We've made it through bowl season of the 2021 college football campaign. From breakout players to notable performances and so much more, our reporters broke down everything you need to know from all the bowl games.
Tuesday, Jan. 4
TaxAct Texas Bowl: Kansas State 42, LSU 20
The Wildcats handled a depleted LSU team with ease, as K-State's offense rolled in Collin Klein's first game as play-caller as interim offensive coordinator. Deuce Vaughn had 146 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and another touchdown receiving, and Skylar Thompson finished his career as the winningest quarterback in team history going 21-of-29 for 259 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers had just one player who started the season opener on defense, defensive back Jay Ward, start this game. LSU, playing under interim coach Brad Davis, also had zero scholarship quarterbacks available. Jontre Kirklin, a wide receiver, filled in, going 7-of-11 for 138 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, but 81 of those yards and a touchdown came on the final play of the game. It was an unusual finish to an unusual non-CFP bowl season that saw several teams unable to play because of COVID issues, and several games canceled as a result.-- Dave Wilson
Saturday, Jan. 1
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Baylor 21, Ole Miss 7
Baylor knocked off Ole Miss in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, 21-7, but the big story of the night was Matt Corral's injury sustained in the first quarter that ultimately kept him out for the rest of the game.
Corral injured his right leg after being sacked by Baylor defensive tackle Cole Maxwell for a six-yard loss. He was replaced by freshman Luke Altmyer, who understandably wasn't able to give the Rebels' offense quite the same spark that the Heisman candidate Corral had all season.
Baylor's defense, which was going to be the best Ole Miss faced all season regardless of who was playing quarterback, showed up. They forced Ole Miss into three interceptions and had 10 sacks on the night.
Ole Miss came into the game 101st in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game, and Baylor took advantage of that weakness, rushing for 280 yards. It resulted in the bulk of Baylor's offensive attack, as they had just 40 yards through the air. With the win, the Bears clinched their first 12-win season in school history, and their first Sugar Bowl win since 1957. -- Harry Lyles Jr.
For much of the first half, Utah played with a team-of-destiny-type aura. The Utes took a 35-21 lead into halftime and it was almost if it would take an all-time great offensive performance to change the trajectory of the game. And that, of course, is exactly what Ohio State got from quarterback C.J. Stroud and receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba and the Buckeyes roared back to win one of the most exciting Rose Bowl games in history.
Smith-Njigba's 15 catches for 347 receiving yards are new Rose Bowl records and the 347 yards doubles as the most receiving yards in bowl history. Both Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. caught three touchdown passes, both equally the Rose Bowl record.
Stroud completed 37-of-46 passes for 573 yards with six touchdowns, breaking the Rose Bowl records in both categories. Stroud's passing yards are the second-most ever by a Big Ten quarterback, falling shy of the record (621), which was set by Illinois' Dave Wilson against the Buckeyes in 1980. --Kyle Bonagura
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: No. 9Oklahoma State37, No. 5Notre Dame 35
Oklahoma State was inches away from a Big 12 championship and a potential College Football Playoff spot. Then, the Cowboys stumbled into the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, falling behind 28-7 to an inspired Notre Dame playing its first game under new head coach Marcus Freeman.
Would the Pokes simply fade away? Just the opposite.
Behind quarterback Spencer Sanders and a revived defense, Oklahoma State put together the largest comeback in team history, scoring 30 unanswered points to win 37-35, and record 12 victories for the first time under coach Mike Gundy. If not for two red-zone turnovers, including a Sanders fumble with 3:07 play, Oklahoma State would have won easily.
Sanders and wide receivers Brennan Presley (10 catches, 137 yards) and Tay Martin (10 catches, 104 yards, three touchdowns) carved up a Notre Dame defense seemingly missing Freeman as its play-caller. The junior quarterback became the second FBS player to record 350 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and four passing touchdowns in a bowl game (Clemson's Tajh Boyd in the 2014 Orange Bowl).
Oklahoma State's defense, its signature unit all season, overcame the loss of play-caller Jim Knowles to shut down Notre Dame's run game (42 yards on 21 attempts) and force two turnovers. Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez led the way with a team-high 11 tackles, an interception and two pass breakups.
