It has now been a week since the bowl games have ended, which means it is time for college football fans everywhere (except in Clemson, South Carolina) to start to put the season to bed and finish recapping it. While everyone looks back at the season, I prefer to look back at how each team finished it. Therefore, similar to last year, I will be grading every team on their performance during bowl season. For some teams, bowl season doesn’t accurately represent what the team achieved during the year. But it is always the last memory we have of a team, and therefore it is what we will carry into the next season.
Remember, all of these grades are subjective. Sometimes I will look at a team just based on the performance in the bowl game, and sometimes I will base it on how well the team should have played. This is more of an art than science, so by all means feel free to disagree with me.
2016-17 Bowl Grades: December 17th-24th
New Mexico Bowl: New Mexico 23, UTSA 20
New Mexico: Bowl season got off to an exciting start in this game, and New Mexico came in as a heavy favorite. The Lobos couldn’t put the Roadrunners away, but the offense moved the ball relatively well. New Mexico has a fascinating offense that almost never throws the ball, but the Lobos are very effective. There’s not too much to complain about, other than drives that weren’t finished.
UTSA: The Roadrunners played a solid game and almost managed the upset. Even with a decent-sized talent disparity between the two teams, UTSA played well and made the opener of bowl season a much more exciting game than expected.
Las Vegas Bowl: San Diego State 34, Houston 10
San Diego State: Aside from the fact that Donnel Pumphrey (technically) set the all-time FBS career rushing record, San Diego State played a tremendous game here. Everything was clicking on offense and the defense was unbreakable. It kind of makes me wonder what happened to that defense late in the season against Wyoming and Colorado State. If the defense had played those games as well as in the bowl game, the Aztecs might have had a special season.
Houston: Look, I get it. Beloved coach (even if he was only there for two years) Tom Herman left before the bowl and Houston just couldn’t find the motivation in this game. Even so, this was an ugly performance. The offensive line could not establish any run at all, which put way too much pressure on Greg Ward, Jr., which he just couldn’t handle.
Camellia Bowl: Appalachian State 31, Toledo 28
Appalachian State: The Mountaineers played a strong bowl game. The defense kept Toledo in check, just barely, and the offense — led by a struggling Taylor Lamb — did just enough to consistently score points. It wasn’t a great game, but it was entertaining and Appalachian State got its second straight win over an Ohio team in a bowl game.
Toledo: The Rockets didn’t do too much wrong in this game. Kareem Hunt and Logan Woodside both delivered good, if not great, performances. Toledo scored four touchdowns. If not for some questionable (that’s being nice) game management and a barely-missed field goal, we were probably looking at overtime in this game.
Cure Bowl: Arkansas State 31, UCF 13
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves delivered a strong performance on both sides of the ball. Kendall Sanders caught three touchdowns — on only five receptions — and the defense held UCF to just 12 yards on 30 rushes (including six sacks). That’s a whopping 0.4 yards per carry.
UCF: The Knights just couldn’t get anything going in this game. The offensive line was beaten down all game, which meant that they couldn’t move the ball much through the air either. The defense also couldn’t seem to track Sanders, even though it actually held Arkansas State to under 250 yards (and under one yard per carry as well).
New Orleans Bowl: Southern Miss 28, Louisiana-Lafayette 21
Southern Miss: The offense didn’t struggle, but two turnovers and a missed field goal means that the Eagles racked up almost 500 yards but only had four scoring drives to show for it. The defense did enough to take care of business, and a relatively disappointing season ended on a high note. Running back Ito Smith had one of the best games of his career; he will be important to this team next season.
Louisiana-Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns, as overmatched as they clearly were, actually played a tremendous game just to keep it close. The offensive line was outmatched, the defense was outmatched, and they still had a chance to tie it up late. I’ll say it like this: it’s not often that a team is doubled in yardage gained and only loses by one score.
Miami Beach Bowl: Tulsa 55, Central Michigan 10
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane did absolutely whatever it wanted in this game. The offense was unstoppable. The defense was swarming. Maybe the opponent wasn’t quite the caliber that Tulsa should have played, but it’s impossible to imagine a more perfect bowl performance.
Central Michigan: I feel bad for the Chippewas, adding a bad grade on top of that poor bowl performance. The team was clearly outmatched, but it also clearly wasn’t prepared enough. The defense made no adjustments to try and stop Tulsa, while the offense couldn’t move the ball no matter what it tried. This probably would have been a loss no matter what, but the lopsidedness was due to lack of preparation by the coaches and lack of execution by the players. The team that showed up in Miami was very different than the team that beat Oklahoma State back in Week 2.
