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College football bowl takeaways – What we learned from every game

Bowl season is in full swing, and we are breaking down all of it.

Below you’ll find takeaways from every contest as well as game MVPs and the incredible plays and increasingly bizarre celebrations from each game.

At the end of each day, we’ll crown the current MVP of bowl season. Ohio freshman running back Rickey Hunt set the bar pretty high with five touchdowns in the Myrtle Beach Bowl to open bowl season, but after a 22-game reign, we have a new king of the hill. In his first career start, USC quarterback Miller Moss threw for six touchdowns and 372 yards in a 42-28 win over Louisville in the DirecTV Holiday Bowl. Caleb who?

Full schedule | Results

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Duke’s Mayo Bowl: West Virginia 30, North Carolina 10

When the Big 12 unveiled its preseason media poll and slotted West Virginia to finish dead last, coach Neal Brown didn’t hold back.

“It really kind of pissed me off because I really think it’s kind of lazy reporting in some senses,” Brown told ESPN at Big 12 media days in July. “We won’t finish where we’re predicted to finish.”

Brown finished the season Wednesday night doused in mayonnaise, a redemptive reward for a coach who came into the fall feeling some job pressure but left with the highest wins total (nine) in his WVU tenure. Already having invalidated the Big 12’s preseason outlook by tying for fourth in the league, West Virginia thumped North Carolina 30-10 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. The Mountaineers eclipsed eight wins for just the second time since 2011, when they ended a stretch of seven consecutive seasons with nine or more victories.

The Mountaineers excelled in all three phases. They had a 75-yard touchdown pass from Garrett Greene to freshman Traylon Ray on the game’s first play. They recorded two interceptions deep in their own territory, including an insane one-handed pick by junior Tyrin Bradley early in the third quarter, and hounded UNC ball-carriers for six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. They had a 78-yard punt return touchdown by star defensive back Beanie Bishop Jr., and added three Michael Hayes field goals, the last after successfully executing a fake field goal despite a 17-point lead.

North Carolina got an extended look at freshman quarterback Conner Harrell after Drake Maye opted out, and ran the ball decently with Omarion Hampton and others. But the Tar Heels fell well short of expectations, dropping five of their final seven games. — Adam Rittenberg

MVP: Greene, who showed his versatility with 292 total yards (228 passing, a team-high 64 rushing).

Honorable mention: The mayo dumpers!

Virginia Tech was sitting at 1-3 heading into the final Saturday of September earlier this season, and the Hokies’ only win during that stretch was over Old Dominion. It would have been difficult at that point to find anybody in Hokie Nation thinking about the postseason.

But the Hokies, in Brent Pry’s second season, showed their mettle the second half of the season in winning four of their last six games to make a bowl game. It was a similar story Wednesday in the Military Bowl, as Virginia Tech dominated the second half in a 41-20 victory over Tulane in a driving rainstorm. There were nine loose balls in the game, and Virginia Tech came up with three turnovers. But the story of the game was the one-two punch of quarterback Kyron Drones and running back Bhayshul Tuten on the ground. The Tulane defense couldn’t tackle them, as they combined for 312 rushing yards.

The pressure was on Virginia Tech going into the game. Tulane, which won 11 games, was gutted with head coach Willie Fritz leaving to take the Houston job. Quarterback Michael Pratt, the school’s all-time leading passer, opted out to prepare for the NFL draft along with four other starters, and top receiver Chris Brazzell II entered the transfer portal. One of Tulane’s two touchdowns was a fumble return for a touchdown in the game’s first three minutes. After that, Virginia Tech took control of the rain-soaked game.

The win provided some much-needed momentum for Virginia Tech entering the offseason. It was the Hokies’ first winning season since 2019 and their first bowl win since 2016. — Chris Low

MVP: Drones, the Hokies’ 234-pound quarterback, bulldozed his way to a career-high 176 rushing yards and also threw a pair of touchdown passes, the last one a 10-yarder in the fourth quarter to give his team a two-touchdown lead.

Tuesday, Dec. 26

For a moment in the fourth quarter, it seemed like UNLV, which fell behind 28-7 in the second, just might have what it took to pull off a comeback. The Rebels scored a touchdown to make it 35-30 with 12:06 left and went for two to pull within a field goal. Optimism was warranted. Then the ball was snapped — and fumbled. Not much went UNLV’s way the rest of the game.

