Dec 30, 2016; El Paso, TX, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels Ryan Switzer (3) celebrates with teammate wide receiver Bug Howard (84) after catching a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal defense at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
The bowl season has been a wild ride.
For the first time all year, Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson was a complete non-factor. Meanwhile, Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt guided his alma mater to their first bowl win since 2006. History was also made with Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine becoming the all-time leading rusher in school history. The bowl season has also been filled with comebacks, amazing individual performances, and the occasional breakage of a scoreboard.
On the College Football Playoff front, the #2 Clemson Tigers absolutely manhandled the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes. Something we have not been accustomed to seeing to Urban Meyer-coached teams. Also advancing was the #1 team in the county, the Alabama Crimson Tide. While their matchup against #4 Washington Huskies had a unique feel to it, the Tide showed why they are the Tide.
Only one game remains in the college football season. Clemson meets Alabama in Raymond James Stadium on Monday night to crown the champion. For the rest of the bowl season, let’s have a little fun and name the top five bowl games of the 2016-2017 bowl season.
Dec 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans (4) celebrates his score with offensive lineman Wyatt Teller (57) and fullback Sam Rogers (45) during the fourth quarter of the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium. The Hokies win the Belk Bowl 35-24 over the Razorbacks. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
5. Belk Bowl – Virginia Tech 35, Arkansas 24
A 24-0 lead by the Arkansas Razorbacks at halftime deemed to be a complete dismantling of the Hokies. The hard-nosed Virginia Tech team looked absolutely beaten in all phases of the game.
Luckily, there was a second half.
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A quick turnover by Arkansas presented an opportunity for the Hokies. They capitalized with a 4-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jerod Evans. An interception by linebacker Anthony Shegog gave Virginia Tech another chance to close the deficit. A touchdown pass by Evans to fullback Sam Rogers narrowed the deficit to 24-14.
The next offensive play for Arkansas resulted in another turnover for the Hokies defense. The turnover also resulted in another touchdown pass by Evans. Before you knew it, the scoreboard read 24-21 with plenty of momentum in favor of Virginia Tech.
A six-yard touchdown run by running back Travon McMillian gave the Hokies a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. For good measure, Evans ran for another score with under seven minutes remaining in the game. The score extended the lead to 35-24 and capped off 35 unanswered points by the Hokies. The 24-point comeback was the largest in Virginia Tech’s history.
Dec 29, 2016; Birmingham, AL, USA; South Florida Bulls tight end Elkanah Dillon (85) celebrates with wide receiver Chris Barr (1) after scoring the game-winning touchdown during overtime against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
4. Birmingham Bowl – South Florida 46, South Carolina 39 (OT)
The total stat-line for this contest was mind-boggling: 950 total yards, 51 combined first downs, and an ugly seven turnovers.
South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers was a force in the contest. Flowers scored the first two touchdowns for #25 USF which gave them a 15-0 lead in the first quarter.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter. Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley tossed two of his three passing touchdowns that quarter. However, South Florida took a 29-14 halftime lead.
Dec 29, 2016; Birmingham, AL, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley (19) looks to pass during the fourth quarter against the South Florida Bulls in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Free safety Tajee Fullwood returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown for a USF 39-21 lead. From that point on, South Carolina refused to go away.
A 39-yard punt return by South Carolina corner Chris Lammons came at the right time. It helped set up a game-tying touchdown run by running back A.J. Turner with 1:11 left in the game.
It only took one play in overtime for South Florida to get a 46-39 lead in overtime. On the ensuing drive for South Carolina, Bentley was sacked on fourth down by defensive end Mike Love. The win gave the Bulls their first 11-win season in school history.
Dec 30, 2016; El Paso, TX, USA; Stanford head coach David Shaw (L) shakes hands with North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora (R) after their game in the Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium. The Tar Heels won 25-23 Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
3. Sun Bowl – Stanford 25, North Carolina 23
The contest between the two teams made headlines before kickoff. Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey decided to not partake in the festivities due to pre-draft prep.
So taking the grand stage was UNC QB Mitch Trubisky. The tall, strong-armed QB may possibly see himself drafted 1st overall in the upcoming draft. So this presented a chance for Trubisky to put on a show. Possibly.
Things go off to a great start for Trubisky and the Tar Heels. A 19-yard touchdown pass from Trubisky to receiver Ryan Switzer gave UNC a 7-0 in the opening quarter. Stanford followed that up with a touchdown from quarterback Keller Chryst to running back Bryce Love to tie the game.
An interception returned for a TD by safety Dallas Lloyd gave Stanford a 22-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Stanford extended the lead to 25-17 later in the quarter.
Trubisky then guided his team from their own 16-yard line with 1:30 left in the game. He connected with receiver Bug Howard for 44 yards a few plays into the drive. He also connected with Switzer for 27 yards to get down to the 1-yard line. The Tar Heels scored with a touchdown catch from Howard and proceeded to go for a two-point conversion. The attempt failed as Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas knifed through the offensive line and sacked Trubisky to end the game.
Dec 30, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Nyqwan Murray (80) reacts after making a touchdown in front of Michigan Wolverines safety Dymonte Thomas (25) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
2. Orange Bowl – Florida State 33, Michigan 32
Two of the top coaches in the country. Two schools that are within that upper-echelon of top college teams. Under one roof in Miami, Florida.
Pregame chatter included the occurrence of Michigan defender Jabrill Peppers being ruled out due to an hamstring injury. That clearly swung things in favor of the Seminoles. Florida State took a 17-3 lead in the opening quarter which included a 92-yard touchdown by receiver Nyquan Murray.
By halftime, the lead ballooned to 20-6 in favor of Florida State.
Dec 30, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Chris Evans (12) carries the ball against Michigan Wolverines during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan had trouble getting things going on offense behind quarterback Wilton Speight. So the defense pitched in with the scoring thanks to a pick-6 by linebacker Mike McCray to tighten the deficit to 20-15.
A 30-yard touchdown run by running back Chris Evans gave Michigan a 28-27 lead. A two-point conversion extended the lead to 30-27 with under two minutes left.
Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois guided the offense down the field and connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Murray. The score with 36 seconds left gave FSU the win and concluded a pretty wild second half.
January 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive back Leon McQuay III (22) intercepts a pass intended for Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) during the second half of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
1. Rose Bowl – USC 52, Penn State 49
Not only was this the best bowl game so far, quite possibly the best game of the entire season.
The game got off to an entertaining start on the game’s very first offensive play. USC corner Iman Marshall hauling in an interception was preceded by another interception by Adoree’ Jackson two drives later. The Jackson INT led to a 26-yard touchdown pass from QB Sam Darnold to receiver Deontay Burnett for a 7-0 lead.
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A 3-yard touchdown hookup from Darnold to Burnett gave USC a 20-7 lead in the second quarter and made things very interesting for the Trojans.
A 21-point second quarter by Penn State was capped by tight end Mike Gesicki hauling in an 11-yard touchdown. The score narrowed the deficit to 27-21 with under a minute left in the first half.
Penn State exploded for a 28-point third quarter in which their first three drives were 1-play touchdown drives. Running back Saquan Barkley scored from seven yards out to extend the Penn State lead to 49-35 late in the third quarter.
Late in the fourth, Darnold found Burnett again for a 27-yarder to tie the game at 49. On the following drive, PSU QB Trace McSorley was picked off by USC’s Leon McQuay III and returned 32 yards. The interception placed USC in field goal range, which kicker Matt Boermeester launched from 46 yards out as time expired, giving USC the epic Rose Bowl victory.