RECAP: 2014 Bowl Season In Review

It all started on December 20 with the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and 36 games later, the bowl season has concluded. For the sake of this look back, I’ll be excluding the two semifinal games — the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. Even without the games in Pasadena and (the New Year’s Day one in) New Orleans, there were still plenty of noteworthy performances and footballing displays.

To take y’all behind the curtain here — I was going to recap the best passing performances, rushing performances, receiving, etc. Then I was like, “Yeah, no.” Let’s just go over stuff that happened that I think was notable

Day 1 was a bit of a blunder

YEAH GUYS LET'S GO CRAZY WE JUST WON THE RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL WOOOOOOO Photo credit to Albert Cesare/Montgomery Advertiser

YEAH GUYS LET’S GO CRAZY WE JUST WON THE RAYCOM MEDIA CAMELLIA BOWL WOOOOOOO
Photo credit to Albert Cesare/Montgomery Advertiser

The first day of Bowl Season 2014 was Saturday, December 20, and there were five bowl games. Only one ranked team took the field and at least one of these games will go on the list of games that probably shouldn’t have happened — that one being the biggest dud of them all. Allegedly 20,256 people packed the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery – about 80% of capacity – and watched a pretty mediocre Bowling Green team take down the South Alabama Jaguars who end the year with a below-.500 record. The Nevada Wolf Pack lost 16-3 to the Ragin’ Cajuns, who scored three field goals en route to fourth straight New Orleans Bowl win. One more fun stat for you from Day 1: Utah throttled Colorado State 45-10. With the win, the Utes are now 13-4 all-time in bowl games, the best winning percentage among all current FBS programs with at least 15 bowl appearances.

The Miami Beach Bowl packed a punch

I was going to insert a photo from the brawl, but I’m not actually a huge fan of sports fights like this. If you want to see what happened, click here.

HA SEE WHAT I DID THERE GUYS. This game may end up being remembered for the brawl at the end, but let’s take a look at some notable stats and figures from Memphis’ 45-38 win in double overtime over BYU.

  • Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch finished with a line of 24-of-46 for 306 yards, 4 passing touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had 13 carries for 38 yards and three touchdowns. His four TD throws and three TD runs make him the first FBS player to do that in a game since Clemson’s Tajh Boyd in 2012. That seven combined touchdowns tied the mark set by Keith Price and Geno Smith in 2011-12 for most combined touchdowns in a bowl game.
  • Memphis and BYU combined for 103 points, tying the 2012 Orange Bowl for the third highest scoring bowl game of all-time.
  • This marked Memphis’ first bowl win since the 2005 Motor City Bowl and with the win, the Tigers reached double-digits in the win column for the first time since 1938.
  • BYU is now 0-7 all-time in the state of Florida.
  • Memphis kicker Jake Elliott made a 55-yard field goal in the first overtime to tie the game at 48. Elliott’s FG tied the third-longest in bowl history, and was the longest since Miami’s Greg Cox hit a 58 yarder in the 1988 Orange Bowl.

Oh and then there was a massive brawl that was just horrible. People — don’t punch other people. Don’t do it. But hey, the place was barely 50% full so there’s that.

Marshall scored points

Here’s a shocker — the Thundering Herd put a large number on the board. The first ever Boca Raton Bowl was billed as a battle of two conference champions — Marshall out of Conference USA and Northern Illinois out of the MAC. Marshall did what they’ve done all year which is score a ton of points and their 52-point effort marked their 11th game with at least 40 in a game (tied with Oregon for most such games in FBS). Rakeem Cato had his 46th straight game with a touchdown pass, tying Central Washington’s Mike Reilly for the most in NCAA history, and his 40th touchdown pass of the season tied a school record.

Contrast on Christmas Eve

There were two games the day before Christmas — one was pretty solid and the other was pretty awful. I’ll get the awful one out of the way by saying that Rice beat Fresno State 30-6, meaning the Bulldogs end the year with a 6-8 record. The inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl was a different story altogether. Western Kentucky was coming off a 67-66 overtime win over Marshall in their last game of the regular season and they picked up right where they left off. The Hilltoppers entered the final quarter with a 49-14 lead — only to see the Chippewas rattle off five unanswered touchdowns, including one of the crazier plays you’ll ever see. You can click here to view the hail mary/lateral-fest that Central Michigan pulled off, but here’s how it goes down in the boxscore:

Cooper Rush pass complete to Jesse Kroll for 48 yds to the WKent 27 (caught at the WKent 29), lateral to Deon Butler for 10 yds to the WKent 17, lateral to Courtney Williams for 2 yds to the WKent 15, lateral to Titus Davis for 15 yds for a TD (Two-Point Pass Conversion Failed)

Yep, Dan Enos went for two and failed, meaning one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory was all for naught. That said, this game is also worthy of a few statistical notes.

