Winners and Losers from College Football Bowl Season

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2019

Winners and Losers from College Football Bowl Season

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    With the national championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson less than a week away, everybody needed to whet their appetites with some college football.

    Thankfully, the latter stages of bowl season provided us college football junkies with some excellent showdowns.

    The Fiesta Bowl between LSU and Central Florida was a barnburning delight, while Kentucky and Penn State got after each other in a Citrus Bowl defensive slugfest. Even the Outback Bowl between Iowa and Mississippi State could have gone either way. The Rose Bowl was lopsided early but became a dandy.

    Those games came on the heels of Florida's domination of Michigan on Saturday to kick off the big games outside of the College Football Playoff.

    Throughout the early bowls, we got to see an offensive onslaught from Army that probably didn't help Houston head coach Major Applewhite, who was fired Sunday. There was also a barrage of offensive ineptitude in the Cheez-It Bowl and a couple of quarterbacks showing out in their collegiate finales.

    Bowl season also marked legendary Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's final game before retirement.

    We tried to capture as much of it as we could. So, check out the winners and losers from bowl season.

Winner: Urban Meyer in His Final Game with the Buckeyes

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    It wasn't without stress and frustration, and it certainly wasn't perfect with Washington scoring the final 20 points of the game, but Ohio State coach Urban Meyer won his Buckeyes finale against the Huskies in the Rose Bowl, 28-23.

    The retiring coaching legend raised both arms in victory and unleashed a smile when receiver Johnnie Dixon morphed into Johnny on the spot when he corralled Washington's last-gasp onside kick. He pumped his fists as the Buckeyes players hugged him.

    Meyer seemed to close the door on ever returning in his interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after the win. This felt like the end.

    "I don't believe that's going to happen," he said. "I'm going to enjoy it tonight; I don't believe I'm going to coach again."

    If he doesn't, this was a good season to end it, at least on the field. Though they fell short of the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season, the Buckeyes went 13-1, had a record-shattering quarterback in Dwayne Haskins and dominated the Big Ten Championship Game.

    It looked like they were going to do the same to the Huskies, building a 28-3 lead, but coach Chris Petersen's team methodically chipped away. But OSU came up with the onside kick to secure the win. 

    In doing so, the Buckeyes closed the book on a tumultuous season in which Meyer was suspended for the season's first three games for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former receivers coach Zach Smith. 

    At least on the field, it was another big year for the Buckeyes, who now will move on to the Ryan Day era.

    "All credit to the opponent," Meyer said to Rinaldi afterward. "That was a hell of a game, man, and a great defense we faced, so Rose Bowl champs, I think we got our 13th win, so we'll go enjoy it and time to move on to the next era."

Loser: Washington for Its Lack of Early Offensive Urgency

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    It's hard to fault Washington coach Chris Petersen for his offensive acumen, considering how historically good the senior-led Huskies have been during the era of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin.

    But a deeper look at the numbers proves this Washington offense is flawed and that its quarterback struggled to develop since his sophomore year. It was difficult for the Huskies to effectively move the ball at times, especially against athletic defenses.

    That happened again in the Rose Bowl, when the Huskies' first nine drives against Ohio State featured a field goal, six punts, the end of the half and a turnover on downs. Worse, it seemed Petersen and Co. were OK with that, watching the deficit get bigger without any show of concern.

    Though the Huskies stormed back with strong defense, it was too late. 

    Jake Browning again failed to win the big game against one of the nation's premier teams. Sure, he made a few puzzling decisions, but most of the blame should be placed on peculiar play-calling and an offense that looked at times like it forgot it was playing in the Rose Bowl.

    Even though Petersen's decision to punt the ball away on 4th-and-8 from his own 17 with 3:49 left in the game wound up being the right call (Washington got the ball back, scored a touchdown and at least had the opportunity for an onside kick), it was awfully passive.

    Did Petersen simply lack faith in his offense?

    Before they finally broke through, the Huskies had gone 18 possessions without a touchdown dating back to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Also, when you factor in U-Dub was 110th in red-zone efficiency nationally this year, it's easy to see why he might not trust the offense.

