College football is more than just a sport, it is a religion. True fans watch every game, week in and week out, win or lose, they will still wear their colors and sing their fight songs. Whether it is the team they grew up watching with their parents or their own alma mater that they continue to proudly support, college football fans are arguably the best in the sports world. They are rewarded for their loyalty and dedication with a season of hard fought games culminating in a bowl birth. Unlike professional football, there are multiple championship games for the teams to contend, they are the bowl games. As great as it is for small and large programs alike to have an opportunity to cap off a season of hard work with a bowl win, many get lost in the shuffle. There are 41 bowl games this year, and with eyes intently watching the top 25 ranked teams, some spectacular showcases put on by smaller schools get lost on the fans. So here are the top 10 bowl games for the 2016-17 college football season.
- FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL: Idaho 61 Colorado State 50
This second half of this game was high-flying fast-paced college football at its best and saw the Idaho Vandals improve their bowl game record to 3-0 in their 74-year history (a statistic that would astonish spoiled Alabama and Notre Dame fans who likely feel that championship contention is their birth right). Played on Boise State’s historic blue field, this was a true spectacle. The 111 combined points scored by both teams is an impressive feat alone, but it is even more impressive considering neither team scored a single point in the first quarter! Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens fired the first shot with a 52-yard touchdown pass to Olabisi Johnson (who enjoyed a breakout year that saw him average insane 21.9 yards per catch), and everything snowballed from there. Idaho responded by scoring 6 unanswered touchdowns. A touchdown pass from Nick Stevens to Michael Gallup ended the streak, but Idaho jumped out to a 48-14 lead. Colorado State astonishingly fought back to narrow the gap. The fourth quarter gave us some of the most exciting football of the year as the two teams combined for 56 points (36 of which was scored by Colorado State). Despite losing, Olabisi Johnson played the game of his life as he caught 7 passes for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a 2-point conversion.
- SAN DIEGO COUNTY CREDIT UNION POINSETTIA BOWL: BYU 24 Wyoming 21
Kalani Sitake capped off his first season as BYU’s head coach with a 9-4 record and a bowl victory over Wyoming. A running back for the Cougars from 1997-2000, Sitake played under coaching legend LaVell Edwards (257-101-3 in 29 years) and finds himself replacing campus legend Bronco Mendenhall (99-43 in 11 years). Sitake is well on his way to climbing to the ranks of those men as he has become the first coach in school history to win a bowl game in his first season. As for the game, Wyoming was slow out of the gate, failing to score any points in the first half. BYU did not have that problem, as sophomore quarterback Tanner Mangum scored a touchdown on a 3-yard run with 0:38 left in the first quarter. Mangum had attempted only 33 passes this season prior to the game while serving as back up to the immensely talented, but injury plagued, fifth-year quarterback Taysom Hill. Mangum was not called upon to put the team on his back however, that duty was bestowed upon senior running back Jamaal Williams. Williams would be the x-factor as he carried the ball 26 times for 210 yards and a touchdown in the muddy rainy conditions that hindered the passing game (Coach Sitake rushed for mere 261 yards in his whole 4-year career). Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen threw 2 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter in a comeback attempt, but ultimately Williams and BYU ran away with the game.
- ST. PETERSBURG BOWL: Mississippi State 17 Miami (Ohio) 16
The 6-7 record Mississippi State finished with is their worst finish under head coach Dan Mullen since his first season with the team in 2009. The Miami of Ohio Red Hawks 6-7 finish, however, is their best since 2010. At the beginning of the year many Bulldog fans were worried about how the team would perform after the departure of fan favorite quarterback Dak Prescott, but on this day it was as if Prescott never left as sophomore Nick Fitzgerald rose to the occasion. Fitzgerald passed for 136 yards and rushed for 132 more and 2 touchdowns. A tightly contested defensive contest saw Mississippi State trail 16-7 late in the third quarter. Fitzgerald broke off a 44-yard touchdown run to keep his team in the game. A 36-yard field goal by Westin Graves with 12:03 left in the game gave Mississippi State their first lead of the game. Graves grew up in Flowood, just two and a half hours away from Mississippi State campus. With 5 seconds left in the game, Nick Dowd’s go-ahead field goal was blocked, securing a Bulldog victory. Those watching on TV were left with one of two reactions: staring in horror at the screen with their jaw all the way on the floor or jumping out of their seats ringing their cow bells.
