SIXTEEN GAMES decided by seven points or less, 12 games in which the teams combined for more than 900 yards of total offense, a showdown between the two winningest coaches in Division I-A history, and an undisputed national champion? Not bad for a maligned bowl system that Congress has decided needs to be investigated. Here are the highs and lows from the bowl season, and since it's never too early to start planning for next season--pencil in Ohio State and Texas for Sept. 9 in Austin--here's a projection of who'll be on the rise‚Üë and who's due for a drop-off‚Üì in 2006.
Best and Worst
QB Controversy Subbing for the injured Sam Keller in the Insight Bowl, redshirt freshman Rudy Carpenter of Arizona State‚Üë passed for 467 yards in a 45-40 win over Rutgers‚Üë. In his last six games Carpenter threw for 2,133 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only two interceptions. In seven starts Keller, who will be a senior next season, passed for 2,165 yards with 20 TDs and nine interceptions.
In what was advertised as the best of the non-BCS matchups, LSU‚Üë thrashed Miami‚ÜìI 40-3. Glenn Dorsey (far right) and the LSU defense didn't allow a first down in the second half. It was the Tigers' most lopsided bowl win and the Hurricanes' worst bowl loss. In the aftermath Miami coach Larry Coker fired four of his assistants.
Best Imitation of Cal-Stanford
Down 32-28 to Nebraska‚Üë in the Alamo Bowl, Michigan‚Üë made seven laterals and retreated 30 yards to keep a game-ending play alive. As Cornhuskers flooded the field and Wolverines wandered off their bench, tight end Tyler Ecker reached the Nebraska 15 before being stopped by corner Zackary Bowman.
At a banquet two nights before the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, which coach Tom O'Brien of Boston College‚Üë described as a pep rally for Boise State‚Üì, mayor David Bieter made a plug for the Broncos, and MPC Computers CEO Mike Adkins joked about the name of BC defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (above). The motivated Eagles knocked off the Broncos 27-21, ending Boise State's home winning streak at 31 games.
Best Improvisational Performance
Three assistants at Virginia‚Üì left the staff to accept head-coaching positions, one taking another assistant with him, but the Cavaliers beat Minnesota‚Üì 34-31 in the Music City Bowl.
After taking top-ranked USC to the wire on Nov. 19, Fresno State‚Üë closed with three consecutive defeats, capped by a 31-24 upset loss to Tulsa‚Üì in the Liberty Bowl.
Best Game That Santa Missed
Playing on Christmas Eve (and into Christmas Day in the Eastern time zone), Central Florida‚Üë and Nevada‚Üë combined for 1,178 total yards in the Hawaii Bowl. Nevada won 49-48 when Matt Prater missed the extra point on the Golden Knights' opening overtime possession.
•Was there a gutsier call than the fake punt ordered by Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia‚Üë in the Sugar Bowl? Leading Georgia‚Üì 38-35 with 1:45 left and the ball at the Bulldogs' 48, punter Phil Brady dashed 10 yards on fourth-and-six. From there the Mountaineers ran out the clock.
•Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin‚Üì went out in style. Trying to protect a 24-10 lead against Auburn‚Üë, the Badgers took over at their one-yard line with 8:58 left and drove to the Tigers' one before taking a knee and running out the clock at the Capital One Bowl.
•Quarterback Brady Leaf of Oregon‚Üì was booed when he entered the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma‚Üë in San Diego. Leaf, whose brother Ryan was a bust with the Chargers, tossed a fourth-quarter touchdown pass but threw an interception in the closing seconds when the Ducks were in position for a game-tying field goal.
•Marcus Vick, brother of Mike, threw for two touchdowns as Virginia Tech‚Üë beat Louisville‚Üë 35-24 in the Gator Bowl. But after a play near the end of the first half, Vick stepped on the leg of Elvis Dumervil, the Cardinals' All-America defensive end. "It's flat-out embarrassing," said Hokies quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers. "I don't coach that way, and I don't expect [Vick] to play that way." Vick said it was accidental and that he apologized, but Dumervil said the quarterback never talked to him.
•Jordan Palmer, whose Heisman-winning brother, Carson, plays for the Bengals, completed only 14 of 33 passes and injured his left knee as UTEP‚Üë lost to Toledo‚Üì 45-13 in the GMAC Bowl.
•Brad Smith, the only quarterback in Division I-A history to pass for 8,000 yards and run for 4,000, rallied Missouri‚Üì from a 28-7 deficit against South Carolina‚Üë in the Independence Bowl, throwing for 282 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 151 and three scores in a 38-31 victory.
•DeAngelo Williams (left) finished as the fourth-leading rusher in Division I-A history, running for 233 yards and three touchdowns for Memphis‚Üì, which beat Akron‚Üë 38-31 in the Motor City Bowl.
•After waiting until his fifth season to play in his first bowl game for Alabama‚Üì, heralded quarterback Brodie Croyle hooked up with wideout Keith Brown for a 76-yard score on the Tide's second play from scrimmage, then directed a 58-yard drive for a last-play field goal in a 13-10 win over Texas Tech‚Üì in the Cotton Bowl.
•Sophomore Marshawn Lynch had a career-high 194 yards rushing and three touchdowns as Cal‚Üë held off BYU‚Üì 35-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
•Cody Hull, another sophomore, ran for 161 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career, as Southern Miss‚Üë beat Arkansas State‚Üë 31-19 in the New Orleans Bowl.
•Reggie Campbell (above), a 5'6", 164-pound running back at Navy‚Üë, scored five touchdowns, tying an NCAA bowl record, and had 290 all-purpose yards as the Midshipmen whipped Colorado State‚Üì 51-30 in the Poinsettia Bowl.
•Brandon Breazell, a 6-foot, 165-pound wideout for UCLA‚Üë, returned a pair of onside kicks for touchdowns in the last 2:29 of the Bruins' 50-38 win over Northwestern‚Üì in the Sun Bowl.
•Returning to action less than two months after he broke his left leg, Vernell Brown Jr., a 5'8", 165-pound cornerback for Florida‚Üë, returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown and had seven tackles to help spark the Gators to a 31-24 win over Iowa‚Üë in the Outback Bowl.
99 Games in the football history of South Florida‚Üë before the Bulls suffered a shutout, a 14-0 loss to N.C. State‚Üì in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
41 Consecutive possessions on which Clemson‚Üë did not allow a touchdown on defense before Colorado‚Üì scored in the fourth quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl. The Tigers won 19-10.
16 Catches by Travis LaTendresse (below), good for 214 yards and four TDs in the Emerald Bowl, where Utah‚Üë shredded Georgia Tech‚Üë 38-10.
10 Consecutive wins by TCU‚Üë after it edged Iowa State‚Üë 27-24 in the Houston Bowl, the second-longest streak in the nation, behind Texas's 20-game run.
4 Touchdown passes thrown in the Fort Worth Bowl by quarterback Jason Swanson of Kansas‚Üì in the Jayhawks' 42-13 win over Houston‚Üì, one more than he had during the regular season.
STEVE GRAYSON/WIREIMAGE.COM (KIWANUKA)
REX BROWN/WIREIMAGE.COM (DORSEY)
DUANE BURLESON/AP (WILLIAMS)
STEVE GRAYSON/WIREIMAGE.COM (CAMPBELL)
ROB HOLT/ICON SMI (LATENDRESSE)