The 2017-18 College Football All-Bowl Season Team
The thrilling conclusion to the College Football Playoff is going to be remembered forever, but the 2017-18 bowl season contained a lot more than just Tua Tagovailoa's tossing a 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime to give Alabama the national championship.
In total, there were 40 FBS college football games played over the course of the past month, and this is the two-deep all-star team from those contests.
Yes, Alabama and Georgia make quite a few appearances, but there's representation all over the place, from Northern Illinois, North Carolina State and Northwestern to Western Kentucky to multiple players from South Florida. (Too bad East Carolina and Eastern Michigan didn't qualify for bowls.)
Eye-popping statistics are the primary consideration for inclusion, but big/important plays were also key points in the deliberation process.
In selecting the first and second teams from bowl season, we're using a two-WR, two-RB, one-TE offensive formation and a traditional 3-4 defense.
First Team: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Sugar Bowl: Did Not Play
National Championship: 14-24, 166 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT; 12 carries, 27 yards
If you had told me Monday morning that I would need to edit the QB section of this thing after the national championship game, I would have bet most of my money on Jake Fromm and the rest of it on Jalen Hurts. In no scenario would Tua Tagovailoa have crossed my mind, considering he only appeared briefly in one of Alabama's seven previous games decided by fewer than 31 points.
But with Alabama's offense amassing just four first downs and zero points in the first half, Nick Saban turned to the true freshman to lead the comeback, which he did. Tagovailoa rushed twice and completed four straight passes in a 56-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter. After a disastrous interception on the following drive, it felt like he was perfect the rest of the way.
The game-winning, 41-yard TD bomb in overtime is the one that will get replayed repeatedly for years, but that play never happens without Tagovailoa's poise on a fourth-down play to stand in the pocket for several seconds before finding Calvin Ridley for a touchdown to tie the game (after the extra point) with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
It was only a little more than one half of one game, but it's a safe assumption it'll result in a lot of "Tua for 2018 Heisman" hype for the next seven months.
Second Team: Quinton Flowers, South Florida
17-34, 311 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT; 106 rushing yards, 1 TD
Though he only completed 50 percent of his pass attempts, Quinton Flowers had a monster performance in his final collegiate game, defeating a Power Five school in the Birmingham Bowl for a second consecutive year. Last year, he had five total touchdowns in a 46-39 win over South Carolina. This year, he had five total touchdowns in a 38-34 victory over Texas Tech.
Early on, Flowers was nothing short of dreadful. On South Florida's first five possessions, he had five carries for 11 yards and completed just three of his 13 pass attempts for 31 yards. The Bulls scored a mere three points in the first 29 minutes. But he was masterful on the final three possessions, rushing five times for 54 yards and a touchdown and going 6-of-8 for 139 passing yards and two scores. That included a critical 21-yard scamper on 3rd-and-10 to set up the game-winning strike to Tyre McCants.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Hill, TCU
27-40, 314 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 60 rushing yards, 1 TD; 27 receiving yards, 1 TD
There were a lot of great candidates for these QB spots, but the other ones didn't throw a beautiful 93-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to help orchestrate a comeback from an 18-point deficit. Nor did they make a 27-yard touchdown reception on a double pass. Per Sports Reference, Kenny Hill became the first player with at least 300 passing yards, 50 rushing yards and 25 receiving yards in a game since Martevious Young in 2009.
First Team: Sony Michel, Georgia
Rose Bowl: 11 carries, 181 yards, 3 TD; 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 TD
National Championship: 14 carries, 98 yards
What Sony Michel did to Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl may well have cemented him as the second running back selected in the NFL draft behind Saquon Barkley. He was inexplicably only given two carries in the first half, but he entered the intermission with 95 rushing yards and two total touchdowns. He finished the game with four scores, averaging 16.5 yards per carry, including the game-winning 27-yard TD in the second overtime.
