Commentary

Best and worst of the bowl season

Originally Published: January 11, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Some results in the 2009 bowl season should have been predicted. Boise State pulled off another Tostitos Fiesta Bowl upset. The Big East went 4-2 in the bowls, its fourth consecutive winning record in the bowls. The SEC went 6-4, its fourth consecutive winning record, as well. The league last had a losing record in 2002, which was the last time the Big Ten had a winning record.

Until this season, that is. The Big Ten went 4-3 in the postseason, which brings us to all the results that once could have not predicted. The most exciting bowls may have been those with the least history. The New Mexico, Roady's Humanitarian and GMAC Bowls all went to the last seconds or beyond.

The winningest quarterback in major college football history played five snaps. The winning quarterback in the Citi BCS National Championship Game threw for all of 58 yards.

And a special shout out to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who threw for a career-high 266 yards in the Rose Bowl, thus playing as predicted after two seasons of not playing as predicted. Or something like that.

Here's some of the best and worst the bowl season had to offer:

[+] EnlargeRolando McClain
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireRolando McClain and Alabama walked out of the Rose Bowl with trophy safely tucked away.

Best High And Tight

"High and tight" is how running back coaches teach their players to carry a ball. They want the ball nearly lodged in the armpit, hard against the ribcage, hand covering the end so that neither tip of the ball is exposed. No fumble, no strip, no turnover.

That's exactly how Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain cradled the crystal football as he walked off the Rose Bowl field on Thursday night. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban gave the trophy to McClain and told him to bring it into the locker room. Where did a linebacker learn how to carry a ball like that? McClain's eyes lit up.

"Oh, I played offense in high school," he said.

Best Run To Get The Ball Over The Goal Line

Oregon senior LeGarrette Blount roadgraded Ohio State All-American safety Kurt Coleman up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown in the Rose Bowl. Blount collided with and ran over Coleman to stretch the ball over goal line. The replay showed that Blount went down but no part of him touched the ground because he was on top of Coleman.

Worst Run To Get The Ball Over The Goal Line

Later in the game, Blount never wrapped up a handoff from Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. After the fumble hit the ground, Blount kicked it forward from the 18-yard line. Ohio State defenders converged on it inside their 5 and pushed it through the end zone for a touchback.

Change This Rule -- Stat

Per NCAA rules, Blount, who never held the ball, received credit for an 18-yard run.

[+] EnlargeMike Kafka
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMike Kafka experienced the best of times (532 passing yards, 4 TDs) and the worst of times (5 picks) in one bowl outing.

Worst Loss

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka throws for 5,000 yards against Auburn -- oh, check that; just 532 -- and four touchdowns. But Kafka, who threw seven interceptions all regular season, threw five, including two in the Tiger end zone, one of which Walter McFadden returned 100 yards for a touchdown.

Oh, it gets worse. The Tigers won in overtime 38-35 after Wildcats kicker Stefan Demos missed a field goal on the last play of regulation and hit the upright in overtime. The Wildcats stayed alive when Auburn roughed Demos and injured his plant leg. With Demos unavailable to try again to tie the game, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald tried a fumblerooski on fourth down from the 5-yard line. Zeke Markshausen gained only 3 yards.

Worst Performance By A Bowl (Tie)

The Champs Sports Bowl and the Capital One Bowl, both played on the Field That Groundskeeping Forgot. The grass, and I use that term loosely, at the Citrus Bowl stadium looked as if it the sod had been put down an hour before the game.

In the Champs Sports Bowl, Miami tailback Graig Cooper tore an ACL when he planted his leg and got no traction. Three days later, a rainstorm the morning of the Capital One Bowl turned the field into a mud pit. Penn State and LSU combined to punt 15 times when they didn't gouge holes in the field.

"That was by far the worst field conditions I've ever seen in my life. For them to say this is the best bowl outside the BCS, I would expect to play on the best field outside the BCS," LSU receiver Brandon LaFell said after the game.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive reportedly was livid. The city of Orlando has announced that it will install FieldTurf at the Citrus Bowl in 2010.

Worst Performance In A Bowl

While we are in Orlando, let's honor LSU coach Les Miles, who lost after failing to use the end-game clock efficiently for the second time in three games. After Penn State took a 19-17 lead with 57 seconds to play, the Tigers got off only four snaps. In LSU's 25-23 loss to Ole Miss, the Tigers got off only two snaps in the final 32 seconds.

Best Invocation Of Mel Brooks

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who went 6-for-11 for 58 yards in Citi BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl on Thursday, speaking after the game on the two cracked ribs he suffered against Florida and played with against Texas: "It's bad. I got it numbed up before the game and it was killing me at halftime. … For about a week and half after Florida, I couldn't really throw at all. As I came back, they started to loosen up a little bit. … It's been pretty painful, pretty consistent for the entire bowl practice."

