With college football’s bowl season in full swing, the week between Christmas and New Year’s felt like the right time to praise those who have played well this postseason and note the disappointing performances of others. Here are the winners and losers of the 2022-23 bowl season — so far.
This post will be updated as bowl season continues through Jan. 2.
LSU: The Tigers got to 10 wins in Brian Kelly’s first season with an easy 63-7 win over Purdue on Jan. 2. The Tigers led 35-0 at halftime and were up 49-0 before Purdue finally got into the end zone. The Boilermakers entered the game without QB Aidan O’Connell, WR Charlie Jones and a host of other players, but this was a bigger blowout than anyone could have anticipated. LSU was able to play three quarterbacks and WR Malik Nabers even threw two passes — one went for a TD — in addition to having nine catches for 163 yards and a TD. LSU came up just six yards short of hitting the 600-yard mark on offense and even got a 99-yard pick six with less than a minute left. Simply put, it was a blowout.
Oregon State: Oregon State destroyed Florida 30-3 in the Las Vegas Bowl to get to 10 wins for the first time since 2006. Additionally, it was the first bowl win for the Beavers since 2013. In the win, Oregon State limited Florida to only 219 yards of offense. The only points UF managed to score came on a field goal with 37 seconds left in regulation. Before going 7-6 in 2021, Oregon State had seven consecutive losing seasons. Now the Beavers are 17-9 over the past two seasons. And with Clemson transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei joining the program next season, the Beavers could be a trendy preseason pick to contend for the Pac-12 title.
Florida State: The Seminoles have 10 wins in a season for the first time since 2016 after a 35-32 win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl. Jordan Travis threw for 418 yards on 38 attempts while Johnny Wilson had eight catches for 202 yards. The Seminoles had 587 yards on 72 plays and won the game despite going 0-of-3 on fourth down attempts. It’s the first bowl win for Florida State since 2017 and a huge boost for a program that will enter 2023 as the top challenger to Clemson in the ACC.
Pitt QB Nick Patti: Nick Patti has been a backup at Pitt for the past five seasons but got a chance to start in the Sun Bowl vs. UCLA. He made it count. In just his third career start, Patti led the Panthers to an epic comeback win. He threw for 224 yards and ran for 73 more, including a gutsy 11-yard scramble that set up the game-winning field goal. UCLA took a 35-34 lead with 34 seconds remaining, but Patti quickly led the Panthers into field goal range, allowing Ben Sauls to boot his fourth field goal of the game. This one, a 47-yarder, was the game-winner. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has already indicated that Patti won’t be back next season. So if that was Patti’s final college game, he went out with a bang.
Fresno State: After a 1-4 start, Fresno State closed out the season with nine consecutive wins. After beating Boise State in the Mountain West title game, the Bulldogs cruised past Washington State 29-6 in the LA Bowl to get to 10 wins for the fourth time in the last six seasons. In the process, Fresno State became the first team in FBS history to get to 10 wins after losing four of five to start the season. The LA Bowl was the final college game for Jake Haener and he went out in style. Haener threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns while Jordan Mims rushed out for 209 yards and had two scores of his own.
Duke: Duke went from winless in ACC play in 2021 to nine wins in 2022. Duke capped off a remarkable season by beating UCF 30-13 on Wednesday in the Military Bowl — the program’s first bowl win since 2018. With the win, Duke got to nine wins for the first time since 2014. Mike Elko has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country in his first season with the Blue Devils. The program was barely competitive in David Cutcliffe’s final seasons on the job, going a combined 5-18 (1-17 ACC) in his final two years. With Wednesday’s win, Duke finished the season 9-4 overall with a 5-3 mark in ACC play. It was just the third season in school history that the Blue Devils had finished with a winning conference record and won a bowl game.
Washington: After going 4-8 in 2021, Washington capped off a tremendous turnaround by beating Texas 27-20 in the Alamo Bowl. With the win, Washington finished the season with 11 wins — the most it has had in a season since 2016. That’s the year the Huskies reached the College Football Playoff. After coming over from Fresno State, head coach Kalen DeBoer was able to revitalize the program in just one season. The addition of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. played a big role. Penix, who will return next season, threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl win.
