Best and worst from Big East bowl season

Reviewing some of the highs and lows of Big East bowl season:

Best defensive performance: Connecticut clamped down on South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl, shutting the SEC opponent out until the final four minutes, and holding the Gamecocks to just 205 total yards. They play a little defense in the Big East, too.

Worst defensive performance: Well, maybe they don't play defense in the Big Easy. Cincinnati's late-season struggles to stop anyone reached a nadir in the Allstate Sugar Bowl as the Bearcats allowed 51 points and 659 total yards to Florida. The plan going in was to make Tim Tebow strictly a passer; he gleefully accepted the challenge by throwing for a BCS record 482 yards while completing 31 of his 35 attempts.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Mike Ford hadn't done a whole lot for South Florida in two years, and rushed for only 243 yards in the regular season. Then the Bulls tailback rumbled for 207 yards -- nearly all of it in the second half -- against Northern Illinois in the International Bowl. Maybe he just likes Canada. Alert the CFL.

Worst into-nowhere disappearing act: West Virginia's Noel Devine was nearly unstoppable for three quarters against Florida State. But Devine, who had 168 yards on 16 carries, never touched the ball in the fourth quarter of the Mountaineers' futile comeback attempt.

Worst break: Jarret Brown's injury at the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. The senior waited patiently behind Pat White for three years but couldn't play after the first half of his bowl game because of an ankle problem. He deserved to finish his career in better fashion.

Best statement: Pitt and North Carolina both pride themselves on hard-nosed football. Well, Dave Wannstedt's team got the upper hand in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Trailing by one in the fourth quarter, the Panthers went on an epic, 17-play, 8:47 drive for the winning field goal. It was old-school, smash-mouth football at its finest.

Best atmosphere: The Gator Bowl. A record crowd of 84,129 packed the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium for Bobby Bowden's last game. The sight of Bowden throwing the flaming spear into the turf before the game was undeniably cool. You can forgive West Virginia for not enjoying some of the over-the-top Bowden tributes, though, such as having the Florida State coach's picture on all the buses transporting people to the stadium.

Worst atmosphere: International Bowl. Who thought pitting South Florida and Northern Illinois in Canada would be a good idea? Fewer than 1,500 fans from either school made the trip across the border, and the announced crowd of 22,185 was the smallest of any bowl game this year.

Best future preview: It's a four-way tie. Two true freshmen -- quarterback Tom Savage and receiver Mohamed Sanu -- formed a potent duo for Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels had a solid game against Northern Illinois. And West Virginia fans got to see their next quarterback when freshman Geno Smith took over for Brown in the second half.

Worst bowl week buildup: Urban Meyer's seemingly unnecessary Sugar Bowl retirement/non-retirement drama overshadowed much of the pregame talk and excitement. Add in Cincinnati's own coaching controversies, and hardly anybody focused on the actual game (though from the Bearcats' standpoint, maybe that was a good thing). What happened to bowls being rewards for all the players' hard work?