<
>

The six lessons we learned from the New Year's Six bowls

play
McCaffrey fuels Stanford to rout at Rose Bowl (2:51)

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey becomes the first player to record more than 100 rushing and receiving yards in the Rose Bowl and sets a Rose Bowl record with 368 all-purpose yards as the Cardinal crushes Iowa 45-16. (2:51)

Remember the excitement on Dec. 6? Not only did the College Football Playoff selection committee spit out two appetizing semifinal matchups, it delivered a New Year's Six slate seemingly packed with steak and sizzle.

The games turned out to be empty calories. New Year's Six? Try the New Year's Snooze, a series of blowouts that left us bloated and unsatisfied. All six contests were decided by 14 points or more. Average margin of victory: 24.2 points.

Alabama fans and Clemson fans are thrilled. The same holds for those who support Stanford, Ohio State, Houston and Ole Miss. They watched their teams win without having their blood pressure spike. Oh, and the S-E-C chant is back. You know you missed it.

The New Year's Six had less tension than a vat of Jell-O (or a Big 12 defense). But the games, as always, provided some takeaways.

Here are six from the New Year's Six:

1. The SEC West reclaims its swagger

A historic regular season for the SEC West in 2014 led to a humbling postseason, including three New Year's Six losses (Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State). But the mighty don't stay down for long. This time, Alabama and Ole Miss won their New Year's Six games by a combined score of 86-20. While the SEC has had other bowl highlights, including Tennessee's whipping of Northwestern earlier Friday, the league needed its best teams to step up.

Alabama displayed championship ingredients against Michigan State, including a record performance by quarterback Jake Coker, no longer merely a facilitator. From scheme to execution in all three phases, Alabama administered Michigan State a rare beating. Transcendent wideout Laquon Treadwell and Ole Miss put on a show at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, piling up 34 first-half points against overmatched Oklahoma State. A transformative 2013 recruiting class gave Ole Miss two regular-season wins against Alabama, and now a signature bowl win after an embarrassing flop in last year's Peach Bowl against TCU.

2. Brent Venables and the Clemson defense deserve more credit

Clemson beating Oklahoma isn't -- or shouldn't be -- a surprise. But the way the Tigers tamed arguably the nation's hottest offense had many viewing them in a brighter light entering the national championship game. It underscores the depth coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have built, and not only at traditionally elite positions like wide receiver, but throughout the defense coordinated by Brent Venables.

Remember, Clemson had four linebackers or defensive linemen drafted in 2015, including two first-round picks (Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony). And the Tigers reloaded. Then, they lost their best front-seven player, All-American end Shaq Lawson, to a knee injury in the first quarter against Oklahoma. It didn't matter. Clemson held a surging Sooners rushing attack to 67 yards on 33 carries. Get to know names like Kevin Dodd, Ben Boulware and Carlos Watkins. If Clemson wins the title, they'll be big reasons why.

3. O-H what might have been for Ohio State and Stanford

Let's be clear: Ohio State and Stanford have only themselves to blame for not making the playoff. Both lost November home games -- a national title no-no going back to the BCS era -- and Stanford didn't show for its opener at Northwestern. But both the Buckeyes and Cardinal looked like playoff teams in non-playoff games. Ohio State followed its dismantling of Michigan by surging to a 28-7 lead against Notre Dame in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl and winning 44-28. Stanford had an even easier time with Iowa in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, piling up 28 first-quarter points.

It took a loss for the Buckeyes to start maximizing their immense ability. We'll never know how they would have fared in the playoff, but Urban Meyer, now a staggering 50-4 at Ohio State, deserves credit for keeping his team locked in for the Fiesta Bowl amid talk of distractions. Stanford, meanwhile, stirred discussion for an expanded playoff after its Rose Bowl romp. The only Power 5 champion left out of the playoff ends the season with a sparkling résumé.

4. The Big Ten championship game participants emptied the tank in Indianapolis

That 22-play drive must have taken more out of Michigan State and Iowa than anyone thought. After an epic finish to the Big Ten championship game, neither the Spartans nor Hawkeyes looked as if they had much left against Alabama and Stanford, respectively. Before Iowa's Marshall Koehn kicked a 39-yard field goal with 3:36 left in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl, the two Big Ten division winners had been outscored 76-0 in New Year's Six games. They ended up being outscored 83-16.

Offensive line play was a hallmark for both teams this season, but both groups splintered. Michigan State and Iowa gave up a combined 11 sacks, and combined for only 77 rush yards on 64 carries. Alabama's decorated defensive line swarmed Connor Cook, and Iowa surprisingly looked bewildered against Stanford's multifaceted scheme.

5. Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey is second to none

Alabama's Derrick Henry is an exceptional talent who reflects what the Heisman Trophy is all about. But the New Year's Six only amplified the debate about whether Henry or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey deserved the Heisman. Though Henry turned in a decent performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (20 carries, 75 rushing yards, two touchdowns), McCaffrey had a record-setting one in the Rose Bowl. McCaffrey, who came to Pasadena with the NCAA's single-season all-purpose yards record, set the bowl record for all-purpose yards with 368. The Stanford sophomore became the first player in Rose Bowl history to eclipse 100 rush yards (172 on 18 carries) and 100 receiving yards (105 on four receptions).

The attention-seeking boob lurking behind McCaffrey during his postgame interview might actually be right: The Stanford star looked Heisman-worthy. Heisman voters should make McCaffrey appointment viewing next season (even if it means staying up late). Henry, meanwhile, still has one more chance to impress, on the biggest stage, no less.

6. Houston could be a legitimate playoff contender in 2016

Your life probably is not as good as Tom Herman's right now. Might I suggest a grill? After helping Ohio State win a national title last year, Herman took Houston to new heights in his first season as head coach. The Cougars polished off a 13-1 campaign with a definitive beating of Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Houston jumped ahead 21-3 and rode dynamic quarterback Greg Ward Jr. and an opportunistic defense (four interceptions) to an upset win.

Here's the really exciting part. Houston returns most of its core pieces in 2016, including Ward and linebacker Steven Taylor (18.5 tackles for loss). The Cougars should already have the committee's attention, and they have a schedule to keep the spotlight. They open against Oklahoma at NRG Stadium and have a Nov. 19 home date against Louisville, which should be much more of a résumé-booster than it was this season. If the American Athletic Conference builds on this season and Houston runs the table, it could sniff the top four.