Oklahoma State's rally ruined Freeman's debut, as Notre Dame seemed poised to win its first New Year's Six-level bowl since the 1994 Cotton Bowl Classic. The Irish are 0-8 in BCS/New Year's Six bowls, the most losses by any team without a win. Quarterback Jack Coan had a career performance (509 pass yards, five touchdowns) in his final game with Notre Dame, but the shaky defense and no run game came back to cost the Irish.-- Adam Rittenberg
Vrbo Citrus Bowl: No. 22Kentucky20, No. 15 Iowa 17
The Vrbo Citrus Bowl looked like it would be remembered for a horrible quarterback sneak that gave Iowa an unlikely offensive spark.
Instead, the game will be remembered for Wan'Dale Robinson and Kentucky's resiliency.
Robinson, the transfer from Nebraska who grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky, had 86 receiving yards on Kentucky's game-winning touchdown drive, including an incredible 52-yard catch-and-run to reach the Iowa 1-yard line. He took a big hit after a 17-yard gain on third-and-10, and then made the play of the game. Robinson finished with 10 receptions for 170 yards in the win.
Kentucky's shorthanded defense played without star Josh Paschal, J.J. Weaver and others, and looked whipped after allowing back-to-back Iowa touchdown drives. But the Wildcats held up the rest of the way and senior linebacker DeAndre Square sealed the win with his first interception of the season. After its first 7-0 start since 1950, Kentucky records its second 10-win season in the past four years.
Iowa had a fourth-and-1 opportunity to likely seal the win but, playing without All-America center Tyler Linderbaum, elected to punt. The Hawkeyes outgained Kentucky 384-353 but lost the turnover margin 3-1 and ultimately needed more from their two signature units: defense and special teams. After rising to No. 2 nationally in October, Iowa won a division title but ended the season feeling a bit unfulfilled.-- Adam Rittenberg
Outback Bowl: No. 21Arkansas24, Penn State10
Arkansas had little problem handling a Penn State team that was depleted on defense and inept on offense, giving the Razorbacks a win in their first bowl game appearance since 2016. The Hogs' nine wins this season are more than the program has seen in the past three seasons combined (seven wins from 2018-20).
Arkansas relied heavily on quarterback KJ Jefferson's ability to run, and the Nittany Lions couldn't contain him -- nor could they get their own ground game going, which has been a problem for them all season. Jefferson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and finished with 110 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Meanwhile, PSU quarterback Sean Clifford threw two interceptions -- including one in the end zone in the fourth quarter -- and also didn't get enough help from his offensive line. --Heather Dinich
Friday, Dec. 31
What a difference four weeks makes.
Georgia had been the dominant force in college football all season, but after the SEC championship game shellacking at the hands of Alabama, all bets were off. Suddenly, the Dawgs looked vulnerable, the season a mirage.
Unfortunately for Michigan, that performance was little more than a blip on the radar.
Georgia absolutely dominated the Capital One Orange Bowl on both sides of the ball, scoring on its first five drives against Michigan's supposedly remarkable defense, while stuffing the Wolverines' run game and utterly frustrating QB Cade McNamara.
Stetson Bennett spent the past month listening to criticism about his performance against Alabama, with a contingent of the fan base begging for a late QB change. Bennett responded by throwing three touchdowns in the win over Michigan, including connecting with running back James Cook on throws of 53 and 39.
It was a somber ending to a terrific season for the Wolverines. Head coach Jim Harbaugh was nearly fired after a dismal 2020, but the Wolverines toppled Ohio State, won the Big Ten and made the playoff. In the Orange Bowl, however, they ran into a buzzsaw. There will be debates about the future of the QB position -- McNamara or J.J. McCarthy? -- and how they'll replaceAidan Hutchinsonand David Ojabo on defense, but more than anything, there will be real questions about how close Michigan is to competing for a national title. After years of Ohio State being the lone goal on the Michigan vision board, 2020 allowed the program to dream bigger. Georgia offered a stunning reminder that that next mountain is even tougher to climb.
