2022 College Football: Bowl Game Takeaways

If you’re reading this and your team is playing in one of these bowls, congratulations! Your team is at least 6-6 (unless it’s Rice…5-7 got you in due to your school’s academic progress rate!), and they’ve achieved one of their season-long goals. If your team isn’t here, then you just love football, and hopefully you’ll be happy reading this as well. I’m providing bowl game takeaways for every bowl, and I’ll be updating this page whenever games occur (most recent bowl first), so check back often. I’m going to try to discuss each game within 24 hours of it going final (some sooner). The only bowls that won’t be here are the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, as they’re the hosts of the CFP semifinals, which will be discussed on their own. Read on for the takeaways!

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Prudential: (11) Penn State 35, (8) Utah 21

“The Granddaddy of Them All”, also the snobbiest bowl and the last one before the national championship game, was only exciting for a half this year. Even in that first half, nobody did anything at all for 4 possessions. PSU finally broke through after intercepting Utah QB Cam Rising, scoring on an 11-play TD drive. That appeared to jumpstart both teams, as the next 3 drives all ended in TDs as well. With the score 14-14 at the end of the half, many expected the shootout to continue. Only one team appeared to get the memo. Nittany Lions RB Nicholas Singleton (7/120/2) broke loose for an 87-yard TD. On the following drive, Rising dove for a first down and took a big hit, and he was injured on the play. At just 8/21 for 95 yards, a TD, and an INT prior to his departure, Rising wasn’t having a premier game, but he did have 56 rushing yards and was clearly better than Bryson Barnes, who replaced him. Rising would not return to the game, and Barnes would not put another point on the board.

In Barnes’ defense, the Penn State defense started swarming. They compiled 5 second-half sacks (6 overall) and gave him no time to throw. He arguably did well just to finish 10/19 for 112 yards, a TD, and an INT. The biggest support came from RB Ja’Quinden Jackson (13/81/1) and WR Devaughn Vele (5/100). Sensing blood in the water, PSU QB Sean Clifford and the offense struck again, this time with an 88-yard TD pass to KeAndre Lambert Smith (3/124/1). Those busts in the Utah secondary did as much to lose this game as the offense. Clifford (16/21, 279 yards, 2 TDs) finished his PSU career with one of his finest games, showing none of the poor decision making that he normally exhibits. Aside from a garbage-time TD, the defense played a sterling second half to give the Utes their 2nd consecutive Rose Bowl loss. Penn State will continue to field talented teams, but getting through Ohio State and Michigan will be challenging on a yearly basis. Third-best in the Big Ten and being a really good team might be their ceiling. Utah has likely plateaued. Rising is a decent QB, but the Utes tend to get nobody better. They’re good enough to win the Pac-12, but they get trounced by Big Ten teams. Utah can hang around the top 15, but rising much higher (no pun intended) would be a big ask.

Cheez-It Citrus Bowl: (17) LSU 63, Purdue 7

Purdue was dominated in this game, and it’s easy to see why. QB Aidan O’Connell opted out, though I’m not sure why. He was only rated as a 6th-rounder at best anyway. Coach Jeff Brohm left the team to head to Louisville. Those two pieces were the backbone of the entire team, so with them gone, the whole operation fell apart. A garbage time score was the only thing keeping them from falling victim to the second shutout of bowl season. LSU, disappointed with how their season ended against Texas A&M, played like the team that wanted it more. WR Malik Nabers had a bonkers game, catching 9 passes for 163 yards and a TD and also completing 2 passes for 50 yards and another TD. QB Jayden Daniels (12/17, 139 yards, TD; 6/67 on the ground), backup Garrett Nussmeier (11/15, 173 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), and even 3rd-stringer Walker Howard threw passes in the rout. RB Noah Cain (8/58/2) was one of 3 backs who scored rushing TDs. Purdue tried to use 3 different QBs as well (but for a very different reason); nobody topped 75 yards passing. Only Michael Alaimo found the end zone. The Boilermakers are set up for a transition season with Texas transfer Hudson Card under center and Illinois DC Ryan Walters on the sideline. The Tigers get Daniels back, and the team really found its groove in the second half of the year (minus the TAMU game). Brian Kelly has every reason to believe that his team can contend next year with the DB and WR factory that is LSU.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic: (16) Tulane 46, (10) USC 45

Against a team that should have been in the CFP (I will not rest about that), Tulane came to play. The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion gets a New Year’s 6 bowl game, and the Green Wave did the quintet of underdog conferences proud. They took an immediate punch in the mouth, as USC went up 14-0 behind their Heisman trophy-winning QB Caleb Williams. Williams was typically spectacular. Despite having an injured hamstring, he went 36/51 for 460 yards, 5 TDs, and 1 INT. As with their two losses to Utah, Williams deserved to win. Tulane got off the mat and scored 14 of their own to tie the game. Willie Fritz ran his offense through RB Tyjae Spears, who ran 17 times for 205 yards and 4 TDs. He did lose what looked to be a critical fumble late in the game, but he was absolutely perfect otherwise. The QB, Michael Pratt, had just 3 completed passes midway through the 4th (we’ll revisit that in a bit), so everything was truly on Spear’s shoulders.

Williams led his team to another 14-0 run, taking a 28-14 halftime lead and making things look bleak for Tulane. WR Brenden Rice, son of Jerry Rice, looked like his dad in a 6-catch, 174-yard, 2-TD performance. Fellow WR Tahj Washington also caught 5 catches for 109 yards. Receiving the second-half kickoff, Tulane’s first drive was destined to be a tone-setter, and they rose to the challenge, scoring a TD in 7 plays. USC missed a long FG, and Tulane then made one of their own. The teams traded TDs, but Tulane missed their 2-point conversion, keeping the score 35-30. When the Trojans scored 10 straight points following Spears’ fumble, Tulane seemed to be in major trouble. They were down 45-30 with just 4:30 to go. That’s when Pratt came alive. He hit WR Duece Watts (2/83) for a 59-yard pass, and Spears scored on the next play. Their subsequent kickoff went to the 1, where Mario Williams fumbled it out of bounds. Lincoln Riley got conservative, calling 2 running plays, and Tulane earned a safety. I’m not sure why you take Caleb Williams out of the play at that point, but it gave Tulane life.

With 3:20 remaining and just 1 timeout, Tulane got the ball back for one more chance. Pratt (8/17, 234 yards, 2 TDs) more than doubled his completions on the final drive. He converted a 4th and 6 with his legs, his final run on a day when he ran 15 times for 83 yards. Later, he converted a 4th and 10 with his arm, hitting freshman TE Alex Bauman for 24 yards. After spiking the ball, Pratt found Watts for 24 yards, getting the ball to the 6 with 18 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Pratt fired for Bauman one more time, but the pass was ruled incomplete. However, a review showed that the ball never hit the ground, and Bauman (3/46/1) had the tying score. Valentino Ambrosio’s PAT won them the game, as USC’s desperation lateral failed. Tulane deserves a ton of credit for never quitting and completing the biggest 1-season turnaround in FBS history. If not for Sonny Dykes at TCU, Fritz could have easily been the coach of the year. His team will be strong again next year in an easier AAC. USC’s Achilles heel followed them all season. As incredible as their offense was, the defense was equally putrid. DC Alex Grinch had this same problem at Oklahoma, and it cost the Trojans in all 3 of their losses. This is something they must address, as Williams and the offense are championship-caliber. Fans will not tolerate the defense holding them back for a second straight year.

ReliaQuest Bowl: (22) Mississippi State 19, Illinois 10

I am annoyed with this bowl, and it’s not ReliaQuest’s fault. This used to be the Outback Bowl, but the title company ended their sponsorship and deprived us fans of the opportunity to win a free Bloomin’ Onion. The game itself wasn’t all that exciting, so I’m going to talk for a bit about Mike Leach. The former Bulldog coach died last month due to a heart problem, and I’m not sure people realize the scope of the impact he had on the game of football. He and Hal Mumme were the primary architects of the air raid offense, with pass-happy attacks that rarely run the ball. Leach can be thought of as one of the creators of the “college offense” we see today with spread concepts and heavy WR usage. Personality-wise, he was a great character and always had a humorous soundbite, but he cared about the kids he coached and knew how to be serious when need be. MSST wore pirate patches on their helmets (his nickname was “the pirate”) and took a delay of game on the first play while showing a unique Leach formation in his honor. In classy fashion, Illinois declined the penalty.

Illinois’ defense dictated most of this contest. Nobody scored in the first quarter, and Illinois led just 10-3 threw 3 quarters. MSST QB Will Rogers threw 2 INTs, while his counterpart Tommy DeVito (23/34, 253 yards) was under constant duress in the pocket. For the Illini, converted QB Isaiah Williams was the best weapon, catching 9 passes for 114 yards and making defenders miss all day. Rogers, who finished with 261 yards and a TD, saved his best for last, leading a tying TD drive in the 4th quarter. He hit WR Justin Robinson (7/81/1) for the TD on 4th and 2, salvaging the drive. After some more punts, Rogers led one last drive, with RB Simeon Price running 28 yards to the 2. The Bulldogs kicked an FG with 7 seconds left to lead 13-10. Illinois actually had a good lateral play going, but one pass was deflected, and Marcus Banks returned it for a TD to end the game. Illinois needs offensive talent; their top RB (Chase Brown) opted out, and the offensive line is poor. Their defense will keep them in most games. MSST has Rogers returning, so they’ll continue to be an offensive threat. DC turned interim coach tuned permanent coach Zach Arnett will look to continue where Leach left off and do right by his legacy. The game of football deserves no less.

