The most wonderful time of the year has officially come to a close with the completion of bowl season. It wasn’t necessarily the bowl lineup we expected as COVID-19 cancellations impacted multiple games, but it was fun all the same.
In this era of coaching changes in the transfer portal, it can be a bit difficult to take much away from bowl results. Rosters are incomplete, coaching staffs are piecemeal and often times it’s tough to judge just how motivated teams were.
Still, if you look in the right places, there is plenty you can learn from bowl season. Today, in a nod to my in-season column College Football Overtime, I’m doing takeaways from many of the bowl games that have been played over the last month.
From future stars to problematic trends, this is what you need to know as the college football season comes to a close.
THE FINAL BOWL GAME OF 2021 WAS ... ODD
Due to a combination of injuries, opt outs and transfers, LSU had only 39 scholarship players available and were forced to start wide receiver
Jontre Kirklin at quarterback. Unsurprisingly, Kansas State dominated the TaxAct Bowl in a 42-20 win. Beside the fact you'd love to seen the NCAA approve a waiver for LSU to at least field an actual quarterback, there isn't much you can say about LSU's future after this one. This is the program's first losing season (6-7) since 1999, but that doesn't feel all that relevant with the Brian Kelly era set to begin. Kelly is going to have a lot of lifting to do with his roster. But he won't ever be that low on scholarships during his tenure.
As for Kansas State, can I just express how much I love watching
Deuce Vaughn play? He's awesome. Vaughn finished the night with 146 yards rushing and four total touchdowns. He might only be 5-foot-6, 172 pounds, but he's always the most dynamic player on the field. He'll be among the top players in college football entering the 2022 season and should be considered appointment viewing.
THE BEST COACHING JOB IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL WAS DAVE ARANDA AT BAYLOR
Not only did Baylor win 12 games for the first time in program history, capping things off with a 21-7 Sugar Bowl win, but Aranda completely overhauled his offense – his hire of
Jeff Grimes as OC was inspired – and his coaching philosophy in terms of his aggression as a decision maker; the Bears were far more aggressive on fourth down and in the way they attacked downfield. Aranda is among the best defensive schemers in college football. This year he showed to be a genuine, inspired coach whose players, many of whom he didn’t recruit, played extremely hard for. Given its head coach and location (Texas and its recruiting grounds) Baylor is well positioned to emerge as a power in the new-look Big 12.
A NOTE ON MATT CORRAL
Matt Corral ’s Sugar Bowl injury was devastating when it occurred. While I’m not here to litigate whether he should or should not have played, I know a lot of lot of players watched the situation closely. The initial reports are positive with Corral’s X-Rays coming back negative. So he avoided significant damage. But the injury is further proof that fans and the media alike should avoid lobbying criticism at players for choosing not to play in a bowl game. You never know what can happen.
THE ROSE BOWL WAS SUBLIME
Anyone who wants fewer bowl games should watch that spectacular event on repeat to remember why they love the sport.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba set a bowl record with a 15-catch, 347-yard, three-touchdown performance against Utah. He’s WR1 entering 2022 and, frankly, might be the best player in football. His suddenness and explosiveness in close quarters makes him a nightmare to defend. He,
Emeka Egbuka will again give
Ohio State the best wide receiver group in the country even as
Garrett Wilson and
Chris Olave exit.
Cameron Rising is awesome and, until proven otherwise,
Utah should be considered the Pac-12 favorite in 2022. The Utes are quietly recruiting better than ever (back-to-back top 35 classes), use the transfer portal as well as anyone and
Kyle Whittingham has built a program based on toughness in a conference that lacks that along the line of scrimmage.
THE NEW-LOOK BIG 12 WILL BE FINE
Oklahoma State won the Fiesta Bowl. Baylor won the Sugar Bowl. Cincinnati went to the CFB Playoff. By the way, Oklahoma State's
Spencer Sanders played the best game of his career in the Fiesta Bowl throwing for 371, running for 125 yards and totaling five touchdowns. If Sanders can play at that level next year and avoid a turnover bug that's plagued him, the Cowboys could easily win the Big 12 next season.
