1. Arkansas State 34, Florida International 26, by Spencer Hall
It was a good game. The Camellia Bowl usually is, albeit in the way common to bowl games whose host cities no one can remember. The bar is low, the teams just excited to be in the postseason, and the play loose enough for entertaining mayhem.
When the clock ran out, ESPN’s cameras immediately found Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson. They followed him through the crowd of players hugging him and across the field, where he shook hands with FIU’s Butch Davis. Anderson was clearly crying. Wendy Anderson, his wife of 27 years, died in August from breast cancer, and Anderson took a brief leave of absence to grieve before returning to lead the Red Wolves to an 8-5 season.
The camera picked up the rain, the glare off the water, and Anderson meandering. Along the way, everyone grabbed him — most of all Arkansas State’s players, who laid a hand on him at every turn.
That image is in the middle of the postgame interview. Look at the face of the kid holding him up, and the hand on the hand. It’s nice that Arkansas State won, it really is. It was also a thing of beauty to hear Anderson talk about how the team held him together in the worst year of his life, then see how literally his players and coaches took that job.
The game is just a win. The other thing, fought for through the worst moments of someone’s life, is a victory. There’s a difference, and it’s all in that image.
2. Clemson-Ohio State, by Spencer
I really don’t think Clemson should play football two weeks after the Fiesta Bowl. The Tigers got hammered on by Ohio State for four hours of 2019’s most violent hitting.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Tee Higgins took helmet-first hits to the head, Tigers wide receiver Justyn Ross might not be working with one good shoulder, and everyone who came in contact with the lines from Ohio State should be tested for blood poisoning. There’s no specific medical reason. I just think getting treated that badly might turn your blood evil.
For the record, Ohio State deserves two weeks of spa treatments, too. Anything but a football game, since not only did Ohio State’s players leave both whole cheeks of their asses on the field, they did so in a losing effort marred by awful red zone production and some inspired freestyling by the officiating crew. I can’t think of much more the players of Ohio State could have done to win. JK Dobbins played running back on one foot. Justin Fields dodged defenders with a balky knee. The defense ran breathless trying to eliminate Travis Etienne and Lawrence.
A few coaching decisions and rotten luck doomed their rabid effort, and that’s why football is less a game, and more of a malicious dragon-goddess who finishes every mass at her altar by incinerating half of the congregation. It sucks for Ohio State, but today was the day to sit in the crispy section.
I have no idea how Clemson will recover from this to play LSU. Then again, I watched Lawrence outrun the Ohio State defense for a 67-yard TD like a majestic giraffe in pads. Anything is possible, though I still think it would be a lot more possible if Clemson sleeps 18 hours a day.
3. Clemson proving how you play matters more than whom you play, by Alex Kirshner
The following conversation feels like it occurred dozens of times over the last four months:
Person A: “Wow, Clemson’s steamrolling everything.”
Person B: “I don’t care. Clemson’s schedule is bad.”
A: “Schedule strength isn’t everything. They haven’t lost since 2017. They’ve won two national championships. They’re probably good.”
A: “But –”
College football fans are hardwired to claim so-and-so ain’t played nobody. We even named a podcast after that! It’s fine. But it was always fanciful for a few loud people to suggest Clemson was anything other than great, even if the Tigers followed the customary championship playbook of having one weirdly ugly game on the way.
Anyway, Clemson has now beaten an Ohio State team that, per SP+ entering bowl season, was one of the 10 or so best teams ever.
The decisive moment was a last-minute pick in the end zone by Nolan Turner, a former unranked recruit who’s become a steady contributor. It turns out that the rest of the ACC taking the year off did nothing to Clemson’s ability to get zero-stars to play like four-stars.
4. LSU, by Jason Kirk
(It has to be noted somewhere that LSU OC Steve Ensminger called this game hours after the death of sports reporter Carley McCord, his daughter-in-law. The only thing I can say is that this was heart-breaking.)
Joe Burrow broke the all-time bowls scoring record. There were 25 minutes left. In a semifinal. Against a conference champion.
Right around then, I started asking LSU fans gathered near their band (“I wanna sing ‘Neck’” … “Ain’t none of them left to sing it to”) whether they’d rather Clemson or Ohio State win the other semifinal.
First, there were two ways to interpret this question:
- Which team do you think you’d have a better chance of beating?
- Which team would you rather beat?
The only version anyone chose to answer was the second. Over and over, I got variations on “well, either Joe can beat his old team from Ohio or we can beat the fake Death Valley.”
