NCAA Football

20 Things We Learned From College Football Bowl Season

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20 Things We Learned From College Football Bowl Season

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Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The college football bowl season is an exciting whirlwind of games all over the country pitting programs that don't usually face off against each other for bragging rights and momentum heading into the offseason. It's a time where legends can be born, careers can be saved, and memories are made in every game. Bowl season also goes a long way in confirming or disproving things we thought we knew about teams throughout the season.

With every game, there are plenty of things we learn about teams on both sides. Whether it's about what we already thought about them or something surprising and new, every game is an opportunity to learn something new. This bowl season has imparted plenty of knowledge on us watching the games during December and January, giving us a glimpse into what the college football landscape will be in 2014 and beyond.

There have been plenty of exciting finishes and great performances across the country this bowl season that have been illuminating to watch. Some conferences have flexed their muscles in the bowl season while others have fallen flat. Some superstars have reaffirmed what makes them so great while former unknowns have jumped into the spotlight with huge performances. Every bowl game provided an opportunity and someone almost always took advantage to make an impact.

With the bowl season now over, we can reflect on all that we have learned this postseason. Beyond the obvious, like the Florida State Seminoles are the best team in the country, here are 20 things we learned from college football bowl season.

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20. It Isn't Over Until It's Over

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Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

This bowl season, at least eight games were won late in the fourth quarter with a mad rally. Most notably, the BCS National Championship game, where Jameis Winston rallied his team with mere seconds left, but that was far from the only dramatic finish. So many games were won in the late stages of the contest, rewarding teams that didn't pack it in, for a dramatic win. Even when things appear out of hand, don't walk away from bowl season because it's never over until it's over.

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19. Louisiana-Lafayette Loves the New Orleans Bowl

Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

For the third straight season, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns went to the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and found a way to win. This time around, they did it with a defensive effort to hold off the Tulane Green Wave 24-21. It's not the most prestigious bowl game, but ULL has found a groove in the New Orleans Bowl.

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18. Big Ten Still Struggling in Bowl Games

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Robert Mayer - USA TODAY Sports

Outside of the Michigan State Spartans ending the conferences poor showings at the Rose Bowl Game, the Big Ten continued to struggle in the postseason. As a conference, they finished the bowl season at just 2-5, the worst mark among BCS conferences (and second worst among all conferences) this year. At least almost every game was competitive this time around and they limited the number of embarrassing performances. Six of the seven Big Ten bowl games (including both wins) were decided by 10 points or less.

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17. MAC is Whack in 2013

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Christopher Hanewinckel - USA TODAY Sports

The MAC is usually considered one of the best non-BCS conferences in the country and will go down as the last conference to bust the BCS when the Northern Illinois Huskies did it in 2012. However, 2013 was simply not their year. NIU fell in the MAC title game to lose out on a second-straight trip to the BCS and then the conference collectively went winless this bowl season, dropping all five games they appeared in. That’s not the kind of reputation the small conference wants to carry into 2014 with the College Football Playoff looming.

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16. Top of the AAC are Legitimately Good Teams

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Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The AAC got knocked around quite a bit this season as a “cupcake” conference and the top two teams out of the conference (Central Florida Knights and Louisville Cardinals) couldn’t get any respect despite finishing the regular season a combined 22-2. This bowl season, the heavyweights of the AAC proved they were for real with both UCF and Louisville winning in impressive fashion in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Russell Athletic Bowl against quality opponents. The rest of the conference, though, went 0-3.

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15. Sun Belt = SUN BEAST

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John David Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

While it is not a particularly large sample size, the Sun Belt did have a perfect bowl record this season (2-0), lending some weight to their nickname on social media (SUN BEAST). Both the Lousiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns and Arkansas State Red Wolves won exciting contests in lower-tier bowls, perhaps raising the profile of the conference enough that more of the bowl-eligible programs will score an invite to the postseason in 2014 (all but one team in the Sun Belt won six games or more in 2013).

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14. Big Schools Still Better than Small Schools

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Justin Ford - USA TODAY Sports

The argument for BCS vs non-BCS conferences will start to die down (slightly) with the death of the BCS system this season. But the argument remains valid when discussion big schools vs small schools in terms of talent on the gridiron. This bowl season, BCS conference schools went 4-2 against their non-BCS opponents. Not dominant, by any means, but still a definitive edge for the “haves” of the college football world.

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13. Pac-12 Can Score Serious Points

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Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 put nine teams into the postseason this year (a conference record) and seven of them scored 30 points or more in their games. Only the Stanford Cardinal (20) and Arizona State Sun Devils (23) failed to break that mark but the rest of the conference more than picked up the slack. Four teams scored over 40 points and as a group, the conference averaged 35.1 points per game, the highest average of any conference this postseason.

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12. Texas Longhorns Need to Find a QB

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Soobum Im - USA TODAY Sports

Inconsistency at quarterback may have been what started the trouble for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns and it showed up again to send Brown off in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Texas could not sustain any kind of offense during the game despite a dominating performance from the running game because the quarterback play was so inconsistent. Charlie Strong has plenty on his plate as he transitions into the job but one of the first things on his “to-do” list better be to find a competent quarterback.

