- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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There were plenty of stars in college football's postseason.
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, picked up where he left off, dismantling Oklahoma with his arm and legs in the Cotton Bowl. Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins continued to shatter his school's record book with his performance against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and Texas DE Alex Okafor delivered the most dominant performance of his career against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.
But the biggest stars of the bowl season might have been a guard and center. Behind Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, No. 2 Alabama throttled No. 1 Notre Dame in a 42-14 rout in the Discover BCS National Championship. -- Mark Schlabach
Quarterback | Texas A&M
So much for the Heisman jinx. "Johnny Football" capped off his remarkable freshman season by setting a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards in the Aggies' 41-13 rout of Oklahoma. Manziel completed 22 of 34 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while running 17 times for 229 yards with two scores. Manziel's rushing total was a bowl record for FBS quarterbacks, and he became only the fourth player in FBS history to finish a season with more than 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns.
Running back | Syracuse
Gulley, a junior from Akron, Ohio, had 269 yards from scrimmage, including a career-high 213 yards rushing, in the Orange's 38-14 rout of West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Gulley carried the ball 26 times -- 11 more than his previous career high -- and scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). Gulley's 213 rushing yards were the most by a Syracuse player in a bowl game since Floyd Little had 216 against Tennessee in the 1966 Gator Bowl.
Running back | Alabama
Notre Dame's defenders learned what Alabama's other opponents already knew about Lacy: You're not going to arm-tackle him. Lacy, a 220-pound junior from Geismar, La., ran 20 times for 140 yards with one touchdown in the No. 2 Crimson Tide's 42-14 rout of the No. 1 Fighting Irish in Monday night's Discover BCS National Championship at Sun Life Stadium. Lacy also caught two passes for 17 yards with one touchdown, helping Alabama become the first consensus back-to-back national champion since Nebraska in 1994 and '95.
Wide receiver | Clemson
Hopkins was a one-man wrecking crew against LSU's vaunted defense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, catching 13 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns in Clemson's 25-24 victory. Hopkins tied his own Clemson single-game record with 13 catches (he also did it against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome) and broke the school's single-season record with 1,405 receiving yards. Hopkins is the first Clemson player to have more than 100 receiving yards in three consecutive bowl games.
Wide receiver | Rice
Taylor, a sophomore from Denison, Texas, led the Owls with 48 catches during the regular season, but he never found the end zone. Taylor scored three touchdowns in Rice's 33-14 win over Air Force in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, helping the Owls finish with a winning record at 7-6. Taylor caught nine passes for 153 yards, catching one touchdown from starting quarterback Taylor McHargue and two more from backup Driphus Jackson in the second half, when the Owls scored 26 consecutive points.
Tight end | Cincinnati
After Duke fumbled at the Bearcats' 5-yard line with 1:20 to go in the Belk Bowl, Kelce caught a pass from quarterback Brendon Kay and ran 83 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 44 seconds to play in Cincinnati's 48-34 victory in Charlotte, N.C. He had five catches for 123 yards in his final game with the Bearcats. Kelce, a senior from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was the Bearcats' biggest weapon down the stretch, catching 22 passes for 300 yards with four touchdowns in the final four games.
Tackle | Baylor
Drango, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound redshirt freshman, helped pave the way for the Bears to run for 306 yards in a 49-26 win over UCLA in the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Drango also spent much of the night protecting quarterback Nick Florence's blind side against Bruins linebacker Anthony Barr, who went into the game as the sacks leader in FBS. UCLA was held to two sacks and Florence was rarely touched. The Bears' offensive linemen also weren't penalized for a single holding call.
Guard | Arizona State
Sampson, who made his 42nd start for the Sun Devils in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, helped Arizona State rout Navy 62-28 in San Francisco, ASU's first postseason victory in seven years. The Sun Devils had 380 rushing yards and 648 yards of offense, and their 62 points are the highest total by a Pac-12 team in a bowl game in league history. Arizona State averaged 7.8 yards per rushing attempt, and quarterback Taylor Kelly threw for 268 yards with four touchdowns and wasn't sacked once by the Midshipmen.