    There was too much dink-and-dunk in a big game early on, and Petersen needs to change that attitude with Georgia transfer Jacob Eason and a big-time recruiting class coming in next year. He can't wait this late to attack.

Winner: Texas Is Back

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    From the first play, No. 15 Texas looked like it was ready to pull an upset against No. 5 Georgia at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. 

    It did just that in a 28-21 victory. 

    Though the Longhorns entered 9-4, they beat Oklahoma earlier in the year before falling in the rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game. They have a lot of talent, though Georgia got most of the headlines.

    Texas is young and hungry, and the players' pregame comments suggested they believed a win over Georgia would help them get back within striking distance of where they expect to be.

    After a dominant performance against last year's national runner-up that was close to getting to the final four again this year, it's safe to say Texas is back.

    From quarterback Sam Ehlinger arriving in the Superdome in a Drew Brees Westlake High School jersey (the two share the same alma mater) to mascot Bevo getting after Uga in the moments leading up to the game, this felt like Texas fate.

    Once the game started, the Longhorns took control of the situation on their own. The good vibes carried over.

    Defensively, they were magnificent (more on that later), smothering the Bulldogs until a frenetic fourth-quarter rally. Offensively, coach Tom Herman and coordinator Tim Beck were the aggressors from the outset. They had UGA's defense out of sorts for much of the night.

    Though Texas didn't connect on a bunch of deep strikes, it kept Georgia off-balance by utilizing the running backs in the passing game, designed quarterback runs by Ehlinger and methodical, time-consuming drives.

    With the chance to put it out of reach early in the fourth quarter, Herman didn't kick the field goal on 4th-and-goal from the 1. Instead, Ehlinger surged up the middle for a touchdown and then hit Collin Johnson for the two-point conversion to make the score 28-7.

    Georgia tried to come back, but this was Texas' night. It may be a harbinger of things to come in 2019.

Loser: Georgia's MIA Offense

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Discombobulated may not be the best word to describe the Georgia offense through three-and-a-half quarters in Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl.

    Disinterested may be better.

    A unit that entered the game against Texas ranked 14th in the FBS had few answers for coordinator Todd Orlando's aggressive, attacking group of young Longhorns who struggled through large swaths of the Big 12 slate, especially in the secondary.

    None of that was apparent against Georgia, though.

    The 69th-ranked Texas defense that was a miserable 116th in pass defense (out of 130 teams) stymied the Bulldogs. Quarterback Jake Fromm was off for much of the game after a decent start, missing open receivers left and right. He finished with 212 yards and three touchdowns (with one interception), but most of it came too late.

    More alarming (and surprising): A Georgia running game that was consistently brilliant throughout the year except in a loss to LSU in Baton Rouge couldn't get anything going. The Longhorns kept the Bulldogs to a season-low 72 rushing yards on 2.4 yards per carry.

    Until the fourth quarter, Georgia did not look anything like the team that took Alabama to the brink in the SEC Championship Game before Jalen Hurts' heroics, the one that came within an eyelash of getting to the College Football Playoff.

    You may say they were sleepwalking because they had nothing to play for, but that would take away from the great work of Orlando and Co. And if that is the case, it's more of an indictment of the Bulldogs than anything.

    Yes, there's a lot of youth in the Georgia offense, and even stars like Fromm and running back D'Andre Swift are only sophomores. But to be as flat as the Bulldogs were in the Sugar Bowl points to a lack of leadership.

    Coach Kirby Smart may be rolling up big-time recruits, pulling in last year's top-ranked class and another strong one for 2019, but Georgia was embarrassed against a team that was a double-digit underdog, per OddsShark. He needs to make sure this doesn't happen again.

    The Bulldogs have too much talent to sputter.

Winner: The Most Dangerous Burrow

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    You can say what you want to about LSU quarterback Joe Burrow: That he doesn't have the best arm, he isn't the most accurate passer and you don't think he has what it takes to help the Tigers win an SEC championship.

    But you shouldn't ever question his toughness.

    And the transfer from Ohio State still has time on the Bayou to get even better. That's the best thing for head coach Ed Orgeron and the Tigers.

