January 7, 2009

Bowl season produced plenty of winners, losers

There are 33 bowl games down, with one to go: Here's a look at the postseason winners and losers heading into Thursday night's national title game.


Winners

Utah (Sugar Bowl): The Utes were ready to play against Alabama, as evidenced by their jumping out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead. A strong defensive effort made that early lead stand up in a 31-17 victory that gave the Utes further reason to crow that they should be considered for the national title. The Utes had eight sacks and held Alabama to 31 rushing yards to finish unbeaten for the second time in the past five seasons.

Mark Sanchez (Rose Bowl): The USC quarterback picked apart Penn State, going 28-of-35 for 413 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 victory. Penn State had allowed six TD passes in the regular season. Sanchez threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the first half, which ended with the Trojans leading 31-7. His career day could create momentum going into the NFL draft if he decides to leave school early. If he returns to USC, he will be the unquestioned leader for a team that could lose 10 defensive starters.

Colt McCoy (Fiesta Bowl): Texas had trouble running the ball and stopping the run against Ohio State, but McCoy made sure the Longhorns didn't lose. He threw for 414 yards, completing 69.5 percent of his attempts, and two touchdowns as Texas prevailed 24-21. His second TD pass was a winning 26-yarder to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds remaining.

Pat White (Meineke Car Care Bowl): He became the first quarterback in NCAA history to lead his team to four bowl wins as a starting quarterback. His WVU finale saw him throw for 332 yards and three TDs and rush for 55 more yards in a 31-30 victory over North Carolina. It was the first 300-yard passing game of his career, and his 387 total yards was the second-highest total of his career, behind only the 424 yards he put up against Pitt in 2006.

Jordan Jefferson (Chick-fil-A Bowl): LSU's freshman quarterback had a strong performance in the Tigers' blowout win over what had been a hot Georgia Tech team. Jefferson looked poised and threw the ball well, lessening the worries that LSU's offense again will be a mess next season.

Donald Brown (International Bowl): Connecticut's star tailback put an impressive capper on his college career by running for 261 yards and a touchdown in the Huskies' 38-20 victory over Buffalo. As usual, he provided the bulk of UConn's offense. The Huskies completed just four passes for 49 yards.

TCU (Poinsettia Bowl): The Horned Frogs proved defense can win bowl games. TCU's defense led the way in a 17-16 victory over previously unbeaten Boise State. TCU held Boise State to 250 total yards, including 28 rushing. The victory further established the Mountain West as the king of the non-"Big Six" conferences.

Vanderbilt (Music City Bowl): The upset of Boston College was not a thing of beauty 200 yards of offense in a 16-14 victory but it doesn't matter to the Commodores. They finished 7-6, the school's first winning record since 1982. Not so coincidentally, that was the last time Vandy went to a bowl game. Coach Bobby Johnson has made Vandy a team that other SEC schools have to worry about, and the bowl win over the ACC runner-up was further proof.

Gartrell Johnson III (New Mexico Bowl): He toiled in anonymity for his four seasons at Colorado State, but he went out with a bang. Johnson rushed for 285 yards and two touchdowns and had 90 yards on five receptions in a 40-35 victory over Fresno State. His 77-yard touchdown run with 1:46 left sealed the victory for the Rams.

Rice (Texas Bowl): The Owls pounded Western Michigan 38-14 to finish off just the second 10-win season in school history. The first came in 1949, when the Owls went 10-1 and won the Cotton Bowl. This season, they finished 10-3 and set a school record with 537 points.

Jeremiah Masoli (Holiday Bowl): Masoli moved from third string to the starting role and developed as the season went on before breaking out in the Holiday Bowl. He rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 258 yards and a score in a 42-31 victory over Oklahoma State. The performance should give him a leg up if the position battle reopens when Nate Costa and Justin Roper are healthy.

Jimmy Clausen (Hawaii Bowl): The Notre Dame quarterback finally looked like the player who was ranked No. 1 in the recruiting class of 2007 in a rare Irish bowl win, over Hawaii. Clausen was 22-of-26 for 401 yards with five touchdowns in a demolition of the Warriors. Clausen will need more performances like that in '09 to save Charlie Weis' job.