Kansas scored on touchdown drives of two (61 yards) and three plays (46 yards) on its next two possessions, putting the game away en route to a 49-36 win. Kansas’ nine wins are the most wins the Jayhawks have had since 2007 (12) and third most in more than 50 years.

UNLV’s unwillingness to go quietly meant Jayhawks quarterback Jason Bean got to keep slinging it. Bean finished with six touchdowns passes, which doubles as a Kansas and Big 12 bowl record. He shook off three interceptions and threw for a career-high 449 yards.

It was an entertaining way to cap a resurgent year for both programs. UNLV’s 22-year streak of losing seasons ended, while Kansas had gone 14 seasons without a winning record. — Kyle Bonagura

MVP: Bean finished with 449 passing yards and six touchdown passes, which were split almost evenly between Luke Grimm (4 catches, 160 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Lawrence Arnold (6 catches, 132 yards, 3 touchdowns).

Texas State’s defense came up big with five interceptions in its 45-21 win over Rice, two of which were pick-sixes by linebacker Brian Holloway. Rice quarterback AJ Padgett threw three interceptions, and Shawqi Itraish threw another two in the loss.

The two teams combined for 45 points in a 24-21 first half. Texas State then scored 21 points in the second half to pull away and win big.

It was a game of mistakes for Rice with the five interceptions and a fumbled kick return that led to a turnover. The Rice offense had just 112 passing yards and 85 rushing yards. Texas State made few errors and got a ton of help from the run game and star running back Ismail Mahdi, who had 122 yards on the ground.

Jahmyl Jeter had only eight carries for 36 yards, but he had three of Texas State’s four offensive touchdowns. The Bobcats’ win was an impressive way to finish their 8-5 season. — Tom VanHaaren

MVP: Holloway. The senior recorded two pick-sixes against Rice in an outstanding performance for the Bobcats as he became the first FBS player with multiple pick-sixes in a bowl game over the past 10 seasons.

Big Man TD!: Texas State offensive lineman Nash Jones scored a touchdown for the first time this season, and we can’t get enough of big guy TDs.

Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota 30, Bowling Green 24

The game was tight through the first half with Minnesota holding a 10-9 lead. The Gophers scored 21 points after halftime to take a convincing lead, but Bowling Green scored late in the fourth to pull within six points.

The Gophers won 30-24 to go 6-7 on the season. With Athan Kaliakmanis in the transfer portal, Cole Kramer started at quarterback for Minnesota and completed 8 of 16 passes for only 26 yards but had two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.

Running back Darius Taylor led the Minnesota offense with 208 rushing yards and one touchdown. The Gophers’ defense was able to limit Bowling Green to 82 yards rushing and 221 yards through the air to finish the season on the right foot. — Tom VanHaaren

MVP: Taylor. He made play after play with 35 carries for 208 yards.

Saturday, Dec. 23

Northwestern completed a remarkable season with a win over a tough Utah team, beating the Utes 14-7 to finish 8-5 under first-year head coach David Braun.

It’s one thing to win a bowl game after going 4-20 the previous two seasons, but it’s another behind the story of Braun, who came to Evanston this offseason from North Dakota State to serve as defensive coordinator and was thrust into the head coaching gig after a hazing scandal ended the 17-year tenure of Pat Fitzgerald.

The Wildcats’ hero in this game was another newcomer: Ben Bryant, a castoff from Cincinnati who transferred to Northwestern after the Bearcats’ coaching change, and went 23 of 34 for 222 yards and two touchdowns despite taking punishment from the Utes all evening.

The Wildcats’ defense allowed just 73 passing yards to the Utes, 211 total yards and had five sacks while allowing just 3.2 yards per play. They held Utah scoreless on its first 10 drives of the game, the longest streak to start a game for the Utes in the past 10 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Utah’s Bryson Barnes, the walk-on who famously was a pig farmer growing up and became a cult hero this year, couldn’t find a rhythm, going 8 of 13 for 55 yards and two touchdowns as the Utes finished 8-5. — Dave Wilson

MVP: Quarterback Ben Bryant, Northwestern. Bryant threw for 222 yards and both Northwestern scores.