TransPerfect Music City Bowl: Iowa 21, Kentucky 0

Kentucky QB Will Levis opted out so that someone could take him way too high in the draft, and transfer Devin Leary isn’t here yet. The same was true for Iowa: Spencer Petras is hurt, Alex Padilla entered the transfer portal, and Cade McNamara hasn’t yet arrived. Thus, on New Year’s Eve, we were treated to a battle between Destin Wade and Joe Labas. The game started with a predictable punt-fest, which lasted into the second quarter. Then Iowa decided to do what they do best: use their tight ends. Starting a drive at the Kentucky 41, Labas tossed a short pass to TE Sam LaPorta (5/56), who took it for 27 yards of ridiculous effort. The other TE, Luke Lachey, took another short pass for a diving 14-yard score. Iowa continues to pump out great players at the position, and if you’d like to hear a bit more about the current crop, check here. Iowa relied on their defense the rest of the way, earning TWO pick sixes from Xavier Nwankpa and Cooper DeJean. Those 21 second-quarter points for Iowa ended up accounting for all scoring in this game, our first (and perhaps only) shutout this bowl season. Both defenses had outstanding games, and I think both, especially Iowa’s will return with a vengeance in 2023. Iowa could’ve been scary good with simply an average QB, and McNamara qualifies as such. Contrary to what scouts think, I also believe that Leary will improve Kentucky. Levis did not provide many points, and the Wildcat defense can keep them in a lot of games. Iowa has the easier path, but Kentucky should remain competitive in the SEC East.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: (5) Alabama 45, (9) Kansas State 20

In a rare case, neither team had any opt outs. Even Alabama’s Bryce Young and Will Anderson, likely top-3 picks in April’s draft, chose to play in this bowl game. For a few minutes, it didn’t seem like they should have done so. Young missed a couple of throws, and KSU RB Deuce Vaughn (22/133/1) scored an 88-yard TD. That gave the Wildcats a 10-0 lead despite an INT from Alabama’s Jordan Howard. Immediately thereafter, the Crimson Tide flipped the game on its head. Young locked in and threw 4 straight TDs. The defense shut down the Kansas State offense, forcing a turnover on downs after a 10-minute drive and intercepting QB Will Howard (18/35, 210 yards, 2 INTs) again. After the pick, RB Jase McClellan ran for a 17-yard TD on the very first play of Bama’s subsequent drive. Young (15/21, 321) would throw 5 TDs in total before being pulled for Jalen Milroe in a blowout. RB Jahmyr Gibbs (15/76, 2/66 through the air) also showed out in perhaps his final performance at Alabama.

Though Howard had his worst game of the season, things aren’t all bleak for the Wildcats. He still looks like a future star, with a big arm and good ball placement. Vaughn continued to play well, and he might be a value pick in the NFL draft. His size gets him compared to fellow Wildcat Darren Sproles, but if he has a Sproles-like career, that would be fantastic. KSU simply ran into an angry Alabama team. It’s widely known that when Nick Saban’s squad has a grudge, you do not want to play them. While incorrect, they felt like they belonged in the CFP. Honestly, if we compare them just to Ohio State (because they DID get in) and exclude teams like Tennessee and USC, they have a point. Regardless of the validity of their argument, they played with their tails on fire. The Crimson Tide offense, defense, and special teams all showed out against the Big XII champions. I don’t think Milroe is as good as Young, but Saban will certainly field another top-5 team. Kansas State looks like they’re here to stay as well, with Howard providing a high-end QB with whom Chris Kleiman can lure recruits.

Capital One Orange Bowl: (6) Tennessee 31, (7) Clemson 14

The first of our New Year’s Six bowls, the Orange Bowl also featured the two teams closest in rank aside from the Michigan-TCU CFP semifinal. It didn’t feel like these teams were close on the field though. Part of the issue was that both teams dealt with numerous opt outs and absences. The best teams that aren’t playing for a national title are the ones that most likely have NFL talent trying to protect themselves. For Tennessee, WRs Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt (the 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner) opted out, and QB Hendon Hooker was on crutches due to his torn ACL suffered against South Carolina. The Tigers lost QB Dj Uiagalelei to the transfer portal and star DE Myles Murphy to the draft. Tennessee’s backups stepped up more. QB Joe Milton III (19/28, 251, 3 TDs) played a very clean game, and once his team scored their first TD, they never led by less than 7 the rest of the night. WRs Squirrel White (9/108/1) and Ramel Keyton (4/76/1) starred in place of the two missing receivers, and LB Aaron Beasley dominated the Clemson front with 12 tackles (4 for loss), 2 sacks, and a PBU.

On the Clemson side, the focus was on how true freshman QB Cade Klubnik would look. The 5-star QB honestly looked…like Uiagalelei. He made some nice throws here and there, demonstrated his obvious arm talent, and ran well (51 yards and a TD). However, like his predecessor, he was skittish in the pocket, either taking off to run too early or rolling out and back 15 yards before heaving prayers. The volume stats (320 yards on 54 attempts) were there, and he had a nice rapport with WR Joseph Ngata (8/84), but so were 2 INTs on desperation throws. BT Potter missing 3 FGs didn’t help, and RB Will Shipley (17/72, 21 receiving yards) played his hardest but could only do so much. Tennessee cruised to victory and never really felt threatened. The Volunteers have transformed under Josh Heupel, and Milton gave himself some serious momentum. He’s likely to be the week 1 starter in 2023. More defensive performances like tonight’s would make them true contenders. Clemson can also feel good about where they’re headed. The young guys got valuable experience, and for as badly as this season seemed to go, they won 11 games and the ACC. Klubnik will get better with reps, and the defense will replenish the talent that the NFL is taking from it. Dabo Swinney’s team is still your ACC title favorite.

Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl: Ohio 30, Wyoming 27 (OT)

With an exclusive webcast on the free barstool.tv, this may have been the most accessible bowl (though the most difficult to see on TV). I did not enjoy the commentary though; traditional sportscasts get the job done much better in my opinion. But it’s a new bowl, and I like more bowls. I feel badly for the Bobcats; Kurtis Rourke had been the best QB in the MAC, but he tore his ACL and meniscus late in the season. They might have won the conference if not for that injury, but backup CJ Harris (20/33, 184, 2 TDs, 52 rushing yards) did just enough to win the bowl. RB Sieh Bangura (25/138/1) battered the Cowboys all game, but Wyoming RB Jordon Vaughn (15/67/2) punched right back. Wyoming actually scored first and led 14-8 through 1 quarter. At that point though, both defenses clamped down, and nobody scored more than 7 in a single period thereafter. Wyoming QB Andrew Peasley (18/30, 186, TD, INT) couldn’t get anything going through the air with anyone but Treyton Welch (5/91/1).

Ohio didn’t get their first lead until the 3rd quarter, when Bangura ran on every play of their drive and scored a TD. After the Bobcats added a field goal, Wyoming retook the lead on a Vaughn run, but Ohio tied the game at 24 at the end of regulation. Wyoming scored an FG on their first possession, giving Ohio an opening. They capitalized, scoring a TD in 5 plays to win. The Cowboys had a record that looked better on paper than it ended up actually being. Their wins mostly came against teams that turned out to be overrated, and their above-average defense can only take them so far. Ohio is ready for another run at the MAC title because Rourke will return next season. This team is mostly bringing everyone back, and that squad was good enough for 10 wins. If they raise their game just a tiny bit, perhaps they can be the first ranked MAC team in several years.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: (21) Notre Dame 45, (19) South Carolina 38

Overlapping with the Sun Bowl, the Gator Bowl was not to be outdone. For once in these recaps, I can say that a team came in on a roll. South Carolina defeated (5) Tennessee and (8) Clemson to end their regular season ranked 19th. QB Spencer Rattler went on a tear, sparking questions about whether should enter the draft (we’ll come back to that). Notre Dame lost QB Drew Pyne to the transfer portal, allowing former starter Tyler Buchner to play. The Gamecocks immediately scored, but WR Ahmarean Brown fumbled on their next possession, granting ND a short field, which they capitalized on to tie the game. USC scored another TD and then caught a pick 6, jumping ahead 21-7. The Irish scored 10 unanswered points of their own and intercepted Rattler on a deep shot before halftime. On their second drive of the second half, ND tied the game at 24, but the Gamecocks answered immediately. Buchner (18/33, 274 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs, 61 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs) threw his 2nd INT of the game, but the defense didn’t allow a single first down, forcing a punt and minimizing the damage. Notre Dame took over from there, forcing 2 more punts while scoring 2 more TDs.

Driving once more, ND looked ready to blow the game open, but Buchner threw another pick six. This one was in the end zone, so it was a 100-yard return for O’Donnell Fortune to tie the score at 38 midway through the 4th quarter. Notre Dame didn’t flinch, running a masterful drive that ended on a great play call, where Buchner was able to hit TE Mitchell Evans on a wide-open TD with 1:38 to go. The referees seemed to sabotage USC’s final drive, and the Gamecocks simply couldn’t convert 4th and 36. This game featured fake punts by both teams, two successful passes by non-QBs for USC and one for Notre Dame, and 5 total turnovers. South Carolina couldn’t run, and their top playmakers were WRs Xavier Legette (7/78/2) and Nate Adkins (5/78). For ND, RBs Audric Estime (14/95) and Logan Diggs (13/89/1 on the ground, 2/81/1 through the air) carried the load, and WR Braden Lenzy (4/89/1) did the most damage through the air.