- ADVOCARE V100 TEXAS BOWL: Kansas State 33 Texas A&M 28
The nail-biting loss Kansas State caps off Texas A&M’s 3rd straight 8-5 season. Running back Keith Ford scored on an early 7-yard run to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead. Jesse Ertz responded with a pair of touchdowns; a 79-yard pass to Byron Pringle and a 5-yard run. This gave the Wildcats the lead, but due to a blocked PAT, the score stood 13-7 Kansas State. Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Ricky Seals-Jones. Knight rose to prominence as a breakout player for the Oklahoma Sooners before transferring to Texas A&M for the 2016 season. Kansas State jumped out to a 10-point lead before halftime. Although Texas A&M narrowed the gap to a 2-point margin in the third quarter, they found themselves trailing 33-28 in the fourth. With 2:11 left in the game, Texas A&M failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker who rushed, untouched, at Knight, who rushed a pass to Damion Ratley which hit the turf sealing the game. Instead of the traditional Gatorade bath, the Kansas State players treated their 77-year old head coach Bill Snyder to a confetti shower.
- HYUNDAI SUN BOWL: 18Stanford 25 North Carolina 23
North Carolina’s star quarterback Mitch Trubisky made a name for himself with his 4,056 total yards of offense in 2016. His Tar Heels would go on to finish 8-5. Stanford would finish 10-3, despite rotating between quarterbacks Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns, they would also have to fend off the Tar Heels without the aid of their superstar do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey “skipped” the game in order to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. He accumulated 7,033 total yards (including rushing, receiving, passing, kick & punt returns) and 33 touchdowns in his 3-year collegiate career. Trubisky connected with Ryan Switzer for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Tar Heels an early 7-0 lead. Stanford would answer back with four unanswered scores consisting of a 49-yard touchdown pass from Chryst to Bryce Love, and 3 field goals by Conrad Ukropina. Bryce Love had a breakout game in the wake of McCaffrey’s absence, rushing for 115 yards on 22 carries. With 6:56 left in the third quarter a Nick Weiler field goal ended North Carolina’s drought. Jordan Brown scored a rushing touchdown from 5 yards out to give the Tar Heels a 17-16 lead. In the fourth quarter, Dallas Lloyd intercepted Trubisky for a 19-yard pick six. Ukropina added to the lead with his fourth field goal of the day. Trubisky led his team on a 97-yard drive capped off with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard with 25 seconds left in the game. Tar Heels failed to convert the 2-point conversion or recover the football on the ensuing onside kick.
- LOCKHEED MARTIN ARMED FORCES BOWL: LA Tech 48 25Navy 45
Louisiana Tech senior quarterback Ryan Higgins capped the best season of his career with a 9-5 record. Higgins had passed for 4,678 yards, 41 touchdowns, and only 8 interceptions. His Armed Forces Bowl counterpart, Navy sophomore Zach Abey, had a far different season. Running the Navy offense, Abey only attempted 35 passes all season coming into the game. He had completed 20 of them for 352 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions while rushing 70 times for 384 yards and 6 touchdowns. Navy had finished 9-5 under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. Coach Niumatalolo had led Navy to its only 11-win season in the school’s 123-year history in 2015. Higgins scored first on the ground with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. Navy wouldn’t steal the lead until a 2-yard Abey rushing touchdown in the second quarter. The 21-17 lead didn’t last long as Higgins threw a 3-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Carlos Henderson. Throughout the rest of the game, LA Tech would build a small lead only for Navy to come back and tie the score again and again. The Navy Midshipmen would not go away. On the last play of the game, Jonathan Barnes made a 32-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. Higgins threw for 409 yards and 4 touchdowns in the victory.
- BIRMINGHAM BOWL: USF 46 South Carolina 39 (OT)
Willie Taggart has coached the South Florida Bulls to their best season since beginning Division I play, tallying 11 wins and only 2 losses. USF junior quarterback Quinton Flowers enjoyed a dream season that saw him pass for 2,546 yards and 22 touchdowns, only 6 interceptions, and lead his team in rushing with 1,425 yards and 15 touchdowns. Averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt and 8.1 yards per rushing attempt, Flowers established himself as a playmaker. Flowers continued his stellar play against the Gamecocks as he finished the game with 261 passing yards, 105 rushing yards, and 5 total touchdowns. The game started with USF jumping out to a 22-7 lead after Flowers scored three rushing touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. South Carolina remained undeterred, keeping the contest tight throughout the game. In the fourth quarter, trailing 39-24 Bryson Allen-Williams made an amazing one-handed interception to set up a South Carolina touchdown. South Carolina would score again to force overtime. In overtime Flowers only needed one play to throw a touchdown pass to Elkanah Dillon, while the Bulls defense contained the Gamecocks to secure the victory.
