The 2019-20 college football bowl season concludes with the College Football Playoff championship game between No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Clemson on Jan. 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
That will be the last of 40 FBS bowls that were spaced out before and after the earlier-than-usual Dec. 28 Playoff semifinals. The bowl season has featured spectacular performances by several players and teams, but a familiar thread continued.
It starts with a conference that top our winners and losers for the bowl season:
A potential LSU victory in the championship would cap a conference-wide flex that already includes a 7-2 record.
Florida and Georgia swept New Year's Day 6 bowls against Virginia and Baylor, respectively, while Alabama put a last-minute touchdown on Michigan in a 35-16 Citrus Bowl victory. Lynn Bowden rushed for 233 yards in a 37-30 thriller against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. Kellen Mond's 67-yard touchdown run keyed Texas A&M's 24-21 victory against Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl, and Tennessee capped off the string of victories with a 23-22 comeback against Indiana in the Gator Bowl.
Mississippi State fired Joe Moorhead and Auburn missed an opportunity for a 10-win season after bowl losses, but the SEC's victories weighed more. The conference will finish with the best bowl win percentage, even if LSU loses to Clemson in the CFP title game.
Loser: Big 12
The Big 12 suffered an across-the-board dud with a 1-5 record. Oklahoma had the most visible Playoff loss in an SEC-styled 63-28 blowout against LSU, part of a bowl season in which the conference lost five games 15.4 points per game. Iowa State wasn't competitive in a 33-9 loss to Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl, and Baylor lost 26-14 to a Georgia team that wasn't close to full strength in a Sugar Bowl snoozer.
Texas was the lone bright spot in beating Utah 38-10 in the Alamo Bowl, which capped a season that started with Playoff aspirations. The Big 12 remains the only Power 5 conference that has yet to win a College Football Playoff game.
Winner: Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence
Burrow set Playoff single-game records with 493 passing yards and eight total touchdowns in the blowout victory vs. Oklahoma. Against Clemson, he can put the finishing touch on what could be considered the best single season in SEC history — maybe college football history.
Lawrence, meanwhile, improved to 25-0 as a starter and led Clemson back from a 16-0 deficit against Ohio State in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Lawrence rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown while leading the game-winning, 94-yard drive in just four plays. Now, he has a chance to win back-to-back national titles.
Quarterback matchups don't get much bigger than that. Enjoy the show at the Superdome.
Losers: Jalen Hurts and Lincoln Riley
What do we do with Oklahoma now? Hurts, a Heisman finalist, finished 15 of 31 for 217 yards and added 43 yards rushing. The Sooners offense couldn't keep up with LSU in the blowout, and a fourth Playoff loss will carry over perception-wise into next season.
Lincoln Riley, who continues to be the subject of NFL rumors, didn't take the Dallas Cowboys job, and Spencer Rattler figures to be the next big thing at quarterback. That's the good news. The bad news is this program looked no closer to figuring out its defensive issues on the biggest stage against a SEC opponent.
Three receivers had 200-plus yard games in the postseason. You would expect that out of LSU's Justin Jefferson (227) and Alabama's Jerry Jeudy (204). Minnesota's Tyler Johnson, however, keyed the Gophers 31-24 victory against Auburn with 204 yards and a pair of scores.
That capped an 11-win season under P.J. Fleck, vaulting the program into the Big Ten West contender discussion that Nebraska was supposed to be a part of. With one-handed catches and a hard-hitting defense, Minnesota knocked Auburn out of the Outback Bowl in impressive fashion.
Michigan's Jim Harbaugh is still looking for his first 11-win season in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines couldn't reach 10 after a 35-16 loss to Alabama. Michigan failed to capitalize on a 16-14 halftime lead, Shea Patterson couldn't hit the deep pass and Don Brown's defense was overwhelmed by Jeudy and Najee Harris, who notably chose the Crimson Tide over the Wolverines in the recruiting process. That kept the running tab on the narratives about the program heading into 2020.
