All 2016-17 College Football Bowl Season Team
Bowl season brought out the explosive potential of many college football players, giving the viewership a plethora of standout performances in the 41-game postseason slate.
Now, the task is identifying the best of the bunch.
The list focuses on one-game performances. So while Clemson has a representative, it's not because of total production. Likewise for Alabama, which played in two postseason contests.
Impact on the game, statistical output and key plays factored into the choices, though whether a team won or lost only had a minor effect on the decisions. Level of competition was also considered.
First Team: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
There isn't a bigger stage than the national championship. There isn't a more critical moment than a last-minute drive. There wasn't a better quarterback for the situation than Deshaun Watson.
Clemson's superstar led two go-ahead drives in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, capping the latter with a game-winning touchdown pass with one second to spare. Watson torched Alabama's defense in the 35-31 win, finishing 36-of-56 for 420 yards and adding 43 rushing yards to his four total scores.
"I just wanted to sign my name and end it with an exclamation point, and I think I did that," Watson told reporters after the game, via ASAP Sports. "Moments like this I'll never forget."
History won't, either.
Second Team: Sam Darnold, USC
The redshirt freshman played like anything but that.
In a thrilling 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, Sam Darnold completed 33 of 53 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns. He led USC to a 17-point fourth quarter, including a late game-tying drive.
"I love the quiet confidence about him," head coach Clay Helton said, according to Mike Tierney of the New York Times. "You never saw his demeanor change tonight, whether he was throwing for a touchdown or we got stopped on offense."
First Team: Anthony Wales, Western Kentucky
What was expected to be a high-scoring affair did not disappoint, and Anthony Wales had to enjoy the outcome of the Boca Raton Bowl, too.
In a 51-31 win against Memphis, Western Kentucky's standout back accumulated 329 yards and three touchdowns on 39 touches. Wales set career-high marks with 245 rushing and 84 receiving yards.
First Team: Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Justin Jackson jump-cut his way into the nation's hearts during a 31-24 victory over Pitt in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
The junior scored each of Northwestern's first three touchdowns, including a 40-yard rumble with a nasty move in the middle. Jackson ended the contest with a career-best 224 yards.
After the win, Jackson said he plans to return for his senior season, according to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune.
Second Team: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Penn State coughed up the lead down the stretch, but Saquon Barkley still put on a show. The sophomore running back scampered for 194 yards and two touchdowns, chipping in five receptions for 55 yards and another score. He'll be back in 2017. Good luck, defenses.
Second Team: Joe Williams, Utah
Joe Williams' improbable story had a wonderful ending. The running back who retired earlier in the 2016 season but came back because of injury helped Utah clip Indiana 26-24 in the Foster Farms Bowl. Williams amassed 278 total yards and one touchdown.
First Team: Deontay Burnett, USC
Explosive and clutch. Not a bad combination.
Deontay Burnett entered the Rose Bowl with a respectable 43 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns. However, he torched Penn State for 13 receptions, 164 yards and three scores, including the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter on the wrong route.
"What Tay's actually supposed to do is keep a straight line, not necessarily run a post like that," quarterback Sam Darnold said, according to Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times. "But just the player that he is, he made a play, and I saw him."
First Team: Olabisi Johnson, Colorado State
Michael Gallup seemed primed for a dominant day against Idaho's shaky pass defense, and he caught three touchdown passes. But the real story? Gallup wasn't even Colorado State's most productive target.
Olabisi Johnson shredded the Vandals for 265 yards and two scores on seven catches, all of which were career-high marks.
Although the Rams lost 61-50, Johnson set the single-game program record for receiving yards.
Second Team: Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
The most prolific slot receiver in the country, Trent Taylor capped his college career in style. He collected 12 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns during Louisiana Tech's wild 48-45 triumph of Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Second Team: KD Cannon, Baylor
KD Cannon's first touchdown catch will be a fixture on bowl season highlight reels. The speedster was far from finished, though. Cannon exploded for 14 catches, 226 yards and two scores while Baylor upended Boise State 31-12 in the Cactus Bowl.
First Team: Jaylen Samuels, NC State
Jaylen Samuels did a little bit of everything for North Carolina State in 2016, and the versatile tight end exploded for three touchdowns against Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.
The junior caught six passes for a career-high 104 yards, adding nine rushing yards on two carries during the 41-17 win.
"Jay Sam just played amazing," quarterback Ryan Finley said, per Kirk Copeland of the Shreveport Times. "At one point in the game it was just like 'feed Jay Sam' over and over. He came up huge for us. It was so good to see him blow up like that for us in a big game for us."
Second Team: Deon Watson, Idaho
Just one other tight end crested the 100-yard barrier in bowl season. Deon Watson eclipsed it and kept on going. He finished with 140 yards—the 17th-best overall day—on five catches, one of which was a touchdown, to help Idaho topple Colorado State.