During the Fiesta, this continued at a tailgate and nearby bar. I had a line that I wanted to write about in vino veritas, about the Clemson-Ohio State war slowly revealing which team actually scares the LSU fan a little bit.
That didn’t materialize much, at least among the Tigers I was near.
Entering the Peach Bowl, LSU coaches hadn’t been terribly impressed with the Sooners, even before OU lost top pass-rusher Ronnie Perkins to suspension. Oklahoma had gone 5-1 in one-score games. Don’t make too much of 63-28 going forward. Oklahoma ain’t Clemson.
But even with this context, if they told you they felt invincible, you believed they did. As they hollered about scoring 55 in the title game and about how Clemson (the defending national champion) or Ohio State (the computer ratings #1 for months) might as well not even show up, you kept checking for concerns. Dobbins’ speed? Lawrence’s speed? Anything?
And then you remember a thing they cheered about in the Peach Bowl’s pregame. No matter what happens next, they haven’t known fear since this happened:
5. Put Navy in the Playoff, because they’d have lost to LSU by half as much as Oklahoma did, by Alex
Navy beat Kansas State (in a dramatic Liberty Bowl after a trick play set up a game-winning field goal) and, by virtue of speeding up the game with the triple option, would not have lost 63-28 to the Burrow Death Star. If we put Navy in, the score would’ve been, like, 21-7 LSU. Fortunately, there is no chance I will ever be proved wrong about this.
6. The Rose Bowl finally put all the pieces together in the moment I have been waiting for my entire life, by Spencer
Once, a friend told me he had slipped on a banana peel and busted his ass like he was in an old cartoon. I felt an intense jealousy that he had a perfect moment so unscripted, stupid, and wonderful. Most people go their whole lives without witnessing a cartoon pratfall. He was one of the elected, and I would never be.
Until the 2020 Rose Bowl happened. The stars aligned, and I got to see a literal wildgoose chase.
IT HAPPENED pic.twitter.com/P14DrBFnTG— BUM CHILLUPS (@edsbs) January 2, 2020
For my next trick in 2020, I look forward to someone giving me a horse as a gift. Then, with trembling hands and joy in my heart, I will look it straight in the mouth.
7. Oregon beating Wisconsin by being Wisconsin, by Alex
If I told you Wisconsin won a Rose Bowl with 204 yards of offense, you would barely be surprised. Wisconsin’s been doing Wisconsin-ish stuff like that forever.
If I told you Oregon won a Rose Bowl with 204 yards of offense, in any year before this one, you’d be stunned. But that happened, the culmination of two years of Wisconsinifcation under Mario Cristobal.
Oregon still has top-shelf (or close enough) offensive talent, but the Ducks have shifted from the 90-yard explosions of the Chip Kelly era to scratching out just enough points. In the 106th version of a grand tradition that started with an extremely ugly game, Oregon … played an extremely ugly game. The Ducks got four yards per play and went three of 10 on fourth downs. They let Wisconsin convert four fourth downs. They even let Wisconsin rip off a few big kickoff returns, one going for a touchdown.
It didn’t matter. The Ducks scored 21 points off four turnovers. The last came on a 30-yard option keeper by Justin Herbert. The defense then held tight to a 28-27 lead, the sort of thing it did often this year.
Next year, Herbert will be gone. The defense will be ultra-experienced. Expect Oregon to continue looking nothing like Oregon and everything like the program it just beat.
8. The best helmets ever, by Jason
For a decade, Oregon was known as much for its eye-catching helmets as its excellent play on the field. Fittingly, in this year’s Rose Bowl, Cristobal’s workmanlike Ducks wore what appeared to be their most basic get-ups. Back to basics. No frills. Etc.
Until the sun went down:
Wearing mirrors at the Rose Bowl is the best helmet idea ever pic.twitter.com/BhRYg32UPv— Jason Kirk, Famous Redbox Bowl Classic CEO (@thejasonkirk) January 2, 2020
We might never forget that moment when every college football fan realized all at once what the Ducks had just done: they’d painted their helmets with the glory of Pasadena itself.
