NCF Nation: bowl-best-011311

Best and worst of the SEC bowl season

January, 13, 2011
Let’s review some of the highs and lows of the SEC bowl season:

Best performance: Without defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s dominance up front, Auburn doesn’t win the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. It’s that simple. Oregon coach Chip Kelly conceded after the game that the Ducks simply couldn’t block Fairley, who disrupted just about everything Oregon tried to do with three tackles for loss, including a sack, and a forced fumble.

[+] EnlargeChris Relf
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreBulldogs QB Chris Relf won MVP honors for his performance in the Gator Bowl.
Best out-of-nowhere performance: It wasn’t completely out of nowhere because Mississippi State’s Chris Relf improved as a passer this season. But he put on a clinic in the Bulldogs’ 52-14 rout of Michigan in the Progressive Gator Bowl. Relf finished 18-of-23 for 281 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 30 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown, earning Gator Bowl MVP honors.

Best team defensive performance: Led by linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s three tackles for loss, Alabama held Michigan State to minus-48 yards rushing in the Crimson Tide’s 49-7 blistering of the Spartans in the Capital One Bowl. It was the second lowest opponent rushing total in school history for the Tide.

Worst luck: South Carolina’s freshman sensation, Marcus Lattimore, was knocked out of the game on the Gamecocks’ first possession when he was blasted by Florida State’s Greg Reid. Lattimore was taken to the hospital with a cut to his mouth and a concussion. He never returned and the Gamecocks never recovered, losing 26-17 to the Seminoles in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Worst officiating: Go back and count the officiating blunders and/or questionable calls at the chaotic end of Tennessee’s 30-27 overtime loss to North Carolina. At the very least, the Tar Heels should have been penalized 15 yards (not 5 yards) there at the end of regulation before the game-tying field goal.

Best defensive game plan: Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof had more than a month to come up with a plan to at least slow down an Oregon offense that was supposedly unstoppable. Well, Roof went one better than slowing down the Ducks. His defense held them to 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

Worst field: How can the field that the national championship game is played on be so slick? It was like an ice rink out there with all the players slipping on the turf at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Best freshmen: LSU had three interceptions in its 41-24 win over Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and all three were by freshmen -- Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.

Worst catch: Any of the six drops by Arkansas players in the 31-26 loss to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Best throw: Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett dropped one in beautifully to Jarius Wright for a 22-yard touchdown to pull the Hogs within 31-21 in the third quarter.

Worst throw: Mallett's interception off his back foot, ending the Hogs' comeback bid.

Best run: Auburn freshman running back Mike Dyer simply wouldn’t go down (even if most everybody else thought he was down) on a 37-yard run to set up the Tigers’ game-winning field goal. Dyer actually landed on an Oregon defender, but no part of his body ever touched the ground. He jumped up and kept running and wasn’t tackled until he got to the Oregon 23-yard line.

Best no-show: Georgia was there in body alone, as the Bulldogs went through the motions and dropped an embarrassing 10-6 decision to UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Best interception: Florida senior safety Ahmad Black went out in style and sent his coach, Urban Meyer, out in style with an 80-yard interception return to seal the Gators’ 37-24 victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

Best special teams: John L. Smith’s special-teams units were on top of their game in the Sugar Bowl. Zach Hocker made all three of his field goal attempts, including a 46-yarder and 47-yarder. Punter Dylan Breeding dropped four punts inside the 20, including three inside the 10, and Colton Miles-Nash blocked a punt in the final minutes to give the Hogs a chance to win the game.

Worst decision: Georgia coach Mark Richt opting to kick a field goal down near the goal line on the Bulldogs’ first possession told you all you needed to know about the Bulldogs' state of mind for that game.
What were some of the highs and lows from the Big East bowl season? Glad you asked:

Best moment(s): It's a tie between two similar scenes staged on baseball fields. Syracuse's Doug Marrone and Louisville's Charlie Strong both addressed adoring throngs of fans after their teams won bowl games. It had been a long time since either team could celebrate a bowl victory, especially Syracuse, and Marrone and Strong could both get elected mayor in their respective cities right now.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Hilburn
William Perlman/US PresswireAdrian Hilburn was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and the penalty pushed Kansas' 2-point conversion attempt back 15 yards.
Worst moment: The excessive celebration penalty on Kansas State's Adrian Hilburn after he caught a touchdown pass with 1:13 left and then saluted the crowd. Maybe the Wildcats don't get the two-point conversion to tie the game anyway, and maybe Syracuse drives down and kicks a winning field goal before regulation ends. But the officials left both sides with a bad taste in their mouths by taking the game away from the players, and they deserved a Bronx cheer. An excessive one.