AS FOR THE FIESTA BOWL LOSER ...
Jack Coan threw for a Fiesta Bowl-record 509 yards. Yet I can’t help but get excited for the
Tyler Buchner era of Irish football.
Notre Dame’s floor is lower with Buchner on the field. But if he plays up to his potential, he could elevate an otherwise playoff-worthy roster early in Marcus Freeman’s tenure.
KENTUCKY HAS IT FIGURED OUT
Mark Stoops has turned
Kentucky into the Iowa of the SEC, and that's a great thing — it means the Wildcats have become a bastion of consistency. Kentucky has just four 10-win seasons all time. Two of them now belong to Stoops with both of them coming since 2018. Kentucky is recruiting at a historic level (No. 11 in 2022) and is using the transfer portal well. The Wildcats’ success is sustainable moving forward. Look for Virginia Tech transfer
Tayvion Robinson to be Kentucky’s 2022 Wan'Dale Robinson. They’re different players, but Tayvion is one of the most versatile playmakers in the country.
ARKANSAS HAS IT GOING
Let’s talk about
Arkansas for a second.
Sam Pittman inherited a team that went 0-8 in SEC play in back-to-back years. His first season occurred during a pandemic. By Year 2, the Razorbacks won nine games for the first time in a decade. That’s a remarkable turnaround. Pittman is an inspiring presence. But he’s also proven to be a shrewd staff builder. One could argue defensive coordinator
Barry Odom and offensive coordinator
Kendal Briles are the best combination in the country. Just look at these year-over-year improvements from the season before they took over (2019) to now.
Yards Per Play: 2019 (101st), 2020 (56th), 2021 (25th)
Yards Allowed Per Play: 2019 (116th), 2020 (64th), 2021 (48th)
Arkansas is recruiting well (19th in 2022), has a quarterback to build around (K.J. Jefferson, who just had the best statistical season of any QB in Razorbacks history) and returns a lot in 2022. The Razorbacks are going to be a pain in the butt for the rest of the SEC West to play.
WAKE FOREST AS A PRESEASON TOP 10 TEAM?
You can’t really take much away from
Wake Forest thumping
Rutgers on short notice. But I’ll put this out there: The Demon Deacons have the framework to be a preseason top 10 team. Almost everybody returns from the two-deep and
Sam Hartman is one of the best QBs in the country. Wake Forest probably won’t rank that highly because of brand/talent biases. But the Demon Deacons should be in the national conversation next year, especially when you consider how friendly their schedule sets up.
EVER THE SAME FOR WISCONSIN
Wisconsin might still have a quarterback issue –
Graham Mertz has been a disappointment in the context of his recruiting rank – but true freshman
Braelon Allen is something it can build around. Allen, who ran for 159 yards in the Las Vegas Bowl, is a 6-foot-2, 238-pound truck of a running back. He and an always-salty defense will again have Wisconsin as a preseason Top 25 team next year.
HAT TIP TO SHANE BEAMER
South Carolina is going to be a lot of fun next year. Despite some really difficult circumstances – schedule, quarterback health (they were down to the fourth string in the bowl game), wide receiver depth –
Shane Beamer managed to win seven games in Year 1. With
Austin Stogner and a top 20 class arriving as reinforcements, South Carolina is positioned to build on its momentum. Beamer, a refreshing genuine presence, proved a lot of people wrong this year.
UNC MISSED ITS WINDOW (FOR NOW)
On the other side of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl was
North Carolina, which was the most disappointing team in the country.
Mack Brown can blame the media and expectations all he’d like, but this was a straight up whiff for a team with the on-paper talent to have won the ACC. Instead,
Sam Howell is leaving Chapel Hill with a 21-17 record as a starter. He was one of the best QBs in the country all three of those seasons. That’s called missing your championship window. With the No. 8 class in the country in 2022, the Tar Heels have the talent base to get things going. But so far, a once-promising, ahead-of-schedule start to the
Mack Brown era feels flat.
