With nine college football bowl games on the schedule Friday and Saturday before New Year’s Eve, there was plenty to digest ahead of the College Football Playoff.
New Mexico State needed overtime to win its first bowl game in 57 years. Ohio State made a big statement against USC. Saquon Barkley was magnificent, and so was Trace McSorley. But the same cannot be said for Lamar Jackson and San Darnold in possibly their final college football games.
We’ll dive into these stories and more looking at the biggest winners and losers from the weekend’s bowl games.
Winner: New Mexico State breaks 57-year bowl drought with OT win
You knew it wasn’t going to be easy for New Mexico State to win Friday against Utah State. After all, the Aggies hadn’t even been eligible for a bowl game since 1960. They won six games this year to qualify for the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl, which was, by itself, a huge accomplishment.
Thanks to the overtime exploits of Larry Rose III, who scored from 21 yards out to win the game, the Aggies were treated to the glorious sight of their fans storming the field.
“I’m just thrilled for these kids and this community,” New Mexico State coach Doug Martin said after the game, per the Associated Press. “Just look at these fans who showed up here. This is an unbelievable day for us.”
In addition to his game-winning touchdown, Rose III was the all-around star the Aggies needed all game long. He finished with 180 total yards and the touchdown, capping off what was a magical day for the program.
Loser: Music City Bowl ref Chris Coyte should be ashamed of himself
To say the Music City Bowl was a poorly officiated game would be an understatement of epic proportions. It was atrocious. Both teams got shafted by the referees, but nobody got shafted more than Kentucky running back Benny Snell.
During the second quarter of the game, Snell was on the ground when referee Chris Coyte went to help him get up. Snell wasn’t having it, wanting to get up under his own power, and he rejected Coyte. That didn’t sit well with the ref, who ejected Snell for what he later said was initiating contact with an official. If you’ve seen the replays, then you know that’s a dung heap of lies. Coyte initiated the exchange, and Snell simply didn’t want to accept his “help.”
Not only did Coyte make a monumental error in judgement during the game, his version of events after the game was reprehensible.
Winner: J.T. Barrett caps off his collegiate career in style
Playing in the final game of his college football career, J.T. Barrett — a guy who it seems has been at Ohio State for the past decade — was tremendous. Going up against a very good USC defense, Barett played within himself and the construct of the offense, rather than pressing to make big plays. It helped his cause that the Trojans turned the ball over four times, but players still have to execute.
Barrett finished with just 114 yards on 11-of-17 passing. But he added another 66 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, which proved to be enough to propel the Buckeyes to victory.
Along the way, the senior quarterback also passed the great Drew Brees for most total yards in a career in the Big Ten. Earlier this season, Barrett passed Brees on the all-time touchdown passes list to finish the season with the conference record of 104.
Loser: Bad play outweighed the good for Lamar Jackson
As usual, Jackson made some jaw-dropping plays Saturday against Mississippi State in the Taxslayer Bowl. He finished with 329 yards and three touchdowns. He also topped his career best with a long run of 75 yards, joined Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick in an exclusive club, and he made Bulldogs look ridiculous on a 13-yard touchdown run (watch here).
Unfortunately, the mistakes Jackson made outweighed anything good he was able to accomplish. Jackson threw four interceptions in the game and put the ball on the ground for a fumble, which thankfully for him was recovered by a teammate. The four interceptions turned into 10 points for the Bulldogs, who won the game by four points, 31-27.
If this was the final collegiate game of Jackson’s career, it’s a shame it had to end on such a sour note. He said after the game he’ll hold off on his decision for a bit, preferring to discuss it with his family and coaches.
Winner: Alex Hornibrook had the best game of his season
One of the reasons we harped on Wisconsin being the worst “top” team in the nation most of 2017 was that Alex Hornibrook is so maddening. He has a tendency to throw the ball to the other team and is wildly inaccurate at times — his 15 interceptions and 61.6 percent completion rate highlight this to a T.
Well, after some early struggles Hornibrook and the Wisconsin passing game exploded Saturday night in the Orange Bowl against Miami. The Hurricanes busted out the turnover chain early after a controversial Jonathan Taylor fumble, but they would not have another opportunity to flaunt it the rest of the night. In fact, it was Wisconsin’s receivers who had a bit of fun with the famed chain, much to Miami’s chagrin.
In the end, Hornibrook put together his best game of the season, passing for 258 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Taylor had a big game, too, but Hornibrook was the engine that drove Wisconsin’s offense, sparking a huge win for the Badgers.
Loser: Sam Darnold turnovers doomed the Trojans
As we’ve witnessed all season long, Darnold was way too careless with the football Friday night in the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State. The Buckeyes were in his face all game long, and we can’t indict the quarterback without also noting his offensive line was less than useful protecting him. Still, too often, Darnold made mistakes that were well within his control, rather than being a product of a poor effort by the offensive line.
In particular, Darnold’s pick-six to Damon Webb was just inexcusable (watch here). The quarterback never saw the defensive back lurking, waiting to pounce as Darnold telegraphed the ball right to his opponent. The two fumbles Darnold lost were also both on him, as he waited too long in the pocket, didn’t sense the pressure or have a timer in his head to signal pressure would certainly arrive.
Ohio State ended up scoring 21 points on Darnold’s turnovers, and 28 total points off USC’s four turnovers. The Trojans never had a chance.
Winner: Trace McSorley was absolutely unstoppable on third downs
Penn State finished its underwhelming season on a very positive note, beating Washington 35-28 in the Fiesta Bowl. Among the top performers was Saquon Barkley, to nobody’s surprise, and he had one of the biggest highlights of the entire weekend early in the second quarter (watch here). Barkley finished with 175 yards and two touchdowns on 25 touches, showing he’s the best pure offensive weapon in the nation.
