5 winners and 3 losers from the New Year’s Day bowls
Only the Playoff National Championship and FCS title game remain. Here’s who fell where on January 1. College football is down to the finish line. After a busy slate of New Year’s Day bowls, just two games remain: the Playoff National Championship between Alabama on January 7 and the FCS title game between North Dakota State and Eastern Washington two days before that. This post is a running collection of teams that made out well and didn’t during a sprawling bowl season. Up top: winners and losers from the January 1 games. Winner: Uga, Georgia’s live bulldog mascot The dog escaped with its life after Texas’ longhorn steer mascot, Bevo, attempted to gore him with both horns during a pre-Sugar Bowl photo op. LOOK OUT, UGA! pic.twitter.com/DAIB0teajU— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 2, 2019 For still being alive, tiny Uga is the day’s biggest winner. Bevo is also a winner, because the Big 12 did not fine him for going Horns Down while trying to murder the pooch. Loser: Everyone else associated with Georgia Georgia had a chance to be one of the great winners of bowl season. The Dawgs had a legit case for being one of the four best teams, but their two losses kept them out of the Playoff. So their players spent the semifinal Saturday tweeting gleefully about the struggles of Notre Dame and Oklahoma, who got in ahead of them. They were in position, if they could only beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl as two-TD favorites, to have a great offseason. They’d get to claim they could’ve won it all while pretending Clemson wouldn’t have thrashed them. I thought that’s how things would go, and wow, was I wrong. The Dawgs got dominated pretty much from wire to wire and took one of the year’s most surprising big-game losses. Jake Fromm couldn’t move the ball efficiently, Georgia could hardly run at all, and the Dawg lost the turnover battle. The final score was 28-21, but the Dawgs were down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and didn’t give themselves a real chance to win. Winner: Texas The Horns gave themself a nice little jumping-off point on their way into the offseason. For Texas to be what it wants to be, it has to beat teams like Georgia at the end of every season. This one didn’t bring a national championship, but UT can say all offseason that no team in the country had a better set of two wins than the Horns’ against Oklahoma and UGA. And Tom Herman can clearly point to 2018 as proof of concept that he’s going the right way. Loser: The Pac-12 Nominally a Power 5 conference, the Pac-12 was already a big loser, because it missed out on the Playoff for the third time in five years — more than any power league. Now conference champ Washington has lost to the Big Ten’s Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, where the 28-23 score belies Ohio State having put the game away by halftime. The Pac-12 finished bowl season 3-4. It losses were Utah blowing a 20-3 lead to Northwestern at the Holiday Bowl by allowing 28 unanswered in the third quarter, Cal losing one of the most hideous bowls ever to TCU, Arizona State losing to the Mountain West’s Fresno State, and now Washington getting pretty soundly beaten in the Rose. At least the league has a surefire business plan. Winner: Urban Meyer If Ohio State hadn’t wanted to protect one of the great coaches in history, Meyer would’ve been fired for his role in the school’s Zach Smith scandal, which unfolded in July and August. But the school didn’t fire Meyer, and his team won 13 games, and he got to end his career (at least for now) by winning the Rose Bowl for the first time. I’m not at all saying Meyer deserved this kind of exit, but it’s the best sendoff he could have asked for. (Had the Buckeyes made the Playoff, Alabama or Clemson likely would’ve crushed them.) Winner: LSU The Tigers snapped UCF’s 25-game win streak with a 40-32 decision at the Fiesta Bowl. Rather than argue about what this result says about mid-majors’ Playoff-worthiness or UCF’s 2017 national title claim, let’s acknowledge it for what it was: a really strong LSU performance against a really strong UCF, even if both teams were badly shorthanded. LSU had a 555-250 yardage edge and controlled the ball for an absurd 44:31. Loser: Bloomin’ Onion fans Iowa won the Outback Bowl, so coconut shrimp is free today. Winner: Kentucky That’s “the 10-win Kentucky Wildcats” to you. UK wrapped its best season since 1977 by edging out Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, 