  • The two quarterbacks – Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush and Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty – combined for 979 PASSING YARDS AND 12 TOUCHDOWN PASSES.
  • Rush doubled his previous career high of three touchdown passes by throwing for six in this one. Moreover, five of them came in the final 12 minutes of the game. Here’s one example of how incredible that is — there are 40 different FBS teams that haven’t thrown five touchdown passes in the fourth quarter all season. Among those 40 are high-powered offenses like Baylor and TCU.
  • Central Michigan’s 34 points in the 4th quarter are the second most in a quarter in bowl history — but the most ever in a quarter by a team who lost their bowl game.
  • Western Kentucky’s last two games? 230 points and 2,699 combined. Doughty alone has 977 yards and 13 touchdowns. Incredible.

Illinois is bad

The Fighting Illini end their 2014 season with a record of 6-7. They gave up 35 points to Louisiana Tech — though to be fair, the Bulldogs are no strangers to putting up big numbers.

Nittany Lions victorious as Pinstripe Bowl didn’t disappoint

No. 15 Arizona State beat Duke 36-31 on Saturday the 27th in the first game featuring a ranked team in seven days, but the most notable bowl in a week was the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Tied at seven points apiece going into the half, this thing got exciting down the stretch. BC entered with the No. 16 rushing offense in the country and they didn’t disappoint in the Bronx as Jon Hilliman and Tyler Murphy combined for 253 rushing yards and two TDs. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg made sure his Nittany Lions wouldn’t be denied however, as he set PSU bowl records for completions (34), attempts (50), and passing yards (371) while tying school bowl records for longest touchdown pass (72 yards) and passing touchdowns (four). Because of a missed extra point in overtime, Penn State left New York victorious as 49,012 fans most of whom were supporting PSU, cheered on their Nittany Lions.

USC’s Holiday Bowl win provides great nightcap to action-packed day

Steve Sarkisian, left, Cody Kessler, and the USC Trojans played out a thrilling Holiday Bowl as they defeated Nebraska 45-42. Photo credit to Donald Miralle/Getty Images.

Steve Sarkisian, left, Cody Kessler, and the USC Trojans played out a thrilling Holiday Bowl as they defeated Nebraska 45-42. Photo credit to Donald Miralle/Getty Images.

I thought this thing was going to be over early as USC used big plays to go up 31-17 a few minutes into the third quarter. The Trojans remained up two touchdowns with less than a minute til the fourth period began — and then Nebraska put up 15 unanswered points in less than 10 minutes. It wasn’t over until USC’s stud WR Nelson Agholor knocked down an end-of-game hail mary by Tommy Armstrong Jr. and when it was all said and done, both USC’s Cody Kessler (23-of-39 for 321 yards and 3 TDs) and Nebraska’s Armstrong (32-of-51 for 381 yards and 3 TDs) had put up big games. The greatest performance may have come from USC freshman Adoree’ Jackson who had a 98-yard kick return touchdown as well as a 71 yard catch-and-run for a TD as USC defeated Nebraska 45-42.

Six “Power 5” conference teams produce a 3-game post-NFL hangover

On Monday, December 29, there were three bowl games on the docket and all six teams were “Power 5” conference members. None of the three games were memorable, and two were absolute duds. One of those duds saw Charlie Strong’s Texas Longhorns get demolished 30-7 by Arkansas and end their season with a record of 6-7. The other “dud” saw another former Southwest conference member go down as No. 17 Clemson beat Oklahoma 40-6. Oh and Oklahoma was the No. 4 team in the preseason poll, so that worked out well.

The SEC got brought down to earth — sort of

If you couldn’t tell, this was proceeding in a mostly chronological order as I broke down what I found significant, but I also wanted to be sure to look at things from a categorical or storyline-based standpoint, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the SEC. Much debate has been generated in recent days and weeks about whether or not the SEC was significantly overrated – especially after Alabama’s loss to Ohio State – but I think there’s a few key conclusions that need to be addressed here.

