Sports

Bowl takeaways: Michigan sets aside heartbreak with OT win over Bama


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 his 22-game reign, we now have a new king of the hill. In his first 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

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Monday, Jan. 1

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After so much College Football Playoff heartbreak the past two years, Michigan broke through Monday night in much the same fashion as the Wolverines have won all season in what’s now a 14-0 spree. They were physical, resilient and clutch when they needed to be on offense, rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Alabama 27-20 in overtime in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Prudential.

Michigan now gets a shot to play for its first national championship since the Wolverines split the title with Nebraska in 1997. But it took a drive for the ages to do it, as Michigan awoke from an offensive slumber in the second half to put together a game-tying, 75-yard touchdown drive with 1:38 left in regulation. Once in overtime, the Wolverines needed just two plays to score a touchdown with Blake Corum rambling into the end zone from the 17-yard line.

Michigan dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half but led only 13-10 at the half. The Wolverines weathered special teams gaffes and an offense that went scoreless on its first four drives of the second half and failed to capitalize after Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe fumbled early in the fourth quarter. But just when it looked like Michigan might be on the way to its third straight playoff loss, the Wolverines put together two of their best offensive possessions of the season to advance to the national championship game next Monday in Houston.

MVP: Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy never flinched in the fourth quarter or overtime in leading the Wolverines back from a 20-13 deficit after they weren’t doing much of anything on offense in the second half. He finished 17-of-27 for 221 yards and three touchdowns. — Chris Low


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LSU’s 2023 season will be remembered for its offense.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels won the Heisman Trophy despite the Tigers’ three regular-season losses. LSU entered the ReliaQuest Bowl as the national leader in both yards per game (547.8) and points per game (46.4). Although Daniels opted out of the bowl game, the Tigers had most of their stars on the field, as well as their next quarterback, Garrett Nussmeier.

They needed them all to outlast Wisconsin in a game in which the Tigers twice erased 14-point deficits and took their first lead with 3:08 to play, following a masterful 98-yard touchdown drive engineered by Nussmeier and his receivers. LSU’s depth of pass-catchers, which helped Daniels win the Heisman, showed up for Nussmeier against the Badgers. Brian Thomas Jr. caught his 16th and 17th touchdown passes, rising to fifth most in a season in SEC history. Tight end Mason Taylor and wideout Kyren Lacy combined for 13 receptions and 183 yards.

Nussmeier, who has patiently waited behind multiple quarterbacks, capitalized in his first start with 395 passing yards — the fourth-highest total by an LSU player in a bowl — and three touchdowns. The future on offense looks promising, and a much-maligned defense shut out Wisconsin in the fourth quarter despite surrendering 506 yards in the game. Coach Brian Kelly once again found a way to 10 wins.

Luke Fickell’s bumpy first season at Wisconsin ended with a performance that showcased what a dramatically different offense can become, but also the inconsistencies and mistakes that surfaced far too often this fall. Fickell was brought in to get Wisconsin to the College Football Playoff. At 7-6, the Badgers seem to be a long way off. — Adam Rittenberg

MVP: Nussmeier. In his first meaningful action of the season, the sophomore completed 31 of 45 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns.


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This game was all Tennessee, highlighted by a breakout performance from true freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who accounted for four touchdowns. He threw for 151 yards and one touchdown while running for three scores.

The Iowa defense is a tough test for any quarterback, so it was very impressive for a true freshman who has not played a lot this season to come in and move the ball all game.

The Iowa offense, meanwhile, continued to struggle, as it has all season. Quarterback Deacon Hill went 7-of-18 for 56 yards before Marco Lainez came in to replace him. Lainez was the team’s leading rusher (51 yards) in offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s final game with the team.

This one was never in doubt for Tennessee, and it appears the staff can feel comfortable in their quarterback for next season with Iamaleava, a former five-star recruit who could be the new face of the program. — Tom VanHaaren

MVP: Iamaleava. Although the numbers don’t jump off the page (151 yards passing, 27 rushing), the poise was impressive for the Vols freshman QB — not to mention the four TDs he had a hand in.


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Vrbo Fiesta Bowl: No. 8 Oregon 45, No. 23 Liberty 6

With quarterback Bo Nix back to play one final game for the Ducks, No. 8 Oregon delivered another convincing performance to close out one of the best seasons in school history. Only once (2015) have the Ducks won more than the 12 games they won this year, and their win against Liberty equaled their biggest margin of victory in a bowl game (also in 2015, in the CFP semifinal against Florida State).