But in some ways, his performance against Alabama was even more impressive. While teammate Nick Chubb had a brutal night against the nation's No. 1 rush defense (18 carries for 25 yards), Michel kept finding holes in Alabama's front seven that didn't exist for anyone else all season. On one field-goal drive, he picked up first downs on 3rd-and-5 and 3rd-and-20 plays. On a touchdown drive, he rushed for 14 yards on a 3rd-and-10. Though he never personally found the end zone in the title game, Michel was the clear star of Georgia's offense in both playoff games.
First Team: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
14 carries, 221 yards, 4 TD
San Diego State only had 31 offensive snaps in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Part of that is because Army had ridiculously long drives and simply didn't let the Aztecs get many opportunities. A bigger part is that Rashaad Penny kept finding massive holes in the Black Knights defense and kept San Diego State's offense from needing to spend much time on the field.
On his first touch of the game, Penny ran for an 81-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-18 draw play. Thanks to a 32-yard TD early in the second quarter, he finished the first half with 118 rushing yards on just four carries. He added a 49-yard touchdown on SDSU's first possession of the second half. Despite a bunch of "short" runs in the fourth quarter, he averaged 15.8 yards per carry and one touchdown for every 3.5 carries.
Second Team: Dorian Brown, Ohio
12 carries, 152 yards, 4 TD
Like Penny, Dorian Brown was mighty efficient on the ground in a bowl game. He was tackled for a six-yard loss on his first touch, but he averaged 15.6 yards on his final 10 carries, including touchdowns from 74, 25, 14 and nine yards out. All four of his touchdowns came in the span of six carries.
Second Team: Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
26 carries, 201 yards, 2 TD
Georgia spent so much of its energy trying to stifle Baker Mayfield that it occasionally forgot about his primary target for handoffs. Prior to the Rose Bowl, Georgia had not allowed a single 40-yard rush this season. Rodney Anderson had carries that went for 45 and 41 yards, and he averaged 7.7 yards per carry against one of the nation's stingiest run defenses.
First Team: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
13 receptions, 189 yards, 3 TD
It was a disappointing regular season for Christian Kirk. He only had two games with more than 80 receiving yards and entered the Belk Bowl with seven receiving touchdowns, averaging less than five receptions per game. His numbers weren't bad by any means, but nothing close to what was expected when we tabbed him a preseason first-team All-American.
Evidently, he was just saving his best for last. Kirk exploded for career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns against Wake Forest. And he almost had a fourth touchdown, as he had a 42-yard reception in the first quarter that set up Trayveon Williams for a two-yard score. Not a bad way to ride off into the sunset, as the junior declared for the NFL draft a few days after that performance.
First Team: Cedrick Wilson, Boise State
10 receptions, 221 yards, 1 TD
While Kirk struggled during the regular season before a big bowl game, Cedrick Wilson's showing in the Las Vegas Bowl was a capstone on a fantastic year. It was his sixth game with at least 100 receiving yards and the second with more than 200. It enabled him to finish second to only James Washington in total receiving yards.
Eight of Wilson's 10 receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown, including a 65-yard strike late in the first half to put the Broncos in a position to blow the game wide open. Unfortunately, Brett Rypien badly underthrew Wilson on the subsequent play, resulting in a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. We can't count that one against Wilson, but it's worth noting that he probably should have had one more catch and touchdown on this impressive day.
Second Team: Auden Tate, Florida State
5 receptions, 84 yards, 3 TD
There were much bigger performances as far as receiving yards go, but Kirk, Auden Tate and JJ Arcega-Whiteside (five catches, 61 yards) were the only players to haul in three or more touchdowns in a bowl game this year. Each of Tate's three scores came in the 10- to 20-yard range, furthering his reputation as FSU's top red-zone target. He's parlaying this game into a shot at the NFL, as the junior WR declared for the draft on Saturday.
Second Team: Anthony Mahoungou, Purdue
6 receptions, 118 yards, 2 TD
Anthony Mahoungou didn't even have the biggest receiving performance in the Foster Farms Bowl. Teammate Gregory Phillips made 14 catches for 149 yards and two scores. But Mahoungou had a darn fine day punctuated by one of the best catches of bowl season. On a 3rd-and-10 play with less than two minutes remaining, he reached behind his defender for a 38-yard, game-winning grab.
