LSU's dominant performance in the College Football Playoff served as the exclamation point to the SEC's impressive bowl season
The college football season is officially over, and a new champion has been crowned. LSU put the finishing touches on a perfect season and brought a close to college football's 150th-anniversary campaign with a historic win over Clemson. Before we go ahead and start turning the pages to the 2020 season (although some already have), now is a good time to look back at some of the highs and lows of the bowl season.
Well, obviously. Forget about a storybook season for Ed Orgeron, Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and the LSU Tigers. LSU shredded offensive records left and right on a path of pure domination for one of the best national championship seasons ever. Burrow set a new NCAA record for touchdown passes in a season. Chase obliterated the national championship record for receiving yards. LSU overcame a slow start and still beat the defending national champions by double digits. And now Orgeron joins the elite coaching ranks as a national champion. Who would have thought LSU would win a national title in this fashion?
LOSER: Those in favor of playoff expansion
Another year the College Football Playoff got it right, and another year that demonstrates that a four-team field is probably a good-enough model for determining a college football national champion. This field may have been the deepest of the playoff era, but it was once again clear there was one team that was just too dominant to contend with. Clemson and Ohio State had a rare good semifinal matchup, but even the defending national champion Tigers were no match for LSU in the end. Maybe next year, playoff expansion folks!
WINNER: The SEC
No conference had success in bowl games like the SEC. It just means more with a 7-2 record and winning marks against every other conference — 2-1 against the ACC, 2-1 against the Big Ten, and a clean 3-0 against the Big 12. The only losses came by Mississippi State and Auburn. LSU blew away Oklahoma in a semifinal playoff game at the Peach Bowl, Florida handled Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and Georgia won in the Sugar Bowl for a perfect New Year's Six record. Alabama also dominated Michigan, and Tennessee had a wild comeback to stun Indiana. Texas A&M and Kentucky also won thrillers to add to the pile.
LOSER: The Big 12
No conference had a worse bowl season than the Big 12. Only the Texas Longhorns managed to score a win in the Alamo Bowl. Oklahoma was dominated by LSU in the playoff semifinal. Iowa State managed just nine points against Notre Dame, and Kansas State let one slip away against Navy in the Liberty Bowl. Not only did Baylor lose in the Sugar Bowl, but head coach Matt Rhule left for a job in the NFL afterward.
WINNER: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
If you're not believing in Fleck and the job he is doing at Minnesota, it's time to believe. After a few stumbles down the stretch and missing out on playing for a Big Ten title, Minnesota rowed their boats to an upset victory over Auburn in the Outback Bowl, winning 31-24. Watch out for the Gophers in 2020. They won't be flying under the radar anymore in the Big Ten West.
LOSER: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Brace yourself for a familiar offseason talking point about Harbaugh and his record against the toughest teams on the schedule. Few should fault Harbaugh for losing to Alabama and Nick Saban, but getting shutout in the second half after getting to halftime with a lead didn't do Harbaugh and Michigan many favors.
WINNER: Mario Cristobal and Oregon
Oregon is back. Cristobal coached the Ducks back to a Pac-12 Championship Game, won it, and then defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl for an 11-2 season full of optimism going into 2020. There will be some changes for the Ducks after the bowl season with Justin Herbert's graduation, but a Rose Bowl victory has Cristobal and Oregon back on track to enter the College Football Playoff conversation for years to come.
LOSER: College football officials
Football officiating from coast to coast has never been under a bigger microscope than it has been lately, in both college and the NFL. Officials sure had some unfortunate calls this bowl season as well, although none more controversial than the one Ohio State fans will be griping about all offseason. A defensive touchdown was taken off the board by officials in the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson, helping to thwart Ohio State's own national title hopes.
There was no letdown from Georgia in the Sugar Bowl this season. Despite missing out on the College Football Playoff after losing in the SEC Championship Game for a second straight year, Georgia made sure their trip to the Sugar Bowl would not be a disappointment this season. Georgia's defense smothered Big 12 runner-up Baylor in a 26-14 victory, adding another New Year's Six bowl victory for Kirby Smart despite not having D'Andre Swift for more than a couple of plays.
Utah had a chance to seize its first Pac-12 championship and punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff, but a loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game dropped the Utes off the playoff radar and out of the mix for a spot in a New Year's Six bowl entirely. Utah landed at the Alamo Bowl, where they were clobbered by Texas, the same team that topped Georgia in the Sugar Bowl under similar circumstances a year ago.
WINNER: American Athletic Conference
It wasn't all pretty for the AAC this bowl season. Conference champion Memphis gave up nearly 60 points in the Cotton Bowl but Memphis did score more points on Penn State than anyone else did this season, including Ohio State. SMU and Temple each got blown out in their bowl draws too. But the AAC went even against the ACC, 1-0 vs. the Big 12, and scored two wins in three games against Group of 5 programs.
WINNER: Chris Petersen's farewell
This season may not have gone quite to the standard Chris Petersen has brought to Washington, but one of college football's top coaches did manage to go out a winner. And he got to do so coaching against the program that made him a household name in the first place. Washington sent their coach out a winner with a blowout victory over Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
LOSER: Joe Moorhead's unceremonious exit
The same could not be said for Moorhead, the now-former head coach at Mississippi State. Not too long after the Bulldogs were topped by Louisville in the Music City Bowl, Moorhead was relieved of his duties as head coach of Mississippi State after just two seasons, continuing a trend of second-year coaches getting tossed aside quickly. Mississippi State plundered Mike Leach from Washington State to captain their ship.
WINNER: Frank Solich, Ohio
Another year led to another bowl victory for Solich. It is the third straight season-ending with a bowl victory for the Bobcats, the sixth consecutive winning season, and the 11th straight non-losing season for the program under Solich's leadership. That’s a lot more than Solich's former program, Nebraska, can say right now.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of @CFBPlayoff)