Best performance against a future multi-millionaire: South Florida's offensive line, particularly Jacob Sims, held Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers without a sack in the Meineke Car Care win. Bowers, who led the nation in sacks this season, could go in the top two picks in this spring's NFL Draft.

Best job of coping with turmoil: Pittsburgh fired two head coaches before the BBVA Compass Bowl and was missing two key assistants off the staff while the search for a new head coach continued. Big East defensive player of the year Jabaal Sheard missed the game with an injury, and Dave Wannstedt didn't inform the players until Monday before the game that he wasn't going to Birmingham. So what? Pitt had one of its best performances of the season in a 27-10 win over Kentucky.

Worst job of coping with turmoil: West Virginia coach Bill Stewart tried publicly to keep his team's focus on its Champs Sports Bowl matchup against NC State, but all anyone wanted to talk about was the coaching situation. Then Stewart bizarrely canceled several practices leading up to the bowl, and the Mountaineers came out flat in a 23-7 loss.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Syracuse receiver Marcus Sales caught five passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Kansas State. Sales had only one touchdown catch and 242 receiving yards the entire regular season. It was the best performance by a catcher in Yankee Stadium since Bengie Molina's home run in the ALCS.

Worst disappearing act: Connecticut coach Randy Edsall sneaked out of Arizona after the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, taking a separate flight from the official team charter so he could go accept the Maryland job. He never told the players face to face and instead informed them later via a telephone conference call. Edsall's excuse later that the job offer came out of the blue rang a false and insulting note.

Best answer, Part I: Kentucky and Pittsburgh got into a second-quarter shoving match when Ridge Wilson hit quarterback Tino Sunseri late following a false start penalty. The large Wildcats contingent at Legion Field shouted "SEC! SEC!" while the scrum occurred. The game was tied 3-3 at that time, but the Panthers went on to score a field goal on that drive as part of 17 unanswered points. That's how you make a point.

Best answer, Part II: Seconds after Southern Miss took a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter against Louisville in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, freshman Jeremy Wright took the kickoff 95 yards for a tying touchdown. The Cardinals controlled things from that moment on.

Best offensive efficiency: South Florida had only 279 yards of total offense but squeezed 31 points out of it, going 9-for-14 on third downs.

Worst offensive inefficiency: UConn had 335 total yards of offense against Oklahoma but posted no offensive touchdowns. The Huskies were just 5-for-20 on third and fourth downs.

Best & worst of the bowl season

January, 13, 2011
Taking a look at the best and the worst of the Pac-10 bowl season.

Best defensive performance (team): Washington held Nebraska to just seven points and 189 yards in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. In their meeting on Sept. 18, Nebraska scored 56 points on 533 total yards.

Best defensive performance (player): Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov had a game-high 12 tackles and three sacks in the Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeMason Foster
Patrick Green/Icon SMIMason Foster's 12 tackles and two sacks helped Washington beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Best defensive performance (player) II: Washington linebacker Mason Foster had a game-high 12 tackles with two sacks and a pass breakup in the Huskies win over Nebraska.

Best offensive performance (team): Stanford rolled up 534 total yards -- 281 passing, 247 rushing -- in its 40-12 win over Virginia Tech.

Best offensive performance (player): Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck completed 18 of 23 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl.

Best offensive performance (player) II: Washington's Chris Polk rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown against what was supposed to be a rugged Cornhuskers defense.

Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl caught nine passes for 133 yards in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game against Auburn. He had an 81-yard reception and a leaping catch on a 2-point play that tied the game late in the fourth quarter.

Worst offensive performance: Arizona scored just 10 points against a mediocre Oklahoma State defense. The problem was more sloppiness -- four turnovers, eight penalties -- than anything else.

