Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk is one of the top players to watch Saturday at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine

Another memorable bowl season is in the books, and top performers stood out across the college football landscape. Teams dominated, players excelled and even a couple of positional units controlled their respective game.

We’re recapping the best of the bunch, highlighting the figures that provided a major impact in bowl season. Though final result affected the choices, a few losing efforts demanded a place despite the team falling short.

Alabama defense

In the final named bowl of the season, Alabama rode a dominant defense past Clemson. The Crimson Tide surrendered just 188 yards while collecting five sacks in the 24-6 victory. The key sequence of Alabama’s Sugar Bowl win occurred early in the third quarter after Jalen Hurts fumbled an exchange. Clemson could’ve evened the score with a touchdown, but the defense held the Tigers to a field goal. After that, Da’Ron Payne intercepted a pass that set up his own receiving score, and Mack Wilson had a pick-six on Clemson’s next drive. Alabama would’ve struggled to put away the defending champions had the defense not taken over.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

Toledo arrived in the Dollar General Bowl as one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, yet Appalachian State completely shut down the Rockets. Most impressively, only two drives crossed midfield and the Mountaineers never allowed Toledo to reach the red zone. The Rockets sputtered to 146 yards, shattering a previous season-low mark of 316 yards. Jalin Moore paced App State with 125 rushing yards and three scores, and the offense turned three takeaways into 14 points. The Mountaineers cruised to a 34-0 win.

Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona

Yes, Khalil Tate threw a late interception that effectively ended the Foster Farms Bowl. However, Arizona wouldn’t even have been in position for a game-winning drive without a career-best performance as a passer from the dual-threat quarterback. Best known for his dynamic ability as a runner, Tate eclipsed the 300-yard mark through the air for the first time in his career. The sophomore threw five touchdowns, highlighted by a go-ahead score with 3:21 remaining in regulation. Tate will be a popular preseason Heisman Trophy candidate in 2018.

Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State

Other than a bizarre sequence late in the second quarter, Boise State controlled Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Cedrick Wilson was a major part of that 38-28 victory, which didn’t feel as close as the final score indicates. The senior wideout hauled in 10 passes for a personal-best 221 yards. He scored a 26-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and his 41-yard reception on a third down late in the fourth quarter dashed Oregon’s minimal hopes for a comeback. The career-high effort helped Wilson break the school record for single-season receiving yards.

Central Florida Knights

What did UCF do well against Auburn in the Peach Bowl? At various moments, everything. McKenzie Milton encountered an inefficient start, but his mobility kept the offense dangerous while the defense supported the team. And shortly after Auburn scored on consecutive drives to begin the third quarter, Milton and Co. responded with a pair of touchdowns to regain the lead. Chequan Burkett provided the game-winning score with his pick-six, and Antwan Collier sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone. UCF sent Scott Frost to Nebraska on a perfect note, concluding the season with a 13-0 record.

Florida Atlantic Owls

Lane Kiffin took a 3-9 team and turned it into a powerhouse. Florida Atlantic closed the campaign on a 10-game winning streak, wrapping up 2017 with a 50-3 demolition of Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl. Star running back Devin Singletary posted 124 yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback Jason Driskel accounted for 337 yards and four scores in the blowout. Additionally, the Owls surrendered a mere 146 yards of total offense and held Akron to a 3-of-17 mark on third and fourth downs combined. Kiffin, who signed a 10-year contract, might make FAU a dynasty in Conference USA.

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

His fourth-quarter fumble almost ruined Georgia, but Sony Michel responded with a play sure to grace Georgia highlight reels for many years. In double overtime at the Rose Bowl, the senior sprinted past the Oklahoma defense for the game-winning 27-yard touchdown. It capped a mostly stellar day for Michel, who shredded the Sooners for a personal-best 181 rushing yards. He registered four catches for 41 yards, too. Michel scored four times in the 54-48 triumph, launching the Bulldogs to a showdown with Alabama in the national championship.

Alex Delton, QB, Kansas State

Skylar Thompson started at quarterback, but he struggled in the opening half of the Cactus Bowl. Alex Delton scampered 68 yards to the house on his first touch of the game and eventually took over behind center for the Wildcats. In the second half, the sophomore guided four touchdown drives to lift Kansas State out of a 17-7 hole and dispatch UCLA 35-17. Delton rushed for a career-high 158 yards while matching his personal best of three scores on the ground. He also completed seven of his 10 passes for 52 yards and a score.

Mark McLaurin, S, Mississippi State

Mark McLaurin had a habit of being in the perfect spot. The junior safety picked off three Lamar Jackson passes during the TaxSlayer Bowl. McLaurin’s first interception led to a field goal, and his second takeaway resulted in Mississippi State’s game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter. And with the Bulldogs holding a slim 31-27 lead, he snatched his third pick to end a Louisville drive that had crossed midfield. McLaurin might never forget the time he was a Heisman Trophy winner’s worst nightmare.

Navy Midshipmen

Virginia returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. After that, it was all Navy in the Military Bowl. Malcolm Perry gathered 114 yards and two scores on the ground before leaving with an injury, and Chris High also topped the century mark for the Mids. Zach Abey powered his way to 88 yards and five touchdowns while contributing as a running back and quarterback. Navy didn’t even complete a pass in the 49-7 win, but the defense made sure there wasn’t a need. The unit limited Virginia to 175 yards of total offense, forcing three turnovers along the way.

