Biggest Winners and Worst Losers of the 2012-13 College Football Bowl Season

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Biggest Winners (and Losers) from the 2012-13 College Football Bowl Season

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Brian Spurlock - USA TODAY Sports

The eagerly anticipated 2012-13 college football season seemed like it was over almost as soon as it began – and it ended the same way the last one did, with Alabama coach Nick Saban hoising the crystal football after the Crimson Tide claimed the BCS National Championship.

The back-to-back national champs are the obvious pick for biggest winner of the bowl season, with Notre Dame’s apparently non-confrontational Irish as the highest-profile losers. (The Manti Te’o faux girlfriend hoax, lose-lose situation that it is, didn’t surface until weeks after bowl season and was, therefore, not included on this list.)

Alabama and Notre Dame won and lost on the sport’s biggest stage, but there plenty of other winners – and losers – from the field of 35 bowl games.

There were underdogs who proved they belonged in BCS bowls, as well as some who added fuel to their critics’ fire.

There were athletic, mobile quarterbacks who lit up scoreboards, and some stars who lost their luster against tough opponents.

There were teams who capped off exciting seasons with bowl victories, and at least one player who was almost accidentally decapitated.

There were disappointing New Year’s Day blowouts, New Year’s Eve nail-biters, and a handful of teams who finished with losing records after their bowl games.

For nearly all fans, whether or not their teams played postseason games, the bowl season ended with something to look forward to – their team’s chances for third straight national title, the opportunity to start with a clean slate in 2013 or, at the very least, the upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue featuring Katherine Webb.

So from Alabama to Notre Dame, here are some of this year’s biggest bowl season winners and losers.

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WINNER: Alabama Crimson Tide

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide could finally use the "R" word - repeat - after trouncing Notre Dame for their second-straight national title, and their third in four seasons. Playoff advocates, and college football fans in general, might've liked to see how the team held up against Oregon or Texas A&M in a playoff system, but the Tide, who held the No. 1 spot nearly all season until a run-in with Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, made a strong case that their squad is the best in the nation with a 42-14 win over previously undefeated Notre Dame to demonstrate just how dominant they are.

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LOSER: Notre Dame

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Eileen Blass - USA TODAY Sports

So much for a team of destiny. The Fighting Irish surprisingly battled their way to the top of the polls with an undefeated season, trumpeting Heisman finalist Te'o and his partially false sob story as hard as they could. Their luck ran out during the BCS title game, when viewers saw exactly what Notre Dame's critics had seen all season: a team that somehow managed to to stay undefeated through the regular schedule but didn't really have the play makers to become a champion.

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WINNER: Katherine Webb

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Matt Cashore - USA TODAY Sports

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron had a great championship game for the second-straight season, but this time, fewer people noticed. They were too busy gazing at McCarron's gorgeous girlfriend, Miss Alabama Katherine Webb. The Auburn(!) grad and Miss Universe finalist got a generous amount of face time during a fairly uneventful national championship broadcast, and ESPN broadcaster Brent Musberger spent so much time gushing over her beauty that the network later apologized for him.

In her appearance on Good Morning America, Webb said she wasn't offended - and she shouldn't be. Since the national title game, the number of people following her Twitter account (the only true measure of fame these days) has skyrocketed and her career is taking off. Webb will appear in this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and will cover the Super Bowl for "Inside Edition."

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WINNER: Barrett Jones

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Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

If you switched off the title game before the fourth quarter, you might have missed the Crimson Tide's fifth-year senior center shove his quarterback at the line. McCarron snapped at him, but Jones wasn't about put up with the qb's shenanigans. After the game, in a rare one-on-one on-field interview with a center, Jones explained that they disagreed about a play call, adding: "And I was right."

Between being pushed around - literally - by his own teammate (and roommate) and discovering that his girlfriend is now more popular than he is, A.J. McCarron sure had a rough night after winning his second-straight title.

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LOSER: Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops

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Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Remember when "Big Game Bob" actually won big games? His Sooners didn't have the depth to get it done this time, losing to Texas A&M in this year's AT&T Cotton Bowl, 41-13. It was the team's biggest bowl loss since 2003's 55-19 Orange Bowl loss to USC, but OU actually played well enough to keep it close through the first half. The Sooners certainly weren't the first team to find out that Manziel was as good as advertised, but the OU offense didn't do enough to help them keep up with him, either.

It's worth noting that the Sooners' only three losses on the year were to teams with Heisman finalists: Kansas State and Collin Klein, Notre Dame and Manti Te'o, and A&M and Manziel.

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WINNER: Johnny Manziel

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Heisman winner took heat for his cigar and champagne-filled post-game celebration at a Dallas nightclub, but there's no denying that he earned the right to celebrate a little (although he probably should've chosen something slightly more legal, and outside the public eye). The game's Offensive MVP set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 yards of total offense, including four touchdowns, as the Aggies ran over Oklahoma.

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LOSER: West Virginia Mountaineers

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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the year, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was the shoo-in for the Heisman Trophy, and the Mountaineers were climbing up the polls. And then their Big 12 conference schedule started. This year's bowl game ended much differently than last year's; instead of a 70-33 Orange Bowl win, the Mountaineers fell to former Big East opponent Syracuse in a snowy New Era Pinstripe Bowl. WVU's offensive stars - Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin - were looking for one last offensive showcase before the NFL Draft, but they didn't get it. The entire team gained just 304 yards on the day.

