Skip to main content

College Football's 2016-17 Bowl Season Winners and Losers

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

College football's 2016-17 farewell tour spanned 41 games, 23 days and approximately 143 hours — and that last figure is just the length of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Image placeholder title

Sure, bowl season has swelled to ridiculous proportions in recent years. But in the larger-than-life world of 21st century college football, nothing exceeds like excess.

Forty-one bowl games produce 41 winners — and 41 losers. From those scores of postseason participants, let's whittle it down to the very best of the 2016-17 bowl season.

WINNER: Deshaun Watson

Clemson's quarterback had thrice come close to winning one of college football's top prizes — twice named a Heisman Trophy finalist and last year, playing for a national championship — but always come up just short. In a College Football Playoff title rematch with Alabama, Watson stood tall.

His 2016 performance against the Crimson Tide stands as one of the most impressive individual showings a quarterback's ever had against a Nick Saban-coached team. The 2017 game may well have exceeded that. Watson's rushing touchdown was the first the Tide defense allowed to a quarterback all season, and he showed uncanny poise leading the Tigers on four second-half touchdown drives.

When the clock (finally) struck zeroes, Watson was no longer a runner-up: He'd earned his place in the annals of college football history with one of the best postseason performances ever.

LOSER: The Alabama Offense

Alabama's offense was a strangely mixed bag in the national championship. The Tide scored 31 points, exceeding the 17 per game the Clemson defense allowed coming in by two touchdowns.

But without the explosive plays that got Alabama into the end zone four times, the Crimson Tide were stagnant. It was either big play or bust for running back Bo Scarbrough before his unfortunate, second-half injury. Quarterback Jalen Hurts looked like a freshman, going just 13-of-31 passing, as Alabama was rendered increasingly one-dimensional.

While some criticism may be laid on Steve Sarkisian — thrust into the role of play-caller a week before the title game — the offense was no better in Lane Kiffin's Peach Bowl swan song. The Tide scored 17 offensive points against Washington.


During ESPN's Coaches Film Room broadcast of the national championship game, NC State head coach Dave Doeren noted the ACC's 8-3 record in bowl games. By night's end, Clemson made it 9-3.

Image placeholder title

The Tigers' victory concluded an impressive run against the SEC, which included Doeren's Wolfpack blasting Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech rallying to blowout Arkansas and Georgia Tech having no trouble with Kentucky.

The ACC also got wins from unlikely representatives like Wake Forest, which cruised against American Athletic Conference champion Temple; and Boston College, which played its best offensive game of the year against the Big Ten's Maryland Terrapins.

LOSER: The Big Ten 

Can a season that ends with four teams ranked in the top 10 be fairly deemed a loss? In the case of the Big Ten, absolutely.

Image placeholder title

The 2016 regular season marked a breakthrough for the long-suffering conference, with Michigan and Ohio State jockeying near the top of the polls for much of the fall; Wisconsin holding steady as a contender; and Penn State emerging as one in James Franklin's third season.

Three of the four lost in their bowl games. The sole winner — Wisconsin — beat Western Michigan; the representative of the only conference (MAC) with a worse postseason record than the Big Ten's 3-7 mark.

Worse yet for the Big Ten this bowl season: The league's flag-bearer division, the East, went 0-5.

WINNER: The Early Slate of Bowl Games

Think there are too many bowl games? The pre-Christmas offering of bowls begs to differ. Some of the most exciting contests of the entire postseason fell in that week-long window right before the holiday.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

The first bowl game of the 2016-'17 season saw New Mexico hold off UTSA in a surprising gem from the Land of Enchantment. The Roadrunners' first postseason didn't quite have a fairy tale ending, but Old Dominion's did.

The Monarchs completed a 10-win campaign in a back-and-forth Bahamas Bowl defeat of Eastern Michigan — another program excited to participate in bowl season. For the Eagles, a trip to the Bahamas signaled the end of a three-decade wait.

Wyoming nearly completed a three-touchdown rally against BYU in a driving rain storm during the Poinsettia Bowl. Louisiana Tech and Navy traded haymakers in a high-scoring contest. Troy fended off Ohio to complete the best FBS season in program history.

Even a lopsided contest, like San Diego State's Las Vegas Bowl defeat of Houston, featured Donnel Pumphrey setting the NCAA career yardage record.

Oh, and what would a bowl season rundown be without a shout-out to arguably the most jaw-dropping play of the last three weeks? Grambling's Verlan Hunter became a viral sensation with his snag in the Celebration Bowl.

LOSER: New Year's Eve

When the College Football Playoff moved to New Year's Eve last season, organization officials promised to "change the paradigm" of the holiday. In a note befitting the Year 2016 A.D., the calendar flipped in underwhelming fashion. 

Every game played on Dec. 31 was a blowout, including both College Football Playoff semifinals. Clemson blanked Ohio State and Alabama stifled Washington — a scene reminiscent of last April's Final Four, when two awful semifinal games led to a thrilling championship.

New Year's Eve's other offerings would have no such payoff — just one-sided dominance from LSU in a 29-9 thrashing of Louisville, and Georgia Tech having no trouble in a 33-18 defeat of Kentucky.

WINNER: Idaho 

This bowl season was filled with surprising stories. Each of the aforementioned programs — Troy, Eastern Michigan, Old Dominion, UTSA and Wyoming — were surprising participants this postseason.

Image placeholder title

Idaho may not have been the biggest surprise; the Vandals garnered some bowl-game buzz heading into 2016, the result of a promising finish to '15. However, Paul Petrino's team capped an impressive, nine-win season with the highest scoring output of the postseason.

Quarterback Matt Linehan passed for four touchdowns, and running back Isaiah Saunders rushed for three to pace the Vandals' 61-50 defeat of Colorado State.

LOSER: Idaho 

The Vandals' Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win was bittersweet, as evidenced in Linehan's postgame speech. The Idaho quarterback targeted university brass for the decision to drop to FCS in the 2018 football season.

"We belong here," Linehan said in his postgame MVP acceptance speech, per the Spokesman Review. "No matter what anyone thinks, even our tone-deaf president."

WINNER: The Rose Bowl Game 

College football's first bowl played its 103rd installment in 2017. With more than a century's worth of competition, USC and Penn State easily cracked the Rose Bowl's top five.

Image placeholder title

The two hottest teams in the nation not playing for a title played arguably their best games of the season against one another. The result was a seesaw contest that featured highlight-reel plays from Chris Godwin and Saquon Barkley; a breakout night from Deontay Burnett; and the possible prelude to a Heisman for Sam Darnold.

USC's three-score rally in the fourth quarter functioned as a microcosm of the Trojans' comeback season.

LOSER: The Sugar Bowl 

College football's next-most historic game and permanent resident of Jan. 1 — er, Jan. 2 — won't be remembered for producing a thrilling matchup like this year's Granddaddy of 'Em All.

No, Oklahoma's thorough deconstruction of Auburn took a backseat to the awkward defense Brent Musburger launched for Sooners running back Joe Mixon.

Surveillance video of Mixon punching a woman two years ago surfaced in the weeks before the Sugar Bowl. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season, but the release of the video renewed discussion of the running back's punishment. That discussion spilled over into the game broadcast.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.