Alabama coach Nick Saban, Friday morning, on McElroy's injury: "… Nothing dangerous, nothing that he couldn't perform with. It did not bother him in practice much, and I don't think it affected our ability to prepare for the game or his ability to prepare for the game, even though it was a little bit of a nuisance to him at times."

Or, as comedian Mel Brooks put it, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

[+] EnlargeBobby Bowden
Douglas Jones/US PresswireBobby Bowden spiked one last bowl win for the Seminoles.

Best Spike

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, surrounded by some 300 former players, planted the Seminoles' flaming spear into the ground before coaching the Gator Bowl, the final game of a career that spanned six decades. Florida State defeated West Virginia, Bowden's former employer, 33-21. If the emotion of the moment didn't blindside you, you better check your pulse.

Worst Matchup

That would be between offenses that depend on timing and the four-week bowl layoff. ACC champion Georgia Tech and Pac-10 winner Oregon both underperformed on offense in their respective BCS games. The Yellow Jackets managed only 155 yards on 50 snaps in their 24-14 loss to Iowa in the Orange Bowl. The Ducks gained 260 yards on 53 plays in their 26-17 loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Kudos to the Big Ten winners -- the league went 2-0 in BCS games for the first time in four years -- but both Georgia Tech and Oregon looked as if they hadn't played in a month.

Best Ending Of A Streak

The Big Ten deserves acclaim for going 4-3 in bowl games, and breaking a six-game losing streak in the BCS. But that pales before the drought that the parched Mid-American Conference ended when Central Michigan defeated Troy 44-41 in two overtimes in the GMAC Bowl. The victory ended a 14-game MAC postseason losing streak, by eight different schools, that dated to the 2006 Motor City Bowl. The Chippewas won that one, too.

Worst Delivery

The Holiday Bowl promised the resumption of a friendly decades-old rivalry at Cardinal Mooney High in Youngstown, Ohio, between the Stoops family and the Pelini family. It didn't turn out to be much of a rivalry at all. Bo Pelini's Nebraska Cornhuskers crushed Mike Stoops' Arizona Wildcats 33-0. Nebraska limited Arizona to 109 total yards and six first downs.

When the coaches met on the field after the game, a smiling Stoops wrapped his arm around Pelini's neck as if he were happy for his friend. It was a nice, warm moment as opposed to perfunctory handshakes or glancing slaps we see after some blowouts. But Stoops remarked afterward how "humbling" football can be.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Harry How/Getty ImagesColt McCoy spent most of his UT finale on the sidelines.

Best Anointing Of A Southern Hero

Southerners have a soft spot for tragic heroes, from the Alamo to Robert E. Lee to Archie Manning, the Ole Miss quarterback denied the chance to win the 1970 Heisman Trophy after he suffered an injury late in the season.

Colt McCoy already had found a place in the hearts of Texas fans for his performance in the past four years. The quarterback from Tuscola, Texas, a town of 700, went into the Citi BCS National Championship Game with 45 victories, three more than any quarterback in the history of major college football. His competitiveness, resourcefulness and guile figured to serve the Longhorns well in their attempt to upset Alabama.

Texas fans assumed that McCoy would lead them to victory and gain a prize they felt he so richly deserved after being denied the Heisman Trophy in 2008 and again this season. Instead, McCoy played only five snaps before suffering a pinched nerve that left him with no feeling in his right arm.

He leaves Texas with a great career and a what-if that will endear him to Longhorns fans for the rest of his life. As they say in the South, bless his heart.

Best Goodbye

Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow, whose throwing ability has been questioned by NFL draft experts throughout his career, completed 31 of 35 passes for a career-high 482 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards and another score as the No. 5 Gators routed No. 3 Cincinnati 51-24 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Tebow's 533 yards of total offense set a BCS record, and Tebow didn't gain a yard in the fourth quarter.

Best Imitation Of Boise State, Circa 2006

Boise State, the team that used the hook-and-ladder and the Statue of Liberty plays three seasons ago to upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, won its return to Glendale, Ariz., with a more generic trick play. The Broncos converted a fourth-and-9 from their own 33 in the fourth quarter, with a pass from punter Kyle Brotzman to teammate Kyle Efaw, who took it 29 yards to the TCU 38. Boise State drove in for the winning touchdown to defeat TCU 17-10.

Best Gamble

Idaho coach Robb Akey, playing in his home state, chose not to play for a 42-42 tie and overtime with four seconds remaining in the Humanitarian Bowl and went for a two-point conversion against Bowling Green. Quarterback Nathan Enderle threw a low strike to Preston Davis for the conversion and the 43-42 victory.

Akey got the chance to make the gamble only after the Falcons scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes, the second with 32 seconds to play, to take a 42-35 lead. The Vandals went 66 yards in 28 seconds, thanks to a 50-yard pass from Enderle to Davis.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com