Now the Bulldogs will head to the College Football Playoff national championship and a rematch with the Crimson Tide. The narratives will be clear leading into the game, but UGA certainly showed there's no guarantee Part II will look a whole lot like the original. -- David M. Hale
The Crimson Tide simply smothered Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, rushing for 302 yards, an all-time Alabama bowl record, and holding the Bearcats to 218 total yards. Brian Robinson ran for 204 yards, becoming just the third running back in College Football Playoff history to eclipse 200, joining Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and Oklahoma's Rodney Anderson, and becoming the first Alabama back ever to do it in a bowl. Cincinnati's defense held up in the secondary, forcing Heisman winner Bryce Young to check down frequently but he still threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Jameson Williams, who has averaged 21.3 yards per catch this season, caught seven passes for 62 yards, but the Bearcats couldn't apply that same pressure on the Tide running game. The Alabama defense made life tough on Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, holding him to 144 yards passing on 17-of-32 completions, sacking him five times, and batting down three passes at the line of scrimmage, including one when he was throwing to a wide-open Alec Pierce in the endzone in the first quarter. The Crimson Tide are back in the national title game for the ninth time in the last 13 years. --Dave Wilson
Prior to the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, only two MAC teams had ever beaten Power 5 opponents in a bowl game. Central Michigan made it three teams with a 24-21 win over Washington State. The Chippewas weren't even supposed to play in this game, originally scheduled to play Boise State in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. The game was canceled because Boise State was unable to participate due to COVID-19, but Central Michigan was able to find a new opponent in Washington State. The Chippewas got 137 rush yards and a touchdown out of the nation's leading rusher, Lew Nichols III, in the game, and were able to hold off a second-half surge by the Cougars to finish the season 9-4. --- Tom VanHaaren
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Wake Forest 38, Rutgers 10
Wake Forest punctuated its historic season with the program's largest margin of victory ever in a bowl game, beating a Rutgers team that replaced Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl because of COVID-19 and other issues within the Aggies' roster. Wake's 11-3 record also matched the best in school history -- an accomplishment that was only possible because of the improbable matchup against the Scarlet Knights (5-8).
After having only nine days to prepare, Rutgers, which was making its first bowl appearance since 2014, when it joined the Big Ten, had no answer for the Deacs' duo of quarterback Sam Hartman and receiver A.T. Perry. Perry capped his season with a career-high 10 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Hartman accounted for three touchdowns -- and no interceptions -- while completing 23 of 39 passes for 304 yards. Wake's offense, which entered the game No. 5 in the FBS, has been its identity all season, but this performance surpassed the previous school record of a 21-point margin of victory in a bowl game (38-17 against Oregon in the 2002 Seattle Bowl).-- Heather Dinich
Thursday, Dec. 30
That Arizona State's first drive of the game ended in a Jayden Daniels interception was a bad omen. What transpired during the rest of the Las Vegas Bowl Thursday night was a vintage Badgers performance as they ran the ball 43 times and controlled possession for 32 minutes of a 20-13 final over the Sun Devils. Wisconsin's defense did its part, not just by picking off Daniels, but by holding ASU to just 60 rushing yards. All the Badgers' offense had to do was score 20 points and then nothing else. Literally. Their first three second half drives ended in three punts before they put together a whopping 18-play, 90-yard, 10-minute drive that sealed the deal.
The win gives Wisconsin a nine-win season and its seventh bowl win in the past eight years.-- Paolo Uggetti
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl:No. 10Michigan State31,No. 12Pitt21
A late second-half comeback by Michigan State gave the Spartans the first New Year's Six bowl victory of the postseason, defeating Pitt 31-21 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Both teams were missing their biggest stars in quarterback Kenny Pickett for Pitt, and running back Kenneth Walker III for Michigan State. Pickett's replacement, Nick Patti, was injured on a touchdown run midway through the first quarter and the Panthers were then left with Davis Beville, who finished the game 14-of-18 passing with 149 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Despite Pitt being down to their third quarterback, Michigan State was the team tasked with completing a comeback after falling down 21-10. Quarterback Payton Thorne led the Spartans on a drive that was finished off by a sensational touchdown grab by Jayden Reed to make it a 24-21 game with 2:46 left in the game. Michigan State would then seal the game defensively with a pick-six, when it appeared Beville might have been fulfilling the ultimate "next man up" scenario by leading a comeback as QB3.
It was an exciting finish to what was an exciting turnaround season for the Spartans in Mel Tucker's second season as head coach. -- Harry Lyles Jr.