Now back to Rattler (29/44, 246 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, team-leading 36 rushing yards). The rumor is that Rattler would like to return to South Carolina, but his family is pressuring him to turn pro. His value could be at its peak due to his most recent 3-game stretch, or his arm talent and seemingly better decision making could produce a monster 2023 year. I feel that if a kid isn’t ready to go, forcing him to declare for the draft is a mistake. Even if his stock falls as a result of one more year, entering the NFL unprepared is a recipe for disaster and would hurt him long-term. USC’s outlook pretty much depends on Rattler’s decision. Coach Frank Beamer is doing a great job, but the QB situation behind Rattler seems bleak. For Notre Dame, Buchner played with a lot of heart, but his mistakes showed why coach Marcus Freeman moved on from him in the first place. Sam Hartman is likely to come from Wake Forest, which dramatically improves the team’s prospects. As it is, they did well to overcome a disastrous start to the season (which included a loss at home to Marshall) to finish 9-4. Things are looking up in South Bend.

Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Pittsburgh 37, (18) UCLA 35

CBS snagged themselves quite a bowl. With Kedon Slovis transferring to BYU, Nick Patti was the Pitt starter at QB. He completed less than half his passes (20/41, 224 yards, TD, INT), but I’d argue that he played much better than those stats would suggest. His 10 carries for 73 rushing yards can’t be overlooked, as his scrambling extended drives and led to points. UCLA actually started out as the hotter team, taking a 14-6 lead. Dorian Thompson-Robinson then threw a red zone pick, and the Panthers drove 94 yards for a TD and 2-point conversion to tie the game. The Bruins bounced back to take a 21-14 halftime lead, and they came out in the 3rd quarter by scoring on a pick 6. Riding RB Rodney Hammond Jr (25/94/2) and WRs Bub Means (4/84/1) and Konata Mumpfield (7/78), Pittsburgh charged back and scored 20 unanswered points to take a late 34-28 lead. DTR (15/23 for 270 yards and 2 TDs, as well as a rushing TD) put up points, but he also let the Panthers back into the game with 3 INTs before leaving with a back injury. However, assisted by RB TJ Harden (11/111/1) and WRs Kam Brown (4/115) and Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (3/89/1), backup Ethan Garbers made a late charge.

First, Pitt made it to the UCLA 28 and faced a 4th and 1. Eschewing an FG attempt to take a 2-score lead, they ran the ball, but Hammond fumbled it and couldn’t cross the line to gain. Garbers needed just 1:27 to drive 70 yards, with Harden’s 8-yard TD run acting as the go-ahead score. Just 34 seconds remained, but Patti wasn’t done. He completed passes of 18 and 17 yards, followed by a slick 11-yard scramble. Pat Narduzzi immediately sent out kicker Ben Sauls, who connected from 47 yards out. For my money, Sauls was the MVP; he converted all 5 of his FG attempts and both of his PATs. It’s sad that DTR had to go out this way; an injury is no way to end a good college career, and I don’t love his NFL prospects. Chip Kelly has some quality recruits coming in, so the Bruins should be able to reload for next season. Pittsburgh had a bit of a let-down (9-4) after their Kenny Pickett-led 2021 campaign, but they’re in good shape going forward. Patti might have given himself a leg up on a potential QB competition, while the skill position talent seems like it has been adequately refreshed.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl: Maryland 16, (23) NC State 13

This is the worst bowl. I am not a fan of mayo, and I’ve become aware that NC State coach Dave Doeren agrees with me. Even so, Doeren didn’t make the dumbest coaching move of this game. Maryland’s Mike Locksley started Billy Edwards Jr at QB over Taulia Tagovailoa, promising that both would play. Edwards turned the ball over on downs, and Tagovailoa played the next series. Predictably, he was out of rhythm, going 0/3 with an INT on the drive. He never really got it going (19/37, 221 yards, TD, 2 INTs, but he did enough to get his team a W, as Maryland was the only team to reach the end zone. Edwards actually never came back in. The best drive for either team came in the second quarter, when the Terrapins drove 68 yards in 8 plays, culminated by a nice 19-yard TD pass to Octavian Smith. The Terps would lead from there on out, with neither team doing more than kicking FGs. Please enjoy Locksley suffering through a mayo bath.

With that in mind, our top performers were both team’s kickers; Maryland’s Chad Ryland (3/3) and NC State’s Christopher Dunn (the Lou Groza award winner; 4/4) made every one of their kicks, which was critical in this defensive struggle. Wolfpack QB MJ Morris was injured, leaving Ben Finley (22/48, 269 yards, 2 INTs) to play the whole game. If you’re wondering, yes, he is the brother of former Bengal Ryan Finley. The NC State defense was spectacular, but their offense couldn’t do their part. Even with Devin Leary transferring to Kentucky, the Wolfpack are talented enough to still have a good season. For Maryland, the question concerns Tagovailoa. Supposedly, the all-time leaving passer in Terps history is considering declaring for the draft. I would advise against it. Though I’m higher on him than many others, I’m not sold on his NFL skill set. He’s 5’11” but has good mobility, and he has an accurate but not overly strong arm. His brother Tua was a much better prospect, while Taulia is likely a late-round flier who could compete for a backup spot. I suspect he can garner more NIL money than he’d earn as, say, a 7th-round pick.

Valero Alamo Bowl: (12) Washington 27, (20) Texas 20

Washington had no opt outs, and they were dialed in from the first whistle…for one play. They started the game with a 34-yard pass on a flea flicker; the play was so energizing that the Huskies lost track of the play clock and had to burn a timeout. QB Michael Penix Jr then threw 2 incompletions and an INT. Conversely, Texas had numerous opt outs, and none hurt more than top RBs Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. The Longhorns had just 2.8 yards per carry on the night. Washington employed the “death by 1000 paper cuts” strategy; Penix threw 54 passes but earned just 287 yards. He threw 2 TDs and the aforementioned INT. Washington led wire to wire in this game, first by a score of 13-3 at the half before the offense found its groove. RB Wayne Taulapapa had a great night, running 14 times for 103 yards and a TD. Special teams chipped in as well; an early blocked punt led to an easy FG. In the second half, the Huskies started chewing clock, with 3 drives lasting more than 5 and a half minutes. Washington scored 2 TDs on those drives and leaned on their defense to preserve the win.

For the Longhorns, the top producer at WR was Xavier Worthy (7/84), but he also provided the most frustration. He dropped 3 surefire catches, one of which would have been a walk-in TD. QB Quinn Ewers was visibly frustrated after that one. Ewers went 31/47 for 369 yards and a TD. He missed a few throws but was mostly fine. That has been the story of his season; he often makes big-time throws, but inconsistency plagues him at times. I’m sure he’ll improve, as he was a 5-star recruit who is merely a redshirt freshman, but he might not get the chance at Texas. Starting next year, their future is QB Arch Manning, Cooper’s son and the nephew of Peyton and Eli. He’s the best prospect in the nation (I don’t care what ESPN says), and he’s likely to win the job. Manning could take Texas to new heights. Elsewhere, Washington is likely thrilled with first-year coach Kalen DeBoer and perhaps even more thrilled that Penix already announced that he will return for another season. They came fairly close this year, but their Pac-12 title hopes are real in 2023.

Cheez-It Bowl: (13) Florida State 35, Oklahoma 32

The plural of “Cheez-It” is “Cheez-It Crackers”, and “Cheez-Its” is unacceptable. So sayeth one of the company’s representatives. I would protest, but I have a recap to write. When two explosive offenses like these collide, enjoy the fireworks. This was a back-and-forth battle that featured lead changes, 4th-down gambles, and 2-point conversions. FSU started by driving to the OU 5 in just 5 plays. However, the drive stalled right there, and they kicked a field goal. It felt like OU had figured the Seminoles out for a bit, as the Sooners burst to a 14-3 lead. They actually looked like they had scored again on a 16-yard TD, but a holding penalty brought it back. OU missed the subsequent field goal, producing a 7-point swing. FSU then got back in rhythm, scoring a TD and then showing off a TE-to-TE 2-point conversion. Oklahoma added a field goal late in the second quarter, taking a 17-11 lead into halftime. After a punt by OU to start the 3rd quarter, the action really got going.

FSU drove 94 yards in 15 plays for a TD to take their first lead since they led 3-0. Oklahoma committed a turnover on downs, but Florida State’s own 4th-down attempt failed on a Jordan Travis INT. The Sooners drove back for a TD and 2-point conversion, at which point the Seminoles responded with a TD of their own to tie the game at 25 early in the 4th. FSU capitalized on a Gavin Sawchuk fumble to score a TD, but Oklahoma once again replied in kind. WR Johnny Wilson (8/202) caught a spectacular 58-yard reception, and with OU out of timeouts, the Seminoles were able to kick the game-winning FG. Travis finished 27/38 for 418 yards, 2 TDs, and the aforementioned INT while running 7 times for 50 yards; he’s still a big-time running threat, but he’s improved his accuracy a passer this year. RB Treshaun Ward (10/81) helped the offense out. For OU, Dillon Gabriel went 14/24 for 243 yards, a passing TD and a rushing TD. He didn’t make a big mistake behind a patchwork offensive line (injuries and opt outs), but as in years past, OU’s defense let the offense down. FSU fans who wanted Mike Norvell fired have changed their tune. They could be ACC contenders next year. Oklahoma will try to find more consistency in Brent Venables’ second season, but you know they’ll have an exciting offense at the very least.

Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl: Minnesota 28, Syracuse 20

Yep, Syracuse is a team that started 5-0 before dropping 5 of 6 to end the season. I said we had a trend on our hands. This is the end of the collapsing teams for a couple days though. In just about all of these cases, the struggling team could not rediscover their mojo in the bowl game. One big problem for the Orange was that RB Sean Tucker (NFL draft) didn’t play. His replacement, LeQuint Allen (15/94), did well, but they couldn’t completely run the offense through him. That left QB Garrett Shrader to carry the day, and his limitations as a passer were on full display. He finished 32/51 for 330 yards and an INT (2 rushing TDs) but played worse than the yardage and completion percentage indicate, throwing floaters that died in midair and tossing some passes 10 yards out of bounds. Minnesota had their own QB issues. Athan Kaliakmanis, their talented freshman, was injured in the first half after being hit upon releasing the football. That brought 6th-year senior Tanner Morgan, who had missed the last 4 games with two concussions, onto the field.

The Golden Gophers barely threw the ball, opting to run their offense through star RB Mohamed Ibrahim (16/71/1). Out of just 11 completed passes by both QBs, Daniel Jackson (4/73/2) caught 4 of them and both passing TDs. Minnesota had just 2 second-half first downs (1 by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty), but two big plays boosted their score. At 14-10 in the 3rd quarter, Coleman Bryson picked off a Shrader pass and took it 70 yards for a TD. Then, after a Syracuse FG, Quentin Redding returned the subsequent kick 70 yards, setting up an easy Jackson TD. The defense really led Minnesota to this comfortably win. I’m reasonably high on both programs for 2023. Dino Babers and PJ Fleck are both building their teams the right way for the long haul. Don’t expect them to suddenly contend for conference titles, but returns to bowl games and more winning seasons definitely feel like appropriate expectations.

TaxAct Texas Bowl: Texas Tech 42, Ole Miss 25

Ole Miss is yet another team that collapsed to end the season (seeing a trend?). They lost their final 4 games of the season, though Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech are admittedly tricky opponents. Meanwhile, TTU’s first-year coach, Joey McGuire, must have impressed the boosters, because they awarded him a new 6-year deal today. He had to play with 3 QBs this season due to Donovan Smith’s ineffectiveness and promising freshman Behren Morton suffering an ankle injury. Perhaps feeding off of their coach’s new deal, McGuire’s players came to play in this bowl game. After a hard-fought first quarter, the Red Raiders won the second frame 16-0, taking a commanding 26-7 lead into halftime. The Rebel defense stiffened after the break, and they managed to cut the lead to 13 through 3 quarters. Despite some late action, Ole Miss never really got back into the game, and TTU even scored on an onside kick return.

Ole Miss’ aggressiveness on 4th down really hurt the team. They failed a 4th and 1 at their own 29, and they tried an unsuccessful fake punt on 4th and 6 in their own territory. Later, after strip sacking TTU QB Tyler Shough, the Rebels went on 4th down again and did not convert. I don’t blame them for that attempt, but the straight run was predictable and doomed to gain 0 yards. QB Jaxson Dart (25/41, 361 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs; 11 rush, 66 yards, TD) does not seem to be the answer for the Rebels, but he’s only a sophomore and there’s no questioning his toughness after the brutal hits he took tonight; perhaps Arch Manning should’ve chosen his dad and grandpa’s college. WR Malik Heath had 8 catches for 137 yards, plus a nice one-handed TD catch late in the 4th quarter. RB Quinshon Judkins, SEC freshman of the year, had another 91 rushing yards. Shough (24/39, 242 yards, TD, INT, FUM lost) actually ran 25 times for 111 yard and 2 TDs, which is a lot of carries for a QB with an extensive injury history. His main targets were Loic Fouonji (7/100) and Jerand Bradley (8/88/1). Good things appear on the way for TTU, whereas Ole Miss may need to go back to the drawing board to figure out what went wrong in the second half of the season.

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: (15) Oregon 28, North Carolina 27

UNC is another team that fell apart at the end of the year. They lost their final 3 regular-season games, first in a bad loss to Georgia Tech, then in a close loss to NC State and their backup QB, and finally a blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC title game. Oregon lost 2 of their final 3 games as well to fall out of Pac-12 title contention, but their offense played well; it was the defense that let them down. The two teams traded TDs in the first quarter, then oddly traded FG misses, followed by exchanged TDs again. At 14-14, it seemed like bad Bo Nix had shown up. He threw a red zone INT, after which UNC scored on 1 play with a 49-yard TD catch for Kobe Paysour. Neither team scored again all the way until the 4th quarter. Without WR Joshua Downs, who declared for the NFL draft, big plays were hard to come by for the Tar Heels, so the Ducks stuck around. UNC finally added an FG in the 4th. Nix then resurfaced, leading a 5-play TD drive on which he threw 2 TDs (1 was called back by penalty). North Carolina tacked on another FG to bring the score to 27-21, but they left 2 and a half minutes on the clock.

Armed with 3 timeouts, Nix easily led the Ducks into the red zone, but they found themselves with a 4th and 2 at the 6. The sometimes mercurial QB hit WR Chase Cota for a conversion while drifting backwards, and Cota rolled on a UNC player and into the end zone for the tying TD. Camden Lewis’ PAT banked off the upright and through, giving Oregon the lead. UNC QB Drake Maye (16/32 for 184 yards) saw his Hail Mary attempt fall to the turf, and the game was over. Maye wasn’t his most accurate self, but he did throw 3 TDs. For Oregon, RB Bucky Irving (13/149/2) carried the load during the first half, but they mysteriously went away from him in the second half. Nix (23/30, 205 yards, 2 TDs, INT) trusted Terrance Ferguson (5/84) the most during the comeback. Oregon’s first year under Dan Lanning was largely a success, as was UNC’s first season without QB Sam Howell (even though it ended in poor fashion). Each team’s QB is a likely Heisman contender next year. The task presented to both teams now is to build on this season and try to win their respective conferences in 2023.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Arkansas 55, Kansas 53 (3OT)

These are two of the best 6-6 teams in the nation, especially Arkansas. Kansas lost QB Jalon Daniels for a large portion of the season, so their 5-0 start evaporated quickly. Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson was banged up at times as well, and their SEC West schedule is one of the most grueling slates of games a team can play. Unlike other bowl games, this one did not start slowly. Arkansas scored an FG right away, and KU answered with a TD. After trading punts, Jefferson hit WR Matt Landers for a wide-open 59-yard TD. Landers had just 2 catches but totaled 102 yards. The very next play, the Jayhawks muffed their kick return catch and turned the ball over. Jefferson found Ty Washington for a 17-yard TD in just 1 play. The Razorbacks went on a roll from there, taking a 31-7 lead before Kansas, who committed 3 turnovers in the first half, found the endzone to cut the lead to 31-13 at the half.

Kansas found their rhythm in the second half, particularly because they finally started to slow Arkansas’ rushing attack, and they came back from 25 points down to tie the game. Yes, the refs gave Kansas an illegitimate fumble, and Arkansas had a bunch of opt outs in their secondary. To the Jayhawks’ credit though, they took advantage of the opportunities presented to them. They scored a TD, recovered an onside kick, scored another TD, and then converted a 2-point try. OT commenced once Arkansas curiously decided to turn down a Hail Mary opportunity. Both teams scored TDs quickly in OT and 2OT, but only Arkansas converted their 2-point attempt. Daniels was stuffed on his, but a targeting call gave Kansas a second chance. The Jayhawks made good on the opportunity and tied the game at 53. The Razorbacks succeeded on their next conversion. Kansas tried a trick play with backup QB Jason Bean, who threw the ball out of the back of the endzone for the loss. How you take the ball out of Daniels’ hands at that moment, I can’t even fathom. I know this is long, but this game will go down as the best of bowl season.

Daniels finished 37/55 for an absurd 554 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs (both in the first half), and a rushing score. His favorite targets were Lawrence Arnold (8/119) and Luke Grimm (10/167/1). The aforementioned ground game carried the Razorbacks. Jefferson (19/29, 287 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT on which PI should have been called) led the way with 14 carries for 130 yards and 2 TDs. RBs Rashod Dubinion (20/112/2) and AJ Green (13/99/1) also contributed to a 394-yard rushing day. Both QBs will be returning next season, so both have a chance to be good again. Arkansas has a relatively easier schedule than they did this year, so their hopes should be very high. Jefferson has real NFL potential. Right now he’s a poor man’s Cam Newton: a great runner with a good arm but in need of development as a passer. If he can improve his confidence in the intermediate passing range and increase his throwing volume, his stock will rise. Daniels looks like what Lamar Jackson would be if he were a good passer. In other words, beware of Kansas in the Big XII.

Military Bowl Presented by Peraton: Duke 30, UCF 13

Another first-year coach, another remarkable turnaround. Mike Elko took over a program that had grown stale under David Cutcliffe and immediately shifted the Blue Devils from 3-9 to 9-4 this season. The season went in the opposite direction for UCF, who started out hot before stumbling to the finish. They lost 3 of their last 4 games, including an awful performance against Navy, a close win over dreadful USF, and an AAC Championship loss to Tulane. Their problem is their QB: John Rhys Plumlee. This is a literal WR playing the QB position. He started as a QB at Ole Miss, did poorly and switched to WR, and then transferred to UCF to play QB again. Obviously, he runs really well, but he is not an accurate or decisive passer. The Knights ran well in this game, too (minus the sack yardage), but Plumlee only managed to throw for 182 yards (heavily inflated by garbage time) and a game-ending pick. Duke’s defense did its best to keep Plumlee in the pocket, and they did a masterful job.