9. Lynn Bowden Jr., by Jason
I’ve installed 2019 as the Belk Bowl’s representative in the Weirdest Bowls Calendar:
Kentucky’s Bowden is just about the closest possible thing to a one-man team. In Charlotte, he took that to the extreme, dominating the broadcast with not just 233 yards rushing (a new all-bowls QB record), but also:
Shirtlessly punching a Virginia Tech lineman in pregame (amid general heated banter between both teams)
Developing a hangnail on his throwing hand, which led to “ha ha he doesn’t need his throwing hand, because Kentucky never throws” jokes
Using his other hand to point straight in a defender’s face during one of two TD runs
Carrying 13 times on Kentucky’s final drive alone
Finishing with the second most rushing yards in a season ever by a Kentucky player despite starting as a WR who then had to play emergency QB
Finishing as UK’s leading 2019 receiver despite only playing WR for five games
Waiting until the world had counted out Hangnail Hand, then using Hangnail Hand to throw the game-winner with 15 seconds to go
Saying, “Y’all said I couldn’t throw, so over the top it goes”
Apologizing for punching a big guy while shirtless
A one-man content machine, going out at the top.
10. The fleeting dream of competitive parity in college football, by Jason
Entering the FCS semifinals, Montana State head coach Jeff Choate was asked whether North Dakota State’s overwhelming advantages are good for the sport. His response was clear:
No. I think we all have to play the same game. But it is what it is. These are the rules we’re playing by. I hope we can make it more competitive. I’d like to make it more competitive. I’m sure they love it. But it’s the same storyline every year, right?
Almost! The updated storyline: NDSU is becoming scarier than ever, having leveled up at quarterback. Trey Lance — who has still thrown zero interceptions in his debut year — needed eight minutes to score the first of his five touchdowns, NDSU nearly doubled up Montana State in yardage, and the Bison head to Frisco for the eighth time in nine years, where they’ll meet fellow preseason favorite James Madison.
Parity is not just a myth, and it’s not just unattainable — it has always been both of those things.
And now that I’ve made these big, jaded, know-it-all proclamations, here are two pieces of evidence that show I know nothing:
11. The North Central Cardinals, by Alex
Division III is a timeshare. Mount Union, Wisconsin-Whitewater, and Mary Hardin-Baylor own it, and you can’t so much as Airbnb it. Those three had won every Stagg Bowl since 2005, and Mount Union won most of them over the decade-plus before that.
Suddenly, North Central crashed the party. While UW-Whitewater was watching the property, the Cardinals threw a Molotov through the window and chased the Warhawks off the premises, 41-14.
It’s hard to win a championship when there’s one Goliath. It’s harder when there are three, especially when two are in your way. So North Central gets bonus points for also beating Mount Union in the quarterfinals in a 59-52 thriller.
They’re the first Illinois school to win an NCAA football title since Bob Reade’s Augustana won four Stagg Bowls in a row in the ‘80s. Maybe North Central buys a seasonal share going forward.
12. The West Florida Argonauts, by Jason
The Pensacola Argos began playing in 2016. Four seasons later, they entered on the outskirts of the Division II playoffs.
They then won five straight upsets, beating four of the top six teams, something equivalent to FAU storming through the entire FBS Playoff field. The Argos took down defending champ Valdosta State, previously unbeatable-at-home Lenoir-Rhyne, and defending runner-up Ferris State before beating Minnesota State in the championship.
How’d they do this? Short answer: DII is prime for roster-flippin’, and few had really tried doing it in the loaded Sunshine State until the Argos and rival Florida Tech.
So here’s a correction, based on DII and DIII: championship parity is actually blossoming all over college football, so long as you don’t have to play in Division I.
13. Kent State’s smoothie-doused head coach, by Alex
The Golden Flashes have played FBS football for 58 years. The 2019 Frisco Bowl is their first bowl win ever.
That’s great! Less great, if you are head coach Sean Lewis, is that Frisco’s title sponsor is Tropical Smoothie. (This is, obviously, fitting for a bowl game held in North Texas. Don’t look it up.) Lewis’ head is underneath all that green:
The important point is the one raised by friend of the program Rodger Sherman: it’s really rough that your reward for winning your first bowl is to get slimed like you just lost a late-’90s Nickelodeon show.
This novelty dousing also launched a new bowl season trend.
14. Potato-dousing, by Jason
15. Frosted Flakes-dousing, by Jason
16. Cheez-It-dousing, by Jason
During the actual Cheez-It Bowl, each team had about 400 yards. How they got there tells the story of one of football’s starkest styles-make-fights games ever.
- Flexbone option Air Force had 371 rushing yards and four pass completions for 30 yards. The Falcons had four scoring drives of 10+ plays, including a 20-play, 12-minuter.
- Air raid Washington State had 351 passing yards and eight rushing attempts for 12 yards. The Cougars had two scoring drives of fewer than 90 seconds each.