Ohio State defensive line

Sep 3, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard (6) rushes the quarterback during the first half against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 77-10. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Darnold spent much of his night trying to escape pressure from a relentless Ohio State front. The Buckeyes racked up a season-best 14 tackles for loss in the Cotton Bowl win, limiting USC to just seven points. Sam Hubbard accounted for 2.5 of Ohio State’s eight sacks, and Nick Bosa chipped in 1.5. Damon Webb recovered a fumble and returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown. Additionally, the defense twice knocked the ball away from Darnold to stall USC drives that had reached scoring territory. It was a dominant effort from an outstanding unit.

Elijah Sindelar, QB, Purdue

Not only did Elijah Sindelar guide Purdue to an exciting Foster Farms Bowl win over Arizona, he accomplished it on a torn ACL. The injury only makes his performance more impressive. Sindelar, who played most of November with the knee issue, completed 33-of-53 passes for career-high marks of 396 yards and four touchdowns. He tossed the game-winning score to Anthony Mahoungou with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Sindelar helped Purdue earn its seventh season victory and a bowl triumph for the first time since 2011.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny ended a stellar senior campaign on a bittersweet note. San Diego State fell to Army 42-35 in the Armed Forces Bowl, but the running back put together his fifth consecutive 200-yard showing. Penny collected 221 yards on just 14 carries. He tallied four touchdowns, most notably the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Penny, two interceptions and Army’s gutsy late two-point conversion resulted in an Aztecs loss. Nevertheless, he set a school record with 2,248 rushing yards and tied a program mark with 23 touchdowns.

Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida

Texas Tech and South Florida traded scores for the entire game, but Quinton Flowers provided the winning edge in the Birmingham Bowl. During the fourth quarter, he accounted for three touchdowns and lifted USF to a thrilling 38-34 win. The dual-threat senior amassed 311 yards and four scores as a passer, including the decisive 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds remaining. Flowers also scampered for 106 yards to break the school record for career rushing. The electric three-year starter will leave a massive void in the USF offense.

Michael Dickson, P, Texas

Usually a punter is only mentioned as a possible game MVP when everything else goes horribly wrong for a team. Michael Dickson, however, merited the honor in a 33-16 Texas Bowl triumph. The NFL-bound punter averaged a season-low 41.1 yards yet hardly could’ve done better. He pinned Missouri inside the 15-yard line on 10 of his 11 punts, inside the 10 seven times and inside the five-yard line on four kicks. Missouri played the entire game at a massive field-position disadvantage, making Dickson an extremely worthy MVP on a winning team.

Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Texas A&M lost to Wake Forest, but Christian Kirk wasn’t to blame. In his final college game, the standout receiver set career-high marks across the board. He pulled in 13 catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns, propelling the Aggies to 52 points in the Belk Bowl. Kirk’s 52-yard score in the second quarter sparked a 41-10 run, during which he added the other two touchdowns. Kirk, who chipped in 16 punt-return yards, is leaving Texas A&M as one of the most prolific receivers in program history.

Utah defense

Yes, West Virginia didn’t have quarterback Will Grier. His replacement couldn’t do anything on Utah’s defense, though. The Utes allowed a meager 10 completions on 30 pass attempts and snagged two interceptions. Even excluding two sacks for 10 yards, West Virginia mustered 39 yards on 19 runs. Utah forced eight three-and-outs during the 30-14 triumph in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, holding the Mountaineers to 153 yards of total offense. Only Appalachian State and FAU allowed fewer yards this bowl season.

John Wolford, QB, Wake Forest

In the highest-scoring game of the postseason, John Wolford propelled Wake Forest to a 55-52 win over Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl. The quarterback capped a terrific senior year with a 400-yard, four-touchdown performance through the air. He didn’t throw an interception and added 68 yards on the ground. Wolford led a pair of go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning possession with less than three minutes remaining. Wake Forest finished the campaign with eight victories, the most at the school since 2008.

Danny Davis III, WR, Wisconsin

Miami defensive backs continually failed to turn their head when the ball was in the air, and Danny Davis III made the Hurricanes pay. The freshman wideout pulled in five catches for 56 yards and three touchdowns, helping Wisconsin recover from a 14-3 deficit and earn a 34-24 victory. Davis iced the Orange Bowl triumph with his six-yard score in the fourth quarter. Alex Hornibrook played arguably the best game of his career, but Davis (and teammate A.J. Taylor) constantly created separation once the ball was on the air to defeat Miami in its home stadium.

Wyoming defense

To even wish for eight takeaways in a game seems ridiculous, yet Wyoming accomplished the stunning mark in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl opposite Central Michigan. The Cowboys intercepted four passes and recovered four fumbles, turning those takeaways into 23 points. That defensive effort backed up a hot start from quarterback Josh Allen to give Wyoming a 37-14 win. Carl Granderson made the most notable play with a 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown, and the Pokes ended the season ranked No. 1 nationally in total takeaways.

David Kenyon
Writer for Sportsnaut and Bleacher Report, mostly covering college football as well as the NFL, NBA and college basketball.