NO SLEEPING ON PURDUE QB AIDAN O'CONNELL
Aidan O’Connell is coming back to
Purdue for a fifth season, and it could be a lot of fun stretched out over a full campaign. With 534 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-45 Music City Bowl win over Tennessee, O’Connell finished the 2021 campaign on a HEATER. After a slow start in September when his job was anything but secure, O’Connell averaged 371 yards per game while completing 72.1% of his passes the es of the way. Those are elite numbers. They also provide Purdue, fresh off its first nine-win season since 2003, a ton of optimism heading into 2022 despite losing guys like David Bell and George Karlaftis.
BIG THINGS IN STORE FOR TENNESSEE
Frankly, you could lift the same section on O’Connell and apply it to Music City Bowl loser
Hendon Hooker passed on the NFL – a sentence I did not think I’d be writing six months ago – after a near flawless campaign that saw him throw for 2,945 yards, 31 TDs against 3 INTs while completing 68.2% of his passes. Head coach Josh Heupel’s offense translated at Tennessee much faster than anyone could’ve expected, and that presents plenty of promise for the future. Now, Tennessee just needs a find a way to survive on defense playing complementary football next to the fastest offense in the country. But the transfer portal awaits.
MEL TUCKER'S SPARTANS ARE HERE TO STAY
If Aranda did the best coaching job of 2021, Mel Tucker is right behind him. At this point, despite some high-profile transfers, Tucker does not have the roster talent of a Michigan or Ohio State. Yet the
Michigan State Spartans, at 11-2, cleared the 11-win barrier just like their rivals and the were the only Big Ten team to beat the Wolverines.
Payton Thorne showed to be a long-term solution at QB in a 31-21 Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh and Tucker is again loading up in the portal. We might be in for another long-term cold war in the Big Ten East between Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. Under Tucker the Spartans aren’t going anywhere.
NEW-LOOK PITT AFTER A BREAKTHROUGH SEASON
Pittsburgh didn’t look the same in the bowl game without
Kenny Pickett and offensive coordinator
Mark Whipple . And now with wide receivers coach
Brennan Marion, a rising star in the industry, leaving for Texas, the Panthers have some adjusting to do. The good news: Pat Narduzzi's defensive infrastructure remains in place coming off an ACC title. Just as important: USC transfer QB
Kedon Slovis is coming. Healthy and at his best, Slovis isn’t much of a downgrade from Pickett. Slovis is also a Day 1 or 2 NFL Draft talent.
IS MARYLAND FOR REAL?
I don’t know how much you can really take away from
Maryland’s 54-10 bowl win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies were without their starting QB and were undergoing major transition as a staff. Maryland did what it should have. Though, I am very excited to see
Taulia Tagovailoa next season. He was near perfect (20-for-24, 265 yards, 2 TDs) against the Hokies, and he’ll have one of the best wide receiver groups in the country. The Terrapins’ division limits their ceiling, but this could be a feisty in 2022. That offense should be among the nation’s most dangerous.
A 10-WIN SEASON IN A DOWN YEAR FOR CLEMSON
Clemson won its 10th game for an 11th straight season with a 20-13 victory over Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl. Give how rocky this season felt for the Tigers, hitting the 10-win barrier is rather impressive. There remain significant questions about the Tiger offense in the post-Tony Elliott era; Clemson finished the year ranked 103rd nationally in yards per play and didn't look drastically better in the bowl game, which is probably to be expected. There also remains the question of what the defense will look after Brent Venables’ departure. Roster issues persist as well. Clemson’s scholarship numbers, largely due to Dabo Swinney’s recruiting strategy and failure to use the portal, trail a number of other national powers that churn over their rosters in order to stay at 85. That’s a lot of negatives. But for Clemson to win 10 games this year says a lot about the Tigers’ program culture. The ACC remains down and given the high-end talent on the roster; Clemson should be considered a top 10-level team until proven otherwise.