TransPerfect Music City Bowl: Purdue 48, Tennessee 45 (OT)
It was anything but a conventional season for Purdue, capped by one of the sweetest endings imaginable Thursday in a wild 48-45 overtime victory against Tennessee in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl. The Boilermakers beat two top-5 teams (Iowa and Michigan State) but also lost to Minnesota at home and were beaten soundly at home by Wisconsin a few weeks later. But winning nine games for the first time since 2003 -- and doing it without star receiver David Bell and star defensive end George Karlaftis in the bowl game -- was the epitome of a character win for Jeff Brohm and the entire Purdue program.
In addition to Bell and Karlaftis, the Boilermakers were also missing several key defensive backs, but quarterback Aidan O'Connell overcame three interceptions to pass for 534 yards and five touchdowns. The Vols led by two touchdowns early in the back-and-forth affair and appeared to be on their way to just their fourth season of more than seven wins in the last 14 years.
But Purdue kept fighting back, and after officials ruled that Jaylen Wright's forward progress had been stopped just short of the goal line on fourth down on Tennessee's overtime possession despite replays showing that he had lunged the ball across the goal line, Purdue's Mitchell Fineran won it for the Boilermakers with a 39-yard field goal. -- Chris Low
North Carolina and South Carolina arrived at the Duke's Mayo Bowl with identical 6-6 records but entirely different perspectives. For the Gamecocks, reaching bowl eligibility was a minor miracle in coach Shame Beamer's first year. For the Tar Heels, the season proved a massive disappointment after a preseason No. 10 ranking and playoff hopes were dashed early. The trend lines continued in the bowl game, with South Carolina dominating from the outset and winning 38-21. Sam Howell's UNC career likely ended with a loss in his hometown against the same team he beat in his first game. Beamer's first season ended with one of South Carolina's best offensive performances, with running back Kevin Harris running for 182 yards and a touchdown.
There will be legitimate hype in 2022 for the Gamecocks, as Spencer Rattler arrives as a transfer to lead to lead the offense. For UNC, big questions loom about how this season fell so far short of expectations and how the Tar Heels will move forward without Howell at the helm.-- David J. Hale
Wednesday, Dec. 29
Cheez-It Bowl: No. 19 Clemson20,Iowa State13
The Cheez-It Bowl went similarly to how Clemson's season has gone. It wasn't pretty, but they got to 10 wins for the 11th straight season. That's the third longest streak in FBS history, behind Alabama (14 straight from 2008-2021) and Florida State (14 straight from 1987-2000). Clemson's offense only had one touchdown against Iowa State when running back Will Shipley ran for 12 yards and a score to put Clemson up 13-3. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei only threw for 187 yards and an interception, which again was similar to how the season has gone for him. The Tigers came away with a seven-point win, but with departures on the coaching staff on roster, Dabo Swinney needs to regroup in the offseason and try to get the team pointed in the right direction for 2022.-- Tom VanHaaren
Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 16 Oklahoma47, No. 14 Oregon 32
Bob Stoops got a Gatorade bath at the end of the Valero Alamo Bowl in Oklahoma's 47-32 win over Oregon. Stoops looked like he was having a blast on the sideline before the bath, and maybe at a high point when his son, Drake, scored a touchdown in the second quarter to put Oklahoma up 16-3. The Sooners took a 30-3 lead into halftime, and although the team gave up 29 second-half points, Oklahoma was still able to give Stoops a win as interim coach. Quarterback Caleb Williams only missed six passes and threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns, but the team got a boost from running back Kennedy Brooks, who ran for 142 yards and three scores in the game. Despite not having Lincoln Riley calling the plays, the Oklahoma offense looked explosive and the team looked like they were out to prove a point in this game.-- VanHaaren
Virginia Tech's defense had no answers for Maryland's balanced offensive attack, as the Terrapins ran past the Hokies 54-10 at Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Terps had 481 total yards of offense (206 rushing, 275 passing), and 22 first downs compared to Virginia Tech's 12. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa finished the game 20-of-24 with 265 yards and two touchdowns, while wideout Darryl Jones had four receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. The Terrapins were simply out there with a different energy required to win the game.