First Team: Tommy Sweeney, Boston College
7 receptions, 137 yards, 1 TD
Tommy Sweeney came out of nowhere in the Pinstripe Bowl. The junior tight end entered the game against Iowa with career highs of five receptions and 78 yards. And even that game was more than a year ago. His biggest performance of this season was four catches for 55 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Virginia.
But by halftime of this one, he already had 73 receiving yards. More than half of them came on one play, as he caught a tipped ball for a 39-yard touchdown. Six of his seven receptions resulted in a first down for the Eagles. Too bad it wasn't enough for a win, as Iowa scored the game-winning touchdown three plays after a strip-sack late in the fourth quarter.
Second Team: Deon Yelder, Western Kentucky
5 receptions, 112 yards, 2 TD
Another tight end who had a big day in a losing effort, Deon Yelder scored Western Kentucky's only touchdowns in the Autonation Cure Bowl. On one of those scores, he got wide open deep down the field for a 54-yard reception. This was the first time in the redshirt senior's career that he had more than 92 yards or multiple touchdowns in a single game.
First Team (Tie): Navy Midshipmen
452 rushing yards, 7 TD, 5.9 yards per carry
First Team (Tie): Army Black Knights
440 rushing yards, 5 TD, 5.1 yards per carry
It only makes sense to discuss these two rushing attacks together, because they completely dominated all season.
Thanks to strong showing in their respective bowl games, Army finished the year averaging 362.3 rushing yards per game with 50 touchdowns, and Navy wasn't far behind at 351.4 and 42. The two military schools were the only ones to average at least 310 rushing yards per game this year, and they both rushed for more yards per game than any team did in 2016.
The Midshipmen ran rampant against Virginia in a 49-7 win in the Military Bowl. Quarterbacks Malcolm Perry and Zach Abey combined for 29 carries for 202 yards and seven touchdowns. Four other players had at least one carry go for at least 16 yards in the blowout.
The Black Knights were just as impressive in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Ahmad Bradshaw led their rushing attack with 180 yards and two scores in the process of wearing out San Diego State's defense. Army possessed the ball for 46 minutes and rushed 87 times. The biggest of the bunch was Kell Walker's taking the game-winning pitch two yards on a two-point conversion with 18 seconds remaining.
As a result of outstanding blocking in the triple-option offenses, Army and Navy both won a bowl game in the same season for the first time in history.
First Team: Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks
The first of two first-team defensive players for the Buckeyes, Sam Hubbard had Sam Darnold's number in the Cotton Bowl.
Ohio State was already up 24-0 by the time Hubbard got into the sack category, but he helped keep the Trojans from ever making this thing competitive. He and Jerome Baker combined for a sack on 3rd-and-11 late in the second quarter, forcing a punt. He also had a solo sack on 3rd-and-long late in the third quarter to force another punt. And on USC's last-gasp effort to get into the scoring column in the closing seconds, Hubbard brought down Darnold seven yards behind the line of scrimmage on 2nd-and-goal. (USC didn't score on that drive.)
Hubbard also had 2.5 sacks in the regular-season finale against Michigan, so he finished out his junior year with a flourish.
First Team: Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Sugar Bowl: 5 tackles, 1 sack
National Championship: 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception
Listed at 6'7" and 306 pounds, it's almost unfair what Raekwon Davis is physically capable of doing on the field. People have speculated about how good LeBron James could have also been at football, but he would need to pack on about 55 pounds of muscle to be in the same class of specimen as Davis.
The big man made his presence felt in both playoff games, particularly the second one. He was in the right place at the right time for an interception on a Jake Fromm pass that deflected off a helmet. Davis returned it 19 yards to put Alabama in scoring position. Two UGA possessions later, Davis got a big sack on a 3rd-and-4 play to force a punt. Had he not brought down Fromm nine yards behind the line of scrimmage, there's a chance the Dawgs would have gone for it on fourth down. But because of Davis, we'll never know.