  • The SEC finished the bowl season with a record of 7-5, two games above .500.
    • However, two of those seven wins came against teams that ended their season with records below .500 and the five losses came with an average margin of defeat of 13.4 points or two touchdowns.
  • It was generally accepted that the SEC West was much better than the SEC East this year. Problem: the SEC East was 5-0 in their bowl games while the West was 2-5 in theirs.
  • Remember how at one point in time there were four teams – all from the SEC West – in the CFP Rankings? On Oct. 19, both Mississippi schools and both Alabama schools were among the Top 5 — and all four lost their bowl games.

The problem with all this is that we are now evaluating conferences based solely on the performance of their teams in bowl games, which doesn’t feel like a fair enough barometer. Moreover, comparing, ranking, and evaluating conferences in any manner is next to impossible — in any sport. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that next year, we may be a bit slower to throw teams from the SEC that aren’t the Crimson Tide into the Top 5 without further discernment.

New Year’s Eve fails to disappoint — unless you live in the state of Mississippi

The Mississippi State Bulldogs were - in a word - crushed. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets helped put the exclamation point on a bad day for college football in Mississippi. Photo credit to Lynne Sladky and the AP.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs were – in a word – crushed. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets helped put the exclamation point on a bad day for college football in Mississippi. Photo credit to Lynne Sladky and the AP.

The first half of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games took place on December 31 and featured six teams all in the Top 20. After being snubbed by the selection committee, the Horned Frogs of TCU came out and annihilated Ole Miss. This one was over quickly after Bo Wallace threw two picks in the first quarter and TCU outscored Ole Miss 14-0 in each of the first three quarters. Also key for the Horned Frogs was their success defending the run as they held Ole Miss to nine rushing yards, the lowest for the Rebels since a 2005 loss to LSU. The second game of the day saw Boise State do Boise State things like win the Fiesta Bowl for the third time, remaining undefeated in the game despite entering as underdogs on each occasion. Broncos senior RB Jay Ajayi ran for 134 yards and three TDs to end his career with school records in rushing yards (1,823) and rushing touchdowns (28). The nightcap was also highly anticipated as it saw former No. 1 Mississippi State taking on a Georgia Tech squad that runs the triple option offense very well. The Bulldogs were very much in the game at the half as they trailed 21-20, and at the end of the game their star QB Dak Prescott had thrown for a Capital One Bowl record 453 yards on 33-of-51 and three touchdowns. But in between, Georgia Tech rattled off three unanswered touchdowns to start the second half and two Yellow Jackets finished the game with more than 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Speaking of Capital One Bowl records, Georgia Tech ran for a total of 452 yards and six touchdowns, both new high-water marks for the game.

2015 opens with exciting day of bowl games highlighted by B1G success

The Michigan State Spartans were one of three Big Ten teams celebrating on New Year's Day. Photo credit to Sarah Glenn/Getty Images.

The Michigan State Spartans were one of three Big Ten teams celebrating on New Year’s Day. Photo credit to Sarah Glenn/Getty Images.

If the SEC is somehow a loser in the bowl season, the Big Ten conference are surely winners — despite their 5-5 mark in bowl games. All five of the games on January 1 provided some level of excitement and when the day had ended, three Big Ten teams had won, each by no more than seven points. Arguably the most thrilling of all was the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic which saw Michigan State score three touchdowns in the 4th quarter to comeback and beat Baylor. The comeback reached its climax on two plays — a blocked FG with 1:05 remaining in the 4th, and a 10-yard touchdown pass by MSU’s Connor Cook with :17 seconds left. The final TD pass was even more remarkable as Cook completed only two of his final seven passes. Despite the loss, Baylor’s stud QB Bryce Petty threw for 550 yards as part of a 603-yard passing effort from Baylor, the most ever in a bowl game. After Ohio State’s thrilling win over Alabama, all the talk was centered around two things — was the SEC overrated this season, and was the Big Ten underrated.

The Unnecessary Hangover

Six non-CFP bowl games took place after the Sugar Bowl, and I’ll start by owning the fact that my Huskies got owned themselves in a game that wasn’t incredibly entertaining to watch. A lot of long reviews by the officials, some ugly plays, but no excuses — the Huskies lost by eight, 30-22 to Oklahoma State. These last six games though bring me to one of my last points — the games that didn’t need to be played. You see, I love college football and will watch almost any bowl game. But even I was burned out by the end and it’s hard to get too excited for, well, let me just dive into it (in chronological order):

This was the best example I could find (without looking hard) of the fact that no one was at Ford Field for the Quick Lane Bowl. Other than, obviously, this insane Rutgers fan. Photo credit to Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