First Team: Army
Capped by a touchdown run on 4th-and-3 in overtime, Army earned its second postseason victory of the last 30 years. The Black Knights edged North Texas 38-31 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Darnell Woolfolk propelled the balanced effort for the Black Knights, who posted 480 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Bradshaw led the way with 129 yards, while Woolfolk added 119 and Tyler Campbell raced for 88 more.
In addition to three more players—Andy Davidson, Kell Walker and Jordan Asberry—combining for 141 yards and two scores, Bradshaw completed two passes for 53 yards.
Second Team: Idaho
Matt Linehan threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns to guide Idaho, but he wasn't done. "We belong in FBS period," Linehan said in an ESPN Radio interview, commenting on the program's impending move to the Football Championship Subdivision. Along with Watson's big day, Isaiah Saunders scampered for 147 yards and three touchdowns.
First Team: DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
DeMarcus Walker occasionally shifted inside to tackle, but he officially started at end and was unquestionably dominant during Florida State's 33-32 win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
All four of his stops came behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack. Although Walker was not credited with a single hurry, he provided the primary disruption on a handful of pass attempts.
First Team: Harold Landry, Boston College
Boston College's defensive line was so productive that the entire unit was named the Quick Lane Bowl MVP. Harold Landry, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, was the best of the bunch.
The edge-rusher collected four total tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Landry also read a screen pass and intercepted the ball, returning it 20 yards. He added two pass breakups and one hurry.
Landry announced he will return for his senior season.
Second Team: The Three-Sack Club
Nick Dawson-Brents (Western Kentucky), Ja'Boree Poole (Southern Miss) and Tashawn Bower (LSU) each recorded three sacks in bowl victories. Dawson-Brents also had a forced fumble and recovery. Poole led USM with nine total tackles.
Second Team: Jesse Brubaker, Tulsa
Though listed as a defensive tackle, Jesse Brubaker started on the edge and made his highlight play there. The junior notched three tackles with one sack and returned an interception 66 yards for a touchdown—his second pick-six of the season.
First Team: Trenton Thompson, Georgia
Defensive players usually aren't MVPs. While Boston College had the unique case of an entire unit, Trenton Thompson brought home the Liberty Bowl hardware after being a menace in TCU's backfield.
The sophomore introduced himself to Kenny Hill, decided he enjoyed the quarterback's company and kept returning as an uninvited guest. Thompson gathered eight tackles with 3.5 for loss and three sacks, adding four more hurries.
"He played well," Hill said of Thompson, per Jordan D. Hill of the Macon Telegraph. "He's got a high motor, always working."
First Team: Bruce Hector, South Florida
South Florida spent an afternoon in the backfield, posting 10 tackles for loss in a 46-39 Birmingham Bowl victory against South Carolina.
Bruce Hector was the top contributor and finished with three tackles for loss (two sacks) among his five tackles. Thanks to the win, the Bulls set a single-season program record with 11 victories.
Second Team: Ed Oliver, Houston
Even in a loss, the freshman couldn't be stopped. Ed Oliver piled up 3.5 more tackles behind the line of scrimmage, ending his stellar college debut with 22.5 on the season. Oliver totaled five stops while Houston fell to San Diego State 34-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Second Team: Patrick Gamble, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech rebounded from a dismal 2015 campaign to record nine victories this season, punctuated by a 33-18 victory over Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Patrick Gamble tallied seven total stops with two sacks and a forced fumble.
First Team: Airius Moore, NC State
Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur must've thought NC State had an 11-man starting unit of Airius Moore. He was everywhere.
Moore notched a team-best nine tackles, sacked Shurmur twice and hurried him two more times. The junior also knocked down two passes in the 41-17 victory and earned defensive MVP honors.
First Team: Anthony Shegog, Virginia Tech
To say Virginia Tech struggled early would be an understatement. After just 20 minutes and into halftime, the Hokies trailed 24-0.
Anthony Shegog helped them soar past Arkansas in the Belk Bowl, though. His interception allowed Virginia Tech to cut the lead to 10, and Shegog's forced fumble helped push the Hokies ahead by 11 points with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
The junior chipped in six tackles and one sack.
Second Team: Matthew Thomas, Florida State
Matthew Thomas arrived in Tallahassee as a heralded 5-star recruit, but off-field issues hampered his college career until 2016. But Thomas put together a breakout game in the Orange Bowl, registering personal-best outputs of 15 tackles and 3.5 for loss.
Second Team: Jeremy Timpf, Army
Jeremy Timpf has a nose for the football, and he must enjoy playing North Texas. After stopping the Mean Green 12 times during the regular season, he collected 15 tackles during the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Timpf led the Black Knight with three stops for loss.
First Team: Tegray Scales, Indiana
One of the nation's most under-the-radar producers, Tegray Scales capped a terrific 2016 campaign with another big performance.
Scales' 10 tackles paced the Hoosiers, and two of his three stops in the backfield were sacks. Despite the loss, he was named the Foster Farms Bowl Defensive MVP. The junior ended the season atop the FBS leaderboard with 23.5 tackles for loss.
