Winners and Losers from College Football Bowl Season

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 2, 2018

Winners and Losers from College Football Bowl Season

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    Sony Michel
    Sony MichelMatthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Georgia and Alabama were the biggest and most obvious winners of the 2017 college football bowl season, but winners and losers come from all over the 39-game spectrum of bowls, not just the national semifinals.

    Yes, it's a little silly to post this before the national championship, but that game is its own entity, somewhat independent of bowl season. There will be plenty said and written both before and after that game, so let's instead use this time to reflect on all of the action from the past 17 days.

    Winners and losers from college football's bowl season come in all shapes and sizes from all over the map. Individual players were winners. Entire conferences were losers. One coach won bowl season. One turnover chain did not. We even found room for a punter on the list of winners.

    If you missed any of the action or simply want to relive the holiday season spent watching football, here is our list of the biggest winners and losers.

Winner: Quinton Flowers, South Florida

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    Quinton Flowers
    Quinton FlowersAlbert Cesare/Associated Press

    It took a while for offense to show up in the Birmingham Bowl. Texas Tech and South Florida combined for just 13 points in the first 29 minutes of what was expected to be an old-fashioned shootout between high-octane offenses.

    But then Quinton Flowers took over.

    The senior quarterback for the Bulls did cough up one fumble, but he was otherwise nearly flawless in a 38-34 victory over the Red Raiders. Flowers threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns without any interceptions. He also rushed for 106 yards and a fifth TD.

    With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Flowers threw a beautiful deep ball to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. That 64-yard touchdown put the Bulls ahead for the first time in the game. After Texas Tech reclaimed the lead on the following drive, Flowers led South Florida 75 yards in 75 seconds, including a 21-yard run on 3rd-and-10, followed immediately by a 26-yard game-winning pass to Tyre McCants with 16 seconds remaining.

    Because of those final two plays, Flowers became just the second player in the past 15 years to have at least 300 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and more than two combined touchdowns in a bowl game. Per Sports Reference, the other was Clemson's Tajh Boyd in the 2014 Orange Bowl against Ohio State.

    Coupled with his 503 passing yards, 102 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in the regular-season finale against UCF, it was one heck of a two-game stretch for Flowers. Prior to those contests, it had been a disappointing final season for a man who was a fringe Heisman candidate in the preseason. But at least he ended his career on a high note, finishing his time at USF with 8,124 passing yards, 3,672 rushing yards and 112 combined touchdowns.

Loser: Pac-12

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    Sam Darnold
    Sam DarnoldLM Otero/Associated Press

    Without question, the Pac-12 had the most disappointing regular season among the five power conferences. Every team in the league had effectively been eliminated from College Football Playoff contention before the beginning of November. USC went 11-2, won the conference championship and only managed to finish No. 8 in the final CFP rankings.

    The Pac-12 reinforced the "Worst Power Conference" narrative by sputtering to a 1-8 record in bowl games.

    Oregon got the pity party started with a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. And, really, the game wasn't even that close. The Ducks scored half of their touchdowns on a pair of long defensive plays in the final minute of the first half and got the other two touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the game was already well out of reach. Prior to a meaningless touchdown drive in the final two minutes, the Broncos had more than twice as many yards of total offense as their power-conference foe.

    Things didn't get much better from there, particularly on defense.

    Washington entered the Playstation Fiesta Bowl as one of the best defenses in the nation, but it gave up 35 points and nearly 550 total yards in a loss to Penn State. UCLA gave up 35 points and more than 300 rushing yards in an 18-point loss to Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl. Arizona's secondary had no answer for Purdue's passing attack in a 38-35 Wildcats loss in the Foster Farms Bowl. And even though Stanford jumped out to an early 21-3 lead over TCU in the Valero Alamo Bowl, the Cardinal gave it all away as Kenny Hill and Co. completed the comeback en route to a 39-37 win for the Horned Frogs.

    At least some of those games were close. Washington State got destroyed, 42-17, by Michigan State in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. The following day, Arizona State committed four turnovers and gave up 52 points in a 21-point loss to North Carolina State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. And USC was already down 24-0 before finally scoring its only touchdown of the game in a loss to Ohio State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

    The only saving grace for the Pac-12 was Utah beating West Virginia, 30-14, in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl. However, Will Grier didn't play for the Mountaineers, and Utah has now won 14 of its last 15 bowl games. It was the one game that felt like a sure thing for the Pac-12, and it ended up being its only win.

