Just like that, the 2014 college football season is over.
Weekends are about to feel pretty empty as the national champion has been crowned in Arlington to cap the first College Football Playoff.
Thirty-nine bowl games in 23 days has produced its share of highlights, disappointments and conversation starters for the 2015 season.
Even if the crowds turned out to be scant in some places, we all tuned in for the our regular holiday programming.
Sure, there are 39 winners and 39 losers (or technically 38 winners since the national champion won twice), but bowl season told a much more interesting story from temper tantrums to a brawl to fat guy touchdowns.
The SEC was turned on its head without a team playing for a title and most of the powerful West division licking its wounds. Oregon and Ohio State’s appearance in the national title game will redefine the discussion heading into 2015.
WINNER: The Playoff bonanza
This should come as no surprise, but people love the playoff. They really love the playoff. The Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State on ESPN grabbed the biggest audience in cable TV history at 28.2 million viewers ... until the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State’s win over Alabama drew 28.3 million viewers. These are numbers that beat an NFL Wild Card playoff the same weekend. A novel concept: More games that matter draws more viewers even as college football’s championship moves onto basic cable.
LOSER: The rest of the “New Year’s Six”
In the BCS era, the New Year’s Bowls had the holiday to themselves with the two teams in the championship game playing at least a week later. Having the playoff overlap with the traditional bowl games seemed to diminish the attention on the other major bowl games, especially the rest of the bowls attached to the playoff (the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton). Maybe it was the newness of the playoff that took eyes off the rest of the top games. Maybe it was three of them being played on New Year’s Eve instead of Jan. 1. Maybe it was TCU’s 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl in the first game that took the energy out of the rest of the day. At least competitive Cotton and Outback bowls — the latter is not part of the playoff — helped add some energy to the non-playoff bowls.
WINNER: A new offseason conference storyline
Florida State ended the SEC’s seven-year championship game run a year ago, and Ohio State ended the SEC’s run in the final two. When the conversation turns to the 2015 season, we’ll be talking about the return of Ohio State as one of the predominant national powers. The SEC’s not going to be out of the title game for long, but it’s nice to go into the offseason talking about something other than SEC predominance.
LOSER: Jan. 2
For several years, college football had bowl games after New Year’s Day, and not all of them were great matchups. The schedule, though, was especially jarring in the playoff era. Think about it: Fans went to bed one night watching a Sugar Bowl thriller and woke up to interim coaches at Houston and Pittsburgh playing in the Armed Forces Bowl, followed by a Tennessee rout of Iowa in the Taxslayer Bowl.
WINNER: The SEC East
Three SEC East teams entered bowl season with six wins (Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina), and three entered the postseason after a loss to in-state rivals (Georgia, Florida and South Carolina). In other words, the division needed bowl season to save face even if they were playing in some of the SEC’s lesser bowl games. The division swept bowl season at 5-0. Granted, only two of those teams were ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings and neither in the top 20 (No. 21 Louisville and No. 25 Minnesota), but after a year in which the East’s champion lost at home to Indiana, any progress is a good sign.
LOSER: The SEC West
For most of the first two months of the season, the SEC West looked impenetrable. Which two SEC West teams would reach the playoff was a real question in October. First, this was not a mirage: The division sent all seven members to the postseason and went undefeated against non-conference opponents during the regular season, including wins over Wisconsin, West Virginia and Boise State. Yet by the end of New Year’s Day the only West teams left standing were the last two teams in the league (Arkansas and Texas A&M). Alabama, Auburn and LSU lost competitive games, but the Mississippi schools, both of which spent time in the top three this season, lost by a combined score of 91-37.
WINNER: The Pac-12
The most impressive conference from the first day of the season through the bowls may have been the Pac-12, at least as far as non-conference records go. The Pac-12 went 6-2 in bowl season, including 5-2 against the Power 5 conferences. That wrapped up a season in which the Pac-12 went 13-5 against the Power 5 and Notre Dame.
LOSER: Big Ten West teams not named Wisconsin
Good thing Wisconsin beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It was the only thing that prevented the postseason from being a total loss for the Big Ten’s weaker division. The tally for the West included an Illinois loss to Louisiana Tech, a defensive no-show and puzzling play calls from Nebraska against USC, and Minnesota’s 16-point loss to Missouri. They were all outdone by Iowa’s performance against Tennessee in which the Hawkeyes trailed 42-7 in the third quarter.
WINNER: TCU’s 2015 playoff hopes
The Horned Frogs had the biggest gripe about the postseason after dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final week, but TCU didn’t show it in a 42-3 rout of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. In the long run, this might not be a bad thing. TCU outgained Ole Miss by 294 yards despite turning the ball over four times. That’s not a bad way to build legitimacy for a program that may be viewed in some circles as an outsider. Better yet, quarterback Trevone Boykin returns in 2015 as a senior.
LOSER: Texas’ offense
Whatever modest gains Texas made during the season on offense bottomed out in the Holiday Bowl against Arkansas. The Longhorns’ 59 total yards on 43 plays was one of the worst outputs in program history. Tyrone Swoopes managed only 25 yards of total offense, and in his last game of the regular season, he threw four interceptions against TCU. Charlie Strong’s program will enter 2015 with few answers.
