Bowl season review
DCTF's Greg Tepper recaps what was a banner bowl season for the state of Texas.
Like it or not, college football season has come to a close. And what a year it was for the state of Texas.
Not only did Texas retain the Heisman Trophy, but two teams finished in the final AP Top 25, and four teams finished in the top 35. And to cap it all off, the seven bowl-eligible teams went a combined 6-1, the best winning percentage of any state with three or more bowl game participants.
We’ve been hard at work on the 2013 Winter Edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football (available for pre-order now!), but let’s take a moment to recap what was a banner bowl season for the state of Texas.
SMU 43, Fresno State 10
What happened: Between terrific efforts QB Garrett Gilbert and DE Margus Hunt, SMU raced out to a 22-point halftime lead and never truly wavered, soaring to the Ponies’ third bowl win in four years.
Star of the game: It’s got to be Hunt, the senior from Estonia playing in his final game. He was completely unblockable, forcing a pair of fumbles and notching a safety. We’ve known for a while that he has the raw athleticism to dominate, but this was the first time we truly saw it in practice.
Key number: 14. That’s how many points the SMU defense put up for the Ponies, between Hunt’s safety and interception returns for touchdowns for Taylor Reed and Hayden Greenbauer in the fourth quarter that truly put the game away.
What’s it mean? Hard to tell. Don’t get me wrong: this was a great win for SMU over a very, very good Fresno State squad – SMU was one of the biggest underdogs in the bowl schedule – but can they parlay that momentum into next year? Garrett Gilbert was good, and that’s a step in the right direction, but next year’s SMU team is going to look very different with the loss of RB Zach Line and DE Margus Hunt. The key, in my opinion, is Gilbert; can he ride this to a better 2013?
Baylor 49, UCLA 26
What happened: The Baylor defense played one of its best games of the year, holding the Bruins to one of their lowest yardage totals this season, and the Baylor running game did the rest, running up over 300 yards and bludgeoning the Bruins D en route to a dominating victory.
Star of the game: A few different players to choose from – you could make an argument for Nick Florence, Glasco Martin or any number of defenders – but I’m going with RB Lache Seastrunk, the Temple dynamo who ran for 138 yards and a score to pace the rushing attack.
Key number: 5.8%. That’s UCLA’s third down conversion percentage in this game, converting just 1 of 17 attempts. Baylor’s defense held the Bruins to their worst third-down conversion percentage in a game since a 24-7 loss to USC on December 1, 2007.
What does it mean? Well, it’s a really nice win over a pretty good team, and perhaps proof that this Baylor program has some staying power. There are going to be big shoes to fill next year, what with QB Nick Florence and WR Terrence Williams leaving, but RB Lache Seastrunk looks more than capable of picking up some of the slack.
Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 31
What happened: In a slightly smaller version of the last time these two teams met, Texas Tech rallied from behind, scoring 10 points in the final 70 seconds – capped by Ryan Bustin’s game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired – to snatch the victory from the Gophers again.
Star of the game: DB D.J. Johnson had the single-biggest play of the game, picking off Minnesota QB Philip Nelson in the final minute and returning it into field goal range to set up the game-winning kick. Tech’s defense wasn’t great, but that was a shining moment.
Key number: 135. That’s how many penalty yards the Red Raiders racked up. In fact, it was an extremely sloppy game all around, as the teams combined for 20 penalties for 219 yards. I guess that’s what happens with two teams without head coaches.
What does it mean? I’m leaning a lot more toward “not much” than “a lot.” Sure, it’s nice to get a win, but this wasn’t a very good Minnesota team, and this team is going to look way, way different in a matter of months with Kliff Kingsbury taking over. You always choose a win over a loss, but it’s hard to say that this will give the Red Raiders momentum heading into the offseason considering the tremendous change on the horizon.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Rice 33, Air Force 14
What happened: The Owls pretty much played their best half of the year in the second half, rallying from a halftime deficit to score the final 26 points as the defense absolutely clamped down on Air Force’s run-first offense, notching the Owls a cathartic bowl victory.