Worst defensive performance: None. Now isn't that strange? Arizona would seem like a possibility, but the high-powered Oklahoma State offense gained only 312 total yards, even though they scored 36 points. Oregon gave up a bunch of yards, but held Auburn to 22 points -- 21 below the Tigers' season average. Meanwhile, Washington dominated Nebraska, and Stanford held Virginia Tech to 12 points and 288 yards.

Best cheap shot: Arizona safety Adam Hall flattened Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon away from the ball in the Alamo Bowl. It appeared that Blackmon's showboating after a 71-yard touchdown pass didn't amuse Hall.

Worst performance by a future Pac-12 member: Utah, which will join the conference in 2011, got pounded 26-3 by Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos outgained the Utes 543 yards to 200. The Utes had three fumbles.

Best goodbye: It's been a tough year for Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, but he led the Huskies to a four-game winning streak to end the season -- including their first bowl game since 2002 and their first postseason win since 2000.

Biggest disappointment: The Oregon offensive line couldn't handle the Auburn defensive front, most particularly defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Of course, Fairley is fairly good.

Best catch: At a full sprint, Oregon wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei tipped the ball to himself over his right shoulder in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn and went 43 yards to the Tigers 3-yard line. Ducks fans: Don't think about what happened over the next four plays.

Best quote: When Luck was asked how he reacted to a Cardinal offensive lineman catching a deflected pass in the end zone for a safety, he said (sounding very Stanford-y): "Football can be a very funny game. No point in getting emotionally hijacked over it."

Best quote II: Polk on how Washington dominated Nebraska: "We just ran right at 'em. We knew we could win if we ran the way we know how to run. They couldn't stop it. We whupped a team that didn't respect us."
The Big 12 bowl season is over, and we weighed in on what was an overall disappointment on Wednesday. There were plenty of good moments to come with the bad, though.

Here's the best and worst of the Big 12 bowls after the 2010 season:

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesRyan Broyles had 170 yards on 13 catches against the Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl.
Best player: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma. Broyles caught 13 passes for the second consecutive bowl game, racked up 170 yards and scored a touchdown in Oklahoma's 48-20 win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

Best team performance: Oklahoma. The Sooners shut down Connecticut running back Jordan Todman early in the game and poured it on with plenty of offense late in the game. With their win over Connecticut, the Sooners also ended a five-game BCS bowl game skid.

Best offensive play: Broyles. Up 34-20 and on Connecticut's six-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Broyle's caught a high pass from Landry Jones on the right side of the end zone. He jumped out of bounds to make the catch, but unbelievably reached a foot back and tapped the red paint in Oklahoma's end zone for the score on his final catch of the night.

Best defensive play: Coryell Judie, DB, Texas A&M. On LSU's opening drive, Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson tried to loft a ball down the right sideline for a score, but Judie flew up from a zone underneath the receiver and snagged an interception with one hand to keep the Tigers off the board early.

Worst play: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. The Tigers looked in complete control late in the fourth quarter, driving deep in Iowa territory with a 24-20 lead. Gabbert rolled to his left, and tried to loft a pass across his body to receiver Wes Kemp. He under threw it, Iowa's Micah Hyde intercepted it and returned the pick 72 yards for the final score, 27-24.

Worst team performance: Nebraska. Few gave Washington a chance after Taylor Martinez and the Huskers stomped the Huskies in Seattle 56-21 in September. The Huskies entered as two-touchdown underdogs, and outdid the Huskers in about every way possible, running the ball well and throwing the ball efficiently with Jake Locker.

Most harmless salute: Adrian Hilburn, WR, Kansas State. With his team trailing by eight in the final minutes of the Pinstripe Bowl, Hilburn caught a short pass and took it 30 yards into the end zone, setting up a possible game-tying two-point conversion. But after the score, he flashed a salute to some Kansas State fans in the stands. An official told Hilburn "Wrong choice, buddy." and tossed a flag that cost the Wildcats 15 yards. Carson Coffman's long pass for the conversion fell incomplete and K-State lost.

Second-most harmless salute: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. Blackmon gave one to Philadelphia Eagles' receiver/punt returner DeSean Jackson. After toasting an Arizona defender for an easy 71-yard score, Blackmon cut across the goal line, delaying his touchdown that opened the game's scoring. He wasn't flagged, but he did catch a cheap shot from a Wildcats defender later in the game, presumably for the premature celebration.