Winner: Big Ten

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    Saquon Barkley
    Saquon BarkleyRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    While the Pac-12 struggled, it was pure domination from the other power conference omitted from the College Football Playoff.

    The Big Ten went 7-1 in bowl games this year.

    Part of that is because it played so many games against the lowly Pac-12. Ohio State beat USC in the Cotton Bowl, Penn State defeated Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, Michigan State thumped Washington State in the Holiday Bowl and Purdue squeaked by Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl.

    But the Big Ten doled out some punishment to the other leagues, too.

    As we'll discuss in more detail later, Wisconsin made a mockery of the Turnover Chain in a 34-24 win over Miami in the Orange Bowlin what was effectively a home game for the Hurricanes. And in the other battle with the ACC, Iowa clipped Boston College, 27-20, in the Pinstripe Bowl.

    The SEC also got a little taste of the Big Ten's wrath.

    In the Music City Bowl, Kentucky battled back from a 10-point deficit against Northwestern in the final five minutes, only to fall short of completing the comeback on an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt. Northwestern's Justin Jackson rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-23 victory, finishing at No. 11 on the all-time rushing list with 5,440 career yards.

    Unfortunately, Michigan is the lone blemish on what could have been an undefeated conference record. The Wolverines jumped out to a 19-3 lead over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, but they committed five second-half turnovers, enabling the Gamecocks to score 23 unanswered points to win the game.

    Still, 7-1 is an impressive showing for a league that allegedly didn't have one of the four best teams in the country.

Loser: Under Bets in the Belk Bowl

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    John Wolford
    John WolfordChuck Burton/Associated Press

    Per OddsShark, the over/under in the Belk Bowl battle between Wake Forest and Texas A&M was 63 total points.

    And if you placed any hard-earned cash on the under, you could have thrown away your betting slip before halftime.

    Defense was a foreign concept on this particular afternoon in Charlotte. The Aggies and Demon Deacons combined for 107 points, 63 first downs and 1,260 yards of total offense. At no point in the game were there more than two consecutive possessions between scoring plays.

    With help from one punt returned for a touchdown and another seven points from a blocked punt, there were already 66 points on the board by the end of the second quarter.

    Wake Forest QB John Wolford led the way with 400 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 55-52 victory. He also rushed for 68 yards, thus closing out his collegiate career with at least 330 passing yards and 50 rushing yards in three of five games.

    Texas A&M's Nick Starkel had one heck of a passing performance, as well. The freshman threw for 499 yards and four touchdowns. Christian Kirk was the primary beneficiary of the quarterback's big day. Kirk hauled in 13 catches for 189 yards and three scores, setting season highs in all three categories.

    Though the over/under had long since been determined, things were wild in the fourth quarter. The teams took turns marching down the field for touchdowns, resulting in three lead changes in the final 10 minutes. But the Demon Deacons finally got a defensive stop at the end of the game, putting the finishing touches on their first eight-win season since 2008.

Winner: Quarterbacks at Military Schools

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    Ahmad Bradshaw
    Ahmad BradshawTom Pennington/Getty Images

    Here are two fun facts about Army and Navy. You can decide which is more absurd/impressive:

    1) Army and Navy each won a bowl game in the same year for the first time in college football history.

    2) The Black Knights and Midshipmen had a combined passing line of one completion on five attempts for six yards with an interception.

    Despite that second statistic, the QBs for these two military schools were sensational. (For what it's worth, it was actually a wide receiverArmy's Kjetil Clinewho threw the interception on a gadget play.)

    Army QB Ahmad Bradshaw carried the ball 32 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-35 win over San Diego State in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. The Black Knights trailed by one TD at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but Bradshaw had 79 of his rushing yards in the final frame for the comeback win, including a 27-yard touchdown scamper.

    For Navy, both QBs were unstoppable in a 49-7 shellacking of Virginia in the Northrop Grumman Military Bowl. Malcolm Perry rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns before exiting the game in the third quarter with a foot injury. Former starter/current backup QB Zach Abey ran for 88 yards and five touchdowns. So, to recap, quarterbacks ran it in on all seven of Navy's touchdowns.