Virginia Tech played as you might expect a 6-6 team with an interim coach to look. While the Hokies didn't look great from a performance standpoint on the field, they at least made somewhat of a statement (good or bad is up to you) with their helmets, which had the Yankees' interlocking "NY" logo on one side. --Harry Lyles Jr.
Tuesday, Dec. 28
In a mostly uneventful win for Minnesota, 6-foot-9, 380-pound Daniel Faalele served up what should be one of the highlights of bowl season. His second-quarter two-yard touchdown run made him one of the largest human beings to ever score a touchdown - at any level.
At 410 pounds, former Baylor tight end LaQuan McGowan is likely the heaviest college football player to ever to score a touchdown, but his was a reception (in 2015), begging the question is Faalele the heaviest to ever score a rushing touchdown? He weighs roughly 50 pounds more than Williams "The Refrigerator" Perry was when he was used an offensive weapon for the Chicago Bears in 1985.
The 18-6 win caps off an impressive season for Minnesota, which won seven of its final nine games and a second-place finish in the Big Ten West. West Virginia drops to 6-7, their second losing season in three years since Neal Brown replaced Dana Holgorsen in Morgantown. -- Kyle Bonagura
So much for Mike Leach's quest for payback. Leach is still waiting for his millions from Texas Tech, and couldn't get a consolation bowl win against his former employer. Instead, Texas Tech overwhelmed Leach's Mississippi State team, stealing the spotlight behind a ferocious defense, freshman quarterback Donovan Smith and several soon-to-be departing coaches who stayed to finish the season.
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, the new coach at Abilene Christian, saw his unit fluster Will Rogers, sacking the Bulldogs star four times and holding him to just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Tyree Wilson had two sacks and a pass breakup, and the Red Raiders forced three turnovers. -- Adam Rittenberg
Air Force quarterback Haaziq Daniels wasn't just efficient on Tuesday, he was historically efficient.
Daniels completed 9 of 10 pass attempts for 252 yards -- the second most by an Air Force player in a bowl game in program history -- with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Falcons' 25.2 yards per pass attempt set an FBS bowl record, breaking USC's record that stood for over 90 years, when the Trojans had 21.7 yards per attempt in the 1930 Rose Bowl.
And it all came after not attempting one pass in their final game of the regular season.
Daniels, who averages eight pass attempts and 84.7 passing yards per game, racked up 199 in the first half, the program's most in the first half of a game over the past 15 seasons. Air Force stuck to its running game identity, but the Falcons' uncharacteristic big plays in the passing game -- including two over 60 yards -- catapulted them to a 28-14 halftime lead they'd never relinquish.
Shifty Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham struggled at times, but also made enough of his signature clutch plays to keep the Cardinals within a field goal late into the fourth quarter. In what was a very even game, it came down to a few big plays -- and Air Force made more in all three phases of the game when it mattered the most. -- Heather Dinich
Houston was fortunate that Auburn was a bit more of a mess in what was an ugly win that stamped an impressive 12-2 season for the Cougars while dropping the Tigers to below .500 for the first time since 2012, delivering a blow to the mighty SEC.
Houston looked like the better team, particularly in the first half, but it was a sloppy, seesaw game that nobody truly controlled until Auburn came up short on a fourth-down attempt late in the fourth quarter, when it trailed 17-13. Neither quarterback was spectacular in what was a defensive showdown, both teams were unable to sustain drives with third-down conversions, and both of their running games were stagnant.
Houston receiver Nathaniel Dell, who caught 10 passes for 150 yards, continued to deliver in the clutch and shined the brightest on an otherwise dreary afternoon for the Cougars' offense. His production helped compensate for two turnovers and a questionable decision to try a trick play in the fourth quarter.
Auburn's defense woke up after allowing Houston a touchdown on its opening drive, but it was also at times undisciplined. It didn't help that two players -- cornerback Jaylin Simpson and safety Smoke Monday -- were ejected for targeting.Auburn finishes the season on a five-game losing streak, its longest losing streak since that 2012 season (also five straight).-- Heather Dinich
Monday, Dec. 27
Western Michigan's offensive line ensured a fun afternoon of football and their second-ever bowl win, as the Broncos rolled past Nevada 52-24. The Broncos rushed for 352 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. And while their passing attack wasn't a focal part of their offense in the game, quarterback Kaleb Eleby was never under any serious duress because of how in sync the offensive line was.