Best unsung hero: Dan Bailey, K/P, Oklahoma State. Bailey was forced into punting duty because Quinn Sharp was academically ineligible. All five of his punts were solid, and he pinned one inside the 20-yard line. He also hit all three of his field goals, two of which came from beyond 40 yards and another that was from 50.

Best out-of-nowhere performance: Hilburn. The senior receiver had a career-high 84 yards with his 30-yard score. His five catches were the most receptions he's had in a game in all but one match during his two-year stint as a Wildcat. His salute got plenty of attention, but it overshadowed a game in which he was K-State's leading receiver and made one of the biggest plays of their season.

Biggest fade into Bolivian: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska. David finished the Big 12 season with four double-digit tackle performances in five games to lead the league by 19 stops. But against a Washington team bent on running the ball, he made just seven stops, and one for a loss. Those seven tackles were the fewest David made since he notched five against Washington earlier this season.

Worst break: Michael Hodges, LB, Texas A&M. The Aggies senior linebacker, leader and leading tackler was playing his last game after earning his spot the previous year as a former walk-on. But with a 10-0 lead, Hodges sprained an ACL and couldn't return. After his injury, A&M was outscored 41-14.

Best atmosphere: Cotton Bowl. Two of the country's best fan bases made themselves known, packing Cowboys Stadium and staying loud for most of the game. Texas A&M and LSU sold out the game just days after the matchup was announced, and brought their excitement to JerryWorld.
A few highs and lows from Notre Dame's 33-17 Hyundai Sun Bowl win over Miami:

Best meteorological advantage: Miami was already coming into El Paso under an interim coach following a sorry end to the regular season. Once the cold and snow hit before the game, the Irish had a huge mental edge. The Hurricanes looked miserable, as many of them were heavily layered against the temperatures. Notre Dame was far more disciplined, focused and determined while rolling to an easy 27-0 first-half lead.

Best impression of a wide receiver: Safety Harrison Smith came up with three interceptions, all in the second quarter. Only three receivers on either team had more catches. He should be one of the leaders of the defense in 2011.

Worst way to end a streak: David Ruffer's school-record streak of 23 straight field-goal attempts without a miss ended when he shanked a 19-yarder later. Ruffer appeared to tweak his leg on a kickoff before that attempt. He's hoping to come back in 2011 for a fifth year. He deserves a better ending than what he got.

Worst scary moment: Late in the game, teammate Robert Blanton fell on star linebacker Manti Te'o's leg. It looked like a potentially serious injury as Te'o limped off the field. Luckily, though, it was merely a sprain and isn't expected to be a major problem.

Best underrated performance: The Notre Dame offensive linemen. They held Miami's athletic defenders without a sack and paved the way for 196 rushing yards.

Best/worst of the ACC bowls

January, 13, 2011
The 2010 bowl season has come and gone, which means it’s time to look back on the highlights and lowlights of the ACC’s nine games. Here’s your bowl edition of the best/worst:

[+] EnlargeShaun Draughn
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireShaun Draughn's 58-yard touchdown in the Music City Bowl was the longest run of his collegiate career.
Best backup: UNC running back Shaun Draughn. Filling in for suspended starter Anthony Elzy, Draughn rushed for 160 yards on 23 carries to earn MVP honors in Carolina's 30-27 double-overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. He had a 58-yard scoring run on Carolina's first possession. It was the longest of his career and the third-longest run by a Tar Heel this season. Other than Draughn, the Tar Heels rushed for minus-9 yards.

Best hit: FSU cornerback Greg Reid’s hit on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was clean, legal, and hard enough to end Lattimore’s game on the first series. Reid also caused a fumble with that hit.

Best run: Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott’s 91-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against East Carolina was the longest in Maryland bowl-game history, the longest for a Maryland touchdown in seven years (80 by Bruce Perry versus Wake Forest, 11/28/03) and only the eighth 90-plus yard run in ACC history

Best quote: "People are concerned about my legacy, and my legacy is what it is -- 75-50 ... I gave it the best I had for 10 years, and obviously that's not good enough right now, and that's what hurts. ... I leave the job a lot better than when I got it, so if someone else can come in and do better, my hat's off to them." – Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

Best milestone performance: NC State. Coach Tom O'Brien earned his 100th win with the upset of West Virginia, and NC State’s ninth win of the season gave the program its second-highest win total in school history. O'Brien has now won seven of his last eight bowls. With 37 total touchdowns in 2010, Russell Wilson tied former Wolfpack quarterback Philip Rivers’ conference and single-season record.