    All told, Army and Navy combined for 892 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

    In related news, I need to apologize for a horrendous preseason prediction. Back in July, I was tasked with ranking the top 10 rushing attacks for the 2017 season. On that list, I had Air Force, Georgia Tech and Navy listed as honorable mentions, erroneously proclaiming that the sheer amount of roster turnover in each of those triple-option offenses would cause them to drop out of the top 10. Rather, all three finished in the top five in rushing, and Navy rushed for more yards per game than any team did in 2016. Mea culpa.

Loser: Central Michigan's Offense

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    Shane Morris
    Shane MorrisMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    It was a rough December for most of the teams which partake in what we affectionately refer to as #MACtion.

    Akron was blown out, 50-3, by Florida Atlantic. But at least the Zips managed to put some points on the board. Toledo, on the other hand, was shut out 34-0 by Appalachian State. Northern Illinois wasn't much closer to victory in a 36-14 loss to Duke. And Central Michigan fell to Wyoming by a nearly identical final score of 37-14. The only win for the Mid-American Conference was Ohio's 41-6 victory over UAB.

    But let's circle back to that loss by Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, because the Chippewas did something infamous.

    Though Shane Morris threw for 329 yards and a touchdown, he was individually responsible for six turnovers. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack in the first half. Just for good measure, he did the same thing in the second half. And the fumble in the second half was returned for a touchdown, ending any hope Central Michigan may have had of a comeback.

    Tight end Tyler Conklin and backup QB Tony Poljan also coughed up one fumble each, resulting in eight total turnovers by the Chippewas offense.

    Per Sports Reference, it was just the fourth time in the 2010s that a team committed at least eight turnovers in a single game, none of which had previously occurred in bowl games. In fact, there had not been an eight-turnover bowl game since at least the 2000 season.

Winner: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

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    Rashaad Penny
    Rashaad PennyTom Pennington/Getty Images

    Rashaad Penny was egregiously overlooked all season long.

    San Diego State's star tailback rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 12 games. In just the final four games of the regular season, he had 912 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. For the sake of comparison, Damien Harris led Alabama in rushing with a near-identical 906 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 (three times as many) regular-season games.

    Yet, somehow, Penny saved his best for last.

    Though the Aztecs lost 42-35 in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl because their defense was woefully unable to shut down Army's triple option, Penny had an incredible individual performance. The senior, who should have been a Heisman finalist, rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries.

    His first touch of the game came on a simple draw on 3rd-and-18. For most teams, that's a give-up play—a hope of gaining a couple of yards in the field-position battle before punting the ball away. But for San Diego State, that's a home run strike, as Penny took it 81 yards to the house.

    On the first play of the second quarter, Penny showed Le'Veon Bell-like patience, waiting for his blockers to open up the path for a 32-yard touchdown. And late in the third quarter, he went untouched on a 49-yard score.

    Stanford's Bryce Love got most of the praise for big-chunk gains, finishing the season with 13 carries that went for at least 50 yards. But Penny was one heck of a silver medalist. He had 12 carries of at least 40 yards and led the nation with three carries for 80 or more yards. Per CFBStats, he's the only player in the past eight seasons to amass at least three 80-yard runs in a single year.

    But we would be remiss if we didn't also toss an honorable mention to Ohio's Dorian Brown. The senior Bobcat rushed for 152 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries in a 41-6 win over UAB. That's not quite Penny's rate of 15.8 yards per carry, but 12.7 is still doggone impressive. It was just the third time in Brown's career that he rushed for multiple touchdowns, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Loser: The Turnover Chain

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    Sheldrick Redwine
    Sheldrick RedwineKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    By mid-November, Miami's turnover chain had taken on a life of its own, becoming arguably the biggest story of the 2017 college football season. For crying out loud, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated dedicated entire "everything you need to know" features to the brainchild of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

    Midway through what was then an undefeated season, the Hurricanes forced four turnovers in four consecutive games, capped off by a 41-8 blowout of Notre Dame. They started out 10-0 with a turnover margin of plus-16. They did not have a negative turnover margin in any of those games.

    But in the two contests that mattered the most, that momentum-shifting mojo was nowhere to be found.