Coastal Carolina WR makes spectacular one-handed TD grab

Coastal Carolina QB Ethan Vasko lobs the ball into the end zone, where Sam Pinckney hauls in the touchdown with one hand.

After gaining a commanding 17-0 lead in the third quarter, Coastal Carolina nearly allowed San Jose State to leave the island with a comeback victory. Led by quarterback Chevan Cordeiro with 274 all-purpose yards, the Spartans mounted a rally, scoring 14 unanswered points to make it a three-point game with 8:30 to play. But the Chanticleers responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes off the clock and was punctuated by perhaps the best play of bowl season so far. Facing a third down in the red zone, CCU quarterback Ethan Vasko dropped back and slung the ball toward the right corner of the end zone. There, a tightly covered Sam Pinckney rose up and snagged the ball out of the air with one hand. The touchdown, Vasko’s third scoring strike of the night, not only became an instant highlight, it secured the bowl win for the Chanticleers, who finished their 8-5 season on a high note. — Paolo Uggetti

MVP: Wide receiver Sam Pinckney, Coastal Carolina. Pinckney had eight catches for 123 yards and a one-handed touchdown late in the fourth quarter to seal the Chanticleers’ victory.

68 Ventures Bowl: South Alabama 59, Eastern Michigan 10

South Alabama, which began playing football in 2009, had never won a bowl game. But the Jaguars broke through in a big way, crushing Eastern Michigan 59-10, an exclamation point on coach Kane Wommack’s building project in his third year at the helm in Mobile.

South Alabama’s 7-6 season included a 33-7 win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and ended the second winning season in program history since they became members of an FBS conference in 2012, behind last year’s historic 10-2 run. The 59 points were the most scored by the Jaguars. The 49-point margin of victory tied for seventh all time among bowl season blowouts.

The Jaguars didn’t allow a passing yard in the first quarter, allowed just one first down in the first half, and outgained Eastern Michigan, 627 yards to 150. The Jaguars passed for 307 (Gio Lopez went 14 of 19 for 192 yards with three touchdowns) and rushed for 320 (Lopez led all rushers with 88 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries).

The loss dropped Eastern Michigan to a 6-7 finish a season after going 9-4 with just the second bowl win in school history and first since 1987. — Wilson

MVP: The defense, South Alabama. The Jaguars didn’t allow a passing yard and held Eastern Michigan to one first down in the first half and 150 total yards.

After ending the regular season with a four-game slide, Air Force finished strong by beating a JMU team that ranked 24th in the AP Poll.

The Dukes came into their bowl game without head coach Curt Cignetti, who left to head the program at Indiana. A number of injured and transferring defensive starters also made this a shorthanded JMU squad. Air Force (which had transfer departures of its own) took full advantage and showed why they won eight consecutive games to start the season.

Air Force quarterback Zac Larrier, who struggled with injury issues throughout the season and hadn’t played since Nov. 11 against Hawaii, made his return for the Falcons and completed three of five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, while adding 26 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Despite just 45 passing yards on the afternoon, Air Force outgained JMU on offense 396 to 283.

James Madison was missing a number of players, but they did have their star quarterback Jordan McCloud, who finished the game 20-of-33 for 257 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Troy Calhoun’s team has now won three consecutive bowl games, with seven total victories in his tenure, dating back to 2007. — Harry Lyles Jr.

MVP: Running back Emmanuel Michel, Air Force. In a game where the Falcons struggled through the air, Michel ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns.



Georgia State coach gets french fry bath for Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win

Shawn Elliott gets a french fry bath dumped on him as Georgia State wins the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Georgia State knocked off Utah State to earn the fourth bowl victory in school history.

Shawn Elliott’s team came out fast in the first half, highlighted by the ground game. Freddie Brock — playing in place of Marcus Carroll who transferred to Mizzou — had 141 yards rushing in the first half alone. Quarterback Darren Grainger added 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground (and two more in the air) in the half as well, giving the Panthers a 31-14 lead.

Georgia State wouldn’t let Utah State back into the game in the second half. Grainger added another touchdown pass to Cadarrius Thompson in the third quarter to extend the lead to 38-14. Brock added a fourth-quarter touchdown to make it 45-14 and complete his afternoon. He finished with 276 yards on 24 carries after having just six carries for 31 yards coming into the game. Grainger finished the game 19-of-22 for 257 yards and five total touchdowns.