Plumlee, despite his mobility, was sacked 6 times. Offensively, Duke QB Riley Leonard had a modest passing day (19/28 for 173 yards), but he ran 10 times for 63 yards and 2 scores. Overall, Duke piled up 177 rushing yards. This was a 7-7 game at the end of the first quarter, but UCF jump-started the Blue Devils with a dumb roughing the passer penalty on a failed 3rd down, extending the drive and leading to a field goal (though I thought WR Jordan Moore caught a TD). Duke dominated the rest of the way, allowing one TD in the 4th quarter. The Blue Devils suddenly look like they’re in good shape in the ACC, even when the conference gets rid of divisions. Elko is establishing a good culture (0 transfer portal entrants to this point), and year 2 should be even better. The Knights face more uncertainty. They’re joining the Big XII, a harder conference, yet players are transferring out and those who remain aren’t spectacular. Gus Malzahn will have to recruit hard this offseason to make up the difference.

Guaranteed Rate Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Oklahoma State 17

Two teams that were ranked in the top 20 in the preseason rankings but who wildly underachieved got to play in this bowl. Perhaps not coincidentally, both starting QBs have entered the transfer portal, with Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz already committing to Florida. OSU’s Spencer Sanders did not participate in the game either. That left Chase Wolf for Wisconsin and Garret Rangel for OK State, both of whom already had disappointing offenses. The first half was completely dominated by Wisconsin, although one 84-yard TD pass to OSU WR Stephen Johnson (off a short throw with numerous missed tackles) made the halftime score of 17-7 look reasonable. The Badgers held a 3-to-1 time of possession advantage, as the Cowboys got nothing going offensively and seemed helpless to stop Wisconsin’s ball-control rushing attack. That continued well into the 3rd quarter, as RB Braelon Allen (22/116/1) dashed for a 20-yard TD.

OK State’s offensive struggles were best exemplified by a shotgun run play, where RB Deondre Jackson simply fell after the handoff and lost 4 yards (as you can’t get back up and keep running in college like you can in the NFL). This field was really a slip-n-slide. Rangel was completing well under 50% of his passes and had thrown an INT on a good ball that was simply ripped out of his WR’s hands. To Mike Gundy’s credit though, his team kept battling in the 4th quarter. Rangel started heating up, and Brennan Presley (6/74) caught a 41-yard bomb to set up 1st and goal; OSU scored 4 plays later. They tacked on another FG with 5 minutes to go after a 6-minute drive (I personally would’ve gone on 4th and 3), and made Wisconsin punt for the 3rd straight drive. Rangel threw an INT on a desperate deep heave, and Wisconsin’s RB duo of Allen and Chaz Mellusi (16/77/1) salted the game away. I think the Badgers are in really good hands with Luke Fickell, who did great work for Cincinnati. The Cowboys can bounce back too, as Rangel is only a freshman and he has good arm talent. Without all of their injuries and transfer portal players, they’ll field a more complete team.

Ticketsmarter Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina 53, Coastal Carolina 29

Unlike most players in the transfer portal, CCU QB Grayson McCall decided to play in his current team’s bowl game. Sadly for Chanticleer fans, coach Jamey Chadwell has already departed for his new gig at Liberty. ECU had pretty much everyone available, including 5th-year starting QB Holton Ahlers. And boy did he play well. He went 26/38 for 300 yards even, threw a Birmingham Bowl-record 5 TDs, and rushed for 48 yards and a 6th score. If that was his last college game, it was a heck of a way to go out. Four main contributors assisted Ahlers in this demolition: RB Keaton Mitchell (22/127/1) and WRs CJ Johnson (7/83/1), Isaiah Winstead (6/72/2) and Jaylen Johnson (5/66/1). What’s a shame is that the game was shaping up to be pretty good until midway through the second quarter. McCall had been playing well (10/12 for 67 yards), and with the score 10-7 ECU, he ran for 9-yard TD where he was flipped into the end zone. He got hurt on the play and would not return. It was a tough call to play one more game before he left the school, so I hope he isn’t badly hurt. McCall is going to make a Power 5 school really happy.

When McCall was injured earlier during the season, backup QB Jarrett Guest came in, so we got to see him play. In light of that, when I saw McCall leave, I knew the game was over. Guest (6/11, 136 yards, TD) made a couple of nice throws, but the inconsistency and lack of awareness we saw from him returned tonight. With the game out of hand, he was replaced by Bryce Archie. The game was a bit sloppy, with each team being called for 11 penalties for a combined total of 228 yards. The Pirates were able to finish their season in style, earning their first bowl appearance in 7 years and their first bowl win in 9 years. I doubt it will be easy to replace Ahlers, but the AAC won’t be as difficult without Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. Coastal Carolina is in worse shape. I don’t have much confidence in them adequately replacing McCall. He was a diamond in the rough kind of find for CCU that put them on the map. Their recruiting has likely improved since their days as a new FBS team, but new coach Tim Beck has his work cut out for him replacing Chadwell. They’ll remain competitive, but I anticipate a step backwards in 2023.

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Memphis 38, Utah State 10

I’m actually surprised Utah State got here. We talked in week 4 about Utah State having an awful season after winning the Mountain West in 2021. At 1-4 and having been blown out by Weber State, USU looked to be dead in the water. Unfortunately, an injury may have saved their season. QB Logan Bonner got hurt, and Cooper Legas came in. He led the team to a 5-2 record, earning a bowl bid. However, he too got hurt in the bowl game when a defender spun him around on a sack. His foot like it got rolled up on, and he couldn’t walk off on his own. I don’t want to diminish what Memphis did here though: this game was a rout before the injury. We only had one Memphis FG in the first quarter, but the Tigers exploded for 21 in the second. QB Seth Henigan was on fire, completing 20 of 29 passes for 284 yards and 3 TDs. WR Eddie Lewis (5/83) was the recipient of two of those.

The defense stifled the Aggie offense for 3 quarters, allowing just a field goal. Legas was 7/12 for 34 yards and a pick before he left the game. Backup Bishop Davenport didn’t fare much better; he gained some yardage and a score as a result of soft coverage, but he also threw an INT that was a real rookie mistake. QB Levi Williams then came in, throwing a pick on one of his two passes. Sylvonta Oliver caught 2 of the interceptions. At that point, Memphis RBs Jevyon Ducker (13/83/2) and Asa Martin (10/43) salted the game away. The outcome was never really in question because Memphis really showed up. Utah State competed, but they seemed to be overmatched at nearly every position. Henigan considered transferring but opted to stay, which is great news for Memphis’ 2023 prospects. Legas will be back for USU, so maybe the Aggies will start faster next season.

Camellia Bowl: Buffalo 23, Georgia Southern 21

This one should have been called the Kyle Vantrease bowl. The GASO QB played 5 seasons at Buffalo before transferring for 2022. One aspect that might have led to his transfer was that he didn’t throw very much at UB. That certainly changed at GASO, as the Eagles sling it more than almost any other FBS team. In this game, he threw it 48 times, completing 28 passes for 352 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT, but it wasn’t enough to win the game. The Eagles made too many mistakes and failed to take advantage of those made by the Bulls. After a scoreless first quarter, GASO marched down the field, and Vantrease hit WR Beau Johnson (5/118) on a wide open pass. However, the turf monster tackled him at the 7, and the drive stalled. That left 4 points on the board, as the Eagles settled for an FG. Second, Georgia Southern’s DBs could not catch INTs. Vantrease’s replacement, Cole Snyder, finished with good stats (21/38, 265 yards, TD), but he threw at least 3 passes that should’ve been picked off. They hit GASO defenders on the hands and chest before falling harmlessly to the ground. They call CBs receivers who can’t catch for a reason.

That enabled Buffalo to take a 14-6 halftime lead. Then, on the first 2 plays of the 2nd half, Buffalo fumbled, and Vantrease hit WR Joshua Thompson for a 79-yard TD. The subsequent 2-point conversion was good, and just like that, GASO tied the game. Buffalo leaned on RB Tajay Ahmed (27/98/1) and WRs Justin Marshall (11/127/1) and Quian Williams (5/100) the rest of the way, but they only scored 3 FGs. The Eagles scored a TD with 3:38 to go, but even with all 3 timeouts, they couldn’t stop the Bulls and get the ball back for a last chance. Georgia Southern still had a decent season, going 6-7 in Clay Helton’s first year after finishing 3-9 the year before. Buffalo (7-6) also improved by 3 games, though they were up and down. Two 3-game losing streaks were sandwiched by a 5-game winning streak, but they were able to finish at their best for a nice bowl win.

Quick Lane Bowl: New Mexico State 24, Bowling Green 19

To start off, I’m really happy that NMSU got to play in this game. The team was 6-6, but like a couple other teams such as Appalachian State, two of their wins were against FCS teams; by rule, 5 of your 6 wins must come against FBS opponents to qualify for a bowl. However, the Aggies WOULD HAVE had the required number, but their game against San Jose State was postponed and then cancelled after a Spartan player was killed in a car crash. Upon trying to schedule a replacement game, the only team who agreed to play was Valparaiso from the FCS, who NMSU beat during conference championship week. Due to these circumstances, the NCAA accepted their request for a waiver for a bowl. One Aggie didn’t deserve it: DB Dylan Early. Bowling Green QB Matt McDonald scrambled for a first down then slipped out of bounds. Early then dove at McDonald, taking him out by the knees and causing him to land on his head. I don’t think there was intent to injure, but it was an illegal, unnecessary, and dirty hit. A flag was thrown, but it was somehow picked up! Backup Camden Orth came in for the last 3 quarters, and he played pretty well (14/22, 191 yards, TD).