Star of the game: The entire defense? They held Air Force to just 214 total yards, but the honor probably belongs to WR Jordan Taylor, who hauled in nine catches for 153 yards and three scores on a banner afternoon.
Key number: 3. That’s how many times that Air Force has been held under 170 yards rushing in a game over the past four seasons. The Owls defense held the Falcons to just 166 yards on the ground.
What does it mean? Of all of the bowl victories – and there are a lot for Texas to boast – this is probably the biggest. Rice, you’ll remember, rallied from a 2-6 record to win four straight just to get into a bowl game, and to cap it off with just their second bowl victory since 1954. There is tremendous momentum with the Owls right now – more than there’s ever been under David Bailiff, if you ask me – and that’s something the program can really use to catapult them into 2013.
Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas 31, Oregon State 27
What happened: It was a back-and-forth battle, but Texas made plays when it needed to – be it from their dominating front led by DE Alex Okafor or from QB David Ash – scoring late on Ash’s second touchdown pass and getting a big defensive stop to come away with a win.
Star of the game: You could go with Ash, who played maybe his best game since the Longhorns’ win over Oklahoma State, but the correct response is probably Okafor, who was a dominating force, notching 4.5 sacks, leading a Texas defensive effort that racked up 10 sacks on the evening.
Key number: 3. That’s how many touchdowns of 50+ yards that Marquise Goodwin had in 2012, adding a 64-yard touchdown run on an end-around to his ledger in the Alamo Bowl. It’s the most 50+ yard touchdowns for a Longhorn in a season since Limas Sweed did it in 2006.
What does it mean? Well, it’s progress, isn’t it? Texas finishes with nine wins, an improvement over 2011, and perhaps more notably, David Ash finally looked like a guy who can be “the guy” for Texas. There are still a lot of question marks, and inconsistency plagued the ‘Horns, but a win is a win, and the arrow is pointing upward, it would seem.
Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Michigan State 17, TCU 16
What happened: In an ugly, defense-first game, TCU looked like it had stolen a win when Jaden Oberkrom boomed a 53-yard field goal with 2:42 left to give the Frogs a 16-14 lead…only to see Michigan State’s Dan Conroy give the Spartans the lead and the victory with a 47-yard field goal of his own in the closing minute.
Star of the game: Safety Jason Verrett closed out a breakout season with another great game, getting a team-high 12 tackles, a tackle for a loss, and two pass break-ups.
Key number: 15.7. That’s how many points per game the Frogs averaged in their final four games. Granted, it was against three tough foes – Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma – the Frogs lost three of their final four largely because the offense couldn’t produce.
What does it mean? It means that a season riddled with injuries and off-the-field angst comes to a merciful end for Gary Patterson and company. This was, in a lot of ways, a lost season for the Frogs, finishing 7-6, their worst finish since 2004. But the Frogs got to see a lot of their young players in action – more, I imagine, than Gary Patterson wanted to see – and they know they have more than a few players worth building around next season.
AT&T Cotton Bowl
Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13
What happened: The Aggies’ offense was at its high-flying best, racking up an astonishing 633 total yards – a Cotton Bowl record – and capping off a dream season by drubbing one of the best teams in their former conference.
Star of the game: Who else? Johnny Manziel made anybody who didn’t vote for him for the Heisman Trophy look foolish, throwing 287 yards and two touchdowns and running for 229 yards and two scores. It’s been called the best individual performance in the Cotton Bowl’s illustrious history.
Key number: 13. That’s how many points the Sooners managed against A&M, tied for the fewest allowed to Oklahoma this season. The other team to allow 13 points to OU? Notre Dame.
What does it mean? Basically, this is the cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the chocolate syrup on top of the ice cream sundae for the Aggies. Even if A&M had gone into Cowboys Stadium and gotten drubbed, it wouldn’t have made this season any less of a roaring success. As it stands, though, A&M rides all sorts of momentum into what is a stunningly bright 2013 season in which they will enter as a legitimate national title contender.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.