For Utah State, quarterback Levi Williams finished 12-of-21 for 131 yards with one touchdown and one interception. McCae Hillstead also completed 7 of 11 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. — Lyles

MVP: Running back Freddie Brock, Georgia State. Not only did Brock set the school record for most rushing yards in a game, but he ran for 276 yards after getting just six carries for 31 yards all season.

Camellia Bowl: Northern Illinois 21, Arkansas State 19

The Camellia Bowl got off to a quicker start than the Birmingham Bowl, the other game in the early Saturday window. Nearly all of the game’s scoring took place in the first half, and the game’s first punt didn’t come until there was just over a minute remaining in the second quarter. NIU led 21-13 at halftime and then maintained that lead for much of the second half — seven of the first eight drives after halftime ended in punts.

Arkansas State made a push in the last two minutes of the game, scoring a touchdown to make it 21-19 with 1 minute 14 seconds left after Jaylen Raynor connected with Corey Rucker for a 13-yard touchdown. But the Red Wolves failed to convert on the two-point attempt and were forced to line up for an onside kick, which they recovered. A flag was thrown for an offsides penalty, even though replay did not clearly show any of the Arkansas State players lined up past the 35-yard line. Arkansas State head coach Butch Jones was livid.

But that call effectively iced the game. On the re-kick, Northern Illinois recovered and subsequently ran out the clock. — Lyles

MVP: Running back Antario Brown, Northern Illinois. Brown ran for 132 yards on 25 carries.

Duke got the best of Troy in a matchup of two teams being led by interim coaches. Troy’s Jon Sumrall and Duke’s Mike Elko left for Tulane and Texas A&M, respectively, after the regular season.

Duke running back Jaylen Coleman got the game going after the two teams traded off the first five drives scoreless, punching in a 1-yard run to cap off a drive that went for seven plays and 64 yards.

After a string of punts, field goals, and turnovers on downs, Troy’s Damaje Yancey gave the game a second wind in the fourth quarter with the Trojans down 17-3, intercepting Grayson Loftis while Duke was in the red zone 13. The Troy offense then marched down the field on a 10-play, 87-yard drive –finished by a 2-yard Derrick Graham touchdown run — to make it a 17-10 game.

Troy had 14 comeback wins going back to last season, but they didn’t have one more left in them. After stopping Duke and getting the ball back with just under two minutes left, Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson threw an interception to Jeremiah Lewis to seal the win for the Blue Devils.

The win gave Duke bowl victories in consecutive years for the first time since the 2017 and 2018 seasons. They’ll enter a new era under Manny Diaz on a positive note. — Lyles

MVP: Running back Jaquez Moore, Duke. Moore ran for 73 yards on 14 carries.

Friday, Dec. 22

In the run-up to the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl, Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key insisted this was simply an ending to the 2023 season, a way to send out his seniors on a high note and ensure the Yellow Jackets their first winning record since 2018. All of that, of course, was true. But given the number of players returning for the Jackets — just two in the portal so far, and no opt-outs for the bowl — it’s also easy to see how Georgia Tech’s 30-17 win over UCF on Friday could be a harbinger for things to come, too.

Haynes King combined for 176 yards of offense and two touchdowns. Jamal Hayes had 128 yards on 18 carries. Malik Rutherford’s 41-yard touchdown grab was one of the game’s highlights. And the Jackets’ D held UCF without a rushing touchdown, something Key’s team had done to just one other opponent all season. Add in the fact that Tech erased a 10-0 first-quarter deficit in the process, and there was much to like — and most of it back for 2024.

For UCF, the game was a bitter ending to a mixed season — the Knights’ first in a Power Five league. Wins over Boise State and Oklahoma State showed the promise of this team, but a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season — including a one-point loss to Baylor and a two-point loss to Oklahoma — scuttled any hopes of an explosive Big 12 debut. RJ Harvey (15 carries, 120 yards) and Javon Baker (nine catches, 173 yards and a touchdown) do offer a foundation for UCF’s 2024 though. — David Hale

MVP: Running back Jamal Haynes, Georgia Tech. Though he didn’t score a TD, Haynes rushed for a career-high 128 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark in rushing this season.