NMSU took advantage of two missed FGs by the Falcons to take a 17-0 lead early in the 3rd quarter. The Aggies oddly kicked off after one of their scores with a short kick to the 25. RB Ta’Ron Keith did not call for a fair catch; he took the return to the house, giving BGSU life. After another TD by the Aggies, bringing the score to 24-7, the Falcons started to click. Orth led an FG drive, the special teams blocked a punt for a safety, and then Orth threw a TD. With 6:27 to go, the Falcons were right back in the game at 24-19. They kicked off to the Aggies, who never let them see the ball again. QB Diego Pavia (17/29, 167 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT on a 4th-down prayer) powered NMSU’s offense with both his arms and his legs (12 rush, 65 yards). He stood tall in the pocket, taking hits, firing bullets, and getting back up. Though I’d like to see him slide occasionally, his toughness definitely galvanized his team. RB Ahmonte Watkins added a 45-yard TD run, and the defense did just enough to eke out a win. It’s a remarkable turnaround for NMSU coach Jerry Kill, who took the Aggies from 2-10 to 7-6 and a bowl win in his first year. Bowling Green should feel good about themselves too; they beat eventual the MAC champions (Toledo) to become bowl-eligible, and they played their tails off with their backup QB.

EasyPost Hawaii Bowl: Middle Tennessee 25, San Diego State 23

San Diego State has had an interesting year. They started with the Matt Araiza rape scandal, and then they underachieved on the field. Transfer QB Braxton Burmeister alternated between injury and ineffectiveness, leading to converted safety Jaylen Mayden taking the reins at QB. He pretty much showed that he was once a safety in this game. Though he had some nice moments with 2 TDs, Mayden completed just 18 of 42 passes and threw 3 picks while also losing 1 fumble. Despite that, the bright spots on the team were receivers. Jesse Matthews caught 7 passes for 99 yards, and Kenan Christon demonstrated his elite speed with 2 catches for 111 yards and a TD. The Aztecs actually started out great, building a 14-0 lead, but as in many games this bowl season, the trailing team mounted a comeback.

MTSU scored two FGs with a TD sandwiched in between before halftime (more on that below). They took their first lead on another FG early in the 3rd quarter, but SDSU kicked their own field goal to go back up 17-16. To their credit, the Blue Raiders scored on both of Mayden’s second-half INTs (1 FG, 1 TD). However, the Aztecs continued to fight back, scoring 2 FGs to turn a 22-17 deficit into a 23-22 lead. Not to be outdone, MTSU’s Chase Cunningham (26/43, 236 yards, 2 TDs) led a 55-yard FG drive to take the lead for good. K Zeke Rankin, who hadn’t made a kick beyond 35 yards all season, converted 3 beyond that distance in this game. He ultimately made 4/5 FGs with a long of 49. This has to be viewed as a good year for MTSU. They finished with their best record (8-5) since 2018 and beat up a ranked Miami team. SDSU didn’t have as much fun, but Mayden will have a chance to learn the QB position better in 2023. Perhaps they’ll rebound as a result.

For the Blue Raiders, viewers’ eyes should have looked at DE Jordan Ferguson. Late in the second quarter, MTSU went on 4th and 1 from the 8, and they ran a clever play with a fake screen on 1 side, a real screen option on the other, and a TE route across the middle. One caveat: the “TE” was a 271-lb DE. Ferguson ran a great route and caught an 8-yard TD, his first ever. Shame on the official who threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct after Ferguson spiked the ball. Putting his new TE skills to use, Ferguson actually caught an INT off a deflection while falling on his back. He continued his stat stuffing with 5 tackles (1 for loss). Ferguson has had 17.5 sacks over the past 2 seasons (8.5 this year), but I haven’t seen many draft projections for him. His relentless motor and high level of production should appeal to scouts, and maybe he’ll earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl.

Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl: Wake Forest 27, Missouri 17

Wake Forest throttled Missouri for most of this game, with a small lapse midway through. They started with a 14-3 lead, but a fluky INT from QB Sam Hartman gave the Tigers hope. The pick came on a weird play where the Tigers appeared to be offside. Hartman thus took the free play and was intercepted on a deep heave, but the penalty wasn’t called. Brady Cook (28/47, 227 yards, TD, 43 rushing yards) led a TD drive, and he would lead another to start the 3rd quarter, giving Missouri a 17-14 lead. Wake Forest regained control from there, shutting out Missouri for the remainder of the half. Hartman relied heavily on WR AT Perry (11/116), who has quietly had back-to-back 1000-yard seasons. Perry is currently getting day 2 grades from scouts due to speed concerns, but he could really help himself with a good 40 time at the combine. After their second and final TD, Missouri punted twice and turned the ball over on downs 3 times. Hartman led two more scoring drives: one TD to take the lead and one more to put the game away with under 2 minutes remaining. Missouri is a perplexing team; they finished 6-7, yet they gave Georgia a tougher time than any other opponent this year.

In what was likely Hartman’s final game at the college level, he finished his career in style. He finished 23/37 for 280 yards, 3 TDs, and the 1 INT described above. During the game, he passed former Clemson QB Tajh Boyd for most career passing TDs in ACC history (110). It’s a remarkable ending to a story that was nearly cut short in August. Hartman was expected to lead the Demon Deacons back to ACC title contention, but he stepped away from the team due to an unspecified medical issue. That concern turned out to be a blood clot, but he was fortunately able to return in September after missing just 1 game. His final career pass was fittingly a TD on a perfectly placed ball. He’s an interesting projection for the NFL. Some say he has limited physical talent and projects as a backup, while others tout his pinpoint accuracy and prolific production. I personally have a problem with his irrational confidence. Self-belief is good, but he trusts his arm too much sometimes, and it gets him in trouble. Thus, I have to concur with the backup grades that some scouts are giving him, but that’s a fine way to make a living.

Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl: Houston 23, Louisiana 16

The Ragin’ Cajuns made an immediate statement with their opening drive, marching 75 yards in just over 7 minutes for a TD. They actually dominated all the way until the middle of the second quarter, taking a 13-0 lead. Houston’s defense played much better after the opening drive, preventing Louisiana from reaching the end zone for the rest of the game. Though the Cougar offense was struggling, kicking FGs instead of scoring TDs (which they did 3 times) against an explosive team is not a good omen. Houston finally got on the board with a 33-yard TD pass from Clayton Tune to Kesean Carter, but the PAT was missed. Trailing 16-6 at the half, Houston took over in the 3rd quarter. They scored a TD on the first drive of the second half and forced a ULL fumble on the next. A great short-yardage stand by the Cajuns kept Houston from scoring off the turnover. The Cougars tied the game with an FG (the PAT miss prevented them from taking an outright lead), and a second Louisiana fumble shut down the Cajuns’ subsequent possession at Houston’s 6.

For some reason, ULL coach Michael Desormeaux pulled starting QB Chandler Fields in favor of Zeon Chriss. Fields (17/25, 169 yards, TD) was playing fine, and no injury was reported. I really don’t know what the reason for the change was, but it was awful. Louisiana punted again, allowing Houston to take their first lead on a late TD pass to Nathaniel Dell. On the drive, Clayton Tune (18/28, 229 yards, 3 TDs, 55 yards rushing) had a great run and converted a first and 30 in 1 play with a pass to Carter before tossing the winning TD. Oddly, the Cougars did a squib kick and gave ULL the ball at 41, but Chriss predictably threw an INT, losing the game. Houston, favorites to win the AAC before the season, probably aren’t happy with an 8-5 record, but they finish on a high note. Louisiana, the 2021 Sun Belt champions, knew that they’d take a step backwards due to the departures of QB Levi Lewis (NFL) and coach Billy Napier (Florida). Still, I don’t think 6-7 was part of even their most pessimistic plans. They’re a decent team, but I’m not yet sold on the coaching in light of this game.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force 30, Baylor 15

Only this game has a military academy as a participant because only Air Force was bowl eligible. The Military Bowl also hasn’t included a military team since 2017 for some reason. Baylor has undoubtedly had a disappointing season. Fresh off a Big XII championship, many expected the Bears to continue to have success with QB Blake Shapen permanently replacing Gerry Bohanon. The offense has been good in spurts, but the inconsistency has really failed them, leading to 5 conference losses. Tonight’s game continued that trend. After scoring 27 and 28 points in their past 2 games, Baylor completely flopped. Credit Air Force’s defense for making things tough, but the Bears ran for just 1.9 yards per carry, and Shapen misfired often. He finished 11/23 for 188 yards and 2 TDs, with one of those scores coming in garbage time.

The Falcons, who run more than any team in the FBS, actually looked like the better passing team. Haaziq Daniels completed 4 of 7 passes for 103 yards and a TD. As usual though, they did their damage on the ground. RB Brad Roberts had 37 carries for 116 yards and 2 TDs, while Daniels himself ran 15 times for 81 yards and a TD. As a team, the Falcons rushed 67 times for 276 yards. Air Force never trailed, jumping out to a 9-0 lead and eventually going up 30-7. The stat that tells the story is time of possession: 40:04 for Air Force. Due to their heavily imbalanced rushing offense, their games go quickly. It seemed like ESPN took a 30-minute halftime just to extend the game for their advertisers. The Falcons don’t care, as they earned their 10th win of the season. Baylor falls to 6-7, completing a losing season that few saw coming.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Western Kentucky 44, South Alabama 23

This one was a bloodbath. USA managed to score 20 second-half points to make the score look less awful, but this game was over at halftime. WKU dominated from the jump, scoring 14 points on their first 2 possessions with Austin Reed TD passes. Reed, an FCS transfer like his predecessor Bailey Zappe, had entered the transfer portal only to remove his name a week later. The Hilltoppers are certainly glad he did. Reed had over 300 yards passing in the 1st half. He finished 36/55 for 497 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT (on a spectacular catch by S Yam Banks. Unless Michael Penix explodes for Washington, Reed will likely finish as the FBS passing yards leader. Three receivers, Dalvin Smith (6/145/1), Jaylen Hall (9/138/1), and Malachi Corley (11/114/2) all had excellent games. For South Alabama, QB Carter Bradley threw for 360 yards and 3 TDs, but most of that came in garbage time, and he also threw 2 INTS. WR Devin Voisin (11/153/1) also had a nice game.