AND NOW THE COMEDOWN FOR IOWA STATE
Iowa State entered the year as the No. 7 team in the AP Poll. It matched that ranking with its win total: Seven. That’s disappointing for what was considered a generational Cyclones group.
Matt Campbell may not care about the win/loss column. But his fans do, and this Iowa State team, which lost six games by 10 points or fewer, did not win enough. There’s something to be said about Iowa State’s general talent ceiling. This roster may have had a ton of experience, but the Cyclones’ margin of error is slim ranked 57th in the 247Sports Team Talent Composite. This year Iowa State lost six Power Five games by 10 points or fewer. Last year it won four such games in a nine-win campaign. Much of the Cyclones’ two-deep will head to the NFL or graduate. There is some hope in Ames with the nation’s No. 30 recruiting class and Campbell sticking around. But there’s going to be a drop-off next year. Iowa State’s window was open and it did not take advantage.
TOUGH TO LEARN MUCH FROM THE ALAMO BOWL
Oregon, 47-32, but given recent events at both programs, I’m not really sure what you should know coming out of this one. But one quick thought for both teams:
- Oregon: The true freshman wide receiver pairing of
Dont’e Thornton (4 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD) and
Troy Franklin (4 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD) is awesome. They’re more talented than anyone
Bo Nix ever worked with at Auburn.
- Oklahoma: If
Marvin Mims does stay in Norman – and that’s a big if – the Sooners need to get him more involved. He drew just 41 targets all year (3.1 per game), which is not nearly enough. He’s a top 10 wide receiver in college football. Feed him.
(TH)ROW THE BALL
I’m going to miss watching
Minnesota’s experienced and massive offensive line work. The Gophers punished West Virginia in the bowl game, running for 249 yards in a 18-6 win. But four members of that starting o-line depart, and I’d expect Minnesota’s offense, with the return of
Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator, to become a bit more pass reliant. That’s welcome news for
Tanner Morgan , who has looked like a shell of himself after Ciarrocca departed following the 2019 campaign. Let's not forget that standout running back Mohamed Ibrahim returns in 2022. He was injured in Minnesota's first game of the season.
FRESH START FOR WEST VIRGINIA
Jarrett Doege entering the portal was probably best for both him and
West Virginia. The Mountaineers needed a fresh start at QB. If the
Neal Brown era in Morgantown is going to ever take off, one of his young QBs like
Garrett Greene or 2022 four-star signee
Nicco Marchiol need to take off.
SOUR GRAPES FOR MIKE LEACH ... AND EXCITEMENT IN LUBBOCK
Mike Leach spent the week complaining about the money
Texas Tech still owes him. The Red Raiders spent the bowl game just dominating
Mississippi State in a 34-7 win. Texas Tech has plenty of QB options and a head coach,
Joey McGuire , who is going to recruit better than anyone in Lubbock since Leach. Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech are very fascinating programs to watch as the Big 12 enters a new era.
WATCH OUT FOR HOUSTON
Speaking of the new Big 12 …
Houston beat Auburn, 17-13. Don’t let any SEC narratives about the Tigers not wanting to “be there” seep into your brain. The Cougars were straight up better. It took a little while for the
Dana Holgorsen era to take off at Houston. But he just won 12 games for only the third time in Cougar history. Given the way Houston has used the portal and the talent it has in its own backyard, this 2021 push by the Cougars feels sustainable.
AUBURN'S SLIDE CONTINUES
Auburn … the Tigers’ offense looked terrible, which continues a trend. Despite having an upperclassman quarterback for most of the year (Nix) and one of the most talented running back rooms in the country, Auburn finished 69th nationally in yards per play. The Tigers are going young and the NFL route for its next OC, hiring Austin Davis from the Seahawks, and
Bryan Harsin needs that hire to work quickly. If not, he’s going to be on the hot seat midway through next year.
Source : https://247sports.com/Article/College-football-bowl-results-takeaways--179852056/3756