WINNER: Arkansas’ bright future
The other side of Texas’ flop in the bowl was the overwhelming performance of Arkansas, which won as many games in Bret Bielema’s second season (seven) as it did in the previous two seasons under Bielema and John L. Smith. Arkansas returns quarterback Brandon Allen and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins (2,290 combined rushing yards) and a defense that started more freshmen and sophomores at the end of the season than juniors and seniors.
LOSER: Bob Stoops’ summer
The remake of Oklahoma’s offense has already begun as the Sooners hired Lincoln Riley from East Carolina to replace Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Replacing Heupel, Stoops’ championship quarterback, is of particular note as Stoops tries to get his program back on track after a 40-6 embarrassment against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Oklahoma went 4-5 and didn’t beat a bowl team after Oct. 1 — and this was a team pegged as a playoff contender.
WINNER: Fat guys
Fat guy touchdowns are great. Fat guy touchdowns in big bowl games? Even better. LaQuan McGowan, whose Baylor profile begins with the word “enormous,” caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to put Baylor up 41-21 against Michigan State (Baylor wouldn’t score again in a loss to Michigan State). A day later, Oklahoma State’s 300-pound lineman James Castleman scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, but the real highlight was his 48-yard catch on third down.
LOSER: Jim L. Mora’s ‘tude
Who doesn’t like Kansas State coach Bill Snyder? Apparently not UCLA coach Jim L. Mora in the moments after an Alamo Bowl win over the Wildcats. Mora was huffy with Snyder in the postgame handshake after Kansas State jumped over the offensive line while UCLA was trying to take a knee in a 40-35 win.
WINNER: Quarterbacks getting head starts on 2015
Bowl season tends to be a good time for quarterbacks to build momentum into the next season, particularly those who didn’t start until late in their year. Malik Zaire traded snaps with Everett Golson in Notre Dame’s 31-28 win over LSU, but he finished 12-of-15 for 96 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 96 yards. West Virginia’s Skyler Howard completed 20-of-45 passes for 346 yards and three touchdown in a shootout loss to Texas A&M. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen, two freshmen who claimed starting jobs late in the year, further solidified their positions with bowl wins.
LOSER: Kirk Ferentz’s offseason
Ferentz is the ninth-highest paid coach in college football. Ferentz is not producing top-10 results. Not even close. Iowa was outclassed by a 6-6 Tennessee team down in Jacksonville for a third consecutive bowl loss for the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s record since 2010? 34-30 overall and 19-21 in the Big Ten.
WINNER: Bryan Harsin’s first season at Boise State
Maybe the departure of Chris Petersen isn’t the blow to Boise State’s program we once thought it was. Like his predecessor, Harsin started his tenure at Boise State with a win in the Fiesta Bowl marked by a little trickery. All Harsin did in his first season was win 12 games, win the Mountain West and knock off the Pac-12 South champion in a bowl game.
LOSER: Chris Petersen’s first season at Washington
Meanwhile, Petersen is off to a forgettable start in Seattle. His season began with a suspended quarterback and close calls with Hawaii and Eastern Washington and ended with a 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State. Washington, a team expected to contend in the Pac-12 North, finished 8-6. According to the Sagarin ratings, the best win was over No. 81 Oregon State.
WINNER: Frank Beamer’s winning record streak
The season didn’t go as planned for Virginia Tech, and Frank Beamer ended up watching the Military Bowl from the press box while recovering from throat surgery. The Hokies, though, sealed a 22nd consecutive winning season in with a 33-17 win over Cincinnati. Two of those last three seasons have just made it at 7-6.
LOSER: Prolific passers
The bowls produced six 400-yard passers. They went a combined 1-5. The only winner, Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty, beat another 400-yard passer in Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush.
WINNER: Prolific runners
The top 10 runners in the bowls went a combined 10-0. Moreover, they gave us an idea of what we need to watch next season and probably a few names that will be in the Heisman race. Freshman Nick Chubb rushed for 266 yards against Louisville, giving him the fifth-best rushing season in Georgia history despite playing behind Todd Gurley for parts of the season. Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott finished his season with a flurry, highlighted by 230 yards against Alabama. And Paul Perkins showed there’s life at UCLA after Brett Hundley with 194 yards against Kansas State.
LOSER: Fresno State
The last time Fresno State won a bowl game, the WAC was still a viable conference and Ryan Mathews was in the Bulldogs' backfield. In 2014, Fresno State lost 30-6 to Rice for Fresno State’s sixth consecutive bowl loss. Only one of those, the 45-20 loss to USC in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, was to a Power 5 team. The last four losses have come by an average of 26.3 points.
WINNER: Conference USA
Realignment has picked apart Conference USA over the years, but the league responded with a 4-1 bowl record, including a win over the MAC champion (Marshall over Northern Illinois) and a Big Ten team (Louisiana Tech over Illinois). The lone loss was by 7-6 UTEP to a 10-4 Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.