    First, in the ACC championship against Clemson, Miami committed turnovers on three straight second-half possessions in the process of getting stomped 38-3. As a result, the Hurricanes blew their shot at the College Football Playoff and instead landed in the Capital One Orange Bowl against Wisconsin.

    Once there, Malik Rosier threw three more interceptions. The first led to a Wisconsin touchdown just three plays later. The second one came in the end zone, killing a crucial drive and eventually resulting in a Badgers field goal. And the third came on Miami's final possession, ending any hope of a comeback in the 34-24 loss.

    Meanwhile, Miami forced just one turnover in each of those games. Each one was a fumble in the first quarter, neither of which resulted in points due to a pair of missed field goals.

    Miami posted a minus-four turnover margin in those games, prompting Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst to question the power of the turnover chain with some NSFW language.

Winner: Michael Dickson, Texas

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    Michael Dickson
    Michael DicksonJohn Amis/Associated Press

    On Dec. 21, something quite unusual happened: A punter declared for the NFL draft.

    But considering what 2017 Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson did six days later in the Texas Bowl, any team in the market for a new punter should be champing at the bit to snag the junior this April.

    Heading into bowl season, Dickson was leading the nation in yards per punt. He ranked third in that category last year. It's not the power that makes him a must-have commodity at the next level, though.

    It's the precision.

    Dickson punted 11 times in the Texas Bowl, averaging a pedestrian 41.1 yards per punt. However, that's because six of those came from either the 50 or inside Missouri territory.

    With roughly 99 percent of college punters, booting the ball on the plus side of the field is a waste. The likelihood of pinning an opponent inside the 15let alone the 10 or 5is about as good as the chance of converting on fourth down. But Dickson repeatedly made it almost impossible for Missouri to get into scoring range.

    Of Dickson's 11 punts, 10 were downed inside the Missouri 15, eight were downed inside the Missouri 10, four landed inside the 5 and not one of them was returned for a single yard. And of the 10 punts that pinned Missouri inside its own 15, only one resulted in points for the Tigersa field goal after a 16-play drive. Texas also got a safety after one of Dickson's punts.

    It's not often that you come away from a game thinking that the punter was the MVP, but there's no question Dickson was the biggest reason the Longhorns won the Texas Bowl.

Loser: Secondaries in the Foster Farms Bowl

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    Khalil Tate
    Khalil TateMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    No one was expecting the Foster Farms Bowl to be a defensive struggle. In fact, if you read my Best Bets for Bowl Season article, you were warned to, "Buckle up for what could be the highest-scoring game of bowl season."

    It wasn't actually the highest-scoring game, but quarterbacks had no trouble moving the ball in this one.

    Arizona quarterback Khalil Tatewho was renowned during the regular season primarily for his rushing ability—threw for 302 yards and five touchdowns. None of his passes went for more than 40 yards, but eight of his 17 completions resulted in a gain of at least 20 yards. The Boilermakers spied Tate the entire game, which limited his scrambling to just 58 yards. However, it left holes all over the field for him to exploit with his arm.

    Prior to this, the sophomore had thrown for more than 166 yards in a game just once and never had more than two passing touchdowns. He was already going to be one of the preseason favorites for the 2018 Heisman, but this 2016 Sam Darnold-like bowl performance may lock him into the shortest odds for said award.

    And yet, Tate's personal best wasn't enough for victory, because Purdue passer Elijah Sindelar was just as impressive in the 38-35 victory for the Boilermakers.

    Sindelar threw for 396 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning 38-yard strike to Anthony Mahoungou on a 3rd-and-10 play with less than two minutes remaining. It was far from his best throw of the day, but Mahoungou was able to reach around 5'10" cornerback Lorenzo Burns for one of the top highlights of the entire bowl season.

    Add it all up and the Foster Farms Bowl featured 698 yards and nine touchdowns through the air. There were two interceptions—one of which came on a desperation heave by Tate on Arizona's final possessionbut that footnote means very little.

Winner: Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

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    Lane Kiffin
    Lane KiffinJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

    At the time of year when a bunch of head coaches are getting fired and twice as many are fearful of getting the ax, Lane Kiffin got a 10-year contract extension at Florida Atlantic just a few hours before his Owls handed Akron one of the biggest blowouts in bowl game history.