This Cheez-It Bowl was never going to top the inaugural in stupid beauty, but it still gave us exactly the game we wanted these two to produce against each other.
17. The Celebration Bowl’s commitment to generating play-by-play data while reaching the same result as usual, by Alex
There have been five Celebration Bowls to crown the champion of HBCU football. North Carolina A&T has now won four.
Some facts about the Aggies’ 64-44 win over Alcorn State:
- 138 combined offensive plays
- 1,034 yards (7.5 per play)
- 13-of-28 on combined third downs
- Three turnovers
- 14 tackles for loss, somehow
If you define “chunk plays” as passes of 15-plus yards or runs of 10-plus, this game had 26, 13 apiece. The distances of the touchdowns included 53, 36, 59, 75, 43, 23, 20, 35, 73, and 98 yards. A&T’s Kylil Carter had an NCAA Football line: 18-for-30 for 364 yards, six TDs, and no picks.
Also, cheers to Alcorn, which put on a show to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the time Steve McNair probably should’ve won the Heisman.
18. Alabama, by Alex
#18 for #18! Congrats to the Citrus Bowl national champs.
TEK P. VOCK OE GSOOO NSSEE, by RKV OO
20. Chris Petersen rides off into the sunset in four sentences, by Spencer
- Petersen, who coached at Boise State and Washington, ended his career (for the moment) in a bowl between Boise State and Washington.
- The setup was tidy, and so was its result: a 38-7 win for the Huskies that was never really in doubt, thanks to brisk defense and methodical support from the offense.
- The team that looked better-coached won.
- As was typical for many years, that team was Petersen’s.
21. Minnesota, by Spencer
The Golden Gophers beat the brakes off Auburn, who reeled out of Raymond James Stadium, tumbled down the causeway, and remain resting in 10 feet of water. Minnesota’s yardage advantage in the (somehow) one-score game: 494 to 232. Put the Tigers in the biggest possible bag of rice, wait three days, and then try rebooting them.
The Gophers caught everything thrown at them. Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson had two scores receiving, including this filth:
ARE YOU KIDDING?!? #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/M5bAU1a0QM— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2020
Running back Mohammed Ibrahim looked like a Clyde Edwards-Helaire clone, tallying 140 yards and finishing runs with a shoulder in the solar plexus of a Tiger. The Gophers did a better job blocking Auburn’s malicious line than Alabama did.
Note: Should someone read this and think Minnesota could beat Alabama? Yes, this is bowl season, and almost every conclusion can be made based on these games. Minnesota would wreck Alabama right now. Then, postgame, an enraged Nick Saban would accept a 2,000-meter rowing challenge from P.J. Fleck. Saban would win, but fall off and puke so hard for 10 minutes straight that ashamed Bama fans would demand his resignation. All of these things would happen! Tell your friends!
Minnesota won 11 games and did one-time enrollee Ric Flair proud by piledriving Auburn into the mat. It’s strange to see them this good this fast after being bad-to-mediocre for my entire life, but here we are. It’s fine.
[stews Midwesternly, looks out window, waves hand]
No, it’s fine, geez, it’s totally fine.
[is not fine at all]
Some comforts never change, though. See: Gus Malzahn maintaining balance by slamdunking the Iron Bowl, then burning credit by losing to the second-place team in the Big Ten’s weaker division. The message is clear: Don’t wait for someone else to be your Thanos. Do it yourself, just like Gus.
22. Iowa, by Jason
After a bowl win, you put your right... pic.twitter.com/NNiK8r1FkK— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) December 28, 2019
Hawkeyes architect Hayden Fry died at the age of 90 this season. Among other tributes, Iowa honored him by doing the ancient Hokey Pokey dance after stomping USC in the Holiday Bowl. The tradition’s origin:
‘My first couple of years there,’ Fry said last week from his home in Mesquite, Nev., ‘wins were few and far between. I tried to pick up on certain positive things after games. All I could do was compliment them.
‘Then we started winning big games. I’m not for sure, but I think it was Mel Cole (a linebacker on Fry’s first three Iowa teams, from 1989-1991) who said “Let’s do the Hokey Pokey” after we had a big win.
‘From then on, we did it after every big game we won, particularly ones where we weren’t favored.’
23. Appalachian State, by Jason
Becoming a national power based out of Boone, North Carolina should be hard. Other things of allegedly severe difficulty: taking firm control of an FBS conference immediately after leaving FCS, winning the first four bowl games in school history, replacing two head coaches within 12 months, and coming back from a 14-0 deficit against fellow cruiserweight scrapper UAB.