    He looked pretty darn good on the big stage Tuesday, shredding UCF's secondary to the tune of 394 yards and four touchdowns in the 40-32 victory at State Farm Stadium. He added 24 yards on the ground just to keep the No. 8 Knights honest.

    Burrow was essentially decleated by defensive lineman Joey Connors on his only real mistake of the day, an interception Brandon Moore returned 93 yards for a touchdown (and it looked like Burrow's receiver could have run a poor route).

    Officials ejected defensive back Kyle Gibson in the second quarter for targeting.

    Each time, the signal-caller got up, and he continued to fling darts all over the field to his receivers, who had height and athletic advantages on the Knights defenders. 

    It was a different type of heroic performance than Burrow posted in a 74-72 seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M late in the regular-season finale. (He threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns while running for 100 more yards and three other scores in that defeat.) But it was huge nonetheless.

    Burrow proved he can show up in big games, and the Tigers seem excited to have him, even if the 6'4", 216-pound quarterback isn't flashy. He is good enough to win games with a lot of talent around him, and LSU had the superior talent in the Fiesta Bowl. Burrow exploited the Knights with a great showing.

Losers: Central Florida Playoff Backers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The winning streak stops at 25.

    Central Florida fell 40-32 to No. 11 LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite an early punch in the mouth after a 93-yard interception return by Brandon Moore—a score that put the Knights ahead 14-3—LSU woke up in a hurry.

    Though UCF kept it respectable and made things interesting late, head coach Ed Orgeron's team was simply better, even though it was missing some key defensive players, including cornerback Terrence Alexander and safety Grant Delpit (both ejected from the game).

    The Knights defensive line got blown off the ball by LSU's big offensive line, which had struggled at times during the year. The Tigers recorded 555 total yards of offense. And the remaining playmakers on defense were too much for UCF, which could only muster 250 yards.

    Redshirt freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. had just 97 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception, while running back Greg McCrae had just 81 yards and a touchdown as LSU's defense made things difficult much of the day.

    More harrowing for the Knights was the fact that LSU was without its three best cornerbacks—including Greedy Williams, who sat out to prepare for April's NFL draft—after officials ejected Alexander for throwing a punch in the first half.

    It didn't matter. 

    This doesn't mean UCF is a farce. The Knights hung tough against a quality opponent. If they had Heisman Trophy fringe candidate McKenzie Milton, who injured his leg against South Florida, who knows what would have happened?

    Of course, last year, UCF came back to beat then-No. 7 Auburn and claimed a mythical national championship under Scott Frost. In Josh Heupel's first year as head coach, the Knights continued their reign, getting their winning streak to 25. But that ended Tuesday.

    This is a great Knights team, but it's fair to wonder how their record would hold up against a Power Five schedule. LSU is one of the SEC's top three teams, and the Tigers proved it in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF had a great season, but it didn't belong in the College Football Playoff.

Winner: Florida's Future Under Dan Mullen

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    The 10th-ranked Florida Gators should surge up the rankings after dominating No. 7 Michigan in the Peach Bowl in a 41-15 stunner. 

    Get used to seeing them high in the rankings.

    This was head coach Dan Mullen's first year in Gainesville, of course. He came over from Mississippi State, where he built several good teams with limited resources. Now that he will have everything he needs at Florida, watch out. The Georgia Bulldogs are going to have some company atop the SEC East.

    Feleipe Franks isn't even the type of quarterback Mullen typically utilizes, but the sophomore grew considerably following a November loss to Missouri, throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions down the stretch. He was efficient against the Wolverines on Saturday, completing 13 of 23 passes for 173 yards and a score. He added 74 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground.

    Running backs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett combined for 135 yards on the ground.

    None of those three are seniors.

    The defense is young and talented, and it smothered a Michigan team that was one-dimensional and only managed 77 rushing yards. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had his guys playing fast and aggressively, and there's no reason to think that won't continue.

    Once Mullen gets some of his players to run his style, Florida should only improve. This Peach Bowl annihilation was the culmination of a surprise season and should help catapult the Gators into the future. It was an impressive showing, and the team's 10th win made 2018 a special year.

