Bowl season is finally upon us! Our reporters are breaking down the best of the games from notable performances, breakout players and so much more.
Saturday, Dec. 24
EasyPost Hawai’i Bowl: Middle Tennessee 25, San Diego State 23
Middle Tennessee ended its season on quite a roll, coming from behind to beat San Diego State 25-23 in the EasyPost Hawai’i Bowl. The Blue Raiders needed to pull off the improbable to get to bowl eligibility, winning three straight to end the regular season, so it makes sense that their bowl game was filled with the improbable. Middle Tennessee trailed 14-0 early, but found a way back into the game thanks to four San Diego State turnovers (the Aztecs finished with five). Jordan Ferguson became the second player this season to have an interception and a receiving touchdown in a bowl game. His interception led the Blue Raiders to take their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter. But after San Diego State went ahead, Zeke Rankin made what turned out to be the game-winning 37-yard field goal with 2:05 remaining — his career\-high fourth of the game. But perhaps most improbable of all … Middle Tennessee finished with minus-66 yards rushing, the fewest by any team (win or lose) in a bowl game in FBS history. It is also the fewest yards by the winning team in any game (regular-season or bowl) over the past 25 seasons. — Andrea Adelson
Friday, Dec. 23
If this was Sam Hartman‘s last game as Wake Forest’s quarterback, as rumored, he went out with a bang. He threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns, two to Taylor Morin, and his Demon Deacons beat Missouri 27-17 in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl. After falling behind early in the second half, they scored the final two touchdowns to pull away. Missouri’s offense picked up steam following a slow start but went just 2-for-5 on fourth downs and fell short. It’s a fitting potential send-off for Hartman, who has thrown for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns in a Wake uniform. He led the Deacs to a 19-8 record over the last two seasons, plus an ACC Coastal title in 2021. The win was also Dave Clawson’s fourth bowl victory in the last seven years at Wake; they had won just six bowls in their history before his 2014 arrival. — Bill Connelly
Houston has been playing with fire all season long with seven games decided by one score or less and three games that went into overtime. So it’s no wonder things would come down to the wire against Louisiana, clawing out of a 13-0 hole in the first half to make it a tie game with under 3 minutes to play. Then senior quarterback Clayton Tune went to work, starting off the drive with a 33-yard run. A few moments later, after a 41-yard pass and a 15-yard run, Tune connected with Nathaniel Dell for a 12-yard game-winning touchdown. Tune tied the FBS lead in passing touchdowns this season with 40 and set an AAC record with 119 career touchdowns responsible for. The win gives Houston eight-plus wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2016. Louisiana finishes with its first losing season since 2017. — Alex Scarborough
Thursday, Dec. 22
The Falcons dominated the Bears, rushing for 276 yards to finish 10-3 with their fifth straight victory, polishing off back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1997-98. Brad Roberts was the workhorse as usual, rushing 37 times for 116 yards and two TDs for his 11th 100-yard game of the season. Baylor, the preseason pick to win the Big 12 for the first time in school history, finished 6-7, suffering the indignity of a blowout loss in rival TCU’s stadium in the bitter cold with wind chill in the negative digits. The Baylor offense struggled mightily, finishing 0-for-11 on third downs, with Blake Shapen completing just 11 of 23 passes for 188 yards and two scores. Freshman running back Richard Reese came into the game needing 38 yards for a 1,000-yard season but was held to 10 yards on eight carries. — Dave Wilson
Wednesday, Dec. 21
Senior quarterback Austin Reed made things look easy in the Big Easy as Western Kentucky blitzed South Alabama for 677 total yards. Reed, second in the FBS in passing yards to Washington‘s Michael Penix Jr. coming into the contest, completed 36 of 55 passes for a career-high 497 yards and four touchdowns in what was his ninth 300-yard passing game of the year. Seven different receivers caught passes from Reed, with Dalvin Smith (145 yards, one TD), Jaylen Hall (138 yards, one TD) and Malachi Corley (114 yards, two TDs) combining for 26 receptions and Smith adding a 25-yard scoring pass. The Hilltoppers, who racked up 434 total yards in the first half, tallied the game’s first 24 points and led by 28 points at halftime after Reed threw for 329 yards and three scores. — Blake Baumgartner
Tuesday, Dec. 20