Here are three visual metaphors for the history of Mountaineer football. Each of these plays resulted in touchdowns for App State, the team wearing white.
In something approaching a century, App State has yet to view an obstacle as anything other than an opportunity. (So make that “winning the first five bowl games in school history.”)
24. Louisville, by Alex
College football has a million Coach of the Year awards. The criteria aren’t exactly clear or consistent.
If 2019’s awards wanted to recognize the guy who did the best job taking a horrible team and making it presentable, the winner would be obvious: Louisville’s Scott Satterfield.
He took over a program that had Bobby Petrino all over itself. At the end of 2018, smart people were assessing Louisville as one of the most hapless teams in the country. Satterfield, fresh off a successful run at App State, had little to work with.
And here Louisville is anyway, with an 8-5 record and a 10-point Music City Bowl win over Mississippi State (which was so mad about this and whatever else, it fired Joe Moorhead) to end what amounted to Satterfield’s Year 0. The Cardinals might be the ACC Atlantic’s (relatively) best bet to challenge Clemson in 2020. Satterfield’s made amazing progress.
25. Hawaii finishing 10-5, by Alex
The list of FBS-level teams to go 10-5:
- 1894 Brown
- 1901 Penn
- 2019 Hawaii
Since college football became somewhat regulated in the early 20th century, teams have not played 15-game seasons. Typically, the only way to do it is to make a national title game.
But any team with four or five losses isn’t doing that, meaning the path to a 10-5 record is so obscure, you forget it’s even possible.
You have to play at Hawaii, meaning the NCAA lets you schedule a 13th game. Then you have to make a conference championship and a bowl, which is hard, because a team with four or more losses often won’t make a title game.
We may never see a 10-5 team again. I salute the Rainbow Warriors for taking care of BYU, 38-34, to wrap it up.
26. ANGRY DIGICAMO WAVE, by Jason
A nod to our Armed Forces for the @ArmedForcesBowl @TulaneEquipment | #LMAFB pic.twitter.com/DrJC2gj3t8— Tulane University Football (@GreenWaveFB) January 1, 2020
27. Eastern Michigan’s QB ejecting from the Quick Lane Bowl by TKO’ing a ref in the midst of the final drive of his career, by Alex
Pitt didn’t lead until there were 47 seconds left. They drove 91 yards in 10 plays for the game-winning score, saving themselves from what would’ve been at least one of their five most embarrassing bowl losses of the 2010s.
The game will not be remembered for that, however. It won’t even be remembered for the moment when officials singled out six different Pitt defenders for unsportsmanlike conduct as they celebrated an interception. It won’t even be remembered for the EMU cornerback who got ejected for allegedly spitting through a Pitt player’s face mask.
No, the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl will be remembered for EMU QB Mike Glass — in the last game of his college life, down four in the last minute — going out by attempting to slap-punch a Pitt player, hitting a ref in the hat, and watching that ref tumble in a world-class dive.
Wait.... pic.twitter.com/IxDBvgv68a— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) December 27, 2019
Afterward, Glass apologized. I suppose I would’ve too, but nobody got hurt, the outcome probably didn’t change, and the whole thing was entertaining. I wish him well.
28. Hoosier mindset, by Jason
The most inspiring thing I’ve read in 2020 comes from @dadpolice, in response to Tennessee fans proclaiming the Hoosiers would face a 35-point deficit in the Gator Bowl:
”we’re hoosiers baby, we were born down 35.”
Indiana is the most cursed team outside of the Georgia Bulldogs. “What about Michigan,” you might wonder. Think back on all the times Indiana has had a top-10 Wolverines team on the ropes only to lose, and your blood will freeze as you realize this: Indiana is Michigan’s Michigan.
When the Hoosiers led the meaningless Tennessee Volunteers 22-9 with five minutes left in the Gator Bowl, what remained couldn’t even be defined as fear. As a neutral rooting for #9WINDIANA, I felt pre-acceptance. The Hoosiers, seeking their first bowl win since 1991, had already lost 2015’s Pinstripe by three points and 2016’s Foster Farms by two, so we all knew what came next. As always, the only thing left was to discover the angle from which the universe would pants the Hoosiers this time.
FBS teams were 0-471 this season when trailing by 13+ in the final 5 minutes.— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) January 3, 2020
They are now 1-471. pic.twitter.com/CCPzAGSpAb
We’re Hoosiers, baby.