Hakeem Nicks (Meineke Car Care Bowl) and Kenny Britt (Papajohns.com Bowl): The receivers could turn big bowl performances into NFL paydays after each declared early for the draft. Nicks, from North Carolina, caught eight passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns and turned in one of the best plays of bowl season with a behind-the-back, one-handed catch in a loss to West Virginia. Britt, from Rutgers, caught six passes for 119 yards and a touchdown in a victory over NC State.

Ole Miss (Cotton Bowl): Houston Nutt's Rebels surprised more than a few people by going 9-4 this season, and they finished strong by strolling past Texas Tech 47-34 in Dallas. The Rebels' defense was solid all season and kept Texas Tech off-balance with a variety of blitzes. The victory gives the Rebels who beat Florida and whose four losses were by a total of 19 points a ton of momentum heading into the offseason.


Losers

Big Ten (various bowls): Hmmm maybe the perception that the Big Ten was slow and not that good was actually reality. The Big Ten finished 1-6 in the postseason, with the only win coming by Iowa over South Carolina. Penn State (to USC), Minnesota (to Kansas) and Wisconsin (to Florida State) were hammered by comparable "Big Six" foes. Ironically, Ohio State may have garnered the most praise for its bowl performance and it lost to Texas in the Fiesta.

Andre Smith: Alabama's offensive tackle has a big payday ahead of him in the NFL, but his final month with the Crimson Tide marred his college career. Alabama suspended him for the Sugar Bowl, reportedly for improper contact between Smith or his family and an agent. Alabama clearly missed Smith, the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's best interior lineman. Utah sacked John Parker Wilson eight times on the way to a 31-17 win.

Mike Leach: The Cotton Bowl solidified the stereotype that Leach's Texas Tech teams can't handle a good defense or can't play enough defense to win a game when the offense struggles. Graham Harrell was under pressure for the entire game and Michael Crabtree caught only four passes. Ole Miss, meanwhile, racked up 515 yards, returned an interception for a touchdown and forced a safety.

Georgia Tech (Chick-fil-A Bowl): The Yellow Jackets were coming in off some impressive late-season victories, including rallying past Georgia in the regular-season finale. But even though they basically were playing a home game in the bowl, they were trounced by LSU. The offense was shut down and the defense was overrun. Other than that

Pittsburgh's offensive coaches (Sun Bowl): The most dismal performance in a bowl game was by Pitt's offense. The Panthers held Oregon State, playing without the Rodgers brothers, to a second-quarter field goal. Trouble is, Pitt's offense didn't score. Pitt's quarterbacks were 9-of-27 for 89 yards and were sacked five times. Thanks to the inept passing game, star running back LeSean McCoy was ineffective.

Boise State (Poinsettia Bowl): TCU put to rest any talk of Boise State belonging in a BCS game by spoiling the Broncos' undefeated season with a 17-16 victory. Boise State's loss also knocked the WAC down a peg or two. After going 2-5 against the Mountain West during the regular season, the WAC lost its two matchups against the MWC during bowl season.

BYU (Las Vegas Bowl): The Cougars finished 10-3, but those three losses came to the three best teams they played and they came by a combined 59 points, including a 10-point setback to a five-loss Arizona team in the postseason. The offensive line had trouble with legitimate defensive lines, and the defense had problems stopping anybody in the second half of the season.

Steve Spurrier (Outback Bowl): At what point does Spurrier's stint at South Carolina start to harm his legacy? South Carolina fell 31-10 to Iowa and never really was in the game. The Gamecocks ended the season on a three-game losing streak in which they were outscored 118-30. South Carolina quarterbacks were 25-of-49 with three interceptions against the Hawkeyes and Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley return next season.

Minnesota (Insight Bowl): The Golden Gophers started 7-1 but finished 7-6 after a 42-21 loss to Kansas. Minnesota was 1-11 in 2007 in Tim Brewster's first season and were one of the "nice" stories early this season. But the second half of the season tempered some of the enthusiasm.

Robert Marve (Emerald Bowl sort of): He started 11 games at quarterback for Miami, but he was suspended for the Emerald Bowl and ended up seeking permission to transfer. Miami is 90th nationally in total offense at 326.0 yards per game. UM gained less than that (313) in the bowl, but coach Randy Shannon still said Jacory Harris who started the Emerald Bowl would open spring drills as the starting quarterback.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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