Meanwhile, Nevada was never able to get into a rhythm offensively and lacked any sort of downfield game. Western Michigan's defense wasn't a strength during the season, but the Broncos did a great job of keeping the Wolf Pack offense in check. It was a complete performance by Tim Lester's team, which finishes the year 8-5 with a pair of wins over conference champions in Pitt and Northern Illinois. -- Harry Lyles Jr.
Saturday, Dec. 25
Georgia State turned a close game into a rout with a 28-point third quarter, helping the Panthers to the first eight-win season in program history. The game became the Darren Grainger show. Grainger had a season-high 325 yards of offense, throwing for 203 yards and three touchdowns, and adding 122 more yards and a score on the ground as Georgia State became the fifth Sun Belt team to score at least 50 points in a bowl game. Thanks in large part to Grainger, Georgia State rushed for over 250 yards as a team, the sixth time this season it has reached that mark. Going into the game, its five 250-yard rushing games tied for fifth most in the FBS. -- Andrea Adelson
Thursday, Dec. 23
Nobody is going to hang the Gasparilla Bowl between UCF and Florida in the Louvre, but this will forever be considered a work of art in Orlando. Not only is it UCF's first win over the Gators, but it's the Knights' first-ever win over one of the state's "Big Three" programs (Florida, Florida State, Miami). For three years, UCF waited on a chance to play Florida, and though both teams did not have seasons that they expected when the season began, this one will always have a historic spot in UCF football history. Particularly because of the way they won. UCF receiverRyan O'Keefeproved to be the fastest player on the field, turning in multiple big plays to total 251 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. He paid tribute to late UCF running back Otis Anderson Jr. on his score, throwing up the No. 2 the way Anderson did. Beyond big plays from O'Keefe, UCF imposed its will in the trenches as the game wore on, grinding Florida down with 288 yards rushing. It was quite an exclamation point to end the first season under coach Gus Malzahn. -- Andrea Adelson
Brett Gabbert went 22 of 31 for 228 yards and two touchdowns to lead the RedHawks to their first bowl win since 2010 in a game that was created just weeks ago for a surplus of bowl-eligible teams. The Mean Green were without running back DeAndre Torrey, who did not play for undisclosed reasons. Without Torrey, who averaged 101 yards per game, North Texas was held to a season-low 89 yards on 32 carries. Miami wraps up its season with a 7-6 record, while North Texas, which started the season 1-6, had its five-game winning streak snapped and finished the season 6-7. -- Dave Wilson
Wednesday, Dec. 22
For 59 minutes, Missouri played Army's game in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and it worked -- the Tigers got just eight possessions, thanks to Army's long-possession ways, but they took a 22-21 lead when Brady Cook, in his first career start, found Keke Chism for the go-ahead score with 1:11 left in regulation. But then Army played Missouri's game and won: Cook completed 27 of 34 passes for 238 yards on the evening, but Jabari Laws completed a pair of huge throws to work Army into last-second field goal range, and Cole Talley, who missed a 43-yarder in the first quarter, nailed a walk-off 41-yarder. Army got its first win over an SEC team since 2009 (and its first win over a non-Vanderbilt SEC team since 1986). -- Bill Connelly
Tuesday, Dec. 21
Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl:No. 24San Diego State38, UTSA 24
Brady Hoke's Aztecs finished off an impressive 12-2 season Tuesday night with a 38-24 win over UTSA, which had only one loss leading up to this game. All season long, San Diego State's offense had been its weakness. Punting and defense? The Aztecs had that covered. But on a night where they knew they needed to put up points against the Roadrunners, senior quarterback Lucas Johnson stepped up. After a whole season of playing the part of game manager, Johnson saved the best for last, throwing for 333 yards and three touchdowns, adding a rushing touchdown as well. He completed 24 of his 36 pass attempts, the most he's thrown in a game this season. And let us not leave this space without talking about the punt god himself. Matt Araiza hit a 33-yard field goal and punted for 140 yards on three kicks. His 51.18 yards-per-punt average is officially the best in the history of the game. -- Paolo Uggetti
If you like watching running backs, quarterbacks and even wide receivers run the ball over and over again on the way to a high score, then this was the bowl game for you. Wyoming and Kent State combined for more than 700 yards on the ground as the Cowboys took down the Golden Flashes 52-38. The star of the day was Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams, who averaged more yards per carry (12.5) than he did per pass attempt (11.5). Williams amassed over 200 yards on the ground and scored four rushing touchdowns. The crown jewel was that fourth one, where he ripped off an 80-yard dash that left every Kent State defender helpless to his speed. He added one touchdown pass too, just for fun. The win gives Wyoming its third bowl victory in five years. --Paolo Uggetti
Monday, Dec. 20
