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Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Best and worst of the non-BCS bowl season


Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

The 2008 non-BCS bowl season was loaded with good and bad moments that defined both the postseason and the non-BCS. Below is a summary of the 10 best and worst moments that happened during the bowl season (in no particular order):

 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Utah's win in the Sugar Bowl completed the Utes' perfect season.

Busting the BCS: Utah handily defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to capture the Utes' second BCS win and its second undefeated season. Utah finished as the only undefeated team in the country, second in the AP poll, the highest ranking in school history, and forced several BCS pundits to take notice of the non-BCS schools.

MAC attacked: The Mid-American Conference got a ton of praise for the play of Ball State, and teams such as Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Buffalo, during the regular season, but when the bowl season came around, the conference flopped. It was 0-5 in bowl games, the only conference not to win a bowl game, and created doubt about the strength of the conference as a whole.

Senior sensation: Colorado State running back Gartrell Johnson was well-known in the Mountain West, but his performance in the New Mexico Bowl put the senior on the national map. In the final game of his career, Johnson had 375 all-purpose yards, including 285 rushing yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns that gave the Rams a 40-35 win over Fresno State.

Record-setting wins: With wins in the GMAC Bowl and the Texas Bowl, Tulsa and Rice notched the best seasons in program history. Tulsa finished the year with 11 wins, topping the 10 it had a year ago, and Rice finished with 10 wins, more than the eight it notched in 2001.

Boise Bust: Boise State finished yet another regular season undefeated -- the third since 2004 -- but there were several questions about the strength of its Western Athletic Conference schedule. Those questions were answered when the Broncos lost to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. Boise State players remarked after the game that TCU was the fastest team it had seen all season.

First-year success: Kevin Sumlin (Houston), Larry Fedora (Southern Miss), and Steve Fairchild (Colorado State) each won the first bowl games of their head coaching careers this year after leading each of their teams to at least seven wins (Houston won eight games). All three teams went on winning streaks to both get into a bowl and win their bowl games. Southern Miss won its final five, Colorado State its final three, and Houston won four of its final five.

Notre Dame jumps back in the spotlight: After what many termed a disappointing season, Notre Dame ended its 2008 campaign with a 49-21 blasting of Hawaii on Hawaii's home field. The win, orchestrated by a record-setting day from quarterback Jimmy Clausen, broke a 15-year stretch without a bowl win. Clausen finished with 401 passing yards and five touchdowns, and broke nine Notre Dame bowl records during the victory.

Dismal against the BCS: Even though Utah toppled the biggest BCS contender the non-BCS faced this season -- No. 4 Alabama -- the rest of the non-BCS struggled against its BCS brethren. Outside of Utah's win, the non-BCS was 0-6 against the BCS, losing by an average of 13 points. Four of those losses were by double digits. Only East Carolina and Nevada were able to stay within a touchdown -- they lost by six and seven points, respectively.

Running toward history: Tulsa running back Tarrion Adams was 93 yards away from being the Golden Hurricane's all-time leading rusher, and in his final collegiate game he not only got the record, he ran away with it. Adams finished the GMAC Bowl against Ball State with 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns to lead the Golden Hurricane to a 45-13 win and end the team's season on a high note.

Hawaii still branded in postseason: After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl a year ago, the Warriors did little to redeem their reputation with a 49-21 shellacking by Notre Dame on their home turf in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Hawaii has proven it can compete in the WAC, but when it gets out of its conference comfort zone and plays one of the college football powers, it still hasn't proven it can compete.