Western Kentucky: WKU may have had the most impressive performance of bowl season. The Hilltoppers trounced South Alabama 44-23 in the New Orleans Bowl in a game that was not as close as the final score may indicate. South Alabama was looking for its first-ever bowl win, but WKU jumped out to a 31-3 halftime lead and never looked back, putting up a total of 677 yards by the time the final seconds ticked off. Austin Reed threw for 497 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
Air Force: Air Force looked right at home on an incredibly cold night in Fort Worth. The Falcons ran all over Baylor in a 30-15 victory in the Armed Forces Bowl. Air Force rushed for 276 yards and limited Baylor to just 42 rushing yards. With the win, Air Force got to double-digit victories for the third time in four seasons. AFA went 11-2 in 2019 and 10-3 in the past two seasons. In the shortened 2020 season, the Falcons finished 3-3. As a program, Air Force has won four consecutive bowl games.
New Mexico State: Year 1 of the Jerry Kill era at New Mexico State ended with a bowl victory. NMSU knocked off Bowling Green 24-19 in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday to capture the program’s second bowl victory since 1960. The Aggies opened the season 1-5 before closing out the year by winning six of seven to finish 7-6. NMSU won a combined eight games in its previous four seasons, so Kill has executed an incredible turnaround in his first year on the job. Diego Pavia was the star of the bowl win. Pavia threw for 167 yards and two touchdowns and added 65 rushing yards in the win. He picked up several key third-down conversions with his legs in the second half to help his team secure the win.
Southern Miss RB Frank Gore Jr.: Frank Gore Jr. ran wild in Southern Miss’ win over Rice in the LendingTree Bowl. Gore set an all-time bowl record with 329 yards on just 21 carries in the 38-24 win. Gore rushed for two touchdowns and also had an 18-yard touchdown catch. The previous single-game bowl rushing record was 317 yards, but Gore surged past that with a 55-yard touchdown run in the final minutes. Southern Miss won a combined six games in 2020 and 2021, but the bowl win over Rice gave the Golden Eagles seven wins for the 2022 season. And with Gore and a significant chunk of this team’s core expected to return, Southern Miss could be a team on the rise in the Sun Belt next season.
Eastern Michigan: With a win over San Jose State in the Potato Bowl, EMU notched its first bowl victory since 1987. It’s been a long time coming. Before Chris Creighton arrived as head coach in 2014, the 1987 California Bowl was the program’s last bowl trip. Since then, Creighton brought the Eagles to five bowl games, but this year was the first time EMU pulled out the victory. With the win, EMU finished 9-4 for the season. That’s the second-most wins in a season in program history.
Kentucky: The Wildcats made sure that the Music City Bowl was going to hit the under in a 21-0 loss to Iowa. The total for the game was 31 and the lowest total for a bowl game in decades. It was also the lowest total of any game this season after Iowa and Minnesota had a pregame total of 31.5 in what turned out to be a 13-10 game.
And just like that Iowa win, this game went under too. The two teams combined for fewer than 400 total yards and punted the ball 18 times with just 21 first downs between them. It was as ugly as an offensive performance as we all expected, especially from Kentucky. Freshman QB Destin Wade started in place of Will Levis and threw two pick sixes in the second quarter. The loss drops the Wildcats to 7-6 in what ultimately is a disappointing season while Iowa finishes at 8-5 despite its remarkable offensive futility throughout the season. Iowa QBs combined to throw for seven TDs all season while the defense itself scored six touchdowns.
UCLA: UCLA had a meltdown in the Sun Bowl, blowing a 14-point lead in a loss to Pitt. The Bruins led 28-14 midway through the third quarter but allowed Pitt to come back and win 37-35 with a field goal in the final seconds. In his final college game, Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw three costly interceptions. Two came deep in Pitt territory and the third came deep in his own territory, giving the Panthers a short field to tie the game at 28-28 early in the fourth. To make matters worse, UCLA fumbled the ensuing kickoff to allow Pitt to take the lead. Later in the fourth, UCLA scored with 34 seconds to go to take a 35-34 lead. It looked like it would be the game-winner, but the defense allowed Pitt to go 46 yards in 30 seconds and kick the game-winning field goal. Brutal. UCLA has not won a bowl game since the 2014 season.
Ole Miss: The Rebels had 11 drives that didn’t end in points in a 42-25 loss to Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. Ole Miss turned the ball over five times, gave up the ball five times on downs and punted once. While the Rebels were just 2-of-7 on fourth downs, Texas Tech was 5-of-6. The game was a punt hater’s dream. And it was a nightmare for Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart. He threw three interceptions and fumbled once. Texas Tech QB Tyler Shough rushed for two TDs and threw for another as the Red Raiders easily held on to a 19-point halftime lead throughout the second half. The loss also meant that Ole Miss ends the season at 8-5 after starting the season 7-0.