The Myrtle Beach Bowl started with a bang when Old Dominion'sLaMareon Jamesran the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. It was the first return for a score on the opening kickoff for an Old Dominion player, and it was also the first time a bowl game started with a kick return for a touchdown since the 2017 Military Bowl. That was the only touchdown scored by Old Dominion until the fourth quarter, though, and Tulsa was able to come out on top. Tulsa quarterbackDavis Brintook over the game and threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Tulsa finishes the season at 7-6, but the team won its last four games, including a victory over SMU. The overall record isn't what the Golden Hurricane were hoping for, but they can use the final games of the season as a catapult into next year. --Tom VanHaaren
Saturday, Dec. 18
No Billy Napier, no problem. As Louisiana-Lafayette's former head coach signed a recruiting class at Florida, the Ragin Cajuns polished off a near-perfect 13-1 season by holding off Marshall 36-21 in New Orleans. New coach Michael Desormeaux could barely hold back his smile after turning his first game as head coach into the Cajuns' 13 straight win -- it's their best season in program history. Desormeaux, who played at ULL from 2005 to '08 and has been coaching there since 2016, was chosen as Napier's successor earlier this month. The 36-year-old's rise has been rapid. He was named the Ragin Cajuns' co-offensive coordinator in 2021 and is now set to carry the program's success under Napier forward. In Saturday's game, his team put up nearly 500 yards of offense and made zero turnovers to the Herd's two. It was the difference.
Of all the job changes in the coaching carousel this season, Napier's departure from Lafayette seemed the most amicable. It was a testament to how mutually beneficial the relationship had been. Now, the school is hoping it can replicate those good vibes with Desormeaux. So far, so good. -- Uggetti
In a game that featured a pair of teams that took significant steps forward this season, Utah State polished off an incredible first season under coach Blake Anderson. A year ago, the Aggies saw coach Gary Andersen depart after just three games in the second season of his second tenure and finished the season 1-5. It was a low moment for the program, which had built a lot of momentum before Matt Wells left for Texas Tech after the 2018 season -- a season in which the Aggies finished ranked No. 22 in the AP poll. That was just the third time Utah State had ever finished in the AP Top 25 and this year will almost certainly be the fourth. The Aggies, who won the Mountain West, led the receiving votes category in the final poll of the regular season and figure to move up after a convincing 24-13 win against Oregon State. After the Beavers scored a touchdown on a three-play, 71-yard opening drive, Utah State kept them out of the end zone the rest of the game. -- Kyle Bonagura
LendingTree Bowl: Liberty 56, Eastern Michigan 20
Malik Willis didn't want to go out on the heels of three straight losses and was committed to hanging around for Liberty's bowl game. It was a good thing for him and a good thing for the Flames, as they looked a lot like the team that won 10 games a year ago on Saturday night in a 56-20 pummeling of Eastern Michigan. Willis showcased the kind of arm strength, athleticism and escaping ability that make him a projected first-round pick at quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft. Willis accounted for five touchdowns in a little more than three quarters of work, and the Flames picked up their eighth win of the season. Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, who received an extension and raise last month that makes him one of the highest-paid Group of 5 coaches, has guided the Flames to bowl wins in each of his three seasons. Liberty has won 26 games under Freeze since moving to the FBS ranks and is set to join Conference USA for the 2023 season. -- Chris Low
Never mind the steady rain in Shreveport, Louisiana. This matchup was never going to be about the passing game anyway. Not when it featured two of the most productive running backs in college football: UAB's DeWayne McBride, who entered the weekend ranked 20th in the FBS in rushing yards with 1,188, and BYU's Tyler Allgeier, who was tied for the most rushing touchdowns in the FBS with 20. And those two backs didn't disappoint. Allgeier was an absolute force, running for 192 yards and three touchdowns. But it was McBride who got the best of the battle, carrying UAB to a 31-28 win with a career-high 28 carries that went for 183 yards and a touchdown. -- Alex Scarborough
A week and a half ago, Fresno State star quarterback Jake Haener was still in the transfer portal. After head coach Kalen DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb left for Washington, Haener thought he needed to explore his options. But not only did Haener have a change of heart and withdraw his name from the portal, he was able to come back and start against UTEP, completing 26 of 41 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown in the 31-24 win. Make sure to give the Bulldogs' defense credit as well, though. After giving up 17 points in the first quarter and a half, they surrendered only 7 the rest of the way. Safety Levelle Bailey, who was injured in the third quarter and had to be helped off the field, came back and got a key fumble recovery to ice the game with less than 4 minutes remaining. --Scarborough
Deion Sanders' big week came to a screeching halt in the Celebration Bowl, as his Jackson State team was crushed by South Carolina State 31-10.