29. Notre Dame, for letting us pay attention to Memphis, by Spencer
Notre Dame deserves credit. I wrote that, despite me believing Notre Dame should acknowledge its secondary role in college football, join the ACC, and become something like “Virginia Tech, but more expensive and without the ability to do math.” Giving Notre Dame credit is bad because it gets them in playoffs, and against actual competition the Irish take that credit, fall behind on their payments, and get all their points repo’d.
Notre Dame 2019 had the decency to not do that. They managed to make one appearance as a team of serious consideration, courteously losing to Georgia before stepping back to serve as a supporting actor. Call them the Gary Cole, Shea Whigham, or Margo Martindale of this year. Notre Dame got 10 wins, did respected work, and didn’t demand to be a headliner.
Notre Dame even had the manners to take a 20-3 lead over Iowa State and win a mostly event-free game, 33-9 over the Cyclones. This freed everyone up to ignore Notre Dame and pay attention to the most entertaining team in college football.
30. Paying attention to Memphis instead of Notre Dame, by Spencer
Memphis is a wrasslin’ town, so let’s get wrasslin’ with it. One of the most important things in a match is chemistry. One wrestler has to win, sure, but the outcome is less important than how the two get to that result. Each combatant has to have their highs and lows and make the other look bigger, stronger, and more amazing than they actually are.
They have to sell it, and that is why you need a Memphis. Memphis got down by two scores. (Ooh! You’re so strong, Penn State!) Memphis let Penn State run on them not in nibbles, but in huge dashes. (So lightning fast! How can we survive this brutal speed!) To make Penn State’s win as earned as possible, Memphis roared back with big plays and pulled just close enough in the third quarter.
Then, Memphis threw an interception returned for a touchdown and lost. The “I got distracted by Penn State’s manager, dropped the folding chair I was holding, and acted surprised as I got KO’d with the very chair I was holding!” of football moves.
Putting the best and craziest Group of 5 team in a major bowl will either put your big bad Power 5 team over in the most entertaining way or make history.
31. Craig Bowl, by Jason
Craig Bohl is the first head coach to ever win two bowls at Wyoming. So his name is now “Craig Bowl.”
32. Buffalo, by Alex
Kent State: not the only MAC team to win its first-ever bowl on bowl season’s opening Friday! The Bulls did the same thing in their 30th year of major-level existence, beating up on Charlotte in a game played in the Bahamas and sponsored by a suburban Chicago industrial park.
UB’s played in four bowls. Two have come in the last two seasons. Lance Leipold, the guy who built UW-Whitewater into a power, seems to be good at this stuff.
33. The Orange Bowl, by Spencer
This remains our least consequential major bowl. That isn’t an insult; bowl games should involve less pressure. They should be more like lighthearted vacations with a brisk game in the middle, feature lots of drinks with tiny umbrellas, and happen in places where staying on task is really, really hard.
That’s bad for teams, but great for games.
For instance: Florida got to take control early and look good. Then the Gators got sleepy in the heat and let UVA put Bryce Perkins on display. He had 323 yards passing and four TDs. All of it involved him scrambling, throwing off his back foot after dodging three tacklers, and watching a receiver outjump two defensive backs. UVA fans should regard Perkins as a god after breaking the streak against Virginia Tech and almost singlehandedly leading the charge back to respectability.
Then Florida woke up, held on, and won their 11th game while UVA got to feel very good about their season. The winner got oranges! How fantastic is a game where the only enemy is scurvy?
34. The First Responder Bowl reaching the 5:07 mark in the first quarter and becoming the longest First Responder Bowl ever, by Alex
The 2018 game made it to the 5:08 mark before becoming the first bowl ever canceled by weather. (Fittingly, title sponsor ServPro’s actual slogan is “like it never even happened.”)
The 2019 game, between Western Kentucky and Western Michigan, blew past that mark, hitting 60 entire minutes.
35. WKU beating WMU in the longest First Responder Bowl ever to become FBS’ Best Western, by Alex
Western Kentucky 23, Western Michigan 20. Northwestern was not eligible.
36. Redbox, by Alex
I’m a coastal media elite who no longer pays for every movie I watch. I barely pay for movies at all these days, actually. In fact, I don’t even watch movies. I screen films, which studios send to the Writers Guild. I, a college football blogger, now have an awards vote. No movie does anything at the box office unless I say it’s good.
But I realize not everyone has my privileged cinematic vantage, and I am happy that in this changing media economy, Redbox has stayed vibrant with a model that distributes movies out of a vending machine.