Harbaugh has elevated Michigan to top-10 status, but the Wolverines continue to be out-classed by Ohio State in the Big Ten and in bowl games (1-4). Harbaugh's poor record in those situations will lead to even more noise heading into this sixth season.
Winner: North Carolina and Louisville
Mack Brown's first season ended with a 7-6 record after Sam Howell's 294-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Military Bowl against Temple. Louisville put the finishing touches on an 8-5 record by beating Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl. Scott Satterfield has the Cardinals pointed in the right direction. Perhaps these two schools can give Clemson an honest run in the near future.
Loser: Miami and Florida State
That's more than we can say about these two traditional powers. Miami was simply dreadful in a 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, which prompted the Hurricanes to bring on SMU offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee in the aftermath. Arizona State beat Florida State 20-14 in the Sun Bowl. Mike Norvell has a rebuild ahead of him that will require patience from the fan base. The Hurricanes and Seminoles each had 6-7 seasons; when you consider the arguments against Clemson and its schedule, keep in mind this isn't the Tigers' fault.
Oregon finished off a 12-2 season with a grind-it-out-victory at the Rose Bowl. The Ducks beat Wisconsin 28-27 on a day when they didn't play their best game, but they withstood the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball against a traditional power. Mario Cristobal has this program trending toward its second Playoff appearance. There is substance to match the style of those uniforms.
The Trojans could have come out and made a statement about their future under Clay Helton in the Holiday Bowl. Instead. Iowa handed out a 49-24 beating. Signing Day was a disaster, and the same-old questions about Helton are coming this offseason. The good news is J.T. Daniels should return from a season-ending injury to battle Kedon Slovis for the starting quarterback position. Plus, the Pac-12 South won't have an overwhelming favorite (Utah had a bad bowl season, too, by the way). The bad news? USC opens with Alabama at Jerry World.
Buffalo opened the bowl season with its first-ever bowl victory, a 31-9 romp in the Bahamas Bowl over Charlotte. Kent State followed up with a 51-41 victory against Utah State for its first bowl win, at the Frisco Bowl. Ohio added a 30-21 win against Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl under Frank Solich.
Whenever someone says bowl games don't matter, watch those teams celebrate.
Central Michigan was a dud, but Eastern Michigan nearly upset Pitt and Western Michigan lost on a last-second field goal to Western Kentucky. Miami lost 27-17 to Louisiana. It's still a good showing. Perhaps you need to pay a little more attention to those mid-week games.
Loser: Group of 5 Playoff talk
Memphis allowed 396 rushing yards in a 53-39 loss to Penn State, and Mike Norvell wasn't even there after taking the Florida State job. This comes a year after LSU beat UCF 40-32 in the Fiesta Bowl. Group of 5 schools are now 3-3 in New Year's Day 6 bowls, and it has been proven that turning it into a play-in-space shootout doesn't always work. The Group of 5 will have to wait until the field stretches to eight to have a real chance at a national championship. Even then, it will be a long shot.
Winner: Four-team Playoff
There is less eight-team chatter this bowl season, mainly because LSU's 35-point victory against the Big 12 champion served as a reminder that more teams doesn't necessarily mean better games. This was a season in which the three unbeaten teams in the regular season – LSU, Clemson and Ohio State – didn't have to play a quarterfinal to prove their point.
Who was the fourth-best team in the FBS? Alabama, before Tua Tagovailoa was injured. We'll always argue about that, but the fact we get two 14-0 teams playing for the national championship for the second straight season shows the four-team Playoff is accomplishing what it set out to do in 2014. It's going to be a few more years before we get to eight, and that's a good thing.
Loser: Targeting rules
The targeting call against Ohio State's Shaun Wade in the Fiesta Bowl was a momentum-changing play that put the game's most controversial in-game rule back on the forefront. The Buckeyes lost one of their best defensive backs on a play where it looked like Lawrence ducked into the contact. The rule needs to be discussed again, at least in terms of what the proper punishment should be in instances like that. (Hint: use the soccer-style yellow-card, red-card system).