If there was one word that could be used to accurately describe the 2015-2016 college football bowl season, “blowouts” would be that word. Games that seemed like great matchups on paper turned out to be pure dominance by the winning team in nearly every bowl. As a result, there were some brilliant and not-so-great performances by members of each Power Five conference in their quests to secure postseason victories.
Southeastern Conference: 9-2
Clearly the conference that was head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the country was the Southeastern Conference. While many people doubted the strength of the conference after Ohio State won the national championship and the SEC West put up a dismal performance in the previous season, the football-first conference flexed its collective muscle on the big stage once again.
Alabama dismantled Big Ten-champion Michigan State 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl and then added to their legacy by edging out Clemson in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide had the biggest impact on the country this bowl season, but several other teams had impressive performances.
Louisiana State University kicked off the SEC’s bowl games by gashing Texas Tech 56-27. Auburn capped off its disappointing season by beating Memphis 31-10. Mississippi State was locked in a close game during the first half against North Carolina State, but the Bulldogs eventually crushed the Wolfpack 51-28. Tennessee’s defense came up big against Northwestern, and the Vols ran away with a 45-6 victory. Georgia surprised the college football world after beating Penn State 24-17 with an interim head coach, and Arkansas did just what they were supposed to do against Kansas State when the Hogs won 45-23. There was definitely no barbeque on the field at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, as the only cooked animals on the turf were the Wildcats.
As for the most impressive performance, Ole Miss’ bounce-back bowl victory over Oklahoma State gets the nod. The Rebels got the ball to star receiver Laquon Treadwell several times in the end zone, and potential-first round pick Laremy Tunsil even caught a touchdown pass out of the offensive tackle position. The 48-20 victory is just what the doctor ordered for Hugh Freeze and the Rebels going into next season.
While the conference out on the West coast didn’t match the SEC’s win total, it still produced some great games. Unfortunately, the conference’s teams were not on the winning end on several of the matchups.
Perhaps the most exciting game of the bowl season came in Oregon’s loss to Texas Christian University. The Ducks were unable to find any offense when quarterback Vernon Adams went down with an injury, and TCU came back from a 31-point deficit to force three overtimes and eventually come away with a shocking victory.
In a battle of Utah teams, Utah outlasted Brigham Young University for a 35-28 win. Arizona narrowly escaped New Mexico’s grasps and came away with a high-scoring 45-37 victory. Washington State beat Miami (FL) 20-14 and Washington outscored Southern Mississippi 44-31. California was able to propel itself to a 55-36 victory over Air Force behind their star quarterback Jared Goff’s impressive arm.
The most impressive performance was Stanford’s 45-16 obliteration of Iowa in the Rose Bowl. Heisman-candidate Christian McCaffrey absolutely torched Iowa’s defense and special teams, and the Cardinal defense thwarted Iowa’s offense for the majority of the game.
Big Ten: 5-5
After Ohio State won the championship in 2015, many experts believed that the Big Ten had become the best conference in college football. Unfortunately, the Northern conference only went .500 in its bowl games and looked very weak at the top.
The aforementioned Michigan State game against Alabama saw the Spartans look like a D-II team instead of the Big Ten champs. Iowa’s dismal performance against Stanford made the conference’s No. 2 team look just as pitiful. Ohio State was the conference’s saving grace, as it upended Notre Dame 44-28.
A 5-7 Nebraska team beat UCLA 37-29 in the Foster Farms Bowl, while a 5-7 Minnesota team outlasted Central Michigan 21-14. The most impressive victory for the Big Ten came in Michigan’s 41-7 bashing of the SEC’s Florida Gators, which came behind some impressive offense against one of the country’s best defenses. Florida was unable to move the ball against Michigan, while the Wolverines had their way against a Gator secondary that includes several future first-round draft selections.
Big 12: 3-4
The conference was left out of the Playoff in the 2015 bowl season, and it looked like it was primed to make a run with Oklahoma in the 2016 edition of the Playoff. Instead, Oklahoma was absolutely outmatched by Clemson in the Orange Bowl and several other high-profile Big 12 teams followed suit.
As for the conferences victories, TCU’s comeback victory over Oregon was one for the ages, while West Virginia won a 43-42 thriller over Arizona State. Baylor had the conference’s most impressive performance, as the Bears set a bowl rushing record in their 49-38 victory over North Carolina. The ground-and-pound performance was very surprising, as Baylor was known for their passing numbers throughout the season. Unfortunately, the rest of the conference was unable to replicate the successes of these three teams.
Atlantic Coast Conference: 5-7
Until they lost in the championship game, the Clemson Tigers were undefeated and were the best team in the country. Unfortunately, Dabo Swinney’s squad could not finish the deal and the ACC, which is a basketball-first conference, seemed to do the same.
The conference’s victories included a 44-41 victory by Duke over Indiana. Virginia Tech beat Tulsa 55-52 in legendary coach Frank Beamer’s final game. Louisville took advantage of Texas A&M’s frantic quarterback situation and earned a 27-21 victory over the SEC team. In its first Playoff game, Clemson dominated Oklahoma 37-17.
While many experts predicted that Florida State would be too athletic for Houston in the two teams’ matchup, the Seminoles were embarrassed on the big stage and Houston came away with a 38-24 victory. This loss was a bad look for the conference, but the most impressive performance for the ACC actually came in Clemson’s narrow 45-40 loss to Alabama in the national championship game. Alabama came in as the clear favorite to run away with the game, but Clemson held tough and led for a large period of the game. The fact that Clemson was able to put up 40 points on the stout Crimson Tide defense deserves credit by itself, and the Tigers have nothing to be ashamed about by their performance in the title game.