Even with some opt-outs for Oregon, there was a massive gulf in talent vs. Liberty, which went undefeated during the regular season but did not play a Power 5 opponent. The Flames came into the game as the nation’s No. 5 scoring team (40.8) but were completely overmatched after they opened the game with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.

Nix, who would have been justified in opting out to protect his health ahead of the NFL draft, remained in the game as the Ducks built the big lead, and after a first-down handoff to Bucky Irvin in the fourth quarter, he exited to a curtain call. The former Auburn quarterback completed 28 of 35 passes for 363 yards and five touchdowns — all to different receivers — without throwing an interception. It was the Ducks’ final game under the Pac-12 banner before they begin life in the Big Ten next year as an expected top-10 team. — Kyle Bonagura

MVP: Nix, with a five-touchdown performance in his Oregon swan song.


Saturday, Dec. 30

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The two best teams that didn’t make the College Football Playoff were Georgia and Florida State.

One of them showed up for the Capital One Orange Bowl.

Carson Beck threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns, Kendall Milton ran for 104 yards and two scores, and Georgia hung 42 on a listless Florida State.

Oh, and that was all at halftime. By the end, the Bulldogs owned the largest margin of victory in Orange Bowl history and in any bowl game, rolling to 673 total yards.

The game was a mismatch from the outset, with Georgia favored by three touchdowns as FSU dealt with a slew of departures from its roster, and yet the Bulldogs still managed to impress. Receiver Ladd McConkey got a fond farewell, taking a broken trick play and turning it into a 27-yard touchdown run. Beck, who returns for 2024, ended his first season as Georgia’s starting QB just shy of 4,000 passing yards.

The defense dominated in a way that is unlikely to erase the memories of Alabama’s SEC championship game win but will at least help change the conversation entering a long offseason.

Florida State — or what was left of it anyway — was in no mood to put up a fight. In the aftermath of a playoff snub and a deluge of opt-outs, the Seminoles were a shell of the team that went 13-0 and won the ACC championship. They played the Orange Bowl without their top two quarterbacks, top two running backs, top two receivers, starting tight end, three-quarters of their starting D-line, two starting linebackers and a starting corner, safety and nickel. A host of other contributors were missing, too.

Brock Glenn got his second start after stumbling his way through an ACC title game win — a performance the committee used as validation for its choice to leave FSU out — and he showed genuine signs of progress, completing several deep balls to Kentron Poitier, but he also turned the ball over twice and failed to cash in on red zone chances. Beyond Glenn’s small steps forward, there’s little for FSU to analyze from this one. The Noles will eagerly turn the page, focus on 2024 and likely still wake up some nights haunted by the ghosts of 13-0.

So, what did this game mean ultimately? Did Florida State’s horrendous performance offer evidence the committee got it right by leaving the Noles out? Did Georgia’s dominance offer evidence the committee got it wrong by not putting the Dawgs in?

Neither would be a particularly compelling argument given the attrition on FSU’s sideline, so perhaps the bigger takeaway is that the 12-team playoff is needed now more than ever or we risk getting more of these consolation bowls down the road. — David Hale

MVP: Milton. His 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns came on just nine carries.


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Wyoming sent head coach Craig Bohl out a winner — barely.

The Cowboys scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including connecting on a short field goal with 1 second left on the clock, to win the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl 16-15 over Toledo.

The Rockets were playing without star QB Dequan Finn, who entered the transfer portal at season’s end, but an 80-yard touchdown run from Jacquez Stuart, a safety from the defense and a trio of field goals had Toledo up 15-6 midway through the fourth quarter. But on its penultimate drive of the game, Wyoming went 73 yards on eight plays, with QB Andrew Peasley completing 4-of-4 passes and adding a 12-yard run, before Evan Svoboda found the end zone on a 1-yard rush.

Toledo drove into Wyoming territory on its ensuing drive, but facing a fourth-and-12 from the Cowboys’ 40, the Rockets elected to punt, pinning Wyoming deep with just 4 minutes to play.

The plan backfired, however, and Toledo’s defense couldn’t get off the field.

Wyoming converted a fourth-and-1 and a third-and-six on a 12-play drive that covered 87 yards before John Hoyland came on for the winning kick — a 24-yard chip shot.