Worst turnovers: Georgia Tech had three fumbles in the third quarter against Air Force, including two on punt returns, and a fumble by Tevin Washington on the Falcons’ seven-yard line. Washington’s interception with under a minute left to play sealed the win for Air Force.

Worst offense: Boston College. Of the ACC teams that suffered losses in their bowls, the Eagles had the fewest first downs (12), fewest total yards (185) and tied with Georgia Tech for fewest touchdowns (1).

Worst stat: Three teams -- Virginia Tech, Boston College and Clemson -- were all held to less than 67 yards rushing each.

Worst hit: The hit that North Carolina defensive end Donte Paige-Moss took without his helmet was hard to forget. The fact that he not only continued to play, but also had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt was remarkable.

Worst milestone performance: The Hokies dropped to 1-27 against top-five competition, dropping the ACC to 2-11 in its BCS bowls.
It's time to take a look back at the highlights (there were a few) and lowlights (more of these) from the 2010-11 Big Ten bowl season.

Best performance: Iowa running back Marcus Coker in the Insight Bowl. You can make good cases for Terrelle Pryor and Nathan Scheelhaase as well, but Coker's performance under tough circumstances was absolutely amazing. The true freshman entered the Insight Bowl as Iowa's only reliable option at running back after Adam Robinson's suspension. He proceeded to rush for 219 yards -- an Iowa bowl record -- and two touchdowns as the Hawkeyes beat Missouri.

[+] EnlargeDane Sanzenbacher
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDane Sanzenbacher's fumble recovery for a touchdown kept the momentum for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Best save: Dane Sanzenbacher showed why his Ohio State teammates voted him MVP on the opening drive of the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Pryor neared the goal line on an electrifying run but fumbled the ball into the end zone. An Arkansas recovery would have turned momentum, but Sanzenbacher saved his quarterback by falling on the ball for his first career "rushing touchdown." Ohio State surged to a 28-7 lead and held on to win 31-26.

Worst defense: There are several nominees, as Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern combined to allow 146 points in bowl losses. It's a tough call between the Michigan schools, but I've got to go with the Wolverines, who suffered the worst bowl loss in team history and surrendered 52 points to a Mississippi State team with a good, but not great, offense. Michigan State didn't fare much better against Alabama, which pulled many of its starters early in the third quarter.

Best play: There might not have been a bigger play in the 2010-11 postseason than Micah Hyde's 72-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:32 left in the Insight Bowl. Iowa's defense looked gassed and Missouri had limited the Hawkeyes' offense to three second-half points before Hyde picked off Blaine Gabbert and took it to the house. Solomon Thomas' interception to seal Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win also merits a mention here.

Worst strategic adjustment: It's hard to attach "worst" to this one, but we're dealing with extremes here. Wisconsin diverted ever so slightly from its season-long plan to pound away at defenses at TCU and paid the price in a 21-19 loss. The Horned Frogs never consistently stopped Wisconsin's backs on runs between the tackles, but the Badgers veered from their power game at inopportune times. Even though Wisconsin's potential 2-point conversion attempt nearly worked, it's still surprising the Badgers didn't go down with their bread-and-butter run game.

Best closing argument: Illinois in the Texas Bowl. The Illini came in at 6-6 and had displayed the maddening inconsistency to suit their record. But they put it all together against Baylor in a dominating victory. Vic Koenning's defense held Robert Griffin III in check and Scheelhaase showed significant progress from the end of the regular season to the bowl and provided the type of offensive balance Illinois needed.

Worst closing argument: Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Coach Mark Dantonio talked about the game as a chance to "measure up," but the Spartans flat-lined and provided fuel to their critics with a poor performance. Although Michigan State admittedly overachieved this season, a co-conference champion has to be more competitive in such a big setting. Not the type of ending Michigan State wanted for a breakthrough season.

Best quote: Wisconsin players stole the show at Rose Bowl media headquarters leading up to the game. Safety Jay Valai provided several gems, including this one about coming to Wisconsin from Texas. "No. 1 party school, No. 1 college sports town and No. 9 education. I said, 'Hey, you live once, why not Wisconsin?' It's been a great move, except dealing with that cold, cold weather. Not good for my African blood."