Losers: Teams Whose Players Sat out Their Bowl Games

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    When there is so much money riding on the bodies of NFL prospects, it's hard to vehemently argue against players' decisions to sit out bowl games, especially when they are largely meaningless. But that doesn't change the fact that it's a major letdown for fans who want to watch the best players and the teammates (especially seniors) who want to end their college seasons on happy notes.

    West Virginia quarterback Will Grier headlined the list of players who sat out, and the No. 16 Mountaineers struggled offensively throughout a 34-18 Camping World Bowl loss to No. 20 Syracuse. (The Orange were led by senior signal-caller Eric Dungey.)

    Michigan had some good defenders (highlighted by Devin Bush and Rashan Gary) who skipped the Peach Bowl, and a Gators offense that had struggled for much of the year lit up the Wolverines for 427 yards. With senior running back Karan Higdon sitting out, the Wolverines struggled to run the ball.

    Virginia shut out South Carolina 28-0 in the Belk Bowl, and the Gamecocks were one-dimensional. Star receiver Deebo Samuel did not play, and that took away quarterback Jake Bentley's top target.

    When you see elite stars suffer injuries in bowl games—like former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith—it's easy to understand why players with millions of dollars on the line are cautious.

    While it may be good for teams to take a look at their future contributors and starters, it rarely works out. They may like their players to take a cue from Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr.

    "It was very important [to play]," Snell told ESPN in his postgame interview after the Wildcats' 27-24 win over Penn State on Tuesday. "It's deeper than football. I'm the type of guy that if I'm going to start something, I'm going to finish it.

    "I came into this program the underdog. I came into this program fighting for a spot. I got my spot; then I wanted to fight for this team. I wanted to be some team and be somewhere. If I'm going to start the fight, I'm going to end the fight."

Winner: Northwestern's Seniors After 3rd-Quarter Eruption

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Northwestern's performance in Monday's Holiday Bowl was fitting of a top-tier program. 

    Trailing 20-3 against the Utah Utes in the third quarter, head coach Pat Fitzgerald's team showed it belonged in the national picture. After getting humbled 45-24 by Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Wildcats had something to prove.

    They did that with a powder-keg performance from its defense, which forced four turnovers in the third quarter. The Wildcats turned those into 28 points on their way to stunning Utah 31-20 and finished the season 9-5.

    "Isn't that the story of our season?" quarterback Clayton Thorson told the FS1 crew after the game. "We lose Ben Skowronek, Flynn Nagel, and then we come out in the second half and just lay it down. I mean, our defense, they're awesome."

    Perhaps the biggest highlight was a momentum-flipping, 82-yard scoop-and-score by linebacker Jared McGee that closed the gap to 20-17 and got his team's sideline cranked up. At that point, it looked like head coach Kyle Whittingham's Utes were going to answer Northwestern with a score of its own.

    That didn't happen. It was like a purple flood just drowned the Utes' young offense. Players looked shellshocked on the sideline, and the Wildcats continued to ramp up the pressure with play after play. By the end of the game, Utah had six turnovers.

    It got ugly. Unless you're a Wildcat; then, it was beautiful.

    The Northwestern victory ended what had been a stellar day for the Pac-12. Oregon and Stanford had won close games in slugfests against Michigan State and Pittsburgh, respectively.

    Though the Wildcats didn't have their best offensive effort (322 yards), they found a way to get it done, holding Utah scoreless on nine meaningful second-half possessions and sent out the seniors as the best class in program history.

Loser: Virginia Tech's Historic Run

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    It took an upset of rival Virginia and a final victory over Marshall in a matchup scheduled to make up for a game canceled by Hurricane Florence earlier in the season, but Virginia Tech positioned itself to extend history.

    Instead, the Cincinnati Bearcats won their 11th game in a comeback victory over the Hokies in the Military Bowl. That dropped head coach Justin Fuente's team to 6-7 and snapped the Hokies' 26-year streak of having a winning record, which was the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

    That distinction now belongs to Boise State, which has 21 consecutive winning seasons.

    The Hokies faced their share of adversity in 2018. They had to replace quarterback Josh Jackson after a season-ending injury. Ryan Willis stepped in this year, and he played brilliantly in a 35-31 bowl loss. But he threw a final-minute interception that ended any hopes for a win.