- ROSE BOWL PRESENTED BY NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL: 9USC 52 5Penn State 49
The ESPN Mobile App gave Penn State a whopping 97.7%-win probability at the 2:16 mark in the fourth quarter. But where there is a will there is a way, as USC given just a 2.3% chance of winning the game, proved that in college football anything can happen. Led by sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley, the Penn State Nittany Lions felt like playoff snubs after defeating the #3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, and the #8 Wisconsin Badgers on their way to winning the Big Ten Conference Championship. They would finish the season 11-3, the best record of head coach James Franklin’s career. As an interim coach Clay Helton had gone 6-4 with the USC Trojans over the previous two years, but in his first full season as USC head coach, he led them to a 10-3 record with freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. The first quarter was all USC as a Darnold touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett, and two Matt Boermeester field goals gave them a 13-0 lead. Darnold and McSorley battled back and forth in the second quarter, each accounting for two touchdowns as USC led 27-21 at halftime. Penn State took the lead early in the third thanks to a 79-yard touchdown run by Saquon Barkley. Barkley was coming off a year where he scored 22 touchdowns, Barkley would finish the game with 249 total yards and 3 touchdowns. Penn State outscored USC 28-8 in the third quarter, going into the fourth with a 49-35 lead. With 1:20 left in the game, the freshman Darnold threw his fifth touchdown pass of the game, tying the score at 49. On 3rd and 9 on his own side of the field, McSorley threw his third interception of the game, giving USC the ball on the 36-yardline with 27 seconds left on the clock. Three plays later Matt Boermeester kicked the game-winning field goal from 46 yards out.
- CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL: 11Florida State 33 6Michigan 32
The 10-3 record that the Florida State Seminoles finished the 2016 season with is tied for their second worst record under head coach Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles had one of the most prolific rushing attacks of 2016, led by junior running back Dalvin Cook. Considered by many to be a snub for the Heisman Trophy, Cook has amassed 5,399 yards from scrimmage in his collegiate career. Cook scored first with a 2-yard rushing touchdown in the incredible nail-biter that the Seminoles and Wolverines put on for the crowd. His touchdown would be answered with a 19-yard field goal by Kenny Hill, but then a 42-yard field goal by Florida State’s Ricky Aguayo and a 92-yard touchdown pass from Deondre Francois to Nyqwan Murray extended the lead to 17-3 by the end of the first quarter. Allen and Aguayo exchanged field goals into the third quarter, stretching the score to 20-9. Aguayo faced added pressure with every kick as the Florida native freshman had a family name to live up to. Aguayo’s older brother Roberto Aguayo had won the Lou Groza award as a freshman in 2013 and had made 69 of his 78 career field goal attempts at Florida State on his way to being drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Ricky Aguayo would finish his freshman season with 7 missed field goals, 2 away of his brother’s career total. Michigan’s Mike McCray intercepted a Francois pass and ran it back for a touchdown, but the 2-point conversion failed, leaving the score 20-15 heading into the fourth. Francois and Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight traded touchdowns before Michigan running back Chris Evans ran for a 30-yard touchdown, and Speight connected with Amara Darboh for the two-point conversion. The 30-27 lead was Michigan’s first of the game. Keith Gavin returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to the 34-yardline. In four plays Francois found Murray for the go-ahead touchdown, but the extra point was blocked and returned by Josh Metellus for a defensive PAT, narrowing the Florida State lead to a single point and giving Michigan the ball. On fourth down, with 16 seconds left in the game, Speight’s pass was intercepted by Carlos Becker III sealing a Seminole victory.
- COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PRESENTED BY AT&T: 2Clemson 35 1Alabama 31
Fitting that the biggest bowl game of them all was also the greatest on played. The 2016 season marked Clemson’s second 14-win season in the program’s 115-year history. Alabama also finished 14-1, with this monumental game marking their only loss. Highly touted Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson passed for a career-high 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns while rushing for 629 yards and 9 touchdowns as he led the Tigers to their first national championship since 1981, and their first victory over Alabama since 1905. It was a story of redemption as the Tigers had been washed away by the Crimson Tide in the 2015 national championship game. Alabama sophomore Bo Scarbrough scored first with touchdown runs of 25 and 37 yards. Watson put his team on his back and scored on a 7-yard run before the half. An Adam Griffith field goal gave Alabama a 17-7 lead in the third, but Watson chipped away at that lead with a 24-yard strike to Hunter Renfrow. Alabama’s true freshman quarterback had proven himself a resilient leaderand struck back with a 68-yard pass to O.J. Howard. Early in the fourth Watson connected with Mike Williams for a touchdown from 4 yards out to cut the deficit down to three points. The final five minutes of the game was fast and loose football that kept fans eye’s glued to their screens. With 4:38 left in the game Clemson stole their first lead with a 1-yard touchdown run by Wayne Gallman. Trailing 28-24 Alabama worked fast as Hurts broke off a 30-yard touchdown run. Alabama led 31-28 with 2:07 left in the ball game. Watson led his team on a 9-play, 68-yard drive that ended when Watson found Renfrow in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with one second left on the clock. Clemson recovered the ensuing onside, effectively dethroning the Crimson Tide.