Best bowl atmosphere: The Rose Bowl isn't only the best Big Ten bowl atmosphere, but the best setting in all of college sports. Fans from both Wisconsin and TCU turned out in force, and the weather held up to create an unbelievable environment in Pasadena. Wisconsin fans did the "Jump Around" at the end of the third quarter, shaking the stadium and making California natives like me get a little nervous that the Big One had finally arrived.

Worst pre-bowl storyline: The annual Joe Paterno retirement rumors. These are really getting old, pun intended. I could seriously do a separate blog that only addressed the incessant buzz about the Penn State coach stepping aside. The JoePa retirement talk dominated the days leading up to the Outback Bowl, and along with the Urban Meyer situation, we didn't hear much about the game itself. The Ohio State suspension situation also dominated the talk leading up to the Sugar Bowl.

Best, worst of non-AQ bowls

January, 13, 2011
Now that the 2010 bowl season is over, let us take a look back at the best and worst of the games.

TCU Celebrating
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesTCU's Rose Bowl win garnered the Horned Frogs a No. 2 spot in the final polls.
Best team performance: TCU of course. For a third straight year, TCU gave the non-AQs an undefeated team at the end of the season. The Rose Bowl turned out to be one of the best games of bowl season because of the way it went back and forth, and the way it ended. The Horned Frogs' 21-19 win over Wisconsin capped a 13-0 season and gave TCU a No. 2 final ranking, and yet more proof that the non-AQs can compete with anyone.

Worst team performance: Utah. Yes, the Utes played a Top 10 team, but they were a Top 10 team themselves once upon a time this season. Here are the ugly stats from their 26-3 loss to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas: eight first downs, 200 total yards, 2-of-13 on third down, 10 penalties and three turnovers. The three points scored were also the fewest of any bowl team. Not the greatest of days for a team that had won nine straight bowl games.

Best play: Tank Carder batting down the 2-point conversion attempt with two minutes left in the fourth quarter to preserve a 21-19 win for TCU. Did you see how high he got up to knock down the ball? If he had not, Wisconsin most likely would have made the conversion because Jacob Pedersen was wide open in the end zone.

Worst quarter: UTEP had minus-5 total yards in the first quarter and trailed 17-3 after that first period en route to a 52-24 loss to BYU in the New Mexico Bowl.

Best individual performance: There were so many to choose from, but I will pick Tulsa’s Damaris Johnson, who had a career-high 326 total yards and broke the NCAA career record for all-purpose yards in a 62-35 win over Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Honorable mention: San Diego State true freshman Ronnie Hillman running for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-14 win over Navy in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Worst Gatorade bath: BYU. Great job missing coach Bronco Mendenhall, guys!

Worst stadium voodoo: Fresno State in Bronco Stadium. I am sure the Bulldogs cannot wait to go back to the blue turf after their performance this season. First, they got absolutely pummeled 51-0 in a loss to Boise State in November. Then they got embarrassed in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl 40-17 to Northern Illinois in the same stadium.

Best comeback: FIU erased a 24-7 third-quarter deficit to Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl to turn what had been a snooze of a game into one of the best of the season (for those who tuned in to watch anyway). After FIU took a 31-24 lead, Toledo scored and nailed the 2-point conversion to go up 32-31 with 1:14 to go. A hook and ladder on fourth-and-17 kept the game-winning drive alive for FIU, and Jack Griffin nailed the win with a 34-yard field goal as time expired.

Worst escape: The Air Force falcon flying away during pregame festivities of the Independence Bowl against Georgia Tech. The falcon is supposed to loop around the stadium and return to its handler. Instead, it flew to downtown Shreveport. Air Force scrambled and found the falcon in the third quarter, much to their relief.

Best atmosphere: The Rose Bowl is always great by default, so I am going with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl between Nevada and Boston College. Some 30,000 Nevada fans packed the home of the San Francisco Giants to root on the Wolf Pack, who closed the best season in school history with a 20-13 win over Boston College. “I would say this is probably the best atmosphere we've been in," Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “The stadium holds 42,000 and it seems like all 42,000 were for Nevada.”