The come-from-behind win gives Wyoming nine victories on the year, the most of any of Bohl’s 10 seasons in Laramie and most by any Cowboys team since 1996. — Hale

MVP: Bohl. He’s retiring after 42 seasons of coaching, the final 10 at Wyoming.


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When Taulia Tagovailoa, the Big Ten’s all-time leader in passing yards, decided to opt out for Maryland, Billy Edwards Jr was given an opportunity. All the sophomore signal-caller had to do was seize it. And in guiding the Terrapins to a 31-13 victory over Auburn on Saturday, Edwards (176 total yards and two total TDs) did what he needed to do. On the way to becoming the first Maryland player to have both a passing and rushing touchdown in the same bowl game since the 2003 season (Scott McBrien in the 2004 Gator Bowl), Edwards and fellow sophomore Cameron Edge led touchdown drives on the game’s first three possessions — providing a cushion that would never be seriously cut down by Auburn.

Maryland (8-5) won its third straight bowl game under Mike Locksley as it posted 310 total yards (269 in a 24-point first half) while Edwards threw for 126 yards and connected with seven different receivers. The Terrapins’ defense stymied the Tigers (6-7) for much of the afternoon, forcing four turnovers and holding Hugh Freeze’s team to 125 total yards in the first half. Defensive backs Glendon Miller (a 44-yard pick-six in the third quarter) and Lavain Scruggs both came down with interceptions for Maryland.Blake Baumgartner

MVP: Edwards. The sophomore managed Maryland’s offense effectively in just his second career start.


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Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin knew his team had its work cut out for it going up against the team ranked first in the country in total defense, even with defensive end Chop Robinson and cornerback Kalen King opting out for Penn State. But the quartet of Jaxson Dart, Quinshon Judkins, Caden Prieskorn and Tre Harris led an offensive onslaught for Mississippi (11-2), which put up 38 points and 540 total yards in a 38-25 victory against a shell-shocked Penn State (10-3).

Dart found Prieskorn — a senior tight end and Memphis import — 10 times for 136 yards, two TDs (all career highs) and a two-point conversion, while Harris caught seven passes for 134 yards — the first time the program had a pair of 100-yard receivers in a bowl game. Judkins eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark (106 yards on 34 carries) for the 14th time in his career — tying Deuce McAllister’s school record — as the Rebels blew past the 223.2 yards per game that the Nittany Lions had allowed during the season. After dispatching Penn State, Mississippi — with the program’s first 11-win season now in tow — will enter the offseason and the 2024 season with plenty of momentum. — Blake Baumgartner

MVP: Dart. He completed 25 of 40 passes for a program bowl-record 379 yards and three touchdowns.


Friday, Dec. 29

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The first half of the first New Year’s Six bowl was a struggle for both teams — Missouri and Ohio State combined for 48 passing yards and just three points, punting on 12 of the first 13 possessions.

Ohio State was playing backup quarterback Devin Brown because starter Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse. Brown was injured early in the game, however, and true freshman Lincoln Kienholz was pressed into service. Kienholz struggled, completing just 6 of 17 passes for 86 yards.

The Buckeyes also were without star wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who opted out of the game. Before tonight, Ohio State had scored a touchdown in 88 straight games, dating back to the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

Missouri scored both of its touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Mizzou running back Cody Schrader ran for 128 yards and a touchdown, breaking the Missouri single season rushing record with 1,627 yards. Quarterback Brady Cook threw a touchdown to receiver Luther Burden III to help put the game away for the Tigers.

Missouri’s defense held the Buckeyes to just 203 total yards and had four sacks, two forced fumbles and 10 tackles or loss. Missouri and Ohio State both finished 11-2. — Tom VanHaaren

MVP: Schrader. It was the ninth time this season he rushed for 100 yards, tied with Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon II for the most 100-yard games in the FBS this season.


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With a number of high-profile opt-outs and transfers, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl was guaranteed to be a test of depth and an opportunity for new stars to emerge. Turns out, Notre Dame’s depth was stronger than Oregon State’s. Redshirt freshman quarterback Steve Angeli (212 passing yards and three touchdowns), redshirt freshman Jadarian Price (106 rushing yards and a score) and freshman — and lacrosse player — Jordan Faison (115 receiving yards and a touchdown) all shined as the Fighting Irish outclassed the Beavers, 40-8.

