they can be a consistent Top 25 program or are a one-year wonder. 

Northern Illinois: Getting to the MAC title game was impressive considering the Huskies' injuries, but a horrific bowl beatdown in which they looked lackluster might force some changes.

Bowling Green: Fresh off a MAC title, the Falcons now have to ponder what life will be like after Dino Babers—and hope it's not like what it was in the bowl game.

Middle Tennessee: It was another solid, if unspectacular, season for the Blue Raiders, but a bowl game loss probably doesn't do much for a veteran group hoping to do more on the field.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats were the preseason AAC favorites, but that never materialized as they showed zero consistency on either side of the ball. They basically alternated wins and losses all year. Ending it with a blowout against San Diego State put even more pressure on Tommy Tuberville to right the ship, which he'll have to do after some big staff changes.

UCLA: Jim Mora has had some inexplicable losses during his Westwood tenure, but losing to a 5-7 team is way, way up there. Injuries were no doubt an issue for the Bruins this season, but the fanbase's frustration is mounting, and Mora may be staring at some staff changes in the coming weeks—if he doesn't bolt for the NFL first.

Pitt: Pat Narduzzi had a great debut season, but the Panthers got run over by Navy in the Military Bowl.

Texas Tech: It was no surprise that a superior LSU team got the better of the Red Raiders, but the question that emerged from Houston after the team's loss is what Kliff Kingsbury will do with an entirely new staff in 2016. There are a lot of nice offensive players on the roster, but the defense has to improve.

Auburn: From College Football Playoff talk to a win over a team without a full coaching staff in the season finale. There is not much a Birmingham Bowl trophy should do for the Tigers this offseason except heat up the hot seat for Gus Malzahn. At least the defense looked better.

Memphis: One of the most successful runs in program history came to a close with a thud as the Tigers could not get anything going offensively against Auburn. With Paxton Lynch off to the NFL and a new coaching staff coming in, questions are the new normal.

North Carolina State: One shoe already dropped after the Wolfpack's Belk Bowl disaster as the team's offensive coordinator was let go. There are likely a few more changes coming in a pivotal offseason for Dave Doeren.

Texas A&M: The Music City Bowl was almost a sideshow compared to what happened prior to the game for the Aggies. Two five-star quarterbacks and the offensive coordinator walked out the door, so things were already testy in College Station prior to an embarrassing loss.

USC: Clay Helton dropped to 0-2 since being given the job full time. Neither loss gave the Trojans faithful hope that he was the right pick.

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 5: Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears waits in the tunnel before the Bears take on the Texas Longhorns at McLane Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Michigan State: One can only wonder if the Spartans' window has closed with the amount of talent they're losing and the fact that they weren't even competitive against Alabama. They're still a top program nationally, but these kinds of chances only come along every so often.

Florida: Jim McElwain won over Gators fans by quickly turning the program around and capturing the SEC East. What he does for an encore, especially with so few options at quarterback, will be the real test.

Georgia: Beating up an overmatched Penn State team is nice considering the Bulldogs had an interim coaching staff, but now it's on to the Kirby Smart era and all the question marks that entails.

Penn State: The question on everybody's mind: Will the James Franklin-Christian Hackenberg divorce end up working out for both down the road? We'll find out on the Franklin front soon enough in what is shaping up to be a key 2016.

Oregon: Blowing a 31-point lead is bound to prompt some changes in the program as Mark Helfrich ends the year with the Ducks fanbase calling for his head and the prospect of a make-or-break offseason coming up.

Arizona State: At the beginning of the year, Todd Graham talked of winning titles. But he failed to bring home even the Cactus Bowl trophy. Now he'll have to move forward without trusted lieutenant Mike Norvell.

Stat of the Week

According to TCU's sports information director, between the 2006 Insight Bowl and the 2016 Alamo Bowl, teams had gone 0-1,463 when trailing by 31 points or more before TCU's remarkable comeback against Oregon.

Quote of the Week

"It's been 34 years since Clemson had a chance to win a national championship," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said after the Orange Bowl. "Seven years ago when I got this job, I knew that we would be here. It was just a matter of when. This is Year 7, and we were able to kind of knock the roof off of it, win another ACC championship, and when you win our league, you've got a chance to play for it all, and so here we are."

Tweet of the Week

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Play of the Week

Robby Kalland @RKalland

https://t.co/q5tZHUDeR1

Sound from Saturday

The Cauldron @TheCauldron

Beautiful throw on that fake punt by Clemson https://t.co/bpYw0Fpsow

Pre-Snap Read

Alabama vs. Clemson

Dynasty vs. Destiny? I want to go with Clemson based on how the Tigers have risen to the challenge no matter the contest, but I've learned my lesson thinking Nick Saban and Alabama will slip up. The Crimson Tide are simply too dominant up front and should leave Glendale with yet another national title to take home to Tuscaloosa.

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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