Thursday, Dec. 21

USF made an emphatic statement in its first bowl appearance since 2018, dominating Syracuse from start to finish in a 45-0 win that featured several record-setting performances.

First-year coach Alex Golesh did a remarkable job turning around a program that won eight games total in the four years before his arrival. USF finishes this season with seven wins — its first winning season since 2017 — and the largest margin of victory in a bowl game in school history. Like the Bulls did all season, they did it behind quarterback Byrum Brown and receiver Sean Atkins.

Brown threw for 213 yards and three touchdown passes to reach 26 on the season, breaking Quinton Flowers’ single-season school record of 25 set in 2017. Brown also joined Flowers as the only two players in program history with 4,000 total yards in a season.

Meanwhile, Atkins had six catches for 93 yards and two scores, becoming the first player in school history to go over 1,000 receiving yards.

But the USF defense took center stage. The Bulls came into the game ranked No. 128 out of 130 FBS teams in total defense but completely shut down the Orange, who were playing without starting quarterback Garrett Shrader (shoulder surgery).

Syracuse turned once again to converted tight end Dan Villari and Braden Davis at quarterback, but nothing was working. USF forced four turnovers — including a strip-sack fumble that Tramel Logan Jr. returned for a 61-yard score. USF special teams got involved, too, when Syracuse muffed the hold on a field goal attempt, and Aamaris Brown returned the fumble 64 yards for a score. Those two scores helped USF build a 31-0 lead at halftime, and the Bulls never looked back.

It was a disappointing end for Syracuse, which fired coach Dino Babers in November and had interim coach Nunzio Campanile in charge for the bowl. Incoming coach Fran Brown was in Boca to watch, and so was Ohio State transfer quarterback Kyle McCord, whom the Orange hope will help them improve next season. — Andrea Adelson

MVP: Quarterback Byrum Brown, USF. The freshman threw for 213 yards and three scores, and his third TD pass gave him 26 for the season, breaking the school’s single-season record.

Dec. 19

The pregame news that UTSA’s record-setting quarterback Frank Harris would sit out because of a shoulder injury — ending a transcendent seven-year career that included 11,858 passing yards and 92 touchdowns — momentarily put a damper on the matchup. After Marshall intercepted UTSA backup quarterback Owen McCown on two of UTSA’s first four drives and stormed out to a 14-0 lead, a blowout seemed possible.

But McCown and the Roadrunners stormed back, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives against a veteran Marshall defense with star power. In a matchup pitting two backup quarterbacks whose fathers played QB in the NFL — Owen is the son of Josh McCown, while Marshall’s Cole Pennington is the son of former Thundering Herd great Chad Pennington — UTSA pulled away in the second half to record the first bowl win in team history. The Roadrunners outscored Marshall 35-3 in the final 41:26 as McCown had 251 passing yards and two scores, and a ferocious defense swarmed the backfield. Marshall’s second half was both bad and bizarre, as the Herd entered UTSA territory three times without scoring, and star running back Rasheen Ali (92 first-half rushing yards) sat out because of a coach’s decision to preserve his health. — Adam Rittenberg

MVP: Quarterback Owen McCown, UTSA. In place of the best quarterback in program history, McCown passed for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

Dec. 18

Famous Toastery Bowl: Western Kentucky 38, Old Dominion 35 (OT)

The inaugural Famous Toastery Bowl was a classic, with Western Kentucky, without star quarterback Austin Reed, rebounding from a 28-0 deficit to win 38-35 in overtime for the fourth-largest comeback in FBS bowl history.

The Hilltoppers started redshirt freshman Turner Helton, WKU coach Tyson Helton’s nephew (and son of Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton) but he was benched in the first quarter after losing a fumble and throwing an interception. In came Caden Veltkamp, who had made one appearance all season, going 1 of 2 for 4 yards against FIU. Against ODU, Veltkamp went 40 of 52 for 383 yards with five touchdowns to one interception.

It marked the first win after facing a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit since 2015 when Houston beat Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl. According to ESPN Stats & Information, each of the last 109 teams trailing by that much have lost.