27-24. In his last college game, Benny Snell ran 26 times for 144 yards and two TDs as a loud Orlando crowd got fully into the game. A Trace McSorley injury and overly conservative James Franklin game-calling helped, but that’s nobody’s problem in Lexington. This was a great way to close a great year. From the New Year’s Eve games Winner: Texas A&M The Aggies weren’t a national contender this season, but they had one of the quietest really solid seasons of any team. They came closer than almost anyone to beating both Alabama and Clemson, by far the sport’s two best teams. They played the rest of their schedule at 9-2, and they didn’t have a single bad loss all year. They capped things by demolishing NC State, probably the second or third best team in the ACC, in the Gator Bowl. They aren’t where Jimbo Fisher will eventually need to be, but positive signs are there. Making this an even better night, A&M finished it by putting in its 12th Man, Cullen Gillaspia, who closed the game and his career by scoring a touchdown: "You could not script it better!" @CGillaspia finishes off a fantastic night in Jacksonville. #GigEm pic.twitter.com/O9G5wFiheI— Texas A&M Football (@AggieFootball) January 1, 2019 The 12th Man is what A&M calls its fans, and it’s also what the school calls a walk-on who represents the student body and wears No. 12. That’s Gillaspia. Him scoring that touchdown was one of the greatest moments bowl season will ever produce. If you know someone who thinks there are too many of these games, just show them that video clip. Loser: Virginia Tech The Hokies lost to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl, 35-31. No non-Playoff bowl result is earth-shatteringly important, but this one bounced the Hokies to their first losing record since 1992, when they finished 2-8-1. Ties were still a thing then. Losing to UC isn’t in and of itself a big thing, as the Bearcats are an 11-win team that would have beaten plenty of Power 5s. But after a season that included a bunch of unexpected attrition and all manner of ugly losses, it would’ve been nice to end positively. The Hokies did not. Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Winner: Oklahoma State One of the country’s weirdest teams this season, the Pokes finished strong by beating beating a ranked Missouri in the Liberty Bowl, 38-33. OSU was a spread underdog five times this season and went 4-1 in those games, beating Boise State, Texas, West Virginia, and now Mizzou. (The lone loss was to Oklahoma.) I’m not sure how good this team will be in 2019, but nobody should ever going to make the mistakes of counting OSU out ahead of time. Loser: Those who watched Michigan State, ever Watching MSU this year was an incredibly unpleasant experience, pretty much every week. Winning ugly has long been a Spartan hallmark, but this year, they did too much losing ugly. And they never lost more ugly than in the Redbox Bowl against Oregon, a 7-6 game that included tons of special-teams hijinks and almost no good offense. MSU finished the season with the same record as the final score of the game: 7-6. Winner: Stanfordness The Cardinal beat Pitt in the Sun Bowl by fumbling for a touchdown. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?A miraculous pass puts Stanford ahead. pic.twitter.com/MgO70wqzNU— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 31, 2018 The final score was 14-13. It’s so Stanford it hurts. Winner: Northwestern The Wildcats — Big Ten West champs, such as they were — trailed Utah 20-3 at halftime. Then they turned on the jets, scoring 28 unanswered to win 31-20. They were one of the year’s feel-good stories, and their season deserved to have a feel-good ending. From Playoff Saturday Winner: Trevor Lawrence Clemson’s five-star freshman QB owned the day more than any other single player did. He was 27-of-39 for 327 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks against an elite defense. Lawrence being good now isn’t surprising. He was one of the highest-rated prospects in the history of recruiting, and Clemson surrounded him with a top skill-position group and a road-grading offensive line. But his total reliability as a freshman — almost never throwing picks, only making occasional, minor mistakes — is incredible. If he can beat the Tide, he’ll be the second true freshman to QB his team to a title, after Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985. I won’t put it past him. Winner: Tua Tagovailoa Tagovailoa lost out to Kyler Murray in one of the best Heisman races ever, but he was the better of the two