This was the best example I could find (without looking hard) of the fact that no one was at Ford Field for the Quick Lane Bowl. Other than, obviously, this insane Rutgers fan. Photo credit to Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

  • Raycom Media Camelia Bowl. Neither South Alabama nor Bowling Green had any place in a bowl game. Allegedly 20,000 people showed up and the game drew a 0.7 rating and only 1.11 million viewers, making it the lowest rated of all the bowls. Did I mention South Alabama ends their season with a losing record? New decree: if you end your season with a losing record, you had no business in a bowl game in the first place.
  • Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl. This thing was ugly — and let’s follow up on the decree here. Heck, let’s call it “Dylan’s Law of Bowl Participant Ineptitude.” With a 30-6 loss to Rice, Fresno State ends their year at 6-8. That’s a failure. Oh and the Hawaii Bowl was barely half full (an announced attendance of 25,365). I would be astonished by the 1.3 rating, but it was Christmas Eve and there ain’t any other sports on, so it’s whatever.
  • Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. Illinois? 6-7. Failure. Louisiana Tech? Sorry, but even I know most people don’t care about a team from Conference USA with five losses. The Cotton Bowl was allegedly more than half full, but the 1.5 TV rating was the lowest of any game from December 26 forward.
  • Quick Lane Bowl. Part of the problem with these attendance figures I’m citing – courtesy of FBSchedules.com, by the way – is that they are using announced attendance figures and not a count of actual butts-in-seats. There’s nothing they can really do about that as it’s a problem facing all sports attendance records, but for those of us who seek some level of ultimate accuracy, it’s always going to be a problem. I say all that to tell you that Ford Field was allegedly 36% full. That’s less than 25,000 people in an NFL stadium to watch UNC fall to 6-7 on the year and a mediocre Rutgers team somehow score 40 points.
  • Everything that happened after January 1. Which is to say that some all of these games should have been played prior to January 1. I wanted to argue that at least one of these games shouldn’t have happened, but for various reasons I’d agree they were all pretty solid.

Houston Cougars pull off miracle comeback

David Gibbs served as Houston's interim head coach for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl and his players doused him in celebration following the comeback win. Photo credit to Sarah Glenn/Getty Images.

David Gibbs served as Houston’s interim head coach for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl and his players doused him in celebration following the comeback win. Photo credit to Sarah Glenn/Getty Images.

I wasn’t able to watch this game as I was driving down to Oregon to visit family, but I did listen to a portion of it in the car. Those that did watch saw the largest comeback ever in a bowl game that didn’t go to overtime. The Pittsburgh Panthers led 31-6 behind ACC offensive player of the year James Conner (21 carries for 90 yards and two TDs) with 14 minutes remaining. Houston would recover two onside kicks and find the endzone on a two-point conversion with less than a minute remaining as they scored 22 unanswered points in the final four minutes of the game and went on to win 35-34.

I’m not saying anything about the GoDaddy Bowl. Apparently more than a million people tuned into that one. Allen Bestwick was on the call which I still think is cool. It was also ridiculously high scoring. But because it existed, the non-CFP bowl season went out with a thud, not a bang.

Here’s how each conference ended up faring (again, not including the national championship game) courtesy of Fox Sports:

POWER 5 CONFERENCES
Pac-12: 6-2 (wins by Utah, Arizona State, USC, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA)
SEC: 7-5 (wins by South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida)
Big Ten: 5-5 (wins by Rutgers, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State)
ACC: 4-7 (wins by NC State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Georgia Tech)
Big 12: 2-5 (wins by TCU, Oklahoma State)

THE REST
Conference USA: 4-1 (wins by Marshall, Western Kentucky, Rice, Louisiana Tech)
Independents: 2-1 (wins by Navy, Notre Dame)
Sun Belt: 1-2 (win by Louisiana-Lafayette)
American: 2-3 (wins by Memphis, Houston)
Mountain West: 3-4 (wins by Utah State, Air Force, Boise State)
MAC: 2-3 (wins by Bowling Green, Toledo)

Attendance figures courtesy of FBSchedules.com. TV ratings courtesy of Sports Media Watch.

– Dylan

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About Dylan Jenkins

I'm a proud Seattlite currently living in Queens, NY. Outside of sports, I enjoy crime dramas - specifically police procedurals - as well as a wide range of music, everything from Top 40 to Iron & Wine, Bob Dylan & Rogue Wave. I am a cat person, which is to say I'm a human who enjoys felines. I have a tremendous sweet tooth that isn't very discerning, and I refuse to observe a number of unwritten social rules.
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