This was Old Dominion’s 11th game of the season that was decided by a single score. The Monarchs finished 6-5 in such games while finishing 6-7 on the season, but they reached a bowl game for the third time in school history after becoming eligible in 2015. Western Kentucky (8-5) saw its quarterback throw for more than four TDs in the Hilltoppers’ third straight bowl game (Bailey Zappe with six in 2021, Reed with four in 2022 and Veltkamp with five this year) and won their third straight bowl game, tying the longest such streak in program history. — Dave Wilson

MVP: Quarterback Caden Veltkamp, Western Kentucky. The third-string Hilltopper threw for five touchdowns and 383 yards.

Dec. 16

Ohio secured consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in program history and extended its bowl game winning streak to five behind a stifling first-half defensive effort against Georgia Southern. The Bobcats (10-3) intercepted quarterback Davis Brin three times (twice in the first half) from the safety position — by sixth-year senior Jeremiah Wood, sophomore Adonis Williams Jr. and sixth-year senior Walter Reynolds. The Eagles (6-7) were held to 35 total yards in the first half, turning the ball over three times as the Bobcats jumped out to a 20-0 advantage. Ohio freshman running back Rickey Hunt broke out by registering 133 total yards (115 rushing) and five total touchdowns (four on the ground).

Hunt tied the NCAA bowl record for touchdowns from scrimmage as the 12th player in history with five and established a new Bobcats bowl game record. Ohio fifth-year senior quarterback Parker Navarro, taking over the reins of the offense after Kurtis Rourke entered the transfer portal, managed the game effectively, despite the team being outgained 383-352 in total yards. Navarro completed 11 of 16 passes for 120 yards and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Hunt. — Blake Baumgartner

MVP: Running back Rickey Hunt, Ohio. The freshman scored five touchdowns and had 133 all-purpose yards.

Florida A&M senior quarterback Jeremy Moussa didn’t hang his head long after throwing a fourth-quarter pick-six that allowed Howard to reclaim the lead. Moussa recovered quickly, utilizing a flea-flicker to connect with sixth-year senior wide receiver Jah’Marae Sheread for a 38-yard game-winning score. In guiding the Rattlers (12-1) to their first HBCU/FCS national championship since 1998, Moussa completed 19 of 32 passes to nine different receivers for 289 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Howard (6-6) scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, and it didn’t trail until Moussa found senior running back Kelvin Dean (three receptions for 87 yards and two scores) for a 21-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Senior defensive back Carson Hinton had a fumble recovery and a 27-yard interception return for a Bison touchdown, which took Howard’s upset bid of the heavily favored Rattlers down to the wire. The Rattlers’ defense made life difficult for Howard quarterback Quinton Williams, intercepting him three times — resulting in 14 points — and holding the Bison to 187 total yards (106 passing). Howard was up at halftime despite being outgained 107-98 and passing for only 41 yards. — Baumgartner

MVP: Wide receiver Kelvin Dean, Florida A&M. He scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a 53-yarder.

All Jacksonville State wanted was an opportunity. Afforded the chance to play in a bowl game during its FCS to FBS transition because not enough teams qualified for bowls, coach Rich Rodriguez and his Gamecocks took advantage. Freshman Garrison Rippa’s 27-yard field goal — his second career attempt — completed a win over Louisiana in overtime. Jacksonville State (9-4) ran 109 plays, the second most in a bowl game since major classification started in 1937. The Gamecocks held a 526-247 edge in total yardage but nearly lost because they couldn’t take care of the ball. Three of the team’s four turnovers were returned for touchdowns, including redshirt sophomore safety Tyree Skipper’s 43-yard pick-six with 5:32 left in regulation, which gave Louisiana its last lead of the game at 31-24. The Ragin’ Cajuns (6-7) became the first team in the past 20 years to score three defensive touchdowns in a bowl game. With Jacksonville State quarterbacks Zion Webb (leg) and Logan Smothers (arm) both sustaining injuries during the game and rotating in and out, junior running back Ron Wiggins churned out 126 yards and a touchdown to carry the Gamecocks — Baumgartner

MVP: Cornerback Jalen Clark, Louisiana. Even in a losing effort, it’s worth recognizing Clark, who returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown and an interception 16 yards for another score.