    The Hokies had their share of defensive issues this year, and that reared it head again for coordinator Bud Foster's unit, which couldn't stop the Bearcats (462 yards allowed). 

    Fuente elected to go for the first down on 4th-and-1 from the Bearcats' 3-yard line with less than nine minutes left. But the play was busted from the beginning, and Willis fumbled under heavy duress. Cincinnati eventually marched downfield for the go-ahead touchdown.

    This is the first time since 1992 the Hokies are going into the offseason with a losing record, and Fuente needs Jackson back and for the team to restock a defense that was 98th nationally in 2018.

    On the other hand, head coach Luke Fickell's Cincy team is one of the most pleasant surprises in college football, finishing 11-2. There's no shame in losing to the Bearcats, but this is a disappointing streak-ender regardless.

Winner: Mike Yurcich's Stock

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    With 247Sports' Dave Biddle report surfacing that Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is leaving Stillwater to join Ryan Day's staff at Ohio State, the Buckeyes should be excited about the clinic he put on against Missouri in the Liberty Bowl in a 38-33 win.

    The Cowboys racked up 502 yards and featured a strong rushing attack in upsetting the Tigers. Had it not been for a pair of Taylor Cornelius interceptions and a porous fourth-quarter defense, it never would have been close. 

    Yurcich is heading back to his home state of Ohio, but Tennessee also was linked to the play-caller, so his stock was high before the game. 

    The buzz about all the interest in Yurcich was so loud that coach Mike Gundy addressed the rumors leading up to the game, according to's Scott Wright.

    "At some point, Mike’s gonna move on. We would love to keep him here. We’re not gonna be able to pay what other schools could potentially offer him. So if he ever gets a run to be a coordinator at all the schools that are interested in him, or maybe move on to the NFL, that’s probably gonna be his next move versus — you just call it like it is—some of the other head coaching jobs you get at levels that are lower pay about a third or a fourth of what these guys are making as coordinators."

    The Ohio State job is a high-profile gig that could be a catapult to a quick head coaching job. It's also a bit of a gamble considering Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins likely won't return. Still, that program always recycles elite players who can benefit from Yurcich's offensive brilliance.

    He leaves behind a nucleus with the Cowboys of Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace, Tyron Johnson and Dillon Stoner. If Oklahoma State can find a viable option at quarterback, it has the chance to be explosive offensively.

    Gundy will have to turn over that group to another coordinator, and the Buckeyes have a lot of reasons to be excited about what Yurcich can bring the program.

Loser: Stephen Guidry's Case of the Dropsies

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Hanging onto the football has been a major issue this season for Mississippi State junior receiver Stephen Guidry, who had the third-highest drop rate (21.7 percent) in the SEC this year, according to CFB Film Room.

    That problem crept up at the worst possible time for the Bulldogs in a 27-22 Outback Bowl loss to Iowa on Tuesday.

    With MSU trailing 24-22 with 8:42 left in the game, senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald dropped back and unleashed a perfect laser right into the chest of Guidry for a would-be, go-ahead touchdown. Instead of catching it, the worst happened.

    After bobbling it a couple of times, Guidry batted the ball directly into the hands of defender Jake Gervase. Instead of even getting to attempt a go-ahead field goal, the Bulldogs watched the Hawkeyes make a couple of big plays and tack on a field goal for the final advantage after the unlikely interception.

    It's impossible to pin the loss completely on Guidry, especially considering how badly Fitzgerald and coach Joe Moorhead struggled with management of the game in the waning minutes. There were also the costly penalties (eight for 90 yards), whereas the Hawkeyes went penalty-free.

    When you factor in how unimaginative the Bulldogs offense was, specifically in the red zone, there are multiple reasons Iowa beat them.

    But Guidry deserves some blame. After all, that touchdown and an extra point would have given the Bulldogs 29 points, which would have been enough to win if everything else stayed the same. Who knows how that would have impacted what happened afterward, but it was points squandered.