The stats dramatically favored Notre Dame across the board: total yards (448 to 197), yards per play (6.8 to 4.5), first downs (23 to 10), you name it. And the advantages were far more pronounced until OSU started moving the ball after the Irish took a 33-0 lead. Marcus Freeman‘s second season as head coach ends with a cereal bath and a 10-3 record, one better than last year’s 9-4 debut. The freshmen’s awesome play also provides an extra jolt of optimism heading into 2024.

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Things aren’t quite as rosy for OSU. After starting the year 8-2, the Beavers finished with three straight losses, losing their head coach to Michigan State (Jonathan Smith) and quarterback (DJ Uiagalelei) in the process. Now they embark on a new life with an unformed conference — OSU and Washington State formed a scheduling arrangement with the Mountain West while they figure out a new future for the crumbled Pac-12 — and a bunch of new pieces. — Bill Connelly

MVP:


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Memphis spent much of the 2023 season alternating between looking like a top-10 caliber team and falling apart for a quarter or two at a time. That made the Tigers’ 36-26 win over Iowa State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl a pretty accurate impression. The Tigers went on runs of 19-0 and 17-0 and allowed two 13-0 runs in response, but they closed out the game with a 17-play nine-minute drive that ate up most of the rest of the clock. Against a Cyclones defense that allowed just 349.3 yards per game and 5.0 yards per play, the Tigers posted 530 and 8.0, respectively. Seth Henigan threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns, Blake Watson rushed for 107 yards, and three different receivers went for 75 yards or more. Memphis just had too many playmakers for the Cyclones to handle.

The win closed out Memphis’ fourth 10-win season (and fourth bowl win) of the last decade. Before 2014, the Tigers had posted none of the former and only three of the latter in their history in top-division football. And with Henigan, among others, announcing their return for 2024, they could be one of the preseason favorites for the AAC title and a potential bid in the first 12-team playoff.

The loss ended ISU’s season on a down note, but after a 4-8 campaign in 2022, with gambling allegations resulting in the absence of a few expected starters this fall, winning seven games and reaching the postseason again was a positive development in itself. — Connelly

MVP: The Memphis defense. The unit held Iowa State to zero (zero!) rushing yards.


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It was a rock fight for three quarters, a track meet for one. Thanks to basically three plays — a 43-yard run for Ray Davis (which set up a Barion Brown TD), a 58-yard pass to Dane Key (which set up a Key TD) and a Brown kick return score — Kentucky took a 21-10 lead into the final quarter of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. But Clemson forced four turnovers and scored four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to beat the Wildcats 38-35.

Phil Mafah‘s third touchdown of the day gave Clemson its first lead, 27-21, but another huge Brown gain (a 60-yard TD) put UK back up. Jonathan Weitz‘s 52-yard field goal made it 30-28 Clemson, but Davis scored to make it 35-30 with 2:34 left.

That was too much time. Mafah converted a fourth down to the UK 29, then scored his fourth touchdown with 17 seconds left. A Shelton Lewis interception sealed the deal. That was an exhausting finish. It was also Clemson’s fifth win a row. From 4-4, the Tigers surged to 9-4, their 13th straight season with at least nine wins. They will likely enjoy their 13th straight ranked finish, too.

Kentucky, meanwhile, finished the season with a sixth loss in eight games. Mark Stoops’ Wildcats beat Louisville at the end of the regular season and secured their seventh seven-win season in eight years — a run virtually inconceivable since Bear Bryant was the head coach. But they couldn’t turn a 5-0 start into another huge season, and they couldn’t turn a 21-10 lead into a win. — Connelly

MVP: Mafah. All he did was score all four of Clemson’s touchdowns, including the game-winner with 17 seconds left.


Thursday, Dec. 28

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Down 11 points halfway through the third quarter, Arizona needed a big play if it wanted to take back control of the game from Oklahoma and salvage a strong finish to its impressive season. And while the Wildcats’ offense had been their strength all season long, in the Alamo Bowl, it was their defense that answered the call.

After Sooners quarterback Jackson Arnold found wide receiver Jalil Farooq over the middle of the field, the Wildcats’ defense pounced on Farooq and popped the ball up from his hands. Defensive back Gunner Maldonado was in the right place at the right time, corralling the ball before taking it back 87 yards for a touchdown that completely flipped the game.

By the end of the 38-24 Arizona victory thanks to a 25-3 run, its defense finished with three forced fumbles and three interceptions off Arnold, who still threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side, the Wildcats’ own freshman phenom, quarterback Noah Fifita, stepped up in the second half, showing exactly why he was one of the most electric players in the country.