Liberty’s defensive front dominated in Tuesday night’s Boca Bowl. Everything else, not so much. The Flames racked up 12 tackles for loss and four sacks, but they gained just 253 total yards and fell 21-19. Toledo scored on three straight second-half drives to take control, and the Rockets, fresh off of their first MAC title in five years, won all three of the game’s pivotal two-point conversions — they converted one and stopped two. After going just 24-20 from 2018 to ’21, Toledo’s Jason Candle engineered a 9-5 campaign this fall, their best since going 11-3 in 2017. — Connelly
Chris Creighton gets a bucketful of French fries as Eastern Michigan defeats San Jose State 41-27 to win the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
It took 35 years, but Eastern Michigan did it again. The Eagles’ 41-27 win Tuesday against San Jose State was the program’s second bowl win — ever — and its first since 1987 against … San Jose State. After starting the season 2-2, the Eagles earned their first nine-win season since finishing 10-2 in 1987. San Jose State had lost the ball just six times all season, tied with USC for the fewest turnovers among all FBS teams, but finished with three Tuesday. Two turnovers in the first half led to a 30-13 deficit the Spartans couldn’t overcome, and quarterback Chevan Cordeiro‘s interception with less than two minutes remaining sealed the win for Eastern Michigan. Eastern Michigan’s 41 points set a school record single-game point total in an FBS bowl. — Heather Dinich
Monday, Dec. 19
Rasheen Ali and Khalan Laborn combined to rush for 182 yards and a touchdown and the Marshall defense forced four takeaways to lead the Thundering Herd to their first bowl win since 2018. Still, it was a worthy performance for a UConn team that was a major surprise to even make a bowl. The Huskies still haven’t won a bowl since 2009, but they outgained Marshall and staged a second-half comeback that fell short largely on the back of a couple of failed fourth down tries. — David Hale
Saturday, Dec. 17
In his first season at Boise State, freshman running back Ashton Jeanty had only crossed the 100-yard threshold in a game one time. On Saturday against North Texas, Jeanty exploded through that mark for 178 yards on the ground, 6.4 yards per carry and one touchdown. Jeanty’s performance, as well as two interceptions forced by the defense, keyed Boise State’s win over North Texas, after the Broncos were down 10-3 early. The victory gives the Broncos a 10-win campaign as well as a glimpse of what their offense could look like next season with Jeanty in the backfield as the team’s primary ball carrier. — Paolo Uggetti
Cornerback Jakob Robinson saved the night for BYU by denying SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai‘s potential game-winning 2-point conversion with eight seconds left in regulation, preserving a 1-point victory. The Cougars built a 14-point lead in the third quarter on a 76-yard pick-six from linebacker Ben Bywater and running back Christopher Brooks‘ 22-yard scoring run, only to see the Mustangs come back with 13 fourth-quarter points. The Cougars, buoyed by the efforts from Robinson and Bywater, won despite the Mustangs holding a 389-256 edge in total yards. Quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters and Brooks combined to run for 184 yards and two scores as BYU ran for at least 200 yards for the fourth time in its past five games (209) while ending the season with a fourth straight victory. — Baumgartner
Southern Miss takes home a LendingTree bowl victory thanks to Frank Gore Jr.’s 329 rushing yards and 3 total touchdowns.
Frank Gore Jr. not only rewrote Southern Miss’ bowl and school record books, he broke the NCAA bowl game record with 329 rushing yards in a 14-point victory. Gore ended his sophomore season with a bang by running for two touchdowns and throwing for another as he also broke Camerun Peoples‘ bowl rushing record. Spurred on by Gore, Southern Miss churned out a season-high 361 rushing yards and won its first bowl game since 2016. Senior linebacker Daylen Gill recorded three of Southern Miss’ five sacks. Rice freshman quarterback AJ Padgett (295 passing yards) threw three touchdown passes — two to senior wide receiver Isaiah Esdale — in the third quarter as the Owls erased a 14-point halftime deficit, taking a short-lived 7-point lead. — Baumgartner
A 1-4 start to the season now feels like a lifetime ago. Fresno State hasn’t lost since then, beating Washington State to finish the year with a 10-4 record. Quarterback Jake Haener was sharp, completing 24 of 36 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. And Jordan Mims went off for the Bulldogs, rushing for a career-high 210 yards and two touchdowns on only 18 carries. But don’t forget the Fresno State defense, which limited quarterback Cameron Ward and Washington State to the Cougars’ lowest total of the season. Fresno State picked off Ward — a 3,000-yard passer on the season — and held him to only 137 yards passing on 32 attempts. — Scarborough
Silas Bolden puts on his cape and dives to make an incredible snag for a Beavers first down.