Cal 32, Illinois 20.
37. The Sugar Bowl, by Spencer
No one ever has to watch the 2019 Georgia offense again.
38. The Birmingham Bowl, by Jason
As Boston College stared down its second straight bowl cancelation due to weather, which would’ve meant BC appearing in 100% of the bowls to ever be canceled for such reasons, the following appeared:
How accurate is this? Never been to Birmingham before coming to this game, but it’s not a ringing endorsement. pic.twitter.com/ILHTyzLv7C— Jim LaMarca (@DFWEagle06) January 2, 2020
You said it, pal.
In the end, BC’s Birmingham Bowl was indeed canceled. Cincinnati’s was not, and the Bearcats defeated BC’s stand-in, 38-6.
39. San Diego State saving all its offense for bowl season, by Jason
After a season full of scores like 6-0, 14-11, 13-3, and 17-7, the Aztecs astounded Central Michigan with a 48-point outburst. Whoa, settle down, fellas!
SDSU hadn’t gone for more than 26 since mid-September. This is more than SDSU has scored in any game since November 2017.
They’ve caught a taste of MACTION!
Not quite. Somehow, this blowout New Mexico Bowl win was still gruff, defense-first manball, to the tune of five takeaways, a defensive score, 45 rushing attempts, and 38 minutes of possession. But still! Look at you, SDSU, producing statistics!
40. SMU, a free trip to Boca Raton is just fine, and I’m glad you got some nice weather in the middle of winter, by Spencer
SMU had a tremendously important year. They beat rival TCU for the first time since 2011 and had their best season since Eric Dickerson covered his radiant jheri curls with a pony logo.
Then, after going 10-2, everyone got to go to Boca Raton for a week! Warm weather while Dallas is stuck in the 50s, combined with light practices and some walks on the beach, seems like a great reward. It seems even better when everyone remembers this is an extremely pre-Christmas Bowl, and all that travel and banqueting gets done days before holiday travel turns everything to shit.
Was there a game in there? (Yes, but no one has to talk about it.) Who can say? (You can: it was a 52-28 loss to Florida Atlantic, a Conference USA team playing without their departed head coach.) Why worry about results that can’t dim the lights of a bowl sponsored by the brand leader in sour cherry juice products? (No one should.)
Why not just enjoy a free vacation? (Because it appears SMU did, then had to play a meaningless game and treated it accordingly.)
41. Miami’s Independence Bowl, featuring Ryan Nanni
From Ryan’s Read Option newsletter on December 27:
We usually get six to eight bowl games in which a Group of 5 team faces a Power 5 opponent, and roughly half of those go to AAC programs, thanks to their status as “Ghost of the Big East who cannot move on from the mortal plane.”
We don’t get more P5/G5 matchups for technical reasons (bowl tie-ins are usually locked for a few years at a time and don’t change all that often), financial reasons (TV/ticket people assume matching Power 5 teams against each other will be more lucrative, and they would ask you to please not check how much tickets to Georgia-Baylor are going for), and competitive reasons (the top 20 or so P5 teams usually are a good step ahead of the bowl-eligible G5 teams, but after that it gets a little hazy).
Then there’s this: if you’re a Power 5 school, you’d much rather lose to a fellow Power 5 team, and your conference would prefer that, too. Miami losing to Wisconsin by 32 points in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl isn’t good, but it doesn’t really challenge the established power structures in the sport. The Big Ten gets a bragging point, the ACC takes a slight reputation bruise, and in the end they’re both most favored conferences.
Miami fits into this by losing 14-0 to Louisiana Tech. It was in the top two of the Canes’ most embarrassing Conference USA losses over a 33-day period.
42. The Playoff committee conspiring to exclude Gasparilla Bowl national champion UCF, by Alex
- UCF destroyed Marshall in the Gasparilla, 48-25.
- Previously, Marshall beat FAU.
- FAU beat SMU in Boca.
- SMU beat TCU.
- TCU beat Texas.
- Texas beat Kansas State, for once.
- K-State beat Playoff participant Oklahoma.
I’m not saying. I’m just saying.
43. Michigan State having … fun? by Alex
Their 2018 Redbox Bowl against Oregon, played in a mostly empty 49ers stadium, was among the stiffest tests ever to the “all bowls are good” theory. It was like almost every Michigan State game in the last half of the decade, in that it was miserable and Michigan State had a chance to win anyway.