    Now, Moorhead must replace Fitzgerald, who, at times, was the only offense Mississippi State had during the season. Things may look up for the Bulldogs, but this one is going to sting for a long time, and Guidry's blunder looms large.

Winner: Trayveon Williams

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    If Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams decides to forgo his final season in College Station, Texas, the most underappreciated player in the SEC will wind up showing everybody what he can do at the combine.

    He let the college football world know yet again in Monday's dominant TaxSlayer Bowl victory over North Carolina State. The game didn't start out great for Texas A&M, but the Aggies turned it up several notches, and the final score showed just how exciting this team can be.

    The Aggies beat the Wolfpack 52-13, capping a terrific first season in Aggieland for coach Jimbo Fisher, and with quarterback Kellen Mond and a lot of playmakers returning on both sides of the ball, they could be even better next season.

    Boy, what a boost it would be to the team if Williams returns. But you can't blame him if he doesn't.

    The Houston native set the school's single-season rushing record with a monster game, finishing with 236 yards on 19 carries (12.4 average) and scoring three touchdowns. NC State had no answer for him. He was simply the best athlete on the field.

    With the game already in hand and after he proved he can run up the middle, make cuts in the hole and do everything you want a pro running back to do, he broke free for a 93-yard touchdown run to cap off a phenomenal night and season.

    It looked like he blew the crowd a kiss after his celebration. Was that a sign that his career is over? If Monday night's showing is any indication, he's ready.

    In a perfect ending to a sterling night, "12th man" Cullen Gillaspia rumbled up the middle for a touchdown. It was the feel-good moment of the night, but Williams already made sure every Aggie was happy.

    Williams finished with 1,760 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the season. Yeah, he's NFL-ready.

Winner: Mark Stoops

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    For much of the year, a lot of the college football pundits poked holes in Kentucky's accomplishments while the Wildcats just kept winning.

    Despite a late-season hiccup against Tennessee, coach Mark Stoops got to a 10-win season on Tuesday with a 27-24 Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State.

    Penn State coach James Franklin didn't help the Nittany Lions with poor decisions, including calling a fake punt on 4th-and-2. On 4th-and-7 from the 14-yard line with 4:12 remaining, he elected to kick a field goal to cut the deficit to three. From there, UK running back Benny Snell Jr. helped the Wildcats get a couple of first downs and salt away the clock.

    By the time PSU got the ball back, it had just one second left.

    From the beginning, Stoops was into it. The television cameras caught the coach screaming "Bring it on!" in the direction of Franklin after UK snuffed out the fake punt. 

    Snell was the star yet again, closing his Kentucky career by becoming the school's all-time rushing leader, appropriately on a touchdown run. He finished with 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    Beating a Big Ten power like Penn State, even if the Nittany Lions weren't a great offensive team this year, was huge for UK. It's something around which the program can build, it'll help in recruiting, and it is a testament to just how far Stoops has brought the program.

    "We come into the season the underdogs, doubted a lot. We came into the season not ranked, not getting our respect," Snell told ESPN in the postgame interview. "The bond we created with this team, it's deeper than football. We proved so many people wrong. This is a great way to end the season right here."

    He went on to say the Wildcats are "legends." Certainly, this group will go down as the best team in Kentucky football history.

Bowl Roundup: Winners

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Army flexing that military muscle

    Unless you are a Houston fan, it's hard not to crack a smile about the Army Black Knights' season.

    They capped a 11-2 season with their ninth consecutive victory in a rousing 70-14 win over the Cougars in the Armed Forces Bowl. This team took College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma to the brink by minimizing Sooners possessions in a 28-21 overtime loss.

    Everything went right in the bowl game, as Army accumulated 507 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground in the win. 


    Malzahn music

    So much for that hot-seat talk, at least for a day.

    Yes, Auburn needs to do much better in the SEC next year for coach Gus Malzahn's seat temperature to go down, but the Tigers were magnificent in the Music City Bowl, torching the Boilermakers for 56 first-half points, which is the most points in a half of any bowl game.

    The Tigers won 63-14, and it could have been much, much worse for Purdue. After offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey parted ways with the program and headed to Kansas to join Les Miles' staff, Malzahn took over play-calling duties, and it worked extremely well.