Second Team: Joe Gaziano, Northwestern
5 solo tackles, 3 QB hurries, 2 passes defended, 1 sack
At no point in the Music City Bowl did Stephen Johnson look comfortable in the pocket for Kentucky. He completed just 52.8 percent of pass attempts with two interceptions and no touchdowns. That's because Joe Gaziano was in his face on a regular basis. He only had one sack (and forced a fumble on said sack), but he forced Johnson into some quick, ill-advised passes and broke up a pair of pass attempts at the line of scrimmage.
Second Team: Caleb Fuller, Appalachian State
4 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 QB hurry
Appalachian State was the only team to pitch a shutout in bowl season, and it all started up front with Caleb Fuller. He was involved in a pair of third-down sacks and had two other tackles behind the line of scrimmage in helping limit Toledo to 146 yards of total offense.
First Team: Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
Sugar Bowl: 2 solo tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass defended, 1-yard receiving TD
National Championship: 6 total tackles, 3 solo tackles
Usually, you'd think of a first-team defensive tackle as a guy with a bunch of sacks or at least a few tackles behind the line of scrimmage. But Da'Ron Payne didn't have any of those. What he did have was a significant role in a game-changing interception in each of Alabama's victories.
On the one against Clemson, he was on the receiving end of the errant pass caused by pressure and a hit on the quarterback. He returned it 21 yards—36 if you count the personal foul—and got his receiving touchdown on the ensuing drive.
On the big interception against Georgia, Payne was the one applying the QB pressure, forcing Jake Fromm to throw the ball into Da'Shawn Hand's helmet, which then deflected to Raekwon Davis. This came on the first play after a bad Tua Tagovailoa interception, giving Georgia a chance to put the game out of reach. Instead, it swung the momentum, and Alabama outscored the Dawgs 19-3 the rest of the way.
Payne's impact was much larger than just those two plays, though. Early in the game against Georgia, it seemed like he was in on every tackle, showing off his potential as a first-round draft pick.
Second Team: Deadrin Senat, South Florida
5 tackles, 3.0 sacks
There was only one player who had three or more sacks in bowl season, and you're looking at him. Deadrin Senat made life miserable for Texas Tech's Nic Shimonek.
His first sack came on a 4th-and-3 in the first quarter, forcing a turnover on downs. The second put the Red Raiders in a 3rd-and-15, which eventually resulted in a punt. And the third came on a 3rd-and-13, thus immediately causing a punt. The senior defensive tackle had 2.5 sacks in a game earlier this season against Houston, but this time, the Bulls were able to turn his individual effort into a team win.
Bonus Team: Ed Oliver, Houston
Ed Oliver had a decent showing on defense in the Hawai'i Bowl, finishing with three solo tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss. But the real reason we had to at least give him a shoutout was the one-yard rushing touchdown that put the first points on the board in this game. The best part of that highlight is the graphics crew initially tried to credit the touchdown to QB Kyle Allen—the other No. 10 on Houston's roster.
First Team: Shaquem Griffin, UCF
12 total tackles, 6 solo tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks
Inside linebacker Chequan Burkett had the highlight-reel play for UCF's defense, returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown. But it was Shaquem Griffin who did the heavy lifting for a team that was supposed to be physically overmatched by Auburn.
The Knights had a total of 10 tackles for loss in the Peach Bowl, six of which were sacks. Griffin accounted for at least 25 percent of each. What else is new, though? The senior led UCF in both sacks and tackles for loss in each of the past two seasons. The Knights were typically lauded for their high-octane offense, but tough D is why they were able to pull off a 34-27 win over a team that defeated both Alabama and Georgia this year.
First Team: Marcel Spears Jr., Iowa State
11 total tackles, 8 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack
Just about every time someone mentioned an individual defender for Iowa State in the past five months, it was to marvel at Joel Lanning's seamless transition from quarterback to linebacker (and back again, as needed). But Marcel Spears Jr. had one heck of a season alongside Lanning, racking up 107 total tackles as a redshirt sophomore—compared to just four tackles all of last year.