quarterbacks in the Orange Bowl (though Murray put up three excellent quarters of his own and still fairly deserved the trophy). Tua put up one of those lines that would be absurd if he hadn’t done it several times already: 24-of-27 for 318 yards, four touchdowns, and (of course) no interceptions. He looked healthy and every bit as crisp as he did for the first 80 percent of the season, when he built what had seemed to be an insurmountable lead for the Heisman. People who wish to relitigate that trophy race may do so now, but Tagovailoa will happily get ready for the title game instead. His bad SEC Championship feels like a distant memory, even though the Clemson defense he’ll see next is in a different world than the Oklahoma D he just saw. Loser: Notre Dame’s big-game reputation, again The Irish have now lost their last eight New Year’s Six (or equivalent) bowl games, going back to the 1993 season’s Cotton Bowl. I’m 24, and I have not been alive to see Notre Dame win a top-tier bowl game. On the one hand, props to Notre Dame for managing to stay relevant as a national brand amid such a long drought. On the other, while the Irish deserved their Playoff spot, much of the country will still decline to take them seriously. They’ve once again failed to make an emphatic argument in their own favor. Loser: Nick Saban’s headset Rest in peace: Moment of silence for Nick Saban's headset... pic.twitter.com/MTH8kq0gwm— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 30, 2018 He was up by 18 at this point. Loser: Anyone who bet the over in the Orange Bowl at 79.5 or higher That was the opening total on Selection Sunday. It went even higher, reaching the highest total in Playoff history, comfortably. The game settled at 79 points exactly, with Alabama kneeling out the clock inside Oklahoma’s 10-yard line. No, I’m not personally upset about it. Why would you ask? Loser: Jim Harbaugh Heading into a game at Ohio State the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Michigan was ranked No. 4. The Wolverines were favored to win in Columbus, an extreme rarity in a series Ohio State has owned. This seemed like their best shot in years. That ended in humiliation, though. So maybe Michigan would at least beat a supposedly inferior team in the Peach Bowl and see some postseason success this year? Nope. This qualifies as a collapse, which Harbaugh’s getting used to in Ann Arbor. Loser: South Carolina Not only did rival Clemson get one of its best wins ever, the Gamecocks lost 28-0 to Virginia. Previous bowl season winners and losers Winner: Rain Rain won the inaugural First Responder Bowl, canceling the Boise State-Boston College game in Dallas before it got through the first quarter. Games get canceled for weather reasons all the time, but this appears to have been the first FBS bowl in the modern era to meet that fate. The game was declared a no-contest, its few stats wiped out. Winner: Cheez-It The sponsor of a middling (at best) bowl game in Phoenix wound up overseeing one of the most virally enjoyed bowls in years. Cal and TCU played just a hideous game, combining for nine interceptions, but you can’t buy publicity like the cracker-maker got at the end of it. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Indeed, those are Cheez-Its in that trophy bowl. Loser: Miami The Hurricanes secured their spot as the most disappointing team of 2018 by getting caved in by Wisconsin at the Pinstripe Bowl. The preseason No. 8 Hurricanes finished 7-6. What’s worse, they have a ton of problems facing them as they move into 2018. Winner: Auburn The Tigers routed Purdue in the Music City Bowl, 63-14. Had they not let up considerably in the second half, they would’ve easily broken the all-time bowl scoring record Army tied days earlier (70, and more on that shortly). They still put together one of the most dazzling offensive games any team has had in years, providing a nice little capper to a pretty terrible season for Gus Malzahn. Maybe it’ll be something to build on, or maybe it was just fun. Winner: Gardner Minshew Washington State beat Iowa State in a fun Alamo Bowl, and Minshew threw for 299 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He capped off one of the best and most memorable seasons ever for a Mike Leach QB in a uniformly positive way. Winner: Army The Black Knights won what you could fairly call the most lopsided bowl game in history, 70-14 against Houston at the Armed Forces Bowl. The 56-point margin of victory tied the record, and their 70 points tied the record, too. All of that pretty wells sums it up, but it’s worth noting Army scored 10 TDs on 10 offensive drives. (The Knights lost one fumble, which they offset with a defensive touchdown.) They finished with a program-high 11 wins and have never won more games in two years than the 21 they’ve won these last two. Loser: Major Applewhite That result has Houston head coach Applewhite’s job in danger, sources told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey. UH’s president famously said upon hiring Applewhite that the school fires coaches when they go 8-4 (though it doesn’t usually, in truth), and Applewhite has now had a worse record than that in each of his two years. Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles resigned after the bowl, with sources telling Godfrey he was expected to head to Florida State. UH was supposed to lose this game without DT Ed Oliver and QB D’Eriq King, but Applewhite may have lost more than the bowl. Winner: Troy, for somehow still having Neal Brown The Trojans beat Buffalo in the Dollar General Bowl, a weird game that included the Bulls’ offense not seeing the field for the whole third quarter. That was weird, but what wasn’t was seeing Troy get to double-digit wins. The Trojans have done that three years in a row under Brown, with bowl wins capping all three and Power 5 wins at LSU and Nebraska mixed in. It’s astonishing that nobody’s yet hired Brown to a head coaching gig in those ranks, but Troy will take it. The program had never won 10 games before this three-year run of doing it every year. Troy’s one of the sport’s most reliable winners. Troy! Loser: Memphis The Tigers were the losers in the Birmingham Bowl, the most dramatic bowl yet. After blowing an 18-point lead, they scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:15 left against Wake Forest. But they let the Demon Deacons march all the way downfield to take the lead back with 34 seconds left. Then they got into game-tying field goal range, and Riley Patterson knocked through a 38-yarder that got wiped out because Wake had called an icing timeout. He knocked through another after that, but a false start pushed it back to a 43-yarder, which Patterson then missed to give the win to the Deacs. Winner: Jaylon Ferguson The senior Louisiana Tech defensive end used the Hawaii Bowl to break Terrell Suggs’ career Division I sack record of 44, fighting through an iffy facemask call and some brief official scoring drama to do it. Ferguson has gotten little attention over his career, because he plays in Conference USA. But he’s been productive for four years, putting up particularly big totals in his sophomore and senior years. Bowl games are primarily about TV, but at their best, they should be about players, and seeing Ferguson celebrate was tremendous. (Yes, it’s fine to note the NCAA did not count bowl stats before 2002, and that might make Suggs’ and others of his time look worse. It’s a bad policy. But that’s not Ferguson’s problem, and he should sleep fine going forward as a record-holder. He’s also a winner because he got to go to Hawaii, and because Tech actually beat the Rainbow Warriors.) Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports Winner: BYU The Cougars had an up-and-down year, but they made sure to finish with a winning record by beating the hell out of WMU in the Potato Bowl. They gained 9.4 yards per play to the Broncos’ 4.1 and got one of the most sparkling QB lines ever out of freshman Zach Wilson: 18-of-18 passing for 317 yards, four touchdowns, and (obviously) no picks. He was two measly screen passes away from qualifying for and setting the FBS record for single-game completion percentage. Former Georgia QB Grayson Lambert has it now at 96 percent. Winner: FIU The Bahamas Bowl was good fun, and Butch Davis’ Panthers came out on top against Toledo. They did it with a backup quarterback, Christian Alexander, running all over the Rockets’ defense and also converting some key late third downs with his arm. FIU lost a lot of talent from an eight-win team in 2017, Davis’ first season, and still inched forward to nine wins this year, including the second bowl win in program history and first since 2010. It’s not hard to see FIU as a Conference USA contender in 2019. Winner: UAB The Blazers did not field a team two seasons ago, or three seasons ago. But head coach Bill Clark stuck around and, when the program was reinstated a half-year after shutting down in December 2014, got to building a winner. A JUCO-heavy roster-building strategy paid off this year, when UAB won Conference USA and put up 10 wins, the