This contest was best exemplified by a wild sequence at the end of the first half. WKU drove down field, aided by 2 catches from Michael Mathison while on his backside (he too had 35 receiving yards and 31 rushing yards in a good performance). The Hilltoppers were tackled in bounds without a timeout, and the clock was about to expire. Reed put his team in the spike formation, but knowing that there was no time, he wisely ran a play and took a shot at the end zone. The Jaguars committed PI, granting WKU an untimed down. USA called timeout, and then WKU committed a false start. However, before the penalty, USA had called another timeout, negating the flag. WKU scored easily on the next play. This is an unfortunate ending to a really good season for the Jaguars. They finished 10-3, with their only losses being this bowl game, a 1-point loss to UCLA, and a 4-point loss to Sun Belt champion Troy. Western Kentucky proved that their wild offense can score any time, anywhere, and they should have a strong season in a weaker C-USA in 2023.

RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo 21, Liberty 19

Contrary to the Potato Bowl that was played earlier in freezing conditions, this game was played at a comfortable 75 degrees, though rain continued to fall throughout the night. I’m not sure if the rain was a factor, but neither team got much going in the first half. We saw really sluggish offense as the defense feasted, leading to a 7-3 Liberty lead at the half. Toledo QB Dequan Finn was injured, and backup Tucker Gleason could only muster a field goal. Skipping to the 3rd quarter because that’s when the game got interesting, Finn returned and lead the MAC champions to scores on both of their drives during the period. Between the scores, Liberty fumbled, allowing the Rockets to take a 13-7 lead in under 8 minutes of game time. Toledo then gave the Flames a golden opportunity when Adam Beale muffed a punt, giving them an instant 1st and goal. The Rocket defense stiffened, forcing Liberty to attempt a 32-yard FG, which Nick Brown missed.

Finn then led a long 16-play, 7-minute TD march capped by a QB run from 1 yard out. He finished 16/24 for 133 yards and a TD, with 23 yards and a TD on the ground. Down 21-7 following Toledo’s 2-point conversion, Liberty rediscovered their groove, scoring a quick TD in response. After a Toledo punt, Liberty made a brilliant call, tossing the ball backward to WR CJ Daniels, who threw a dime to TE Bentley Henshaw for a 67-yard TD. The tying 2-point attempt failed (which was required in the first place because of a prior PAT miss), and Liberty’s subsequent pooch kick was dropped by ultimately recovered by Toledo. Needing a stop, the Flames couldn’t bring down RB Jacquez Stuart (23/111), who gashed them on each play to seal the 21-19 win. Liberty didn’t get a whole lot out of QB Kaidon Salter (12/20, 84 yards, TD), who hasn’t been quite right since undergoing groin surgery in October. He’ll be much healthier next year as the promising Flames join C-USA. Tonight though, the best MACtion team claimed a hard-fought bowl win.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Eastern Michigan 41, San Jose State 27

I love this bowl. Not only is it played on Boise State’s unique blue field, but there’s a potato sack race, and the winning coach has a bucket of French fries dumped on him instead of Gatorade. This is what bowl games are all about! EMU went into this game with backup QB Taylor Powell, as Austin Smith was injured and unable to go. SJSU came in at full strength, and it showed in the first quarter. The Spartans shot out to a 13-0 lead while the Eagles couldn’t get anything going. They ran up and down the field, tallying over 180 yards of first-quarter offense and scoring two TDs. However, on that second TD, the PAT was blocked, and Tristen Hines returned it for a two-point conversion. While the point value of the play was low, its impact on the game was immense. Everything seemed to change at that point, and the momentum was fully on EMU’s side.

The Eagles rattled off 33 straight points, with RBs Samson Evans (25/82/2) and Jaylon Jackson (7/54/1) and WR Darius Lassiter (6/108/2) as the biggest contributors. Powell hit some big throws, finishing 18/30 for 298 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. The Spartans finally broke the scoring streak late in the 3rd quarter. QB Chevan Cordeiro stuffed the stat sheet, finishing 26/44 for 366 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs, while also adding 9 carries for 50 yards and a TD on the ground. That said, his team earned a ton of yardage but not as many points as they should have scored. The fourth quarter was quiet, with a lone SJSU TD accounting for all the scoring. As the clock hit 0:00, EMU coach Chris Creighton got a fry bath, and the Eagles celebrated their first bowl win in 35 years. It’s been a great season for a team that hasn’t been associated with too much football success. The Spartans finish 7-6, likely disappointed with their missed opportunities.

Myrtle Beach Bowl: Marshall 28, UConn 14

What a job Jim Mora has done. TCU’s Sonny Dykes and Tulane’s Willie Fritz deserve their coach of the year hype, but Mora needs to be right up there. UConn is a team that has been the laughing stock of the FBS. They hadn’t won more than 3 games in a season since 2015 until this year. When independents like New Mexico State, Liberty, and BYU agreed to joined conferences, nobody wanted UConn or UMass. The Huskies have been one of the few teams you could unironically bet against in certain matchups against FCS schools. Them going from such a bad team to a 6-6 squad that earned a bowl bid is truly remarkable. However, expecting them to win their bowl game against a quality team was probably too much to expect in Mora’s first year. As expected, Marshall controlled this game from the very beginning, though it did get interesting during the 3rd quarter.

The difference between these teams came down to their QBs. Thundering Herd signal caller Cam Fancher wasn’t great (10/20 for just 93 yards), but he threw 2 TDs and had just 1 INT. Zion Turner of the Huskies sunk his team early on by losing a fumble on his own side of the field, setting up Marshall for an easy TD. His pick six gave the Herd a 14-0 lead without really trying. Turner finished 9/27 for 166 yards and 3 INTs. The Marshall running game then got going, and they added 2 more TDs to extend to 28-0. Both Rasheen Ali and Khalan Laborn topped 90 rushing yards. For UConn, their MVP in the early going was punter George Caratan, who boomed kicks for the entirety of the first half. RB Victor Rosa (16/75/2) made a game out of things with 2 TD dashes, but the Herd defense clamped down for the rest of the game. They were truly smothering throughout, as they were in their win over Notre Dame. UConn should be proud though, as they made it to a place nobody could’ve imagined when the season started.

Frisco Bowl Presented by SERVPRO: Boise State 35, North Texas 32

I’m not sure why some bowls have the sponsor’s name before the bowl name and some have it after. I assume it has something to do with money or the bowl committee demanding one version or the other. Another interesting fact: North Texas somehow played 14 games this season. They didn’t win this one though. The Mean Green led at half 10-6, as neither offense got a whole lot going. This was followed by an offensive explosion in the 3rd quarter, with the Broncos winning the period 22-14. More importantly, they took the overall lead 28-24. The major difference in this game was turnovers. Although Boise State’s Taylen Green threw for just 137 yards, he didn’t do what his counterpart Austin Aune did: throw 2 INTs. The second INT hurt badly, as Boise went 30 yards on the ensuing possession for a TD, going up by 11. UNT did respond with a TD and 2-point conversion of their own, but nobody scored from that point on despite 2 possessions each. Green contributed more as a runner, with 12 carries for 119 yards and 2 TDs. His RB, Ashton Jeanty, took 28 carries for 178 yards and a TD. UNT’s RB wasn’t too shabby himself, running 21 times for 94 yards and 2 TDs. This game alternated between being entertaining and a snoozer, but I’d say it leaned toward the former. Boise is the second Mountain West team to reach 10 wins today (Fresno State), while the Mean Green finish 7-7, which they deserved for firing coach Seth Littrell after a 7-6 season and a C-USA runner-up finish.

New Mexico Bowl: BYU 24, SMU 23

As usual, going for 2 when down 1 comes up empty. Normally, the stakes aren’t super high. This time, the decision cost SMU a bowl win. But let’s start at the beginning. SMU won the first quarter 10-7, after which BYU’s defense clamped down on Rhett Lashlee’s offense. The Mustangs went scoreless during both the second and third quarters while the Cougars found their footing. A BYU fumble seemed to set the Mustangs up in great shape, but QB Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters threw a 76-yard pick six to Ben Bywater, breaking a 10-10 tie. Starting QB Jaren Hall has been out injured and was unavailable for this game, leaving the young Maiava-Peters in line to play. He was very limited as a passer (7/12 for 47 yards and the aforementioned pick six), but he paced the Cougars on the ground with 14 carries for 96 yards and a TD. RB Christopher Brooks added 19 carries for 88 yards and another TD. Up 24-10, BYU went 3 and out on their final 2 drives (excluding a kneel down). SMU rediscovered their magic, leading scoring drives of 11 and 14 plays to seemingly tie the game. Except Lashlee went for the win. Once the teams were done calling timeouts before the snap, QB Tanner Mordecai ran a draw and was smacked down at the 1, sealing the loss. BYU led for most of the game and deserved to win, but that has to be hard to swallow for SMU considering they might have prevailed in OT. Bad coaching.