And Spears was the biggest reason that Iowa State was able to stifle a Memphis offense that had scored at least 41 points in each of its previous six games. Iowa State won the Liberty Bowl 21-20 largely because Memphis could not establish the run. Patrick Taylor Jr. had rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown in each of his last three games, but Spears helped limit him to just four yards per carry while Memphis was held without a rushing touchdown.
Second Team: Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
5 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack
Anfernee Jennings did not play in the national championship after undergoing knee surgery, but he was Alabama's defensive star in the Sugar Bowl. Though his numbers don't jump off the page like the other three outside linebackers listed here, he almost single-handedly shut down Kelly Bryant, thus also shutting down Clemson's entire offense. He spied the dual-threat QB for most of the night, turning Bryant into a zero threat.
Second Team: Jawuan Johnson, Northern Illinois
12 total tackles, 6 solo tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 fumbles forced, 1 sack, 1 pass defended
Not a lot went right for Northern Illinois in its 36-14 loss to Duke in the Quick Lane Bowl, but Jawuan Johnson did everything in his power to keep the Huskies in the game. Like Spears, Johnson was overlooked for most of the season because of a teammate (Sutton Smith) putting up ridiculous numbers, but with help from this game, Johnson finished the year with 18 tackles for loss, five fumbles forced and five interceptions (two returned for TD). There has been no word yet on whether the junior will declare for the NFL draft, but he'll need to be considered as a preseason All-American if he does return to NIU.
First Team: Roquan Smith, Georgia
Rose Bowl: 11 tackles, 4 solo tackles
National Championship: 13 tackles, 9 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack
If there were any doubts about whether Roquan Smith deserved to win the 2017 Butkus Award, he erased them with his terrific play in the College Football Playoff. Smith didn't have that much of an impact during regulation of a Rose Bowl that was fueled by offense. But he did have a critical tackle in each overtime, limiting Oklahoma to just two field-goal attempts in the extra sessions.
He was everywhere in the national championship, though, particularly in the third quarter. On Alabama's first possession of the second half, Smith came on a third-down blitz and fought through a Damien Harris block like he wasn't even there, sacking Tua Tagovailoa for a four-yard loss. And on the second-to-last play of the quarter, he wrapped up Bo Scarbrough with a textbook open-field tackle two yards shy of the first-down marker to force another punt.
First Team: T.J. Brunson, South Carolina
13 total tackles, 9 solo tackles, 2 sacks
South Carolina's defense was all over Michigan from the outset of the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines only had two drives of 34 or more yards in the entire game, one of which resulted in an interception.
T.J. Brunson helped set that tone early, sacking Brandon Peters and forcing a Michigan three-and-out on its first possession. The sophomore had not previously recorded a sack in his career, but he got two of them in this game as part of his career-high nine solo tackles. Michigan had four drives begin in South Carolina territory, but did not score a touchdown on any of them. Credit to Brunson for leading the defensive charge that ended the Big Ten's perfect record in bowl season.
Second Team: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
12 total tackles, 10 solo tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack
During the regular season, Oregon's offense was almost unstoppable when QB Justin Herbert played. Even when he didn't, the Ducks dominated with the running game, averaging 268.0 rushing yards in their 12 games. But against Leighton Vander Esch and Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, they couldn't do anything. Oregon averaged less than two yards per carry and had just 126 yards of total offense in the first three quarters before finally tacking on a few meaningless touchdowns in the fourth. Thanks to these 12 tackles, Vander Esch finished fifth in the nation with 141 total tackles on the season.
Second Team: Mike McCray, Michigan
9 total tackles, 7 solo tackles, 4 tackles for loss
South Carolina's offense got rolling in the final 20 minutes, but for the first 40, Mike McCray and Co. manhandled the Gamecocks. They went three-and-out on six of their first 10 possessions and had just 98 yards of total offense on those drives—38 of which came on one play. The Wolverines don't need to replace much this offseason, but this is one senior linebacker they are going to miss.
First Team: Byron Murphy, Washington
6 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 pass defended
Early on in the 2017 season, it looked like Byron Murphy might be a superstar for the Washington Huskies as a redshirt freshman. He intercepted two passes in the season opener against Rutgers, and followed it up eight days later with three passes defended against Montana. But a broken foot knocked him out of action for more than two months.