Second Team: Matt Galambos, Pitt
Matt Galambos fought back against Justin Jackson's career-best day quite literally from start to finish. He notched a tackle on Jackson's first and final carries of the afternoon. Galambos had 15 total stops with two tackles for loss, recovered a fumble and broke up a pass.
First Team: Arthur Maulet, Memphis
Rarely does a cornerback secure the headlines for a massive impact in the backfield. Arthur Maulet is an exception.
Although he surrendered one long touchdown as Memphis lost to Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton Bowl, Maulet recorded team-high totals of 11 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss and three sacks.
First Team: Chauncey Gardner, Florida
When freshman excel in bowl games, hype trains start rolling. Get ready for one promoting Chauncey Gardner.
A top option to replace NFL-bound corners Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, Gardner grabbed two interceptions in Florida's 30-13 thrashing of Iowa in the Outback Bowl. His 48-yard pick six sealed the game, and the second interception led to a field goal.
Gardner, who chipped in two tackles, received defensive MVP honors.
Second Team: Elijah Riley, Army
The only other cornerback with at least two interceptions in one bowl game, Elijah Riley grabbed a pair of timely picks. His first interception stalled a North Texas drive that had reached the red zone, and Riley's second pick halted a possession that crossed midfield while the Mean Green trailed by three points. He also managed four tackles.
Second Team: Leon McQuay III, USC
Leon McQuay III could've changed the game, but he dropped an interception on Penn State's final drive. Well, he ended up atoning for the mistake on the very next play, picking off Trace McSorley and putting USC in position for its game-winning field goal after a 32-yard return. McQuay added seven solo tackles and a pair of pass breakups.
First Team: Orion Stewart, Baylor
Baylor snapped its six-game losing streak because of a resurgent performance from Orion Stewart and the defense. The Bears held Boise State to 12 points in the Cactus Bowl.
Meanwhile, Stewart accumulated five tackles with two stops for loss and one sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and one pass breakup. Both of his takeaways resulted in a Baylor touchdown, and Stewart registered the sack on a fourth down, too.
First Team: Dallas Lloyd, Stanford
Solomon Thomas stole the show up front in the Sun Bowl, but Dallas Lloyd was a major factor for Stanford on the back end.
In addition to six tackles, Lloyd forced a fumble and picked off two passes. The senior returned his second interception 19 yards for a touchdown and put the Cardinal ahead 22-17.
"If you're in the right place at the right time, good things will happen," he said, per John Erfort of the Associated Press.
Second Team: Toran Davis, Ohio
Though Ohio was on the losing end of the Dollar General Bowl, Toran Davis gave the Bobcats a couple of early chances to surge ahead. He snatched an interception on consecutive possessions during the first half. Davis ended the contest with six tackles.
Second Team: Kameron Kelly, San Diego State
Donnel Pumphrey's pursuit of the (theoretical) FBS rushing record demanded the most attention. However, Kameron Kelly played a significant role in San Diego State dismantling Houston. He collected two interceptions, two tackles and one pass breakup.
First Team: Andy Phillips, Utah
Highlighted by a winding 48-yard attempt that rightfully resulted in Fox broadcaster Gus Johnson going nuts, Andy Phillips converted on four field goals during Utah's win. The 48-yarder was Phillips' longest kick of the year. He popped home attempts from 30 and 41 yards before hitting a game-winning 27-yarder late in the fourth quarter.
Second Team: Harrison Butker, Georgia Tech
Just two other place-kickers went 4-of-4 during the bowls, and Harrison Butker drilled the longest made attempt. He hammered a season-long 52-yard field goal and connected on kicks from 23, 44 and 26 yards, as well as three extra points.
First Team: Jonny Linehan, BYU
How can a player whose 39.6-yard average ranks 55th among bowl season punters be the first-team representative? There's more to being a specialist than kicking the ball really far.
Jonny Linehan punted five times, four of which ended inside the 20 and covered more than 75 percent of the available yards. His final punt in the 24-21 win against Wyoming traveled 43 yards.
Second Team: Kevin Phillips, Auburn
While Linehan deadened his kicks well, Kevin Phillips put a little more power into the ball. In the Sugar Bowl, he blasted a 63-yard punt and put two more kicks inside the 20. Phillips averaged 49.2 yards, and Oklahoma mustered two total return yards.
First Team: Nyheim Hines, NC State
For a brief moment, Vanderbilt had life. After falling behind 28-3, the Commodores tallied a pair of touchdowns to close the gap.
But Nyheim Hines broke it open, taking a kickoff 100 yards to paydirt. NC State added another late score to close the 41-17 victory, during which Hines also reeled in six passes for 69 yards.
Second Team: Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
The Raycom Media Camellia Bowl was a wild back-and-forth affair between Appalachian State and Toledo. From start to finish, the teams literally traded touchdowns before the Mountaineers kicked a late field goal for the 31-28 victory. Darrynton Evans provided the last score for App State, returning a kickoff 94 yards to the house.
All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.