This is the first season since 2019 that all the bowl games scheduled at the beginning of the season got played at the end. In that respect, it is nice to have that bit of normalcy back. There were a lot of exciting games, too, not the least of which were the two College Football Playoff semifinals.
In fact, 22 of the 41 bowl games finished with one-score margins, two of which went to overtime.
There is no worse way to judge teams and conferences than bowl games. You have several teams that have changed coaches and players sitting out either because they do not want to risk injury before the NFL Draft or because they have entered the transfer portal. Also, there are often long layoffs between bowls and some teams' prior games. You just never know what you are going to get from any given team in a bowl game.
They are still fun to watch, though.
With that in mind, here is how the conference performed in this year's postseason. Below is a breakdown of how each conference performed and what was expected based on the odds for each bowl game.
This year's champion of the bowl season is the MAC. The league did not have a game against a Power Five team because the Big Ten did not have enough eligible teams to send one to the Quick Lane Bowl. The results were highlighted by league champion Toledo beating Liberty in a battle of eight-win teams. Ohio and Eastern Michigan also beat Mountain West teams.
OK, technically, this isn't a conference. However, there were two notable games among this group. New Mexico State played in just its second bowl game since 1960 and needed a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible. The Aggies took full advantage, beating Bowling Green in the Quick Lane Bowl. UConn, which had been one of the worst teams in FBS for the last few seasons, also qualified for a bowl in coach Jim Mora's first season. However, the Huskies fell to Marshall in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.
The highlight of bowl season for the AAC was Tulane's comeback win over USC in the Cotton Bowl. The Green Wave scored 16 points in the final 4:07 to beat the Trojans, 46-45. The conference also had two wins over the Sun Belt and one over the Mountain West. The only other game against a Power Five team was UCF's 30-13 loss to Duke.
The league was shut out of the CFP for the second consecutive season, and the two teams that played for the conference title lost their respective bowl games. Clemson was particularly non-competitive, and questions are being raised about the direction of the program. Pittsburgh's win over UCLA highlights the wins for the ACC in bowl season. Louisville also won the inaugural Scott Satterfield, er, Fenway Bowl over Cincinnati. Florida State picked up its 10th win of the season in a thrilling 35-32 win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl.
Tied with the ACC, the Big Ten similarly saw poor performances from its teams in the biggest games they played. The conference put two teams in the CFP for the first time ever … and both lost. Michigan's vaunted defense got steamrolled by TCU, 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State missed a 50-yard field goal on the final play and fell to Georgia, 42-41. The Buckeyes led 38-28 midway through the fourth quarter but could not hold on. The Big Ten is now 2-6 in CFP semifinals. The league was also 1-2 in the traditional New Year's Day games. Penn State beat Utah in the Rose Bowl, Illinois lost to Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl, and Purdue's backups got obliterated by LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
The SEC, Georgia specifically, is back in the CFP National Championship after the Bulldogs' 42-41 comeback win over the Buckeyes in the Peach Bowl. Georgia is looking to become the first repeat national champion since Alabama won back-to-back BCS championships in 2011-12. The SEC improved to 10-1 in CFP semifinal games. Mississippi State honored Mike Leach with pirate flags on their helmets and a win in the ReliaQuest Bowl over Illinois. Alabama won its eighth straight bowl game, dominating Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee capped off its first 11-win season since 2001 by beating Clemson in the orangest of Orange Bowls.
UAB kicked off bowl season with a 24-20 win over Miami (OH) in the Bahamas Bowl, but C-USA's better bowl wins came after that. Middle Tennessee State knocked off San Diego State 25-23 in the Hawaii Bowl, and Western Kentucky beat 10-win South Alabama 44-23 in the New Orleans Bowl. The biggest disappointment was UTSA losing to Troy 18-12 in a battle of conference champions in the Cure Bowl.
It was an uncharacteristically rough year for the Mountain West, which was the reigning bowl season champion. The better teams in the league carried the banner well. Champion Fresno State beat Washington State 29-6 in the LA Bowl. Runner-up Boise State beat North Texas in the Frisco Bowl, and Air Force won the Armed Forces bowl over Baylor. All three winners finished the season with 10 wins.
|Pac-12||3-4||The good news is the Pac-12 did not get shut out. Oregon State's 30-3 demolition of Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17 was the first win in a bowl game for the Pac-12 since the 2019 season. However, both conference title game participants dropped their games. USC blew a late 15-point lead and lost to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. Utah fell for the second straight season in the Rose Bowl, this time to Penn State, 35-21. Washington and Oregon picked up good wins in their games. The Huskies beat Texas 27-20 in the Alamo Bowl, and the Ducks took down North Carolina 28-21 in a surprisingly low-scoring Holiday Bowl. |
|Sun Belt||3-4||The highlight of bowl season for the Sun Belt was Troy's victory over UTSA. That gave the Trojans 12 wins for the first time ever. Marshall and Southern Miss also picked up wins. Marshall finished its debut season in the league with nine wins, including one at Notre Dame. Coastal Carolina and South Alabama, which had great seasons otherwise, got blown out in their bowls. The Chanticleers lost to East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, while the Jaguars got crushed by Western Kentucky. |
The Big 12 finishes at the bottom of the pack, but it probably doesn't care because TCU is still playing. The Horned Frogs are in the CFP National Championship after beating Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl, becoming the first Big 12 team to play for a CFP title. The league's only other win was Texas Tech's win over Ole Miss in the Texas Bowl. Kansas came back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime with Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl, but the Jayhawks lost in the third period 55-53 for the highest-scoring game of bowl season. It was KU's first bowl since 2008.