The 2019 Pinstripe Bowl was great! The Spartans appeared interested in scoring! They even had a 293-pound nose tackle going aerial to slip inside the pylon. They did dumb college football stuff like miss a 28-yard field goal to leave the door open for Wake Forest to win at the end.
I came away with a feeling about MSU that I hadn’t felt since, like, their 2015 win at Michigan: fun!
44. North Carolina’s impending 2020 hype, by Alex
The Heels wrapped a comeback season by blasting Temple at the Military Bowl, 55-13. Sam Howell was 25-of-34 for 294 yards and three scores, didn’t get sacked, and added three runs for 53 yards, which were nice to see, because if Howell had one limitation during a great freshman season, it was that he was never much of a running threat.
You should expect UNC in preseason top 25s. Nobody is better than Mack Brown at gladhanding AP Poll voters, and the Heels are on the right side of the ACC.
They could’ve won another game or two in 2019, and one could’ve been Clemson. Howell is the best non-Lawrence QB in the league already. Coordinators Phil Longo and Jay Bateman had great years and validated the Clemson model of a CEO-style head coach having savvy assistants on the details. The 2020 schedule is favorable (no Clemson, most of the toughest opponents visiting Chapel Hill), and the Heels will have two early chances (at UCF, neutral site vs. Auburn) to validate hype.
(Too much? Maybe. But I was hyping UNC as a bowl team before this year started, and my only error was letting Ryan bet me that they wouldn’t win seven regular season games instead of six. I will let it ride and take UNC to win the Coastal in 2020.)
45. Texas hype and Texas A&M hype, by Alex
After wins in bowl games played in Texas against teams besides each other (because they are not and never have been rivals), expect the Longhorns and Aggies to each be ranked exactly #23 entering 2020.
46. Utah, by Spencer
Kobe beef cows become great steaks in part because they receive daily massages, are fed beer, and only hear sweet music in their barns. Thanks to Utah’s 38-10 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl, the Longhorns will become Kobe football beef kings for the next eight months, hearing the gentlest things from everyone around them. It will end with them becoming 9-3 filet mignons who lose to, like, Kansas State in week four, but they’ll be delicious.
Why, Utah? WHY DID YOU FOOL THEM INTO THINKING THEY WERE BACK? Now Texas is doomed to be expensive steak again.
47. Clemson beating Ohio State and continuing to be kind of annoying about how nobody at all believed in them, by Alex
After telling Dabo to tell the world that The Media hoped to drop the Tigers a dozen spots in the polls, the tiny hater who lives in Swinney’s earhole reemerged for like the fourth time this season to give the Tigers a rousing speech when they trailed 16-0 in the Fiesta.
Afterward, per numerous reporters, the Tigers played Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in their locker room.
College football is about overdoing things. I respect the Tigers for not only standing up to their internet haters, but also fully committing to the fantasy that no one has ever believed in them.
48. Punts on fourth-and-four from the other team’s 39 when you’re winning by two late, by Alex
The Fiesta semifinal was such a brilliant game that assigning blame feels wasteful. But Ohio State’s administration is apparently directing it at the replay crew, which overturned a would-be OSU fumble return TD and called a targeting penalty on OSU’s Shaun Wade. Fox’s Joel Klatt said he heard from a “livid” Buckeye AD Gene Smith about replay “overreach.”
The overturned fumble struck me as a bad call and was undoubtedly consequential.
But Ohio State was still probably going to win if Ryan Day didn’t make what I see as an even worse call. With a shade more than three minutes left, facing fourth-and-four inside Clemson’s 40 and leading by two, Ohio State tried to get the Tigers to jump offside, then punted 33 yards.
Ohio State decided not to turn Fields loose with a chance to bury Clemson. It put the ball in Lawrence’s hands instead. He needed three plays to get Clemson past the spot of Ohio State’s punt and one more for the winning touchdown.
Day took Ohio State from a place of self-determination and swapped in Clemson. He shouldn’t have done that. I said that before it backfired, because I always worship at the Congregation of Go For It. We meet on Tuesday nights at the Chipotle near my house.
49. The Mobile Bowl, by Jason
Thank you, scheduling gods, for bringing back the weird setup that means the Mobile Bowl is the final FBS game before the National Championship. I hope at least one casual fan tuned in, noticed on the ESPN ticker that the Mobile Bowl is followed by only Division I’s two title games, saw the RAGIN’ CAJUNS defeat the REDHAWKS, and assumed the CAJUNS had just become the third most important team in the land.
Because they had.