    No one expected it to be a close game. Per OddsShark, FAU was a 23-point favorite by kickoff. But the Owls more than doubled that spread in a 50-3 evisceration of the Zips.

    Sophomore running back Devin Singletary rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for at least 100 yards in each of the final 12 games of the season, finishing with 1,920 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.

    Jason Driskel had one heck of a game, too, completing 19 of 25 passes for 270 yards and two scores. He also rushed for 67 yards and two more touchdowns.

    Greg Joseph missed a pair of field goals; otherwise, the margin would have been even more embarrassing. FAU only punted once in the entire game, and that didn't happen until it had already scored 50 points.

    As far as the offense is concerned, it was just par for the course for the Owls under Kiffin. Following season-opening losses to Navy and Wisconsin, they averaged 44.6 points over their final 12 games, repeatedly rushing at will against overmatched Conference USA opponents.

    The 47-point win in the Boca Raton Bowl was a fitting capstone on an incredible one-year turnaround. FAU went 3-9 in each of the previous three seasons and had not had a winning season since going 7-6 in 2008. The Owls went 11-3 overall, racking up double-digit wins for the first time since joining the FBS ranks in 2004.

    Who knows if Kiffin actually intends to remain at Florida Atlantic for the duration of his contract, but it's looking like he's going to have a Group of Five dynasty for as long as he does stick around.

Loser: Two-Handed Catches

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    Miles Boykin
    Miles BoykinJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    Speaking of Lane Kiffin, he was single-handedly (pun intended) responsible for one of the biggest viral moments of bowl season.

    With the victory well in hand, a ball was thrown out of bounds along the FAU sideline. Kiffin was holding his sheet of plays in his left hand, with only his right hand free to snag the errant throw. Fortunately, that's all he needed. He didn't even crack a smile as he nonchalantly looked for a ref to toss the ball to, but the reaction of wide receiver Kalib Woods was priceless.

    It certainly wasn't the only one-handed catch this bowl season.

    Colorado State's Michael Gallup made an outstanding one-handed grab in one of the first games of the postseason when his team took on Marshall in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. A lot of people were frustrated with the end-of-season award lists when Gallup was named a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award ahead of guys like Memphis' Anthony Miller or Buffalo's Anthony Johnson. However, it's clear he was a deserving candidate who is going to be fun to watch in the NFL for the next decade.

    Wyoming's Austin Conway decided he only needed one paw to make a catch on a crucial 3rd-and-3 play in a decisive win over Central Michigan. Early in the Camping World Bowl, Virginia Tech's Henri Murphy made something of a basket catch with one arm while battling with an Oklahoma State defender. In one of USC's only highlights of the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State, Michael Pittman Jr. reached out with a single hand to reel in a deep ball. And maybe this doesn't count as a one-handed catch, but Arizona State's N'Keal Harry twice tipped the ball to himself with one hand before securing it with both as he laid out in the Hyundai Sun Bowl versus NC State.

    Without question, though, Notre Dame's Miles Boykin had the top one-handed grab, as it was the play that gave the Fighting Irish the victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Not only did he catch the ball, but Boykin proceeded to dodge multiple defenders along the sideline, gaining 31 yards after the catch for a 55-yard touchdown.

Winner: UCF Knights

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    McKenzie Milton
    McKenzie MiltonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Roughly three nanoseconds after Antwan Collier intercepted Jarrett Stidham's lame duck to seal UCF's 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, social media was overrun with analysts using this result as proof that the College Football Playoff needs to be expanded to eight teams.

    (Based on the final rankings, there would need to be 12 playoff teams for UCF to have actually been included. Maybe instead of clamoring for expansion of the field, we should demand an expansion of the committee to include some Group of Five experts who actually watched enough UCF games to know how good this team was.)

    Before we allow ourselves to get carried away in a months-long narrative, though, let's take a moment to appreciate what UCF accomplished this day and this season.

    McKenzie Milton got off to a brutally slow start in what looked exactly like a small-school QB going up against a powerhouse defense from the SEC. He completed just one of his first seven pass attempts for five yards, had one rush for five yards and botched a snap for a lost fumble. Though Auburn only managed one field goal in the first quarter, it felt like the Tigers were dominating the game.

