The 2012-13 bowl season ended with 35 winners and 35 losers, but not all victories and defeats are created equal.
Alabama and Nick Saban were the biggest winners, claiming a title and cementing the Crimson Tide as the most dominant program in the nation’s most dominant conference. Eddie Lacy and the Tide’s offensive line may have walked away as the biggest winners in terms of pro prospects. The loser in that scenario, though, was Heisman finalist Manti Te’o.
Bowl season provided short-term victories for a handful programs, but also a swing of the pendulum into a successful 2013. Other teams, coaches and players, however, ended up with new headaches after the postseason.
Here’s a rundown of the biggest winners and losers from the 2013 bowl season.
Nick Saban’s legacy
With three BCS titles in four seasons at Alabama and a fourth title in nine years overall, Saban is moving into the discussion of great all-time coaches. Bear Bryant has six titles. Frank Leahy has four. But those came before reduced scholarship limits, the BCS and the rise of the SEC as the preeminent conference. With the Alabama recruiting machine operating at full capacity, the question is how long this dynasty will last.
Related: Can Alabama repeat?
The Alabama running back isn’t Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram, but few players raised their stock more in the final two games of the season. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia in the SEC championship game and 140 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame. No one would blame the junior if he takes advantage and moves on to the NFL Draft. And no one would take pity on the Tide, who have T.J. Yeldon waiting in the wings.
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Altogether, not a bad six weeks for Louisville. The Cardinals announced their move to the ACC, won the Big East, retained coach Charlie Strong despite overtures from Tennessee, and defeated two-touchdown favorite Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater fought through injuries to defeat Rutgers on the last day of the regular season and then carved up an elite Florida offense in the bowl game. He’ll be on the Heisman short list in 2013. To boot, the Cardinals landed a commitment from U.S. Army All-American receiver James Quick.
No one had a bigger single play than when Clowney ran untouched through the Michigan offensive line and trucked running back Vincent Smith for an eight-yard loss and a forced fumble. If a defensive player is going to have a Heisman moment, this was it. A first-down call on a chain measurement erroneously gave Michigan, leading by one at the time, a first down to set up Clowney's play. South Carolina scored a go-ahead touchdown nine seconds later.
The Ducks didn’t get to play for the national title, but they may be set up for another run after a 35-17 win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Chip Kelly’s interest in the NFL was well-established, but for the second consecutive season Kelly opted to stay in Eugene. He’ll return to a top-five team.
How will Johnny Manziel handle being “Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel?” Pretty well, apparently. The redshirt freshman picked up where he left off at the end of the season to pass for 287 yards and rush for 229 with four total touchdowns against Oklahoma. Heisman winners used to be snakebit in bowl games, but Manziel became the fourth consecutive winner to win in the postseason thanks to his third game with at least 500 yards of total offense this season.
The Bulldogs came within five yards of facing Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, but they didn’t appear to be deflated in a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capitol One Bowl. Georgia could have folded when it gave up 17 unanswered points to trail in the third quarter, but Aaron Murray led an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. Murray and running back Todd Gurley will open 2013 against Clemson.
If there were any lingering doubts about where David Shaw stands among Pac-12 coaches, he eliminated in them in with a 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Since 2009, Stanford lost Toby Gerhart (a Heisman runner-up), Andrew Luck (the No. 1 overall draft pick and two-time Heisman runner-up) and coach Jim Harbaugh. Yet the Cardinal have three top-10 finishes to show for it. Shaw has his starting quarterback and enough pieces on defense returning to make another run in 2013.
Nine wins? An appearance in the postseason top 25? At Vanderbilt? The Commodores capped a seven-game win streak with a 38-24 win over NC State in the Music City Bowl to finish ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Vanderbilt hadn’t finished a season ranked since 1948 and hadn’t won nine games in a season since 1915. Next up: Playing a bowl game outside of the state of Tennessee for the first time since 1982.
The lone team helping the Big Ten save face on New Year’s Day, Northwestern earned its first bowl win with a 34-20 win over Mississippi State. It wasn’t pretty as Northwestern’s three turnovers were offset but Mississippi State’s four, but the Wildcats were elated to end the bowl drought. Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Trevor Siemian will all be back for more in 2013.
Clemson started the season with a win over an SEC team in Atlanta and ended the year in the same fashion with a 25-24 upset of LSU. Tajh Boyd led the Tigers to three fourth-quarter scoring drives against a top-10 defense for the game-winning field goal as time expired. Boyd scored the biggest bowl win for the ACC, but more important, he erased memories of last year’s Orange Bowl collapse.
After losing five games by a combined 13 points, Michigan State finally caught some breaks and found a deficit -- down 16 at halftime -- it could overcome with its paltry offense. The season ended the way it started, with Le’Veon Bell the horse (145 yards on 32 carries) in a 17-16 win over TCU.
The Rebels played in front of a partisan crowd at Birmingham’s Legion Field and gave the win-starved Ole Miss fans what they came to see: A 38-17 win over Pittsburgh. Bo Wallace and the Rebels offense didn’t miss a beat despite losing running back Jeff Scott early.