Center | Alabama
Jones solidified his place as one of the greatest players in Alabama history by postponing surgery for a left foot injury to play in the Crimson Tide's victory in the Discover BCS National Championship. Jones, the Rimington Trophy winner as college football's top center, tore ligaments in his left foot against Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1, but played through the Lisfranc (midfoot) injury to help the Tide win their third national title in four years. Jones was about the only player to touch Tide quarterback AJ McCarron all night, shoving his teammate after a disagreement in the fourth quarter.
Guard | Alabama
It was no coincidence that the Crimson Tide opened the Discover BCS National Championship by running to the left side time and time again in their convincing victory over Notre Dame. Warmack, a dominating blocker from Atlanta, helped Alabama run for 265 yards and gain 529 yards of offense by locking up All-America linebacker Manti Te'o throughout the game. The Irish didn't sack quarterback AJ McCarron, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 264 yards with four touchdowns.
Tackle | Texas A&M
Joeckel finished off his college career in spectacular fashion, helping the Aggies dominate Oklahoma's defensive front in the Cotton Bowl. Along with Manziel's electrifying performance, the Aggies wore down OU's defense in the second half. Texas A&M took a 14-13 lead at the half and then scored three touchdowns in about 6½ minutes of the third quarter to blow open the game. Manziel wasn't sacked, and the Aggies ran for 326 yards to win 11 games in a season for the first time since 1998.
Defensive end | Stanford
In one of the most dramatic plays of the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Gardner knifed through would-be blockers and stopped Wisconsin tailback James White for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the Cardinal 1. Gardner's stop helped Stanford defeat the Badgers 20-14 in Pasadena, Calif., its first Rose Bowl victory in 40 years. Gardner, a native of Mequon, Wis., who grew up a Badgers fan but wasn't recruited by them, had six tackles and one pass breakup and was part of a Stanford defense that held All-American tailback Montee Ball to only 13 yards in the second half.
Defensive end | Northwestern
Williams, a senior from Pittsburgh, scored the first touchdown of his career when he intercepted Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell's pass and returned it 29 yards for a score on the third play of the Wildcats' 34-20 win in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. Williams finished with two tackles for loss and one sack and also tipped a pass that was intercepted by a teammate in Northwestern's first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl. The Wildcats intercepted four passes, tying a school record in a bowl game.
Defensive end | SMU
SMU and Fresno State were tied 0-0 after the first quarter of the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Here's how the Bulldogs' first three possessions of the second quarter went: Hunt sacked quarterback Derek Carr and caused him to fumble; Hunt sacked Carr in the end zone for a safety; and then Hunt tackled tailback Robbie Rouse for a 6-yard loss and caused him to fumble. Hunt's dominance helped the Mustangs score 22 points in the second quarter and run away with a 43-10 victory in coach June Jones' return to the islands. Hunt, a native of Estonia who never played football before walking on the SMU team, finished with three tackles, two forced fumbles, two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Defensive end | Texas
In his final game with the Longhorns, Okafor had a career-high 4½ sacks, helping UT rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of its 31-27 victory over Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Longhorns set a school bowl record with 10 sacks, and Okafor's 12½ sacks this season were the most by a UT player since 1984. Okafor and Cedric Reed sacked Cody Vaz on third-and-11 with less than five minutes to play, giving UT the ball for Marquise Goodwin's winning touchdown. "I just kind of got into a zone," Okafor said.
Kyle Van Noy
Linebacker | BYU
Van Noy turned in perhaps the most dominant individual performance of the postseason in the Cougars' 23-6 victory over San Diego State in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. With the Cougars trailing the Aztecs 6-3 in the fourth quarter, Van Noy took matters into his own hands when he sacked and stripped quarterback Adam Dingwell in the end zone, recovering the fumble for a touchdown. Later in the fourth quarter, Van Noy intercepted a Dingwell pass and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. He tied an FBS record for defensive scores in a game.
Linebacker | Florida State
After Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch predicted the Huskies would have FSU's defense "on its knees" in the second half of the Discover Orange Bowl, Williams and his teammates let their inspired play do the talking in the Seminoles' 31-10 win. Williams had 10 tackles, one tackle for loss, and a sack, while the Seminoles held Lynch to 44 rushing yards and 176 yards on 15-for-41 passing. The Huskies had only 259 yards of offense and were held to fewer than 100 rushing yards for the first time this season. "He's terrible," Williams said of Lynch afterward. "I can't believe they tried us like that. He's not good at all."