Sanders dominated the headlines earlier in the week after flipping superstar recruit Travis Hunter on national signing day, a first-of-its-kind grab for an FCS program and part of the highest-ranked signing class in FCS history. But the 11-win Tigers ran into a brick wall in the South Carolina State defense, which picked off QB Shedeur Sanders twice -- turning both into touchdowns -- and finished with three takeaways, while holding Jackson State to less than 200 yards of offense, including just 18 on the ground.
Bulldogs QB Corey Fields Jr. completed just 12 passes in the game, but four of them went for touchdowns.
The loss for Jackson State was its first against an FCS team this season -- the Tigers' lone defeat came to FBS Louisiana-Monroe by 5 points -- and was the biggest margin of defeat in Deion Sanders' two seasons as coach.-- David M. Hale
A year ago, Bailey Zappe played four games, part of FCS Houston Baptist's abridged COVID-19 campaign. After Saturday's RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl, Zappe is now the FBS single-season record holder for both touchdown passes and passing yardage. It has been a heck of a ride.
Zappe transferred to Western Kentucky last offseason -- following HBU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley to the Hilltoppers -- and blossomed into college football's most prolific passer. He tossed four touchdowns in the first half against Appalachian State, tying Joe Burrow's record of 60 passing touchdowns in a season, and added two more to set the mark in the second half. While Zappe was picking apart the Mountaineers' secondary (they allowed just 12 passing TDs all year), the Hilltoppers' ground game had its best game of the season, too, with Noah Whittington and Kye Robichaux both finding the end zone in the 59-38 win.
Zappe figures to become a midround NFL pick -- and a possible steal for some team -- but his one season playing FBS football will live on in the record books. Meanwhile, Kittley is set to move on to Texas Tech as the new OC, and Saturday's fireworks certainly give Red Raiders fans something to be excited for in 2022.-- Hale
Friday, Dec. 17
Toledo was 0-4 in one-score games in the regular season, so it made sense that the Rockets would end the season with one more tight loss. Middle Tennessee went on a 17-0 fourth-quarter run to take an insurmountable lead, eventually prevailing 31-24. MTSU freshman quarterbackNick Vattiatohad a lovely outing, throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yard bomb to Jarrin Pierce. But the biggest difference-maker was third downs: The Blue Raiders were 7-for-16 on third downs, while Toledo was just 1-for-12 until converting three on its final drive. The Rockets made plenty of explosive plays, but MTSU was able to play keepaway, snapping the ball 85 times and taking late advantage of an increasingly weary Toledo defense. -- Bill Connelly
Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall was set up for success coming into this game, with Northern Illinois' defense 118th in FBS in points allowed. The sophomore quarterback didn't disappoint, throwing for 315 yards and four touchdowns in a 47-41 victory that came down to the last play for the Huskies.
Northern Illinois running back Jay Ducker, who came on strong in October for the Huskies, was their breakout performer with 146 yards rushing on 24 carries. Despite the close loss, it was a great season for NIU, which finished the 2020 season 0-6.
The Cure Bowl was the Chanticleers' second one in as many years, but this time, they were able to secure their first bowl win in school history.-- Harry Lyles Jr.