    "When your players are executing, you can call any play," Malzahn told the Auburn Plainsman. "That was the way it was today. We call any play and they executed."


    Quarterback surges

    With the news that Justin Herbert is returning to Oregon for his senior season, everybody on the quarterback board slides up a spot.

    That could be big news for a pair of gunslingers who used their bowl games as catapults for their resumes. Auburn's Jarrett Stidham declared for the NFL in early December. After a brilliant bowl game, Duke's Daniel Jones followed suit.

    Everything Stidham did was brilliant in Auburn's huge win over Purdue. He completed 15 of his 21 passes for 373 yards and five touchdowns.

    In Duke's 56-27 win over Temple in the Independence Bowl, Jones proved he can make every pass, looking like a Peyton Manning clone with a 423-yard performance that featured five touchdowns and two picks.


    Golden Rhule

    A year after a one-win total, coach Matt Rhule had Baylor back in a bowl game, and the Bears responded with a resounding 45-38 Texas Bowl win over Vanderbilt.

    With so much youth and talent, Rhule's offense hearkened back to the old Baylor offensive juggernaut days with 668 scrimmage yards. The Commodores could do nothing to stop the Bears, who were without injured leading receiver Jalen Hurd.

    The Bears are loaded for 2019 and may be a Big 12 sleeper.


    Minshew magic

    Washington State won a 28-26 thriller in the Alamo Bowl to secure its 11th win of the season, the most in school history. The star, of course, was quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another one.

    The mustached maestro watched Iowa State cut the lead to 28-26, but the Cyclones failed on the two-point conversion, and Wazzu coach Mike Leach kept passing afterward rather than milk the clock. Minshew found Dezmon Patmon for an 18-yard gain to seal the victory.

Bowl Roundup: Losers

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    Cheez-y offenses

    California and TCU potentially combined for the worst offensive bowl performance in the history of the postseason. If you think that's hyperbole, check this out.

    In the Horned Frogs' 10-7 win in the Cheez-It Bowl, the two teams combined for nine interceptions and 15 punts. When the carnage cleared, it was deadlocked in a 7-all tie at the end of regulation. 

    TCU winning quarterback Grayson Muehlstein threw for just 24 yards, and his quarterback rating was 1.7. For comparison, Mississippi State had the best defensive passer rating in the country this season. Ole Miss' Jordan Ta'amu's 7.4 was the lowest any QB posted against it. 


    'Like it never even happened'

    Hey, at least they played the Cheez-It Bowl.

    The First Responder Bowl between Boise State and Boston College was canceled after the Eagles took a 7-0 first-quarter lead. It was the first time a bowl game had been canceled due to weather, according to the Idaho Press' B.J. Rains, who noted Hawaii had to cancel a postseason game in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    Appropriately, First Responder's slogan is "like it never even happened."

    "It's unfortunate, it really is," Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey told Rains. "I feel bad for our seniors, our team, our staff, our fans for traveling all this way over the holidays. It's an unfortunate situation."


    Paul Johnson's farewell

    Georgia Tech was a big favorite in coach Johnson's final game against Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl, but it was coach P.J. Fleck's team that rose to the occasion.

    Former Temple coach Geoff Collins will take over the Yellow Jackets following their 34-10 loss to the Golden Gophers. Coaching his last game before retiring, Johnson watched Georgia Tech run for only 206 yards, down from its 325-yard average. 

    It's going to be interesting to see how long it takes Collins to overhaul a triple-option attack with his scheme.


    Manny Wilkins' finale

    It's been an up-and-down career for Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins, who has so much physical talent and is an intriguing NFL prospect.

    But it wasn't a great final game for the Sun Devils senior, who couldn't end coach Herm Edwards' first season in Tempe with a win. Instead, they ran into an excellent Fresno State team that followed up its Mountain West Conference championship with a 31-20 Las Vegas Bowl win.

    Wilkins completed 19 of 31 passes for just 129 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. More importantly, he turned three Fresno turnovers into just three points in the loss. There's a bright future for ASU with two 4-star quarterbacks coming in, but Wilkins could have drawn up a better finish.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from 247Sports' composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.


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