Little went Appalachian State’s way during the first half of 2023. The Mountaineers lost in overtime at North Carolina, blew a 19-7 lead at Wyoming and lost to Coastal Carolina on a field goal as time expired and to Old Dominion on a touchdown with 48 seconds to play. The Mountaineers were 3-4 through seven games, and the season looked lost. Then something clicked. App State won its final five of the regular season, got a shot at the Sun Belt title game thanks to James Madison being ineligible and ended things on a high note in the bowl game. Anderson Castle carried 20 times for 119 yards, and Kaedin Robinson caught eight balls for 118 yards despite difficult rainy conditions. The Mountaineers have now hit the nine-win mark in eight of 10 seasons since moving up from the FCS level, and they’re 7-1 in bowl games as an FBS member. For Miami, it was a brutal way to cap an otherwise remarkable season. The Redhawks finish 11-3, the most wins by the program since 2003, when Ben Roethlisberger was the team’s quarterback. Their lone regular-season losses came to Miami (Florida) and Toledo, a defeat the Redhawks avenged on Dec. 2 to claim the MAC championship. — David Hale

MVP: Mother Nature. The game was played in a downpour from start to finish, causing nonstop mishaps. But if we’re picking a player, it’s Appalachian State quarterback Joey Aguilar, who somehow managed to pass for 211 yards and rushed for his team’s only touchdown.

Fresno State was without coach Jeff Tedford, but the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat in a win over New Mexico State. Tedford stepped aside from bowl prep and coaching due to health concerns, though he is expected to return for the 2024 season. In his absence, the Bulldogs snapped a three-game skid and showcased their share of vintage Tedford offensive fireworks. Quarterback Mikey Keene completed 31 of 39 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, adding a fourth score on the ground, while seven different Fresno State receivers caught at least three passes each. In all, the Bulldogs racked up an impressive 491 yards of offense. For New Mexico State, it was a disappointing end to a magical season. The Aggies opened the 2023 campaign with an embarrassing home loss to UMass then turned things around and finished with 10 wins — including a road victory against Auburn — and a berth in the Conference USA title game. The 10-win season was just the second in program history, and through two years at the helm, coach Jerry Kill has just one fewer victory (17) than the Aggies had in the six seasons preceding his arrival. — Hale

MVP: Quarterback Mikey Keene, Fresno State. Completed 31 of 39 passes for 380 yards and had four overall scores.



Gronk sings special rendition of national anthem for the LA Bowl

NFL legend Rob Gronkowski shows off his vocals as he sings the national anthem ahead of the Starco Brands LA Bowl.

After ending their regular season with a disappointing 33-7 loss to Cal that made many Bruins fans anticipate Chip Kelly’s firing, UCLA bounced back in the LA Bowl, beating Boise State not too far away from the Bruins’ home stadium. With Kelly still at the helm after UCLA announced it would retain him, the Bruins compiled 510 yards of offense and ran the ball for 280 yards thanks to quarterback Collin Schlee’s 128 yards on the ground. After transferring from Kent State last offseason, Schlee saw limited time behind Ethan Garbers and Dante Moore, who is now in the transfer portal. But against the Broncos, Schlee showed exactly what he does best, leading the Bruins’ rushing attack while also throwing for two touchdowns. Many questions remain for Kelly’s team as it heads to the Big Ten, but Saturday night’s bowl win was a strong finishing note after an up-and-down season. — Paolo Uggetti

MVP: Quarterback Ethan Garbers, UCLA. The Bruins turned to Garbers while trailing 16-7 to start the second half, and he completed his first eight passes, resulting in three consecutive touchdown drives.

On the heels of his announcement that he would return to Cal next season, Golden Bears star running back Jaydn Ott struggled against Texas Tech’s defense. Ott, who totaled 1,260 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season, accounted for 45 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown in the bowl game. The Red Raiders’ offense, meanwhile, scored four touchdowns thanks to three touchdown passes from Behren Morton. The sophomore quarterback spread the ball around to seven different receivers, three of whom averaged more than 12 yards per catch. Tech defense stepped up in its own way, picking off Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza three times and forcing him into two fumbles that proved too much to overcome. — Uggetti

MVP: Quarterback Behren Morton, Texas Tech. The sophomore tossed three first-half touchdowns.


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