A week after signing a six-year deal worth $30.6 million, Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith led his team to a dominating triumph over Florida, securing the Beavers’ first 10-win season in 16 years and their first-ever victory against an SEC opponent. It was a balanced, all-round effort for Oregon State, which threw for 189 yards and rushed for 164 yards — 107 of which came from junior running back Deshaun Fenwick. The defense allowed only 1.2 yards per rush. A 40-yard field goal by Adam Mihalek with less than a minute remaining avoided the shutout and extended the Gators’ streak of scoring in games to 436. — Scarborough
In his final game as coach at Jackson State, Deion Sanders failed to complete an undefeated season as NC Central upset the Tigers 41-34 in a wild overtime finish. Shedeur Sanders threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Hunter with no time left to send the game to overtime. But it was NC Central’s Davius Richard who did the scoring in the extra period. NC Central reached 10 wins, the third team in program history to reach double-digit wins in a season. NC Central had 276 yards rushing. Richard had 177 passing yards, 97 rushing yards and 3 total touchdowns. But all eyes were on Jackson State and what would happen as Deion Sanders exits for Colorado. It was a back-and-forth game throughout. Shedeur Sanders finishes the season with 46 total touchdowns. With one chance left to send the game into a second overtime, he threw an incompletion to end the game. Jackson State finishes 12-1, the most wins in a season in program history. — Andrea Adelson
Louisville claimed the Keg of Nails trophy in the renewal of its rivalry with the Bearcats, using a dominant defense and run game to win 24-7 — its first bowl victory since 2019. The game featured two interim coaches — Kerry Coombs at Cincinnati for Luke Fickell (who left for Wisconsin) and Deion Branch for Louisville, after Scott Satterfield left to replace Fickell. Satterfield was not at the game, instead hosting recruits in Cincinnati. But his former team played hard without him, and its aggressive defense — No. 2 in the nation in sacks — made play after play, making it a long day for Cincinnati quarterback Evan Prater. Louisville, playing without quarterback Malik Cunningham (opt out) was far from perfect on offense but had a season-high 287 yards on the ground — getting 100-yard rushing performances each from reserve running backs Maurice Turner and Jawhar Jordan. — Adelson
Friday, Dec. 16
UAB LB Reynard Ellis makes the game-saving tackle at the 2-yard line to secure the victory for the Blazers in a 24-20 thriller vs. the RedHawks.
Junior running back Jermaine Brown Jr.’s big day led the way as UAB secured a 24-20 victory over Miami (Ohio), giving incoming head coach Trent Dilfer some momentum to build off heading into 2023. Brown ran 24 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns to help the Blazers win without the services of FBS-leading rusher DeWayne McBride, who opted out of the game. Brown’s fourth-down touchdown run with 1:33 left in the game put UAB in front to stay — the game’s fourth lead change in the second half. Despite losing the turnover battle (3-0), UAB pulled out the victory with the help of six players combining for four sacks. — Baumgartner
Duluth Trading Cure Bowl: No. 24 Troy 18, No. 25 UTSA 12
What a finish for Troy first-year head coach Jon Sumrall, closing out a 12-2 season by scoring 18 unanswered points to beat UTSA on Friday for the Trojans’ 11th straight win. Troy had just 153 total yards and did not cross midfield in the first half, but five takeaways — including two interceptions and a forced fumble on UTSA quarterback Frank Harris, who was sixth in the FBS in passing coming into the game — was too much to overcome for the Roadrunners. The Trojans became the first team to win a bowl game with less than 175 yards of offense since UCLA in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl against New Mexico. — Wilson