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11. Texas Tech Red Raiders Will be Dangerous in 2014

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Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of quarterbacks, Kliff Kingsbury had more than he could handle with the Texas Tech Red Raiders this season, playing three different quarterbacks during the year with each of them having success. Baker Mayfield transferred before the bowl game, but Davis Webb stepped in just fine and showed what the Tech offense can do when it gets going in the National University Holiday Bowl. If they can carry that performance over into 2014, TTU is going to be a team to watch in the Big 12.

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10. Michigan Wolverines Have a Lot of Issues

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Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, the Michigan Wolverines were supposed to take that next step towards contending for the Big Ten title again. But after watching their terribly flat performance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it’s possible that Michigan is moving in the wrong direction. There’s no running game, the offensive line is a mess, and the health of Devin Gardner is a question mark as he continues to take a beating under center. Can Brady Hoke find answers (and lots of them) this offseason?

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9. SEC Still Very Good at Bowl Games

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David Manning - USA TODAY Sports

Another year of bowl games in the books and the SEC once again has the best bowl record of any major conference this season. While they struck out in the BCS this season, going 0-2, and saw their national title streak snapped at seven, the SEC went 7-3 in bowl games, flexing their muscle on the national stage. They may not be the kings of college football this season, but they’re definitely still at the top of their game.

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8. Miami Hurricanes Not Quite All The Way Back Yet

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Rob Foldy - USA TODAY Sports

When the Miami Hurricanes were 7-0 and No. 7 in the BCS Rankings, many were ready to declare that The U was back. After finishing the year 9-4 and getting blown out 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, however, it’s clear that Al Golden still has plenty of work to do. The team took a step in the right direction this season, but they can’t start claiming to be completely “back” to their glory days just yet.

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7. You Can't Score Enough Points When Facing Johnny Manziel

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Kevin Liles - USA TODAY Sports

The Duke Blue Devils were incredibly aggressive at the end of the first half in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to take a commanding 38-17 lead at the break. Many thought that it was too big a hole for Johnny Manziel to dig the Texas A&M Aggies out of, but he proved that wasn’t the case with an electric comeback in the second half, pulling out a 52-48 victory for the Aggies. Some may have though Duke was being a little over-the-top with their play-calling, but the Blue Devils just knew that you can’t keep Johnny Football contained forever.

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6. Duke Football is the Real Deal

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Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Duke, the job that David Cutcliffe has done in Durham the last two seasons has been extraordinary. After getting Duke to the postseason for the first time in 18 years in 2012, he set the school record for wins in a season in 2013 and went toe-to-toe with the most explosive offense in the SEC in a major bowl game. Duke football is for real and they look like they might just be here to stay.

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5. Ka'Deem Carey is the Most Unstoppable Running Back in College Football

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Crystal LoGiudice - USA TODAY Sports

While he hasn’t won the awards he probably deserves, there’s no denying the workhorse that is Ka’Deem Carey for the Arizona Wildcats. All he does is churn out yardage, despite splitting carries with a running quarterback in 2013 and having defenses keyed on stopping him each and every week. With his 27-carry, 169-yard performance the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Carey eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the 16th straight game. What more does he have to do to get some attention around here?

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4. Coaches Will Always Chase Greener Pastures

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Brendan Maloney - USA TODAY Sports

While many like to wax poetic about college athletics, each offseason we are reminded that this is a business by coaches chasing big pay-days. Bill O’Brien and Charlie Strong both left good jobs for what they felt were better ones this offseason, even after assuring players and recruits that they wouldn’t be going anywhere. It’s the state of college football where the word of a coach is only good as long as you’re still looking them in the eye.

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3. Bob Stoops Was Right

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Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

Sorry to remind you, SEC zealots, but Bob Stoops was right about your conference. During the summer, Stoops “ran his mouth” about the SEC, saying that much of their reputation was “propaganda” and that he didn’t think it was the best conference top-to-bottom in college football. He got a chance to back up those words in the AllState Sugar Bowl against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide and proceeded to rip their defense to shreds going up and down the field all night long, eventually securing a 45-31 win. So when Bob Stoops says that the SEC is “beatable,” I guess he means it.

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2. Teddy Bridgewater is the Best Quarterback in College Football

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David Manning - USA TODAY Sports

He dropped off the map after the Louisville Cardinals suffered their only loss of the season back in October, but Teddy Bridgewater continues to be the best quarterback in college football. He saved his best performance for his last, tearing the Miami secondary apart in a 36-9 blowout win in the Russell Athletic Bowl as Bridgewater effortlessly put up 447 yards passing and scored four total touchdowns. He has been projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft all season long and only cemented his spot with a dominant bowl showing.

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1. Jameis Winston is Already One of the All-Time Greats

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Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

When Jameis Winston took over the starting quarterback job this fall, he faced the impossible task of dealing with sky-high expectations. But after blowing out every opponent in the regular season by an average of 40 points, winning an ACC title and a Heisman Trophy, and then leading a game-winning drive in the final seconds of the BCS National Championship, he found a way to exceed those expectations. As just a 20-year old redshirt freshman quarterback, Jameis Winston has already done it all and become one of the all-time greats in college football.