Linebacker | LSU
Tigers fans can't blame Minter for their collapse against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Minter, a junior from Suwanee, Ga., had 19 tackles, 1½ tackles for loss, and one sack in LSU's 25-24 loss. His tackle total was one shy of his career-high, which he set against Florida earlier this season. Minter finished the season with 130 tackles, fourth-most by an LSU player in a season, and the most since Bradie James had 154 in 2002.
Cornerback | Georgia
Swann set up a touchdown in the first half and then helped Georgia protect a lead in its 45-31 victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on New Year's Day. In the first half, Swann intercepted a Taylor Martinez pass and returned it 19 yards to help set up Todd Gurley's 24-yard touchdown run for a 23-14 lead. In the fourth quarter, Swann intercepted another pass at the Georgia 7 to put the Cornhuskers away for good. Swann, a sophomore from Atlanta, also had six tackles.
Cornerback | Louisville
Floyd, a sophomore from Port Pierce, Fla., set the tone for the Cardinals on the first play from scrimmage in their surprising 33-23 upset of No. 3 Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. On the Gators' first offensive play, quarterback Jeff Driskel dropped back and threw a pass to receiver Andre Debose, who inadvertently tipped the ball into Floyd's arms. Floyd ran 38 yards for a touchdown, giving Louisville the confidence to pull off the upset. Floyd also had two tackles and one pass breakup for a Louisville defense that limited the Gators to 286 yards of offense.
Safety | Oregon
Dargan, a third-string safety who moved into the starting lineup late in the season, helped the Ducks slow down Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein in a 35-17 victory in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Dargan, a sophomore from Pittsburg, Calif., had eight tackles and intercepted two passes. He picked off Klein's Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half and then intercepted a pass down the sideline late in the second half. The Ducks held Klein to only 151 passing yards and 30 rushing, well below his regular-season averages.
Safety | Vanderbilt
Ladler, a junior from Stone Mountain, Ga., produced two of Vanderbilt's five forced turnovers in a 38-24 win over NC State in the Music City Bowl on New Year's Eve. In the first half, Ladler intercepted Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon's pass at the NC State 45. Later, Ladler scooped up a fumble and returned it 22 yards to the NC State 27 to set up the Commodores' second touchdown. Ladler finished with 10 tackles, helping Vanderbilt finish a season with nine victories for the first time since 1915.
Punter | Virginia Tech
Neither Virginia Tech nor Rutgers managed more than 200 yards of offense in the Hokies' 13-10 overtime win at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. So punting and field position were at a premium, and Hughes more than delivered for the Hokies. Hughes, a freshman walk-on from Terre Haute, Ind., averaged 42.2 yards on 11 punts, including three punts longer than 50 yards. He pinned the Scarlet Knights inside their 20-yard line four times, helping Virginia Tech's defense to slow them down.
Kicker | Michigan State
Conroy, a fifth-year senior from Wheaton, Ill., made only one field goal in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but it proved to be the difference in the Spartans' 17-16 victory over TCU. After the Horned Frogs went ahead 16-14 on Jaden Oberkrom's 53-yard field goal with less than three minutes to play, Conroy made a 47-yarder with 1:01 left to win the game. It was the second year in a row in which Conroy's field goal won a bowl game; his 28-yard field goal beat Georgia 33-30 in three overtimes in the Outback Bowl last season.
Kick returner | Oregon
Thomas, a sophomore from Los Angeles, opened the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl by returning the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest all-purpose play in Oregon postseason history, eclipsing his 91-yard touchdown run against Wisconsin in last season's Rose Bowl, and the Ducks' fastest score in a bowl game (12 seconds). Thomas also caught a 23-yard touchdown pass, helping the Ducks take a 15-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Thomas had 120 yards on two kickoff returns, 60 receiving yards on four catches, and 15 rushing yards on two carries.
Mark Schlabach offers up his 2012 All-bowl team.