Oklahoma: The Sooners entered the Cheez-It Bowl shorthanded and as significant underdogs to Florida State. Losing 35-32 was still a cover for Oklahoma. But the loss also means that Oklahoma finishes the season at 6-7. That’s the first losing season for OU since 1998. The first year of the Brent Venables era was a bit rocky — especially when you consider the success that Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley had at USC. But there’s no reason to panic in Norman. Yet.
SMU: The Mustangs entered the New Mexico Bowl as 4.5-point favorites over a BYU team that started freshman third-string QB Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters for the first time. Yet BYU did just enough on the ground to eke out a 24-23 win after stopping an SMU two-point conversion with eight seconds left. The freshman Maiava-Peters threw for just 47 yards and an interception but rushed 14 times for 96 yards while Christopher Brooks rushed 19 times for 88 yards. SMU didn’t have receiver Rashee Rice but still had just 218 yards passing on 37 pass attempts.
UTSA: The Roadrunners are still searching for their first bowl win after losing 18-12 to Troy in the Cure Bowl. It was an absolutely ugly performance from UTSA too. Without offensive coordinator Will Stein (now the OC at Oregon), the proficient UTSA offense committed five turnovers. The Roadrunners also had nine penalties for 104 yards and many of those penalties came at critical times. A win over the Trojans would have been a big boost to a UTSA team making a step up to the AAC in 2023.
NC State: Dave Doeren’s risk-averse decision-making may have cost his team a bowl win. NC State lost the Duke’s Mayo Bowl 16-12. In the loss, Doeren decided to kick field goals twice inside the Maryland 10-yard line. In the first half, Doeren kicked on fourth-and-goal from the 2. And when his team trailed 13-9 midway through the fourth, Doeren sent his kicker out instead of going for it on fourth-and-3 from the 9. The NC State offense struggled mightily all day, and that ended up being the final scoring opportunity of the game for NC State.
San Diego State: The Aztecs turned the ball over five times in a 25-23 loss to Middle Tennessee in the Hawaii Bowl. The Blue Raiders had just 170 yards in the win and threw for 236 yards. Yes, you read that correctly. Thanks to sacks, MTSU had a remarkable -66 rushing yards on 30 attempts. And still won the game. SDSU QB Jalen Mayden threw three interceptions and also had a fumble. The Aztecs’ final turnover came with 55 seconds to go on a 4th and 24 when Tyrell Shavers fumbled the ball after a 12-yard gain.
Cincinnati: It was a listless performance for the Bearcats in a 24-7 loss to Louisville in the Fenway Bowl. Cincinnati had just 127 yards of total offense and allowed 419 yards to the Cardinals. Cincy got just 10 first downs and rushed for 44 yards on 38 attempts after sacks were factored in. Louisville even turned the ball over four times to Cincinnati’s two and the game still wasn’t close. If you didn’t know any better, you would have assumed that Scott Satterfield had gone to a far worse team when he left Louisville for Cincy before the bowl game.
Georgia Southern: The Camellia Bowl was a painful watch if you were an Eagles fan. Buffalo beat Georgia Southern 23-21 after going 12-of-19 on third down while averaging less than three yards a carry. In addition to being unable to consistently stop Buffalo on third down, Georgia Southern players dropped multiple catchable passes. Kyle Vantrease threw for 352 yards on 45 attempts and hit Joshua Thompson on a 79-yard TD. But Georgia Southern never got the ball back after pulling within two with 3:38 to go because of two crucial third down conversions by the Bulls to run out the clock.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys entered the Guaranteed Rate Bowl as underdogs to Wisconsin, so OSU’s 24-17 loss to the Badgers wasn’t terribly surprising. But it’s still worth noting just how poorly OSU finished the season. The Cowboys started the season 6-1 and finished 7-6 after ending the season on a 1-5 run. Yeah, Oklahoma State played the final two games of the season without QB Spencer Sanders, but the biggest culprit for the collapse was the regression of the defense in 2022. A testy Mike Gundy didn’t want to talk about any potential staff changes after the game and we’re not going to be surprised if there are some staff announcements forthcoming from OSU in the near future.