But as good as Barkley was, we’re actually going to highlight the play of Trace McSorley, who was the biggest difference in the game. Specifically on third downs, McSorley was indomitable. He completed 12-of-12 passes on third downs, going for 193 yards and two touchdowns, both to DaeSean Hamilton, who finished with five catches for 110 yards.
McSorley finished the game with 342 yards and two touchdowns on 32-of-41 passing, and ran for 60 yards on 15 carries. He also threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone, but more than made up for those mistakes with his clutch play down the stretch. Penn State ended up out-gaining the Huskies by more than 200 yards and dominated the time of possession battle, thanks in large part to McSorley’s play on third downs.
Loser: Too many mistakes seal Miami’s fate
First, we have to give a special shout-out to Miami head coach Mark Richt, whose uncharacteristic explosion on the sideline — he’s lucky he wasn’t ejected for laying hands on an official — helped the Badgers score a touchdown before halftime.
Kicker Michael Badgley also deserves a mention. He missed two field goals, including a chip shot in the fourth quarter, that really hurt Miami’s chances.
With those out of the way, it’s time to talk about Malik Rosier, who was really off Saturday night. He was wildly inaccurate throughout the game, finishing with 203 yards on 11-of-26 passing with one touchdown and three interceptions. What’s even more maddening is that the Hurricanes were tremendously successful running the ball with DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer, who combined for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
So at least some of the blame here lies on offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who abandoned the running game in the second half for the most part. And this, despite the fact that until late it was a one-score game.
So, clearly, there is a lot of blame to go around. Miami made way too many mistakes to win the Orange Bowl. Period.
Winner: Kyle Kempt caps off season with big-time game
Iowa State was one of the biggest, most pleasant surprises of the 2017 college football season. Starting with the program’s stunning win over Oklahoma, the Cyclones ended up becoming one of the more dangerous giant killers in the nation, and Kyle Kempt was a big reason the team had success.
A one-time third-stringer (before that Oklahoma game), Kempt ended up heading into the Liberty Bowl against Memphis with nearly 1,500 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Then on Saturday, he outgunned Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson, passing for 314 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Cyclones win by just one point over the high-powered American Athletic team.
It’s really too bad Kempt was such a late bloomer. The senior quarterback has shown no small amount of skill, which leads us to wonder if he has any shot at making a living as a pro quarterback down the line.
Loser: Manny Wilkins saves the worst for last
Even without star pass rusher Bradley Chubb in the lineup, NC State had a big advantage in terms of talent over Arizona State on Friday during the Sun Bowl. The Wolfpack led 28-10 after the first half, despite a rather solid performance by junior Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins.
Unfortunately, Wilkins ended up throwing three second-half interceptions (the most he threw in any single game this year), including two on consecutive drives in the third quarter. Those two helped the Wolfpack turn an 18-point lead into a four-touchdown lead in the relative blink of an eye.
The only way the Sun Devils were going to have a shot at beating their opponent was to play a mistake-free game. That didn’t happen, and they ended up losing in blowout fashion, 52-31.
Winner: Mark McLaurin owned Lamar Jackson
Mississippi State scrapped its way to a 31-27 win over Louisville Saturday in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and junior safety Mark McLaurin had everything to do with the outcome.
Taking advantage of the Bulldogs’ dominance up front — they owned Louisville’s offensive line and had Jackson on the run the entire game — McLaurin came up with three of the four interceptions thrown by Jackson in the game (including the game-sealing pick late in the fourth quarter).
Additionally, McLaurin finished with 11 tackles, one for a loss, and another pass that he broke up. It was just a dream game for the defender, who now has a legendary postseason performance on his resume.
Loser: Self-inflicted wounds declaw the Wildcats
All the ingredients were there. Kentucky had the perfect chance to beat Northwestern in the Music City Bowl, especially after their opponent lost quarterback Clayton Thorson for the game with a brutal knee injury on a trick play in the second quarter.
Unfortunately, Kentucky made two big mistakes that both led to touchdowns for Northwestern. Quarterback Stephen Johnson threw two interceptions, one in the second quarter that led to Northwestern’s first touchdown of the game and one in the middle of the fourth quarter that proved to be the game-winning pick-six to Kyle Queiro.
In a game that was ultimately decided by one point, those mistakes were just too much to overcome.
Winner: John Wolford was magnificent
The Demon Deacons outlasted the Texas A&M Aggies Friday in a high-scoring Belk Bowl, winning 55-52. There were many star performances by players from both teams, but Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford deserves special consideration for what he accomplished leading the victory.
Playing in his final collegiate game, the senior was unstoppable, both on the ground and through the air. He finished with 468 total yards, four passing touchdowns and just one turnover, a lost fumble on a sack late in the third quarter. His counterpart for Texas A&M actually out-gained him but ended up with two turnovers, and Wake Forest ended up winning the turnover battle by one as well.
Loser: Dante Pettis didn’t realize he still had time
Down by a touchdown with 15 seconds left on the clock, from their own 28-yard line, the Washington Huskies had one final shot to tie the game, or potentially win it. Quarterback Jake Browning threw a perfect pass to Aaron Fuller, who successfully executed the hook-and-ladder to Dante Pettis.
Pettis had a ton of running room and then had a chance to go out of bounds around the 45-yard line of Penn State with about five seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately, he wasn’t aware of how much time was left on the clock and attempted a lateral of his own, back to the middle of the field. Only, there were no Huskies there. Just Penn State’s Brandon Smith, who recovered the fumble to end the game (watch here).
It was an agonizing way to end the game for one of the most accomplished players to come out of Washington in years.