There have been plenty of highlights from the first week of bowl games, from Tulane rallying from a 21-point deficit in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl only to fall 24-21 to Louisiana-Lafayette when normally-reliable kicker Cairo Santos missed a game-tying field goal to Rashaad Reynolds returning not one, but two fumbles for touchdowns in Oregon State’s 38-23 romp over Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl, but the best game took place down in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Gildan New Mexico kicked bowl season off with a bang as Colorado State rallied in improbable fashion to beat Pac-12 foe Washington State 48-45 in a wild and entertaining affair. Washington State’s Connor Halliday tied a bowl record with six touchdown passes but could only produce 10 points in the second half as the Rams came back from a 35-13 deficit with 2:48 left in the first half. CSU was down 45-30 with 9:35 to play and pulled within 45-37 with 2:52 to go.
The Cougars converted a key third down to seemingly end the Rams’ hopes, but on first down, MWC defensive player of the year Shaquil Barrett stripped Halliday on first down to give the Rams the ball back. The play was reviewed and overturned, but on the very next play, Barrett did it again, stripping the ball from running back Jeremiah Laufasa deep in WSU territory. CSU calmly drove down the field before Kapri Bibbs scored his third touchdown of the day–and 31st on the season–to pull the Rams within two points. CSU ran the famed Statue of Liberty play, but the initial call was that Donnell was out-of-bounds short of the end zone. That play was reviewed and overturned, and the game was tied at 45. Washington State fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the third-straight touch Wazzou had coughed it up, and Colorado State recovered well within field goal range. Jared Roberts booted the game-winning field goal as time expired. CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson threw for 369 yards and 2 touchdowns while Bibbs had 169 yards rushing to go with his 3 touchdowns. Halliday passed for 410 yards, but the Cougars finished with -10 yards rushing.
In a matchup of arguably the best non-AQ offense in the country against undoubtedly the best non-AQ defense, the latter prevailed as Utah State held Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois in check. The Aggies limited Lynch to just 39 yards rushing and forced two turnovers in winning the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl 21-14. With star quarterback Chuckie Keeton set to return from injury next season, and Fresno State losing Derek Carr while Boise State rebuilds under Bryan Harsin, Utah State figures to be the heavy favorite in the Mountain West next season.
Speaking of Derek Carr and Fresno State, the Bulldogs laid an egg against USC in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Despite playing under their third coach this season, the Trojans rolled Fresno 45-20. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for a career-high 344 yards and 4 touchdowns while limiting the prolific Carr to just 216 yards on 54 attempts with a pair of touchdowns and one interception.
Pitt hung on to beat Bowling Green 30-27 in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. The back-and-forth affair saw Bowling Green rally from a 17-3 deficit to take a 20-17 lead before Pitt surged back ahead 27-20. The Falcons tied it at 27, but Chris Blewitt–yes, that is his name–kicked a go-ahead field goal with just over a minute remaining to give the Panthers the lead for good. Bowling Green stymied Jordan Lynch in the MAC championship game, but the Falcons had no answer for Pittsburgh’s James Connor. The 6’2″, 230-pound freshman rumbled for 229 yards, breaking a school bowl record previously held by NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. Connor even took some snaps on the defensive line, just so the Bowling Green offense could experience the same torture as its defensive counterparts.
Looking Ahead to the Second Week of Bowl Season
Bowl season kicks into high gear this week. The BCS bowls are all this week, and there are a number of other enticing games as well.
Saturday offers a tilt between a couple of teams that were ranked in the top ten at one point this year, 9-3 Miami against 11-1 Louisville. Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the number 1 pick in the NFL draft in the eyes of many, so this may be your last chance to see him play in a Louisville uniform. His counterpart, Stephen Morris, is also capable of putting up big numbers, so this has the potential to be an entertaining game.
Monday features several marquee teams, but unfortunately, they’re not playing each other. Pac-12 runner-up Arizona State takes on Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. The Sun Devils are heavily favored and should have running back/touchdown machine Marion Grice back while Texas Tech is mired in a five-game losing streak and will be without Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Baker Mayfield.
The game drawing the most attention that night, however, will be the Valero Alamo Bowl between 10-2 Oregon and 8-4 Texas. On paper, Oregon should roll to an easy win, but who knows who how this one will play out. The Ducks were championship or bust, but another loss at the hands of Stanford derailed that train for the second-consecutive year. There was some grousing from the Oregon camp about having to go to the Rose Bowl yet again, so one would think they are less-than-thrilled to be in San Antonio. Plus, Texas coach Mack Brown is resigning after 16 seasons at the school, so this will be his final game in burnt orange. Between the Ducks’ lack of interest and the Longhorns presumably fired up to win Mack’s last game, this one could be interesting.
New Year’s Eve has a nice selection of offerings for your viewing pleasure. The AdvoCare V100 Bowl features two of the best running backs in the country in Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams. The pair rank 1-2 in rushing yards per game and were both named to the AP All-American team.
Texas A&M takes on 10-3 Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in what is widely expected to be Johnny Manziel’s final collegiate game. Despite setting a school record for wins and capturing their first-ever Coastal Division crown, the Blue Devils are double-digit underdogs in this. For those of you assuming Manziel & Co. will have their way with Duke, take note that the Blue Devils were the only team to hold Florida State scoreless in the first quarter this season.
New Year’s Day has plenty to offer. Nebraska and Georgia square off in a rematch of one of last year’s most entertaining games, and the SEC-Big 10 theme continues with South Carolina against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. The Badgers like to pound away with their trademark ground game, but they’ll face a stern challenge in South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. Wisconsin’s defense is no slouch, either, but South Carolina’s Connor Shaw is tough, takes care of the ball, and is used to seeing stout defenses on a weekly basis in the SEC.
The Fiesta Bowl pits a pair of BCS newcomers in Big 12 champion Baylor and AAC champ Central Florida. Both teams are 11-1 and led by dynamic quarterbacks in Bryce Petty and Blake Bortles, respectively. Baylor has the deadliest offense in the land, averaging 53.3 points and 624.4 yards a game. Petty threw for 3,844 yards with 30 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions while averaging a mind-boggling 17.47 yards per completion. It’ll be up to Bortles, a potential top-10 pick in the NFL draft, to keep pace. The junior quarterback was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,280 yards and 22 touchdowns with 7 interceptions.
For those of you who enjoy bloodshed and gladiatorial combat, check out the Rose Bowl between #5 Stanford and #4 Michigan State. Both teams pound you into submission with rugged defenses and power running games. The Spartans are 12-1 and upset previously-undefeated Ohio State in the Big 10 championship game, earning their first Rose Bowl berth since 1988 while knocking the Buckeyes out of the national title game. Michigan State boasts the nation’s best defense, allowing a paltry 248.2 yards per game. The Spartans also rank number one in rush defense at 80.8 yards per game. However, Michigan State will be without star linebacker Max Bullough, who was suspended for violating team rules. That loss could prove fatal against a Stanford team that has averaged 234.2 yards rushing per game over its last five games. The Cardinal have been known to line up with 9 linemen on occasion, so it’ll be strength vs. strength in this one.
Thursday, January 2 only has one game on the docket, but it’s a matchup of two traditional college football powers. Third-ranked Alabama takes on 10-2 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Friday’s slate features 10-2 Clemson against 12-1 Ohio State, but the highlight of that day figures to be SEC runner-up Missouri against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. The former Big 12 opponents know each other well, and the game promises to be a high-scoring affair.