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LOSER: Louisiana Tech

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Soobum Im - USA TODAY Sports

The 9-3 Bulldogs were one of the biggest losers of the bowl season because, despite their strong season, they didn't get to go to a bowl. The athletic department blamed it on Northern Illinois' surprise jump into a BCS bowl, but other sources said the athletic director turned down an Independence Bowl bid in hopes of getting a better offer. Whatever the scenario, it was a shame for the Louisiana Tech players, who didn't get the bowl appearance that they rightfully earned.

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WINNER: Teddy Bridgewater

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Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

Teddy Bridgewater was the best player on the field when Louisville upset No. 3 Florida, showing the nation what Cardinals' fans already knew: the sophomore is the real deal. He was 20 of 32 for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and he established himself (or re-established himself, for those of you who watched him all year) as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, and a player to watch in 2013.

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WINNER: Louisville

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Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

Bridgewater was just part of the story for the Louisville Cardinals, who showed up to the Sugar Bowl ready to prove they deserved to be there. Head coach Charlie Strong had recently re-committed to stay at the school instead of entertaining offers to coach in the NFL, much to the surprise and delight of his players, who played like they knew someone believed in them. With Strong and Bridgewater both in Louisville for a few more seasons, the program has a strong core - and a BCS bowl win - on which to build.

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LOSER: Jordan Lynch

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Lynch, the Northern Illinois Huskies' quarterback, put up superhuman numbers all season, but he looked downright mediocre in the Discover Orange Bowl against Florida State's top-notch defense. The 'Noles were definitely tougher than any of the MAC defenses he'd gone up against in the regular season, but not having coach Dave Doeren, who watched in the stands after accepting the head coaching job at North Carolina State, might have hurt, too. Lynch might have looked unstoppable all season, but he is just one player, after all, and his playcaller didn't do much to help him succeed on a big stage.

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LOSER: Orange Bowl

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Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Casual college football fans who don't generally root for NIU or Florida State didn't have much to cheer for in the Discover Orange Bowl. "Experts" complained about the match-up as soon as it was announced, arguing that NIU didn't deserve to be there, and an Orange Bowl representative reportedly told an NIU team official that the bowl didn't want them in the first place. Yikes. Throw in a lackluster football game and it was, overall, a disappointing situation for one of the premier bowl games.

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WINNER: Clemson Tigers

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Daniel Shirey - USA Today Sports

Clemson fans sure had a lot of celebrate as 2012 came to a close, as the Tigers got a huge win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl thanks to a last-second kick from the trusty foot of Chandler Cantazaro. A year after winning the ACC but ending up as one of the 2011 bowl season's biggest losers with a 70-33 Orange Bowl loss, the Tigers got their bowl revenge with a victory over one of the SEC's top teams that gives them momentum heading into next season.

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LOSER: USC Quarterback Max Wittek

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Ivan Pierre Aguirre - USA Today Sports

The USC Trojans, in general, were among the biggest losers of this entire college football season. The preseason No. 1 team finished with a 7-6 record after a loss to Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl which was followed by a scuffle between Trojans' players in the locker room. The post-game "altercation" could be a sign of good things to come next year for USC, especially after the team sleep-walked through the 2012 season.

One player who probably won't benefit from this year's horrendous Sun Bowl performance is quarterback Max Wittek. Wittek looked to have the inside track on the starting role in 2013 after a solid job subbing for an injured Matt Barkley against Notre Dame, but he looked like an entirely different player in El Paso - and not in a good way. As the Trojans' fell further and further behind the Yellow Jackets', USC fans questioned head coach Lane Kiffin's decision to stick with the floundering Wittek instead of giving redshirt freshman Cody Kessler a chance. Expect Kessler and incoming freshman Max Browne to get plenty of looks before next year's opener.

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LOSER: Purdue Boilermakers

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Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Coach Danny Hope was fired after the season, but the Boilermakers had still squeaked into bowl eligibility. Their New Year's Day performance - or lack thereof - made a solid case for raising the requirements to become bowl eligible. Purdue landed in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on the best day of the year for bowl games, January 1, but they didn't belong there, losing to Oklahoma State in embarrassing fashion, 58-14.

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WINNER: Ohio State Buckeyes

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Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

In the past, the Ohio State Buckeyes have channeled a standout regular season into a bowl game beatdown, usually at the hands of an SEC team. A bowl ban this postseason helped them avoid that fate this time, and enabled them to maintain their undefeated 12-0 record.

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LOSER: Ohio State Buckeyes

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Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

If a few Ohio State players hadn't exchanged memorabilia for tattoos and other impermissible benefits, the Buckeyes could've been playing in the BCS title game in coach Urban Meyer's first season in Columbus. They'll always have that undefeated season, but it sure would be nice to have a championship trophy to go with it. If undefeated Ohio State and undefeated Notre Dame had squared off in the national championship game, my money would've been on the Buckeyes, but we'll never know how good they might have been - and that's a big loss.

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LOSER: Vincent Smith

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan's Vincent Smith is better known as the unfortunate victim laid out by South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. Smith downplayed the vicious hit, which immediately went viral and will likely be a fixture on Clowney's Heisman campaign highlight reels in 2013.

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WINNER: Fans Who Watched the Outback Bowl

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Outback Bowl logo courtesy of wtsp.com

Regardless of who you were rooting for, if you were watching the Outback Bowl, you were still a winner. The day after the game, Outback Steakhouses were offering free appetizers with any purchase - coconut shrimp if the Big Ten team won or a Bloomin' Onion if the SEC team won. South Carolina beat Michigan, 33-28, and fans who'd been paying attention got to cash in with a free app if they mentioned the promotion. Win-win!

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