Clearly, he didn't acquire any rust during that time. He had three passes defended and a forced fumble in the Apple Cup and put up the above numbers in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. On the interception, he did an outstanding job of dragging his toe before running out the back of the end zone. Watch out for this guy for the next year or three.
First Team: Deandre Baker, Georgia
Rose Bowl: 2 solo tackles
National Championship: 3 tackles, 1 interception
The inherent problem with scrolling box scores to try to find marquee performances by cornerbacks is that the best ones barely show up in the box score. They blanket their receiver and keep the opposing quarterback from even thinking about throwing in their direction more than a couple of times in the entire game.
That's precisely what Deandre Baker did to Calvin Ridley and Alabama's passing game in the national championship. Ridley did eventually find the end zone on something of a broken play from the UGA 7, but the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the Crimson Tide did not have a single reception that went for more than nine yards. Baker also made a noteworthy showing in this box score, thanks to his interception on an ill-advised pass attempt on which none of Tua Tagovailoa's receivers were even looking for the ball.
Second Team: Julian Blackmon, Utah
2 solo tackles, 2 interceptions
Things almost could not have gone any worse for the Pac-12 in bowl season. The league went 1-8 and wasn't even competitive in most of the losses. The one saving grace was Utah, and Julian Blackmon got to have some fun in the final 10 minutes of that victory, intercepting a pair of Chris Chugunov pass attempts late in the fourth quarter.
Second Team: Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
4 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pick-six
SMU never had a chance against Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl, digging itself an early hole with turnovers on each of its first three possessions. Amik Robertson made the Mustangs pay for the third one, taking that interception all the way back to the house for a 45-yard touchdown.
First Team: Mark McLaurin, Mississippi State
11 total tackles, 8 solo tackles, 3 interceptions
Lamar Jackson's college football career ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. He did rush for 158 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns, but he completed just 41.9 percent of his passes and threw a career-worst four interceptions in the loss to Mississippi State.
That's largely because of Mark McLaurin. Mississippi State's junior safety had never intercepted multiple passes in his career, but he picked off Jackson three times in the TaxSlayer Bowl. He returned two of them to within the Louisville 25, setting up both a field goal and a touchdown for the Bulldogs, which proved to be the difference in the 31-27 game. McLaurin also racked up 11 tackles and broke up a fourth pass attempt.
First Team: Damon Webb, Ohio State
5 solo tackles, 1 pick-six, 1 fumble recovery
Another preseason Heisman candidate who had a rough bowl game was USC's Sam Darnold. He threw for 356 yards, but he did not account for a single touchdown, breaking a 23-game streak in the process. In fact, USC would not have scored an offensive TD in the Cotton Bowl if not for a fumble on special teams that set the Trojans up nicely in the red zone. And Damon Webb was the leader of the defense that shut down what had been a prolific offense.
On USC's first drive, Webb was Johnny on the Spot, scooping up a Deontay Burnett fumble and returning it 20 yards to set up an Ohio State touchdown. A few possessions later, he perfectly read the first (only) play of USC's drive, jumping in front of a pass intended for Burnett and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown.
Second Team: Frank Buncom, Stanford
4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery
TCU didn't make many mistakes in the Alamo Bowl, but Frank Buncom was the beneficiary of most of them. He jumped on a Desmon White fumble and had a pair of interceptions—one of which came on a deflection of a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Those were kind of dumb-luck plays, but there was nothing fluky about his first pick. With Kenny Hill rolling to his right, he jumped the route over the middle and returned the interception 37 yards to put Stanford in great position for a TD.
Second Team: Jarius Morehead, North Carolina State
5 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery
Though there wasn't much defense in the Sun Bowl, it didn't take long for Jarius Morehead to make an impact. On the second play of the game, he jumped on a Kyle Williams fumble to give the Wolfpack the ball. And late in the third quarter—after a special-teams fumble that threatened to open the door for Arizona State to get back in the game—Morehead intercepted a Manny Wilkins pass in the end zone, effectively sealing the game.