    For the rest of the afternoon, though, Milton looked exactly like the QB of the highest-scoring offense in the nation. He finished with 242 passing yards, 116 rushing yards, three total touchdowns and no more turnovers beyond that first-quarter fumble. He was almost perfect on back-to-back touchdown drives in the second half, completing seven of eight attempts for 101 yards and two scores to put the Knights ahead for good.

    As a result, a team that was 0-12 just two seasons ago finished 13-0 with a statement win over a team that won two games against teams that reached the College Football Playoff. In total, Auburn played four games against team in the CFP Top 4 and was unequivocally the most battle-tested team in the country. Against the Knights, though, it crumpled like a paper tiger under the pressure.

Loser: Clemson's 3rd Quarter

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    Kelly Bryant
    Kelly BryantRusty Costanza/Associated Press

    If there's one thing we've learned during Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama, it's that when things start to unravel for the opponent, the Crimson Tide know how to go for the jugular.

    And in the third quarter of the Sugar Bowl, the Clemson Tigers left their throats exposed for a 24-6 loss.

    Early in the second half, Clemson was actually the team given ample opportunity to take the game over. Alabama missed a field goal at the end of the second quarter and proceeded to cough up a fumble on its own 20 on the first play of the second half. Out of nowhere, things were looking up for the boys in Orange.

    Though the Tigers were unable to score a touchdown on the ensuing possession, they kicked a field goal to cut Alabama's lead to 10-6. They also forced a three-and-out on Alabama's next possession and were finally starting to move the ball down the field.

    But Kelly Bryant was hit on a pass attempt, forcing an errant throw that practically landed in the lap of defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne. The same big man was on the receiving end of a one-yard touchdown pass seven plays later. And on Clemson's first snap of the following possession, a Bryant pass was deflected to Mack Wilson and returned for an 18-yard pick six.

    In what couldn't have been much longer than the blink of an eye, Clemson went from driving for the lead to fruitlessly trying to dig itself out of an 18-point hole.

    If you'd prefer to see it in drive summary form, here was Clemson's third quarter.

    • 3 plays, -5 yards, field goal
    • 6 plays, 33 yards, interception (which eventually led to an Alabama touchdown)
    • 1 play, 0 yards, interception (immediately returned for an Alabama touchdown)
    • 6 plays, -2 yards, punt

    Clemson had scored at least 31 points in each of its previous five games and had scored at least 35 points in each of its previous two meetings with Alabama in the College Football Playoff. But in this particular quarter, the Tigers looked completely lost on offense.

    Credit to Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings for that. He spied Bryant for virtually the entire game and made it impossible for the Tigers to do anything with the RPO that worked so well for most of the season.

Winner: The Rose Bowl

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    Sony Michel
    Sony MichelMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    If you only watched one college football game in the past month, here's hoping it was the Rose Bowl, because it was a thrill-a-minute instant classic.

    Where does one even start with the 54-48 double-overtime game that had everything?

    The Heisman winner threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns and was also on the receiving end of a two-yard TD from CeeDee Lamb on a WR reverse pass. Yet, Baker Mayfield had maybe the sixth-most noteworthy performance in Pasadena.

    Rather, Georgia's two-headed monster at running back was the story of the first national semifinal. Nick Chubb carried 14 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Sony Michel had 181 rushing yards on just 11 carries as well as four receptions for 41 yards and four total touchdowns, including the game-winner. All told, they combined for 367 yards and six scores.

    True freshman QB Jake Fromm had an excellent performance, too. Georgia didn't have any passing plays go for more than 21 yards, but he efficiently picked apart the Oklahoma secondary, completing 20 of 29 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

    More so than the big numbers from both offenses, what made this game so entertaining were the wild swings in momentum.

    For most of the first half, it felt like Oklahoma was going to run away with a blowout victory. But Georgia's defense finally showed up in the third quarter, punctuated by an interception returned to the 4 that set up the Dawgs for their first lead of the game. When Oklahoma returned a Michel fumble for a TD, things swung back in favor of the Sooners. And in the second overtime, a blocked field goal put Georgia in position to ultimately reach the national championship.

    It wasn't a fun game for Oklahoma fans. Even Georgia fans will probably be recovering from the stress of this one for a while. But if you didn't have a horse in the race and were just rooting for a fun game, the Rose Bowl delivered.


    Kerry Miller covers men's basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.


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