Boca Raton Bowl: Western Kentucky 51, Memphis 31
Western Kentucky: No Brandon Doughty, no problem for Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have quietly become one of the country’s more consistent programs and are the class of Conference USA. Mike White will be back for a senior season; when he’s throwing the ball well, the entire offense is open. Memphis played a fine game; there was just nothing the defense could do. Western Kentucky scored 30 points or more against every team it faced not named Alabama.
Memphis: The Tigers had a strong offensive showing (against a mediocre-at-best defense) behind junior quarterback Riley Ferguson. This team adjusted pretty well to losing Justin Fuente this season. There is still talent in Memphis; let’s see what the Tigers can do next year. This bowl was disappointing, but it wasn’t a poor performance — on offense, at least.
Poinsettia Bowl: BYU 24, Wyoming 21
BYU: For a good offense with a very talented mobile quarterback, BYU struggled tremendously against a swarming Wyoming defense. Senior running back Jamaal Williams was basically BYU’s entire offense, and he will be sorely missed next year. The defense did a good job holding onto this game, but even against an inspired team BYU should have beaten Wyoming worse than this.
Wyoming: Craig Bohl has done a tremendous job rejuvenating this program and Josh Allen is a future star. He showed in the game that he still needs to learn better decision-making, but that comes with experience. Wyoming played well above its talent level in this game, something the Cowboys seemed to do a bunch in 2016. Bohl is making Laramie exciting now.
Potato Bowl: Idaho 61, Colorado State 50
Idaho: Don’t let the final score fool you. The Idaho defense did an excellent job keeping an explosive Colorado State offense in check until the game was all but out of hand (emphasis on the words “all but”). Idaho led 48-14 with 12:30 left in the game. Colorado State’s five touchdowns in the final 13 minutes shouldn’t take away from what was a strong defensive performance until it really didn’t matter much anymore. Needless to say, the offense was dominant as well.
Colorado State: The late rally was fun to watch, no doubt about that. That shouldn’t make us forget that the Rams just didn’t show up in this game. The defense missed assignments and was slow all game. The offense didn’t wake up until it had spotted Idaho a five-touchdown lead. This was a poor performance all around for over 75% of the game.
Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech 48, Army 45
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs put up points on pretty much everyone this year, in pretty impressive style. Navy’s defense was poor all season, so this wasn’t particularly surprising. Still, for a Navy offense missing so many key players, the Bulldogs sure gave up a lot of points and yards.
Navy: I cannot say enough about how impressive Zach Abey was. Thrown into the fire when Will Worth was hurt against Temple, the sophomore came in cold and ran this triple-option offense to near perfection. Sure, Abey’s career record as a starter is 2-0. But he will do an amazing job leading this team the next two seasons. The defense needs some serious work, though.
Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion 24, Eastern Michigan 20
Old Dominion: The Monarchs may have had a distinct advantage on paper coming into this game, but those big offensive numbers were put up against a very weak schedule. Eastern Michigan did a good job holding Old Dominion in check, but the Monarchs showed guts and resilience in responding very well to this unexpected challenge. ODU will need to replace quarterback David Washington if it wants to replicate this success in 2017.
Eastern Michigan: Forget the bowl grades for a second. I just want to say that Craig Creighton gets an A+ for what he’s done with this program. The Eagles were basically the doormat of FBS a few years ago, and were rapidly spiraling in the wrong direction. Ron English had caused serious problems for the program. Creighton has turned EMU into a respectable MAC school in three short seasons. One more like this and Creighton will start getting big-time offers from P5 programs.
Dollar General Bowl: Troy 28, Ohio 23
Troy: This is one of those rare instances where I want to give the losing team a better grade than the winning team. Ohio dominated this game physically and on the stat sheet. Lucky for the Trojans, though, sometimes a football team can be outplayed and win if the right plays go the right way.
Ohio: The Bobcats turned the ball over five times, missed a field goal, and turned the ball over on downs on an embarrassing final possession. This was a well-played game by Ohio aside from an ugly six plays. Unfortunately, sometimes those five or six bad snaps can outweigh 150 good ones.
Hawaii Bowl: Hawaii 52, Middle Tennessee 35
Hawaii: Where did this offensive explosion come from for the Rainbow Warriors? This team put up points on a few occasions this season, but never like this. Playing in a bowl in front of a home crowd on the Islands certainly did wonders for this team. The defense also stepped up, picking off Brent Stockstill twice and recovering a fumble from him as well. Those three turnovers were the difference in this game.
Middle Tennessee: How do you give up 52 points to Hawaii? Not even UMass or FCS UT-Martin gave up that many points. This was an embarrassing defensive performance no matter how you look at it. I prefer to look at it this way: MTSU gave up more points to Hawaii than to Western Kentucky earlier in the season.