Even though there is still one somewhat important game left to be played, the college football bowl season is over. And once again, the postseason slate offered its share of instant classics, highlight-reel plays, memorable performances, fantastic finishes... and a few yawners as well.
When it comes to taking a look back at this year’s 39 bowl games and ranking the best, a few clearly stand out from the rest. In fact it’s fitting that The Granddaddy of Them All produced the best game of this bowl season. (Yes, I am including the two College Football Playoff semifinals in this list. Both have “Bowl” in their names.)
1. Georgia 54, Oklahoma 48 (2OT) – Rose Bowl Game (College Football Playoff Semifinal)
Jan. 1, 2018 — Pasadena, Calif.
How can it not be this game? For starters, few were expecting this year’s Rose Bowl to top last year’s thriller between USC and Penn State, but that’s just what happened. The higher stakes only added to the intrigue for this College Football Playoff Semifinal, and fortunately for those in attendance and the millions watching on ESPN, this game lived up to its billing and then some. Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and the Sooners came out firing and with a big assist from running back Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma surged out to a 31-17 halftime lead. The lead would have been larger if not for Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s Rose Bowl-record 55-yard field goal as the first half came to an end.
In the second half, it was the Bulldogs’ turn to rally as they scored three straight touchdowns behind the 1-2 punch of RBs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb to take a 38-31 lead early in the fourth quarter. Mayfield and the Sooners’ offense responded and then OU re-took the lead when Steven Parker returned a Michel fumble for a touchdown. Georgia didn’t panic, however, as Chubb scored from two yards out with less than a minute left to send this one to overtime.
After the two teams traded field goals in the first overtime, the Sooners were in place to kick a field goal to take the lead only to have Lorenzo Carter’s long arm block Austin Seibert’s attempt. Two players later, Michel sealed the deal and Georgia’s trip to the national title game with a 27-yard TD run to cap his MVP performance (181 rushing yards, 3 TDs).
Mayfield certainly didn’t disappoint, as he threw for two touchdowns and even caught one on a trick play, and Anderson finished with 201 yards on the ground, as this game had it all and won’t be forgotten for a long time.
2. Army 52, San Diego State 45 – Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 23, 2017 – Fort Worth, Texas
The two teams combined for nearly 100 points and more than 700 yards of offense despite completing a total of seven passes for 31 yards (with two interceptions). The Aztecs’ Rashad Penny (above, right) showed why he’s one of the best running backs in the country with 221 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries (15.8 ypc), but the Black Knights churned out 440 yards and five scores on the ground themselves.
Army used its running game to dominate time of possession (had the ball for 46 minutes), but still needed a late rally to win this game. The Black Knights went 72 yards on 15 plays (just one pass attempt) in 5:29 as a one-yard touchdown plunge and subsequent two-point conversion gave them their first lead since late in the second quarter with just 18 seconds remaining. A fumble returned for a touchdown on the Aztecs’ final play provided the final points in what was a thrilling back-and-forth affair at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium.
3. Wake Forest 55, Texas A&M 52 – Belk Bowl
Dec. 29, 2017 – Charlotte, N.C.
The Demon Deacons and Aggies traded big play for big play throughout this entertaining offensive extravaganza played at Bank of America Stadium. Wake Forest was up 17 points in the second quarter, only to see Texas A&M storm back. The teams traded the lead several times late with the Demon Deacons finally taking the lead for good with a little more than two minutes to go. Quarterbacks John Wolford and Nick Starkel combined for 899 passing yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. In total, this game features 1,260 yards of offense and five turnovers. There also was a blocked punt for a touchdown to open the scoring and a punt returned for a TD thrown in for good measure.
4. Purdue 38, Arizona 35 – Foster Farms Bowl
Dec. 27, 2017 – Santa Clara, Calif.
The Boilermakers' Elijah Sindelar (right) went toe-to-toe with the Wildcats’ Khalil Tate as the two quarterbacks put on a show in Levi’s Stadium. The duo combined for 698 passing yards and nine TDs (with just two INTs), which is even more impressive considering Sindelar played with a torn ACL. Arizona led this game 35-31 with a little more than three minutes remaining, but Sindelar led the Boilermakers down the field and connected on his fourth TD pass of the game for the game-winning score with 1:44 left on the clock. This also ended up being Rich Rodriguez’ last game as the Wildcats head coach, as he was fired unexpectedly on Jan. 2.