First Team: Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia
Rose Bowl: 2-3 FG (55, 38 in OT), 6-6 PAT
National Championship: 3-3 FG (51 in OT, 41, 27), 2-2 PAT
When Rodrigo Blankenship drained a 55-yard field goal just before halftime against Oklahoma, it didn't seem like much. It merely cut Georgia's deficit from 17 points to 14. But it was the start of a 24-0 run to bring the Bulldogs back from what was starting to look like a blowout loss. He also made the game-tying extra point with less than a minute remaining in regulation, as well as a mid-range field goal in the first overtime—neither of which could have possibly felt like easy kicks, given the circumstances.
But the bespectacled sophomore was far from finished. He was also perfect in the national championship game, including another bomb from more than 50 yards out in overtime—this in a game in which Alabama's kicker shanked both a 40-yarder and a 36-yarder. Were it not for Alabama's answering with a touchdown, his deep kick in OT might have been enough for him to be named MVP of the game.
Second Team: Quinn Nordin, Michigan
4-4 FG (48, 45, 35, 26), 1-1 PAT
Once upon a time, Jim Harbaugh wanted to sign Quinn Nordin so badly that he showed up at his parents' house at 12:01 a.m. on the night that he was first allowed to have contact with the high school kicker. Per Steve Kaminski of Mlive.com, Harbaugh then slept in the guest room of their house before a breakfast of pancakes and waffles.
Most coaches wouldn't dream of committing that type of energy to signing a kicker, but Harbaugh must have known how special Nordin would be. And in the Outback Bowl, he drained several long field goals in pushing the Wolverines to a 19-3 lead. Unfortunately, he would have needed three more field goals for them to win the game, because the Gamecocks finished on a 23-0 run to secure the victory.
First Team: Michael Dickson, Texas
11 punts, 41.1 yards per punt, 0 punt-return yards, 10 punts inside opponent 20
Though Michael Dickson only averaged 41.1 yards per punt, he was named the MVP of the Texas Bowl. That's because he made it almost impossible for Missouri to score by forcing the Tigers to string together long drives to even come within shouting distance of the end zone.
On 10 of his punts, he pinned Missouri inside its own 15. Four times, he dropped the ball inside Missouri's 4. One of his punts led to a safety, and on two others, Missouri committed turnovers in its own territory, leading to a pair of Texas touchdowns. Best of all, not one of his punts was returned for a single yard. It's not often that punters declare for the NFL draft as juniors, but this one is clearly ready for the next level.
Second Team: Drue Chrisman, Ohio State
7 punts, 45.9 yards per punt, 2 punt-return yards, 3 punts inside opponent 20
Dickson repeatedly pinned Missouri deep in its own territory, but Drue Chrisman kept changing the field for the Buckeyes. Six of his seven punts went at least 43 yards, and USC did not score once on a possession that started after a punt—this despite the Trojans' moving the ball at least 41 yards immediately after five of the punts.
First Team: Desmon White, TCU
76-yard punt-return TD; 3 receptions, 33 receiving yards, 1 TD; 27 passing yards, 1 TD
Maybe it's not right to count all of these offensive accolades for the top returner of bowl season, but we have to put Desmon White somewhere, given everything he did to help will TCU to a comeback win in the Alamo Bowl.
White didn't get his first touch of the game until there were less than two minutes remaining in the first half, but he was everywhere after the intermission. He threw a 27-yard touchdown to Kenny Hill on a double pass, he had an 11-yard touchdown reception on the subsequent drive, and it was his 76-yard punt-return touchdown that gave the Horned Frogs their first lead of the game.
Second Team: Jason Huntley, New Mexico State, and Savon Scarver, Utah State
Back-to-back kickoff TDs
San Diego State's Juwan Washington returned one kickoff for a touchdown and finished with 140 total return yards. Joe Reed took the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown for Virginia's only points against Navy. And Iowa's Akrum Wadley had five kick returns for 171 yards. But, come on, we've got to award this spot to Savon Scarver and Jason Huntley for returning back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns in the first quarter of the Arizona Bowl.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.