Best and worst from Big East bowl season

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
9:00
AM ET
Here are some of the highs and lows of Big East bowl season:

Best performance, team: West Virginia. The 70-33 win over Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl goes down as one of the best team performances in bowl history. The Mountaineers set a bowl record for points scored, and another bowl record for points scored in one quarter (35, second); an Orange Bowl record for touchdowns (10); and tied an Orange Bowl record for first downs (31). Theirs was the most dominating bowl win of the season.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin
Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIREWest Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin set records in the Mountaineers Orange Bowl victory.
Best performance, individual: Tavon Austin, West Virginia. Geno Smith won game MVP honors, but I thought the biggest difference maker was Austin. He set Orange Bowl records for total yards (280), receptions (12) and receiving touchdowns (4) and his versatility was a major reason why the Mountaineers won. Smith said this about Austin after the game: "He won me an MVP. I should give him a trophy."

Worst performance, team: Pitt. The numbers on offense were ugly once again in the BBVA Compass Bowl against SMU. The Panthers had season lows in points and yards rushing (10), and their 205 total yards were second-worst this season. They also were 6-of-17 on third down, and had no touchdowns in four trips inside the SMU 25. Pretty sure Pitt is happy to turn the page on this season.

Best comeback: Zach Collaros, Cincinnati. In the weeks leading up to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, we could only guess about whether Collaros would make it back from a broken ankle. He was weeks ahead of rehab, but there was still soreness and he was not running all that well. But Collaros is such a gamer, he refused to be held out of the game. He made his triumphant return and the Bearcats beat Vanderbilt 31-24.

Worst injury: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. It looked gruesome on television -- Greene went down hard on his ankle against Iowa State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and we were all thankful when the television replays stopped. It was a tough end to the season for the co-Defensive Player of the Year, who had one of the finest defensive performances this bowl season with 13 tackles, half a sack and a forced fumble. Greene ended up with a broken ankle, but should be just fine for the start of training camp this summer.

Worst loss: Louisville. Yes, we can say Pitt had a terrible loss, but the season had gone horribly for the Panthers and after another coaching change, you almost understood why they failed to show up. But the Cardinals finished the season with wins in four of their final five games, and earned a share of the Big East title. They were riding high going into their game against NC State in the Belk Bowl. An NC State team, by the way, that Cincinnati clobbered earlier in the season. I fully expected a win. But Louisville came out flat and trailed 31-10 before a valiant attempt at a comeback. Too many mistakes did in the Cardinals and they lost 31-24. I give a hand clap to the comeback, but I firmly believe this is a game the Cardinals should have won.

Best momentum swing (1): Clemson running back Andre Ellington was on his way in for a short touchdown in the second quarter against the Mountaineers. But he lost the football, and Darwin Cook returned it 99 yards for a score. West Virginia ended up scoring 35 points in the second quarter -- including 21 off three turnovers.

Best momentum swing (2): Cincinnati trailed Vanderbilt 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, after Larry Smith connected with Chris Boyd on a 68-yard touchdown pass. Ralph David Abernathy IV took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 90 yards for a score to put the Bearcats ahead 24-21. It was the first return for a score in his career. Even better -- Cincinnati would never trail again.

Worst series: Louisville scored to make it 31-24 with 4:29 left in the fourth quarter. Plenty of time to kick it deep and then trust your defense to get a three-and-out to set up good field position for a game-winning drive. Charlie Strong opted for an onside kick, and NC State recovered. Luckily for the Cardinals, NC State coach Tom O'Brien made a move that was even more head-scratching when he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Louisville 33. The Cardinals stopped them to get great field position with 1:35 remaining. But Teddy Bridgewater took two sacks on the drive, and ended up throwing his third interception to end the game.

Best turnaround: Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights went into their game against Iowa State averaging 2.6 yards a carry and 91.5 yards a game on the ground. They nearly doubled those numbers in the bowl game, rushing for 173 yards and 4.1 yards a carry, as Jawan Jamison had 131 yards and two touchdowns.

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