Fifita threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns and had a handful of plays that exhibited his mobility and ability to make daring throws on the run. With Fifita at the helm going forward, Arizona now heads for the Big 12 with one of the more impressive turnarounds in the sport. Last year, Jedd Fisch’s team went 5-7 and now, it has won seven straight, finishing with nine-regular season wins and its first bowl victory since 2015. — Paolo Uggetti

MVP: Let’s split this one between the Wildcats’ defense, which forced six turnovers, and the pass-catching duo of Jacob Cowing (152 receiving yards, two TDs) and Tetairoa McMillan (10 catches for 160 yards).


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Pop-Tarts Bowl: Kansas State 28, NC State 19

Kansas State appears to have found a future star at quarterback in true freshman Avery Johnson.

With starter Will Howard in the transfer portal, Johnson got the start against NC State in the Pop-Tarts Bowl and showed why he was one of the top-rated dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in the class of 2023. Johnson had previously played in seven games this year, but this was his first start, and he made the most of it, running and throwing it with ease — his long hair jutting out of his helmet. (And, yes, that may have led the announcers to a Trevor Lawrence comparison). Johnson threw for 178 yards, rushed for 71 and accounted for three touchdowns.

He and top rusher DJ Giddens (151 yards rushing, 1 TD) helped Kansas State rush for more than 200 yards in the game as the Wolfpack missed Bednarik Award winner Payton Wilson, who opted out to begin NFL draft preparations. On a definitive 15-play, 72-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Johnson had one long pass and one long run for third-down conversions, and then sealed the game with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jayce Brown, who set a school record himself for most single-season receiving yards by a true freshman.

Kansas State has now reached at least nine wins for the second straight season. As for NC State, the Wolfpack once again fell just short in their quest to win 10 games for the second time in school history. Brennan Armstrong carried the Wolfpack on the ground, and though they came back following a 21-7 deficit, they settled for too many field goals and could not complete the comeback. — Andrea Adelson

MVP: Johnson earns honors for his three total touchdowns in his first career start, but how about a shoutout for OL Cooper Beebe, who spurned the NFL last year to return to KState and helped protect his quarterback and open holes for the running game. Wildcats coach Chris Klieman called him a Ring of Honor player after the game.

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Two unheralded players on Rutgers’ special teams unit — one a former varsity lacrosse player at Brown — were game-changers Thursday evening, as Trevor Yeboah-Kodie blocked the punt that led to Timmy Ward‘s go-ahead touchdown, helping to lead the Scarlet Knights to the win against Miami.

The critical play with 5:06 remaining in the third quarter halted Miami’s momentum, as the Canes had scored 17 unanswered points to crawl out of a 14-0 first-half hole and earn a precarious 17-14 lead.

Miami’s protective wedge was apathetic in its effort, leaving punter Dylan Joyce vulnerable and freeing several players — including Yeboah-Kodie — to break through unblocked. Yeboah-Kodie, who played four seasons of varsity lacrosse at Brown before transferring to Rutgers for this season, got his hand on the ball, and Ward fell on it in the end zone, giving Rutgers the 21-17 lead. Neither of the junior defensive backs had made such a significant play until then.

It was Rutgers’ third blocked punt of 2023, tied for the most in the FBS, and the Scarlet Knights joined Army as the only teams in the country to have multiple touchdowns this season from blocked punts.

While that play changed the game, Rutgers’ defense and a strong running game helped seal it. Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt became the first Rutgers quarterback to have multiple rushing touchdowns in a game (2). Kyle Monangai added 163 rushing yards and a touchdown. It was Rutgers’ sixth game with at least 200 rushing yards this season. — Heather Dinich

MVP: Monangai. He finished 2 yards shy of his career high and pounded away at Miami’s stout defensive front.


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Boston College quarterback Thomas Castellanos and running back Kye Robichaux — two transfers who weren’t even on campus a year ago — combined for 245 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns to spark the Eagles’ (7-6) one-dimensional offense in an upset of No. 24 SMU (11-3).

Castellanos, who transferred from UCF last spring, had two rushing touchdowns and 155 rushing yards, the most on the ground by a BC quarterback in a bowl game. His 12 rushing touchdowns this season are the most for a BC quarterback in the past 20 seasons. Robichaux, who began the year fourth on the depth chart after playing for two seasons at Western Kentucky, finished with 90 rushing yards and one touchdown. After a sloppy, muddy first half that was played in a downpour, both players were at their best in the fourth quarter, helping the Eagles pull away from the American Athletic Conference champs.

