NCAA Football

15 Biggest Surprises of the College Football Bowl Season

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15 Biggest Surprises of the College Football Bowl Season

clemson tigers
Brad Barr - USA TODAY Sports

The college football bowl season is always good for an exciting slate of games that provide non-stop excitement from the Gildan New Mexico Bowl right through to the BCS National Championship. This season was no exception as the bowl season gave us plenty of ups and downs and everything in between with 35 games which turned out to be varying degrees of great. And in many of them, something happened that completely surprised us.

Whether it was a previously unknown player having a great day, a star player taking their game to the next level, or the game having a wild and unbelievable finish, the 2013-14 bowl season gave us so many twists and turns, it was hard to keep track of. Every game provided some kind of twist or wow-moment that was thrilling to watch and gave us all plenty to talk about. Many of the surprises proved to be difference-makers in the outcomes of a game.

The players who came up big out of the blue deserve to get specially recognized as their contributions certainly weren’t counted on but were instrumental in their team’s success this bowl season. They came out of nowhere, seemingly, to steal the show this postseason and make a name for themselves on the brightest stages. These moments can define careers or make superstars, and there were plenty of players ready to step up this year.

With that being said, some surprises were simply bigger than others. Without further ado, here are the 15 biggest surprises of the college football bowl season.

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15. Adam Muema in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

adam muema
Brian Losness - USA TODAY Sports

Sure, many people had seen Adam Muema and the talent he had in the backfield of the San Diego State Aztecs, but few would have predicted his breakout performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Coming off a dreadful 12-carry, 11-yard performance in the regular season finale against the UNLV Rebels, Muema bounced back in a major way and tied for the most rushing yards of anyone this bowl season as he racked up 229 yards on 28 carries with three touchdowns in the 49-24 win.

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14. Davis Webb in National University Holiday Bowl

davis webb
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

With the Texas Tech Red Raiders mired in a five-game losing streak to close out the regular season, many people didn’t give them much of a shot in the National University Holiday Bowl. But then freshman Davis Webb caught fire early and torched the Arizona State Sun Devils for 403 yards and a season-high four touchdowns to coast to a huge 37-23 victory. That should give Webb and the Raiders plenty of momentum heading into 2014.

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13. James Conner in Little Caesars Bowl

james conner
Andrew Weber - USA TODAY Sports

The Pitt Panthers have been trying to find some consistent production in the running game in 2013 and freshman James Conner delivered it for them in the Little Caesars Bowl. After acting as a backup for most of the season, rushing the ball 10 times of less in six games (and missing one game entirely), Conner imposed his will on the Bowling Green Falcons, racking up 229 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. If Pitt came into the bowl season wondering where their running game would come from in 2014, Conner gave them their answer in emphatic fashion.

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12. Jeremy Hill in Outback Bowl

jeremy hill
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Hill had been a good, steady running back for the LSU Tigers all season long, providing just enough balance to keep defenses honest. But with the passing game out of sync in the Outback Bowl, Hill stepped up and carried the Tigers to the finish line. He racked up 216 yards rushing on 28 carries with a pair of touchdowns that helped ice the 21-14 win for LSU, snapping a two-game bowl losing streak in its tracks and re-establishing the physical identity of the Tigers.

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11. Cody Kessler in Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

cody kessler
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback situation of the USC Trojans was clouded in mystery at the start of the season, resulting in a slow start for eventual starter Cody Kessler. The inconsistency of the passing game had really hindered USC in big moments this season, leaving the burden on the running game to pick up the slack. But in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Kessler found his groove and set career marks with 345 yards passing and four touchdowns. It was the first ever game of 300-plus passing yards for Kessler as he makes his push to keep the starting job with a new coaching staff in 2014.

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10. Nate Phillips in AdvoCare V100 Bowl

arizona wildcats
Crystal LoGiudice - USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats had been a wildly one-dimensional team in 2013, leaning heavily on the rushing attack to generate their offense. In the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Arizona found some explosiveness in their passing attack thanks to the breakout performance of freshman Nate Phillips. The Wildcats had been looking for someone to step up and be a playmaker in the passing game all season long and Phillips finally delivered with a 9-catch, 193-yard performance. Most of the year, the unheralded frosh had been an underneath threat for B.J. Denker and came into the bowl season without a single 100-yard receiving game before this one.

