Winners and Losers of 2021 Bowl Season So Far

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2021

Winners and Losers of 2021 Bowl Season So Far

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Headlined by the SEC continuing a parade of losses, Tuesday's four-game slate brought the midpoint of the 2021 bowl season.

    That landmark offers a natural time to remember the most notable takeaways from the opening stretch. After all, what comes nextthe New Year's Six and many power-conference gamesis the most anticipated portion of the postseason.

    These storylines deserve their moment in the spotlight.

    The list is subjective but focuses on historical value, unique moments and single-season trends.

Winner: Bailey Zappe Caps Record-Setting Year

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    Bailey Zappe is leaving Western Kentucky as a legend.

    After transferring from Houston Baptist last offseason, he embarked on a campaign that featured two iconic records. Zappe set the single-season marks in passing yards and touchdowns during WKU's win over Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl.

    Zappe needed 289 yards to surpass 2003 Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons' total (5,833) and put up 422, finishing the season with 5,967. Thanks to six touchdown passes, he eclipsed 2019 LSU star Joe Burrow (60) and ended with 62 for the year.

    Next up for Zappe is the NFL. Two days after Christmas, the record-setter announced he'll enter the 2022 draft.

Loser: NIU, UTEP Bowl Streaks

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    Northern Illinois and UTEP can't seem to figure out the postseason. Following their losses to Coastal Carolina and Fresno State, respectively, both programs have fallen in seven straight bowl games.

    Does it mean anything? Not really!

    However, the programs are approaching the wrong kind of history. And that is always intriguing. Notre Dame and Northwestern share the record at nine straight bowl losses, and three moreHouston, South Carolina and West Virginiadropped eight in a row.

    NIU's slide covers the last decade; the Huskies last won in 2011. UTEP, though, hasn't managed a victory since 1967.

    Better luck next year?

Winner: Cooper Legas' Debut Touchdown

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    During the second quarter of the LA Bowl, backup quarterback Cooper Legas replaced Utah State starter Logan Bonner when he exited with a knee injury.

    Legas had thrown exactly zero passes in college. Yet on his first attempt, the redshirt sophomore lofted a picture-perfect downfield shot to Deven Thompkins. The star receiver sprinted away from the Oregon State defense for a stunning 62-yard touchdown.

    Pretty sure Legas should've retired on the spot.

    Utah State toppled the Beavers 24-13, matching a program record with 11 wins. Legas threw for 171 yards and two scores in his unforgettable debut.

Loser: Miserable Start for the SEC

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    From the positive angle, the SEC set a record with 13 bowl-eligible teams. However, the extensive list included five programs that finished 6-6. So from the negative side, a loss in bowl season means a losing record for those teams.

    So far, not so good.

    In the Armed Forces Bowl, a last-second field goal shattered Missouri's late comeback. Army captured a 24-22 victory over the Tigers, who dropped to 6-7. Florida matched that record with a 29-17 letdown to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl.

    Auburn followed suit, losing to Houston 17-13 in the Birmingham Bowl. Auburn surrendered a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and ended the campaign 6-7 as well.

    Lastly, the Mike Leach Revenge Game ended horribly. Texas Tech trounced Mississippi State 34-7 in the Liberty Bowl, and the Bulldogs sputtered to a 7-6 finish.

    Good thing the SEC didn't care about these bowls, right?

Winner: Mountain West Conference

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    Steve Conner/Associated Press

    Not since 2014 has the Mountain West exited bowl season with a losing record. That trend isn't ending in 2021.

    To this point, the conference's lone negative result is an understandable one. Nevada didn't have seven offensive startersincluding QB Carson Strong, a potential first-round NFL draft pickin a 52-24 loss to Western Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl.

    Otherwise, the MWC has five victories.

    Utah State defeated Oregon State 24-13 in the LA Bowl, and Fresno State outlasted UTEP 31-24 in the New Mexico Bowl. Wyoming QB Levi Williams rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-38 win over Kent State in the Potato Bowl, and San Diego State upended UTSA 38-24 in the Frisco Bowl.

    Air Force joined the party Tuesday with a 31-28 triumph over Louisville in the First Responder Bowl, wrapping up a 5-1 bowl campaign for the Mountain West.

Loser: The MAC

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Apparently, once the beloved midweek #MACtion ends in November, the conference has decided it's done for the year. Dating back to the 2012 season and including 2021—a 10-year sample—the MAC holds a horrendous 16-41 record in bowl games.

    Not great, Bob!

    Miami (Ohio) dispatched North Texas 27-14 in the Frisco Football Classic, and Western Michigan destroyed short-handed Nevada in the Quick Lane Bowl. The rest of the MAC, though, continued the decadelong slide with a few miserable losses.

    On the opening day of bowl season, Toledo fell to Middle Tennessee as a 10-point favorite in the Bahamas Bowl. And then, Northern Illinois lost to Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl.

    From there, Eastern Michigan (Liberty, LendingTree Bowl), Kent State (Wyoming, Potato Bowl) and Ball State (Georgia State, Camellia Bowl) all surrendered 50-plus points in losses. They dropped those games by a combined 81 points.

    Central Michigan rounds out the MAC's bowl slate opposite Washington State in the Sun Bowl.

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