A coveted running back prospect out of high school, the Oregon transfer enters 2013 on a hot streak for Baylor. With 138 rushing yards against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, Seastrunk rushed for 831 yards and six touchdowns in his final six games. Not to be outdone, the Baylor defense enjoyed its own renaissance by holding UCLA to 34 rushing yards.
Related: Ranking the BCS champions
BCS games plus the Cotton Bowl
The bowl excitement ended early in the evening on New Year’s Day when Stanford defeated Wisconsin 20-14. After that, the major bowl games were settled early with Florida State (Orange), Louisville (Sugar), Oregon (Fiesta), Texas A&M (Cotton) and Alabama (BCS championship) cruised to double-digit victories.
Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame defense
Alabama’s offensive line pushed around the Notre Dame front seven all day, clearing the way for the Tide’s 265 rushing yards. The numbers were astonishing: Notre Dame allowed nine offensive touchdowns during the regular season only to give up six to Alabama. The Irish never allowed a touchdown drive of 80 yards all season until Alabama had four. But the face on Notre Dame’s title-game performance was the ineffectiveness of Manti Te’o who missed a handful of tackles.
Related: What's next for Notre Dame?
Kiffin’s USC team didn’t show up in big games all season, was 90 minutes late for the “Sheriff’s Posse Dinner” with their Sun Bowl hosts and Georgia Tech and then managed only seven points against a 7-7 Georgia Tech team whose defense surrendered at least 40 points to Miami, Middle Tennessee, Clemson, BYU, North Carolina and Georgia. USC became the first team in the AP poll era to star the season No. 1 and finish with six losses and the first preseason No. 1 to finish unranked since 1964 Ole Miss.
For a moment, the Big Ten flirted with a comeback in bowl season as Michigan led South Carolina in the Outback and Nebraska led Georgia in the Capitol One. Then it all fell apart as the Wolverines and Cornhuskers lost their early New Year’s Day games and Wisconsin lost the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten finished 2-5 in the postseason and was swept in the Rose, Capitol One and Outback bowls for a 1-8 record in those games the last three years. Granted, the outcomes may have been different if Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, but that’s not going to reverse the perception of the Big Ten as an inferior league.
Not many athletic directors could step in as their football team’s interim coach for the Rose Bowl, but not many ADs have won in Pasadena before. The novelty wore off as Alvarez’s Badgers lost 20-14 to Stanford to give the coach his first Rose Bowl blemish after three wins in the game.
Snowy conditions at Yankee Stadium aren’t exactly ideal conditions for West Virginia’s offense. Neither is taking the field with a defense that gives up 369 rushing yards in Doug Marrone’s sendoff at Syracuse.
The Tigers coughed a fourth-quarter lead to Clemson and then started hemorrhaging early entries to the NFL Draft. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing all declared for the draft. The losses are not insignificant.
4-2, 1-0 BCS
4-5, 0-1 BCS
3-2, 1-0 BCS
2-5, 0-1 BCS
2-5, 0-1 BCS
4-4, 2-0 BCS
6-3, 2-0 BCS
1-2, 0-1 BCS
A banner year for the MAC fizzled in bowl season, even if you disregard Northern Illinois’ unsurprising 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Toledo and Ball State, teams that finished with nine wins apiece, lost their bowl games by a combined score of 79-32. Kent State, which was a double overtime loss away from NIU’s Orange Bowl slot, lost 17-13 to Arkansas State as the MAC finished 2-5 in the postseason. At least Ohio defeated ULM 45-14 in a matchup of September darlings.
Pat HIll lost four of his last five bowl games with Fresno State. The bowl curse seems to continue with Tim DeRuyter. Fresno’s 43-10 loss to SMU in the Hawaii Bowl was one of the most unexpected results of bowl season with the Bulldogs bringing Derek Carr, Robbie Rouse and a standout pass defense to Aloha Stadium. But Hawaii loves SMU coach June Jones, who won his second Hawaii Bowl as the Mustangs coach.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
This game was supposed to be a blowout and it delivered with Oklahoma State’s 58-14 win over Purdue. And this was a New Year’s Day game, folks.
Nevada gave up two touchdowns in 46 seconds to lose to Arizona, San Diego State gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter to lose to former MWC member BYU, and Air Force and Fresno State lost in upsets. If there’s any silver lining to the MWC’s 1-4, it’s that the lone bowl winner, Boise State, won’t be going to the Big East after all.
Did Louisiana Tech stay home for bowl season because it was unwilling to face in-state rival ULM? Were the Bulldogs a casualty of the Independence Bowl’s timetable and Northern Illinois’ BCS bid throwing things into confusion? Does it matter? A 9-3 team with the nation’s No. 1 offense was absent from the postseason, a missed opportunity for viewers and the Bulldogs’ players. That coach Sonny Dykes left for another job (Cal) wasn’t a huge shock. But Louisiana Tech replaced him with Skip Holtz in a hire that could best be described as adequate.