most in its history. That was before trouncing MAC champion NIU in the Boca Raton Bowl, 37-13. That was the program’s first bowl win ever. Loser: North Texas UNT quarterback Mason Fine getting hurt against Utah State was a big shame. His teammates weren’t able to keep things close without him. What we’d pegged as one of the best matchups of bowl season turned into a rout. The good news, though: UNT head coach Seth Littrell surprised a bunch of people by not leaving for Kansas State, Texas Tech, or any other open coaching job. The Mean Green should be a Conference USA contender in 2019. Winner: Tulane The Green Wave hadn’t won a bowl since 2002. They hadn’t been in a bowl since 2013. They were 5-6 entering a Week 13 game against Navy, and they put their bowl eligibility on the line when they went for a 2-point conversion with 1:27 left in a 1-point game there. They got it and won, and then they went to the Cure Bowl and beat UL Lafayette by 17. Willie Fritz has gradually built the Wave up and now has some postseason success to show for it. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports Winner: FCS call-ups Georgia Southern completed one of the year’s best turnarounds by beating Eastern Michigan on a 40-yard field goal at the buzzer of the Camellia Bowl. The Eagles’ 10 wins are their most since they made the jump to FBS in 2014, and they come a year after the program cratered to 2-10. Things started to turn around midseason last year, when Chad Lunsford took over for the fired Tyson Summers and went 2-4 after an 0-6 start. Now? GaSo looks as good as ever. When the Eagles are running the option, they’re good. Appalachian State won impressively against Middle Tennessee at the New Orleans Bowl. The Mountaineers, who have hovered around the top 15 for most of the year in S&P+, are just really good. The Sun Belt champs showed out and did their conference proud, and they did it in their first game without Scott Satterfield, their coach who left for Louisville. Satterfield had transitioned the Mountaineers, like GaSo, from FCS blue-blood status to FBS startup. Things seem even better at App right now than they do at Southern. So, hey, let’s count the Louisville as a winner in this group. The Satterfield hire already looked good, but it looks better now that App State’s had a good bowl and Mountaineer defensive coordinator Bryan Brown’s agreed to join Satterfield in Louisville. Meanwhile, there’s no reason new App coach Eliah Drinkwitz can’t win right away there. Cheers to Kansas State, too, in a similar vein. The Wildcats’ new coach, outgoing NDSU boss Chris Klieman, is on to another FCS final. The drawback there is that K-State needs to sign some recruits. On another hand, it’s good to hire championship coaches. Non-FBS winners and losers from this time of year Winner: Mary Hardin-Baylor The Cru beat Mount Union (the closest thing Division III has to its own North Dakota State) in a dramatic Stagg Bowl. UMHB’s now won two national titles in three years. That’s a hell of a thing for any program at any level, but it’s especially cool given this one’s newness. The school’s only been playing football for 21 years, starting in 1998. It was a playoff team by 2001, a regular contender after that, and now the best DIII team of the last three years. Winner: North Carolina A&T A&T beat Alcorn State in the Celebration Bowl to win HBCU football’s national title, 24-22. That makes three in four years (and in the Celebration Bowl’s history) for the Aggies, who have beaten up on the MEAC and SWAC and started this season by topping FBS East Carolina in Greenville. The team’s lost two games in two years. Rod Broadway built the Aggies up before retiring after 2017’s Celebration Bowl win, and first-year successor Sam Washington is now one-for-one. Winner: Valdosta State The Blazers won Division II’s national title — their fourth ever, also their fourth since 2004, and first since 2012— by surviving Ferris State in a truly wild championship game. QB Rogan Wells threw for five touchdowns in the title game and caught another, setting that game’s record for touchdowns responsible-for. VSU finished a sterling 14-0. Loser: South Dakota State The poor Jackrabbits have the misfortune of being rivals with North Dakota State. They’ve been unable to get over the NDSU hump for years, as their northern neighbors have become the most dominant program in the country at any level. The Bison blew them out in an FCS playoff semifinal in Fargo to continue both teams’ trends. We’ll update this post as teams sort themselves going forward.