The Mustangs, who will join the ACC next season, were snubbed for a New Year’s Six bowl in favor of Liberty — a controversial decision by the College Football Playoff selection committee. SMU’s inability to stop a handful of big plays, though, snapped a nine-game winning streak and ended an otherwise impressive season.

Castellanos threw only seven passes for 6 yards in the first half and completed 11-of-18 overall with no touchdowns and one interception. With the weather improving later in the game, Castellanos’ 32-yard completion to Jaedn Skeete early in the fourth quarter set up his own 15-yard touchdown run that gave the Eagles the 17-14 lead. Boston College ran the same scoring play twice — and both times it resulted in a wide-open touchdown run to the right for Castellanos.

Later in the fourth quarter, Robichaux’s 40-yard run set up Castellanos’ ensuing 14-yard touchdown run. Liam Connor missed the extra point, but the drive gave BC a 23-14 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. — Dinich

MVP: Castellanos. He accounted for 257 of BC’s 365 total yards. Castellanos also became the fifth ACC quarterback to record 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season since 1996.


Wednesday, Dec. 27

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TaxAct Texas Bowl: No. 20 Oklahoma State 31, Texas A&M 23

The TaxAct Texas Bowl was the best of times and it was the worst of times.

Oklahoma State finished its second 10-win season since 2017 and Alan Bowman became the first Cowboys player to throw for more than 400 yards.

In the process, OSU completed a miserable season for Texas A&M that saw Jimbo Fisher get fired to go with a small exodus to the transfer portal among the coaching staff. Quarterback Jaylen Henderson, who began the season as the third-stringer, got the start but left the game with an injury on the very first play and did not return, giving way to a true freshman, Marcel Reed.

Bowman and his receivers kept the young Aggies secondary guessing, with Brennan Presley (16 catches, 152 yards) and Rashod Owens (10 for 164 and two touchdowns) becoming the first teammates with 10 or more catches and 150 or more yards in a bowl since at least 1996. But that didn’t mean Ollie Gordon II, the nation’s leading rusher, didn’t get his too. He rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

There was a feel-good moment in the second quarter when Gunnar Gundy, the son of OSU coach Mike Gundy, who is in the transfer portal in search of more playing time, had a 10-yard touchdown run in what could be the last game he plays for his dad. The elder Gundy improved to 12-6 in bowl games, tying Lou Holtz, Urban Meyer and Tom Osborne for the sixth-most bowl wins all time. — Dave Wilson

MVP: We’ll split honors between Presley and Owens, who combined to catch 316 of Bowman’s 402 passing yards.


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Over three seasons at USC, backup quarterback Miller Moss had thrown only 59 passes for 301 yards and one touchdown. But Wednesday night in San Diego, with Caleb Williams sitting out, Moss finally got his chance and made the most of it. In a 42-28 win over Louisville, Moss threw for 372 yards and six touchdowns on 33 pass attempts, with only one major mistake — an end zone interception — in what otherwise was a dream night for the Trojans’ longtime backup.

Down several players at multiple positions, USC put together one of its complete performances of the season and gave Lincoln Riley and the program a much-needed win as it heads into the offseason following a disappointing 7-5 regular season. In their bowl game last year, the Trojans followed up an impressive 11-1 year with a letdown loss to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. That foreshadowed some of their struggles this past season, and USC can only hope that this year’s victory over the Cardinals can set the tone for next season.

Williams’ expected departure to the NFL will leave a void that USC is expected to fill with one, if not two, transfer quarterbacks, but after a breakout performance from Moss at the Holiday Bowl, USC’s 2024 season could feature a fierce quarterback competition as the Trojans try to bounce back. — Paolo Uggetti

MVP: Moss, whose six touchdown passes not only were a Holiday Bowl record but the most by a USC quarterback in his first start and any bowl game.


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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. 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 incredible 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.

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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!


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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 in the second half of the season, winning four of their past 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 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 score in the game’s first three minutes. After that, Virginia Tech took control.

The win provided 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 touchdowns, the last one a 10-yarder in the fourth quarter to give his team a two-touchdown lead.


Tuesday, Dec. 26

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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).


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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.


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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

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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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