LendingTree Bowl: Southern Mississippi 38, Rice 24

If you were looking for where the lone 5-7 team playing in a bowl ended up, you’ve come to the right place! The Owls fought hard, but ultimately they couldn’t stop 1 man: Frank Gore Jr. The son of the legendary Niners RB went off and had a career night. He ran the ball 21 times for 329 yards (not a typo) and 2 TDs. To add to that already spectacular game, he also completed 2 of 3 passes for 19 yards and another TD. Gore was ripping off chunk gains all game long, showing speed, power, and vision in a dominant performance. Rice was competitive though. After falling behind 17-3 at the half, the Owls scored a TD on their opening drive of the third quarter. They then forced a fumble and converted it into a TD to tie the score. The defense made the Golden Eagles punt, and Rice scored another TD to take a 24-17 lead. Southern Miss shut things down from there, forcing a punt, a turnover on downs, two more punts, and an INT to finish the game. Owls freshman QB AJ Padgett played well, completing 19 of 37 passes for 295 yards and 3 TDs before leaving the game with a leg injury (his backup threw the INT). There was just no beating Gore Jr in this game; sometimes a player simply transcends the situation, and that’s what happened in the LendingTree Bowl.

Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl Presented by Stifel: Fresno State 29, Washington State 6

I listed the full name of this bowl because of how ridiculous it is, like many bowl names. At least an actual comedian is responsible for this one. This was well-deserved for Fresno QB Jake Haener. He got injured earlier in the season, and it looked at the time that his college career might end that way. Somehow, he returned a few weeks later and was the QB and leader of a team that won 9 straight games to finish the season with a Mountain West Championship. He was good again in this game, finishing 24/36 for 279 yards and 2 TDs. I expect someone to take a late-round flier on him or sign him as a priority UDFA. He hooked up often with his reliable WR Nikko Remigio, who caught 5 passes for 84 yards and a TD, team highs across the board. The big star in this one though was RB Jordan Mims, who ran wild. His 18 carries went for 210 yards and 2 TDs, and he added 27 receiving yards for good measure. I can’t forget the defense either, as they took WSU’ air raid offense and shut it down. Aside for a few minutes when the score was 16-0, this game was never competitive. In fact, the game was a shutout until the third quarter, and a 1-yard rushing TD was WSU’s only score of the day. This is the first instance of a Group of 5 team beating a Power 5 opponent, and we’ll see if it’s the last

SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl: (14) Oregon State 30, Florida 3

No Anthony Richardson, major problem. The Gator QB opted out of this game to enter the NFL draft, and he hung his team out to dry. Their backup, Ohio State transfer Jack Miller, had no chance, especially since the Beavers bottled up the Gator running game. Florida ran the ball 33 times for a grand total of 39 yards. Oregon State ran for 164 yards and 3 TDs on their 38 attempts. On paper, this game looked like a mismatch even if Richardson had played. You had an inconsistent 6-6 team against the #14 team in the country. The Beavers were missing players, too, with multiple receivers out (injury and transfer portal). That left Silas Bolden as one of the last men standing, and he delivered with 6 catches for 99 yards and a TD. LB/RB/QB/FB/IDK Jack Colletto had a game to remember, with 2 carries for 17 yards, 4 tackles, and a blocked punt. The only points scored by Florida came on a somewhat cheap 40-yard FG in the final minute. Some Beavers fans weren’t happy that the Gators intentionally dodged the shutout instead of going on 4th down. They can take solace in the fact that their defense was absolutely suffocating, yielding nothing in the biggest blowout of bowl season so far. The Pac-12 isn’t getting shut out this year!

Cricket Celebration Bowl: NC Central 41, Jackson State 34 (OT)

Every year, we have one bowl containing FCS teams: not just any FCS teams, but the two top HBCUs in the country. Jackson State and NC Central got here by winning the SWAC and MEAC, respectively. The teams in these conferences forgo the chance to play in the FCS playoffs and instead treat this game as their national championship (this is due to financial reasons). Unlike most coaches and players leaving for other schools, Deion Sanders and his son (QB Shedeur Sanders) stuck around for their team’s bowl game. And what a game it was. This was a back-and-forth affair that became a shootout. Sanders was spectacular, completing 30 of 40 passes for 353 yards and 4 TDs. On the other sideline, QB Davius Richard was 15/20 for 175 yards and a TD, he ran 22 times for 97 yards and 2 TDs, and he caught a 31-yard pass and a 2-point conversion on a Philly Special (their team is even named the Eagles!). NC Central was the far superior rushing team, while Jackson State dominated through the air. I’m not going to talk about defense here because frankly neither of those units seemed to participate.

The Tigers led 21-17 at the half, but we got 3 lead changes in the 4th quarter. On the first change, when the Eagles scored a TD, Adrian Olivo missed the PAT, keeping the score at 23-21. That would impact decisions for the rest of the game. After another NC Central Field goal, JSU scored a TD and went for 2 to try and take a 3-point lead, but Sanders was sacked. NC Central scored a TD on the subsequent drive and converted their 2-point conversion, going up 34-27. With one last chance, Sanders converted a 4th and 7 with a great throw on the run. He then hit WR/CB Travis Hunter on an end zone strike, but it was dropped. Side note: Hunter will be a CB at the next level. On 4th and 10, Sanders gave Hunter another shot as time expired, and he redeemed himself, tying the game. In OT, NC Central scored with ease, and Jackson State needed to respond. On 3rd and goal at the 1, TE Hayden Hagler dropped an easy TD, and the Tigers failed to score on 4th and goal, losing the game. It’s a bitter ending for Coach Prime’s JSU tenure, as he never managed to win this championship game and overcome the MEAC. He’ll take Hunter and his sons with him and hope to turn around Colorado next season.

Wasabi Fenway Bowl: Louisville 24, Cincinnati 7

Here we have the Scott Satterfield Bowl. The former Louisville coach left for Cincinnati but coached neither in this game. Both teams were without their starting QBs as well; Louisville’s Malik Cunningham opted out, and Cincinnati’s Ben Bryant has a foot injury. That left us with Brock Domann and Evan Prater, respectively. It really felt like neither team had their coach or QB. The offenses were mostly terrible, with the Cardinals turning the ball over 4 times (2 INTs, 2 fumbles) and the Bearcats losing 2 fumbles of their own. The difference was the Louisville defense, who demonstrated their their #1 FBS ranking in sacks is real with 7 takedowns of Prater. Cincinnati, on the other hand, couldn’t stop RBs Jawhar Jordan (9/115/2) or Maurice Turner (31/160), allowing 3 runs of 40+ yards. Partly due to the pressure and partly due to inaccuracy, Prater didn’t do much in the passing game, and the running game was held to just 1.2 yards per carry. No receiver on either team surpassed 50 yards. The Cardinals would have had just 10 points themselves had Jordan not run for two long touchdowns. Cincinnati’s competition won’t get any easier next year when they join the Big XII. Louisville projects to be middling as well without Cunningham.

Duluth Trading Cure Bowl: (24) Troy 18, (25) UTSA 12

Why a company that sells warm flannel underwear sponsored a bowl in sunny Orlando is beyond me. That’s still not as confusing as the fact that two ranked conference champions were playing on the first day of bowls and not in a premier bowl later this month. This matchup was framed as the UTSA offense versus the Troy defense, and for the first quarter and change, the winner was…the UTSA defense. The Roadrunners made me double-check their scores this season, and I confirmed that they hadn’t given up less than 24 points in a game in their last six. They shut out the Trojans for more than a quarter, holding QB Gunnar Watson to a 4/13 start with 2 INTs and even earning a safety. After UTSA earned a 12-0 lead, the script flipped.

Troy forced 4 straight turnovers (2 INTs and 2 fumbles) and shut out Jeff Traylor’s team the rest of the way. Part of that might have to do with OC Will Stein leaving for Oregon, but they should have scored regardless. WR Chris Carpenter dropped Frank Harris’ best throw of the day in the end zone, and the Roadrunners failed to convert on 4th down, keeping the score 18-12. Troy was then able to bleed out the clock. I have to give props to UTSA RB Kevorian Barnes; he tallied 22 carries for 138 yards and played every single snap due to injuries at the position. For the Trojans, I have to shout out a defender because the offense didn’t do much. That player would be linebacker Richard Jubinor, who had 2 TFLs, an INT, a forced fumble, and a sack. The Trojan defense is the reason that in this matchup of 11-2 teams on 10-game winning streaks, it was Troy who came out on top.

HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl: UAB 24, Miami OH 20

UAB came into this game without star RB DeWayne McBride, who opted out to enter the draft (you’ll be hearing that a lot). Mistakes (2 fumbles, 1 of which led directly to a TD) nearly cost them the game, but Miami’s comeback attempt came up short. The Redhawks had the MAC’s #1 scoring defense this season, so scoring was limited. Still, UAB took an early 10-0 lead that Miami cut to 10-6 with a TD. The PAT was missed and that ended up being critical. Late in the game, down 20-17 due to the fumbles, UAB went on 4th and 1, eschewing a tying FG attempt. RB Jermaine Brown ran untouched for a 12-yard TD. Miami got the ball back and converted two 4th downs on the way to the UAB 15. Down 4 with 1 second left, they had to go for a TD due to the missed PAT. The pass was completed and the receiver reached the 2, coming up just short. Fittingly, the two best players in this game were both Blazers. Brown (24/116/2) and WR Trea Shropshire (6/183/1) carried the offense, while the defense did just enough to win. I still have a gripe with UAB, a 6-6 team entering the game, firing their coach. Trent Dilfer is inheriting a good group.

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