5. TCU 39, Stanford 37 – Alamo Bowl
Dec. 28, 2017 – San Antonio
Heisman runner-up Bryce Love and quarterback K.J. Costello helped the Cardinal build a 31-23 lead through three quarters, only to watch the Horned Frogs rally. A 93-yard touchdown pass from Kenny Hill to Jalen Reagor started the fourth quarter, which was followed by a 76-yard punt return for a score by Desmon White after Stanford went three-and-out.
The Cardinal then responded with a long touchdown drive (10 plays, 76 yards), capped by Costello’s third TD pass of the game only to see TCU kick a 33-yard field goal to reclaim the lead. The Horned Frogs’ defense then intercepted Costello to seal the thrilling, come-from-behind victory in the Alamodome. Love finished with 145 rushing yards and two TDs in what could end up being his last collegiate game.
6. South Florida 38, Texas Tech 34 – Birmingham Bowl
Dec. 23, 2017 – Birmingham, Ala.
This matchup between two prolific offenses didn’t disappoint, even if it did take a little bit of time to get going. With the scored tied at 10 at halftime, the Bulls and Red Raiders combined for seven touchdowns in the final two quarters. The highlight was the fourth, which featured four scores over a 5:02 span that saw the lead trade hands four times. Quinton Flowers’ fourth TD pass of the day with just 16 seconds on the clock ended up being the game-winner. Flowers finished with 417 yards of total offense (106 rushing) and five TDs while his Texas Tech counterpart, Nic Shimonek threw for 416 yards and three scores.
7. UCF 34, Auburn 27 – Peach Bowl
Jan. 1, 2018 – Atlanta
This was the game that UCF had been waiting for – the Knights’ chance to prove to the nation they belong on the same field as a Power 5 blue blood. And from the start, UCF showed Auburn it wasn’t going to back down. Both offenses had trouble extending drives in the first half, but a McKenzie Milton (right) touchdown run was enough to give the Knights a 13-6 lead.
The Tigers roared back in the third quarter, scoring twice to go up 20-13. But two TD passes from Milton (who also finished with a game-high 116 rushing yards) and an interception returned for a score produced 21 straight points and a two-touchdown lead for the Knights. Auburn answered with a touchdown and had a chance to tie following a missed field goal attempt by UCF, but Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham was picked off just outside of the red zone, as the Knights put the finishing touches on their undefeated (13-0) season.
8. Notre Dame 21, LSU 17 – Citrus Bowl
Jan. 1 2018 – Orlando, Fla.
A low-scoring game got really interesting in the fourth quarter as Notre Dame scored twice behind backup quarterback Ian Book, including a 55-yard touchdown pass to Miles Boykin with 1:28 remaining that ended up being the winning score. LSU outperformed the Irish in every category, dominated time of possession (37:36), and didn’t turn the ball over (Notre Dame had two), but just couldn’t get enough points from its offense. It’s a somewhat fitting ending to Matt Canada’s tenure as offensive coordinator, if he does end up leaving the Tigers as was reported by multiple outlets prior to this game.
9. Mississippi State 31, Louisville 27 – TaxSlayer Bowl
Dec. 30, 2017 – Jacksonville, Fla.
Lamar Jackson may have been the headliner entering this game, but Mississippi State quarterback Keytaon Thompson ended up stealing the spotlight in EverBank Field. Starting for an injured Nick Fitzgerald, the freshman finished with 147 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter to help the Bulldogs come from behind and beat the Cardinals. Jackson ran for a TaxSlayer Bowl-record (for a QB) 158 yards and accounted for three touchdowns (two passing), but he also threw a career-worst four interceptions in what may have been his final collegiate game. This game featured a total of seven turnovers and 17 penalties (142 yards).
10. New Mexico State 26, Utah State 20 (OT) – Arizona Bowl
Dec. 29, 2017 – Tucson, Ariz.
The first quarter of this under-the-radar matchup between a pair of Aggies featured back-to-back kickoff returns for touchdowns, one covering 96 yards and the other 100. Neither team had trouble moving the ball, but points were a bit of a premium as all the scoring came courtesy of four field goals (and those two big special teams plays) through three quarters. After trading touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 20 at the end of regulation.
Utah State got the ball first in overtime, but missed on a 29-yard field goal attempt. Two plays later, New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III’s 21-yard touchdown run gave the Aggies their first bowl win since 1960. While the game may not have been must-see, it was historic nonetheless, especially for New Mexico State’s program and its fans.