The 40 bowls are over, and everyone’s taking stock of what happened to change the views and verdicts on college football teams, players, coaches and conferences. With 40 games to consider, a lot of impressive performances won’t make the short list. Which teams really did do something truly impressive in their bowl games? Here are the four top choices, keeping in mind that some other teams’ absence from this list will need to be explained.
There is no doubt that this was the most impressive performance of all in the bowls. Ohio State is a highly talented team coached by Urban Meyer, one of the very best in the business. It was easy and understandable to think that Ohio State would fix its problems from the past month and move to the championship game to face Nick Saban and Alabama in a “supercoach” matchup. However, Clemson would have none of that. The Tigers shut out Ohio State, something which is incredibly rare for both Meyer himself and for the Ohio State program on a larger level. The Clemson offense started slowly but eventually got into a groove. Deshaun Watson outclassed a fast Ohio State defense and made the right decisions in the second and third quarters of this game. After a shaky start, Clemson moved the ball fairly easily. It was a complete performance from a team that appears to be the equal of Alabama. The Tide did not make this list because while their defense was outstanding, their offense was below-average against Washington in the Peach Bowl.
LSU had a very disappointing regular season, but the Tigers did a lot to make up for it against Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. The Tigers shut down Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson with a dominant defensive performance, which showed how good LSU can be next season. They made the best quarterback in college football look like he’s not even NFL-worthy.
LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is as good as there is in the business. The Tigers can go into the 2017 season knowing that if new offensive coordinator Matt Canada can turn around their offense, they’ll be in very good shape. They’ll lose Leonard Fournette at the running back position but Derrius Guice looked like he’ll be a fantastic replacement. This win over Louisville provided confidence to a program which needed proof that new permanent head coach Ed Orgeron can succeed against quality opponents.
The Hurricanes finished their regular season 8-4, and they lost to a 4-8 Notre Dame team in the process. This team didn’t produce a complete season, and so it limped into the Russell Athletic Bowl with a lot to prove. Well, it proved that it can play really well when everything goes right. After a sluggish first quarter, Miami was virtually flawless over the final three quarters in a decisive thrashing of a 10-win West Virginia team. Remember, West Virginia was in contention for the Big 12 title throughout most of the season. This was a quality opponent.
The Hurricanes’ offense gained some consistency in the second and third quarters, but the defense – led by freshman linebackers who will be studs as sophomores in 2017 – led the way in smothering the West Virginia offense. That’s something we haven’t seen from Miami in many years. The Hurricanes have a bright future to look forward to, because its performance against WVU was so strong. They should be a factor in the ACC race within a couple of years.
Idaho won the Potato Bowl by only 11 points, but the Vandals led by 34 points on multiple occasions – 55-21 early in the fourth quarter – and cruised late in the game. The contest was never as close as the final 61-50 margin indicated. What makes the performance special is that Idaho was a double-digit underdog and outperformed the point spread to an extent few if any other bowl teams did. Idaho won its ninth game of the season, which also rates as a special achievement. This team deserves recognition for what it did in the bowl game, not just the regular season.
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