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9. Dak Prescott in AutoZone Liberty Bowl

dak prescott
Justin Ford - USA TODAY Sports

While the Mississippi State Bulldogs struggled to get into a bowl game, they looked dominant once they got there. Quarterback Dak Prescott looked more dynamic than he has all season long, racking up a season-high 361 yards of total offense with five touchdowns in just three quarters of work. His dominant performance helped the Bulldogs coast to a 44-7 blowout victory.

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8. North Texas Dominates Heart of Dallas Bowl

north texas
Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

The North Texas Mean Green have been mired in mediocrity over the last decade. They took the first step towards overcoming it with their first bowl win since 2002 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It wasn’t just a fluke win, either, as NTU imposed their will on the UNLV Rebels, outscoring them 29-7 in the second half (including 22 in the fourth quarter) to pull away for a convincing 36-14 win. It’s not a done deal quite yet, but the Mean Green are on the right track after their strong showing this bowl season.

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7. Utah State Aggies Shut Down Jordan Lynch

utah state
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the bowl game, Jordan Lynch was on the verge of making history as the first player to pass and rush for 2,000 yards in the same season. He was leading a Northern Illinois offense that had been prolific in 2013 but found tough sledding in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl against the Utah State Aggies. Lynch was bottled up, rushing for just 39 yards, averaging 2.2 yards per carry, as Utah State smothered NIU for all four quarters to win a tight game, 21-14.

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6. Kansas State Breaks Bowl Drought

bill snyder
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas State Wildcats have found plenty of success under Bill Snyder, but they had not been able to secure a bowl win in their last seven tries (a span of 11 years). That’s an incredibly long time for one of the most respected coaches in the history of college football. So when K-State dominated the Michigan Wolverines in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it was a refreshing change of pace for the Wildcats. Finally, they end their season on a high note and maybe provide a nice boost of momentum to the start of 2014.

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5. Anthony Boone in Chick-fil-A Bowl

anthony boone
Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

The Duke Blue Devils knew they would need to open up the offense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and quarterback Anthony Boone answered the call. After not throwing for more than 300 yards once in 2013, Boone went off, throwing for 427 yards and scoring four total touchdowns. It was the second-highest passing total of the bowl season as Boone enjoyed a major breakout performance this bowl season.

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4. Michigan State Out-Stanford-ed Stanford

kyle elsworth
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford Cardinal came into the Rose Bowl with a reputation as a physical football team on both sides of the football. But when they squared off with the Michigan State Spartans, it was Sparty who was the more physical club. They pushed Stanford around, dominating the line of scrimmage, and imposing their will. Michigan State showed up in Pasadena and proved that Stanford wasn’t the only physically dominant team in college football.

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3. Central Florida Out-Baylor-ed Baylor

central florida
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The Central Florida Knights came into the BCS with a pretty good offense but they were matched up with the Baylor Bears, best offense in college football this season. When the two squared off on the field, however, it was the Knights who looked like the offensive juggernaut, putting up 52 points as they our-raced the high-octane Baylor attack. Quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson carved up the Baylor D and won the shootout in the desert by 10 points.

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2. Trevor Knight Shreds Alabama D

trevor knight
Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide have built a reputation as one of the best defenses in college football year in and year out. Against the Oklahoma Sooners, however, that defense failed them as Trevor Knight carved them up all night long. The Tide had no answers on defense as OU went up and down the field, winning the game and catapulting Knight into the 2014 Heisman Trophy conversation with 348 yards and four touchdowns against the vaunted Alabama D.

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1. ACC Flexes BCS Muscle

florida state
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

For the last seven years, the SEC has reigned supreme over college football as BCS Champions. But in 2013, it was the ACC who showed their strength on college football’s biggest stage, going 2-0 in BCS bowl games including winning the BCS National Championship. The Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers both represented the conference well and send out the BCS era with the ACC, and not the SEC, standing tallest.