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Houston, TCU feeling great about bowl wins

The bowls are over, and unless you're a Clemson or an Alabama fan, you're probably in a reflective mood.

So, how do you feel about your team? Wait, before you answer, remember that bowl results shouldn't be viewed in a vacuum.

Some bowl wins cause justified euphoria, which lingers throughout the seemingly endless offseason. Some bowl losses cap disappointing seasons, or sully promising ones.

There are many factors involved: quality of bowl, quality of opponent, coaching changes/absences, personnel absences, in-game competitiveness, pre-bowl record, overall record, and preseason expectations ... just to name a few.

Here's an attempt to gauge the post-bowl mood for all 80 participating teams, assigning each to one of three categories, and spotlighting five of the best examples in each category. Not surprisingly, most teams end up in the middle.

ON CLOUD NINE (17)

Houston: Other than the eventual national champion, which program has it better right now than Tom Herman's squad? The Cougars completed a historic 13-1 season with a definitive win against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. They showed they could match up with top talent, a promising sign as they open the 2016 season against Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

TCU: Here's a great example of how a bowl result can change the mood around a program. TCU faced injuries and other personnel issues all season, and still won 10 games. But things looked bleak as the Frogs trailed Oregon 31-0 in the Valero Alamo Bowl, two days after quarterback Trevone Boykin's stunning arrest and suspension. Then Bram Kohlhausen happened, Gary Patterson showed why he's one of the game's best coaches and TCU completed a historic comeback to finish 11-2.

Stanford: A cynical Cardinal fan might point to the team falling just shy of the playoff or Christian McCaffrey falling just shy of the Heisman Trophy as reasons to mope. But Stanford's record-setting Rose Bowl performance, fueled by McCaffrey from the first play, was emphatic enough to brighten the mood. The Cardinal won their second Rose Bowl in four years and ended on a high note a season that had begun ominously.

Michigan: The Wolverines' 29-point loss to Ohio State showed how far they need to go. But a 41-7 win over Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl validated how far the program has come in just one season under coach Jim Harbaugh. Michigan doubled its wins total from 2014 and enters the offseason filled with optimism, as most of its roster returns.

San Diego State: It's hard to remember a Mountain West champion, especially one undefeated in league play, flying under the radar as much as the Aztecs did this season. Fortunately, a larger audience got to see them dominate Cincinnati in the Hawai'i Bowl. San Diego State finished the season by tying the longest winning streak (10 games) in team history. A lot to feel good about here.

Others: Clemson (regardless of championship game result), Alabama (with championship game win), Tennessee, Ole Miss, Western Kentucky, Washington State, Toledo, Georgia Southern, Navy, Appalachian State, Marshall, Western Michigan

MIDDLE GROUND (44)

Ohio State: Few teams can go 12-1 with a 16-point win in a New Year's Six game and feel less than stellar about its season. But Ohio State wasn't just any team. The Buckeyes' dominating performances against Michigan and Notre Dame to end the season only underscored what might have been for such a talented team that simply took too long to put it all together.

Baylor: After squandering a Big 12 title and then a New Year's Six appearance late in the regular season, Baylor seemed bound for the post-bowl blues. The Bears certainly weren't envisioning the Russell Athletic Bowl back in October. But coach Art Briles delivered a brilliant game plan with a seemingly nightmarish quarterback situation. Baylor rushed for a record 645 yards against North Carolina and recorded another 10-win campaign.

Florida: Their performance in the Citrus Bowl stunk and so did the final three regular-season games, as the Gators were outscored 97-24. But a little perspective is needed, as Florida still surprised everyone by winning 10 games and an SEC East title in coach Jim McElwain's first season. The offense needs a lot of work, but the future looks bright again for the Gators. It shouldn't be doom and gloom in Gainesville.

West Virginia: Certain teams and certain coaches needed bowl boosts more than others, and West Virginia and Dana Holgorsen qualify. A regular season of runs -- three straight wins in September, four straight losses in October, four straight wins in November -- ended with a disappointing loss at Kansas State and some brief uncertainty about Holgorsen's future. But WVU finished on an upswing, winning a shootout against Arizona State in a virtual road game at the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.

Northwestern: The Wildcats fit perfectly into this middle category. They suffered a bowl blowout, their third such beating this season (by a combined 107 points). But they also won 10 games for just the fourth time in team history, and they doubled their wins total from 2014. It's tough for fans to feel too bummed out. But like Florida, the Wildcats must make significant upgrades on offense.

Others: Alabama (with championship game loss), Oklahoma, Michigan State, Georgia, Boise State, Notre Dame, Arizona, Cal, Mississippi State, Duke, Utah, LSU, Wisconsin, South Florida, Arkansas, Washington, Akron, Temple, Nevada, Indiana, Bowling Green, Auburn (just barely), Miami, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Colorado State, New Mexico, Ohio, Central Michigan, San Jose State, Arkansas State, Connecticut, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Air Force

DOWN IN THE DUMPS (19)

Iowa: A team-record 12 wins should be celebrated, and Iowa fans, among the best in college football, will oblige. But those folks also deserved a lot better from their team in Pasadena. Iowa finally had gained some national respect with the Big Ten championship and had an even bigger opportunity against Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Instead, the Hawkeyes looked overwhelmed and unprepared. Such performances damage programs that are striving for a bigger place in the spotlight.

Oregon: The Ducks wouldn't have been on cloud nine if they had simply finished the job against TCU. But they could have stomached a season that got sidetracked in September, only to reroute down the stretch with several impressive wins. Instead, Oregon's inability to prepare for Life After Marcus was on display again in San Antonio, and the season-long warts on defense showed up. The result: Oregon's first four-loss season since 2007.

UCLA: Arguably no program had less to gain in its bowl matchup, given its preseason expectations. But UCLA's loss to 5-7 Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl, in which the Huskers channeled the good old days with 326 rush yards and four touchdowns, typified a disappointing season in Westwood. The Bruins went from preseason playoff contender to 8-5. After a flurry of early draft departures, UCLA has reached its first major crossroads under Jim Mora.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels are a lot like Iowa. They won a lot in the regular season but didn't get much credit outside the league. They played competitively in the ACC championship. They had a chance to gain more national respect in their bowl game. Then they allowed 49 points and 756 yards to a team using a third-stringer and a band of misfits at quarterback. Not a good look.

Penn State: It's fine for Penn State's coaches to appreciate the way the team fought back in the TaxSlayer Bowl after losing starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg to injury. But fans should demand more. Facing a Georgia team with a skeleton coaching staff, Penn State had a great chance to finish another middling season with a bowl win, as it did in 2014. Instead, the Lions fell behind 24-7 before the late rally. James Franklin fell to 8-11 against Power 5 opponents at Penn State.

Others: USC, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Florida State, Arizona State, Utah State, Texas Tech, NC State, Northern Illinois, BYU, Memphis, Kansas State, Cincinnati, Georgia State