Winners and Losers of college football bowl season: Auburn ends disappointing season on a high note

While Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal games deservedly got all of the attention, there were plenty of other games worth noting. We’ve previously recapped the first day of bowl action here and the following week of games here. Below are our takeaways from Week 2 of bowl season highlighted by Auburn’s beatdown of Purdue in the Music City Bowl.

Auburn wasn’t going to let Army have all of the bowl season shine.

Just six days after Army dropped 70 points, tying an all-time record for bowl games, in its Armed Forces Bowl win over Houston, Auburn nearly did the same. The Tigers trounced Purdue 63-14 on Friday in the Music City Bowl to put a positive cap on a disappointing season. The 63 points ties three other teams for the sixth-most points ever in an FBS bowl game.

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In the process, Auburn set a record by scoring 56 points in the first half alone. It took just three plays for the Tigers to get on the board as Jarrett Stidham, playing in his final college game, found a wide open JaTarvious Whitlow on a wheel route for a 66-yard score.

Whitlow added a second score on Auburn’s next drive and scored yet again after a bad interception by Purdue QB David Blough. By the time the first quarter ended, Auburn’s lead was 28-7. And when the first half came to a close, the Tigers were up 56-7.

The Tigers opened the second half with Stidham’s fifth touchdown pass of the day to make it 63-14 before pulling Stidham and calling off the dogs. The Tigers even took a knee from the one-yard line in the final minutes. Stidham, who will forgo his final season of eligibility and pursue a pro career, finished the day with 373 yards on 15-of-21 throwing. Not a bad way to go out.

With offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey moving on to Kansas, Friday’s game marked a return to play-calling duties for head coach Gus Malzahn. It went well, and should give fans some optimism heading into 2019, despite the loss of Stidham. But this blowout shouldn’t distract from the disappointment that was this season.

After last year’s SEC title, there were College Football Playoff aspirations on the plains. Instead, the Tigers lost five games in SEC play, including a miserable performance against Tennessee. The 7-5 record had fans clamoring for the school to fire Malzahn, but the extension he was given last year made that impossible. So while Friday’s performance ends the season on a high note, it won’t be long until the Malzahn hot seat talk resumes.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took over the play-calling duties in the Music City Bowl. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took over the play-calling duties in the Music City Bowl. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from the second week of bowl season:

Winners

Syracuse: With its 34-18 win over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl, Syracuse reached the 10-win mark for the first time since the 2001 season under Paul Pasqualoni. The game marked the program’s first bowl appearance since 2013 and was a great way to cap off the third year under Dino Babers. The Orange went 8-16 in Babers first two seasons before this year’s 10-3 breakthrough. Friday night’s win was the final college game for QB Eric Dungey. With 303 yards, he broke the school’s career passing yards record in the win.

Virginia: Hello, Hoos. The Cavaliers moved to 8-5 on the season with a convincing 28-0 win over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. It’s a two-win improvement from 2017 when Virginia made a four-win leap from 2016. Bronco Mendenhall is now 16-22 at Virginia despite a 2-10 first season.

WR Olamide Zaccheaus had 12 catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns as the Cavaliers controlled the entire game. If it wasn’t for a late collapse against Virginia Tech, Virginia could be staring at its first nine-win season since 2007.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: In Wisconsin’s blowout win over Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl, Taylor became the 29th running back in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, joining former Badgers Ron Dayne and Melvin Gordon in that group. Taylor put up 205 yards in the 35-3 win to give him 2,194 yards on the year and 4,171 yards combined in his first two seasons. He already has 12 games with at least 150 yards, including seven this season, and has twice finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting. He’ll certainly be in the mix again next year.

Washington State: The Cougars held on for a 28-26 win over Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl. Wazzu was up 21-10 at the end of the first half but Iowa State closed the gap to 21-20. A huge fumble recovery by Peyton Pelluer set up the touchdown to go up eight and Iowa State couldn’t convert a two-point conversion after scoring with four minutes to go in the game. The conversion had to start from the seven after Iowa State committed its seventh false start penalty of the night.

The win means Washington State finishes the season at 11-2 and has 11 wins for the first time in school history. It’s a remarkable achievement powered by Gardner Minshew’s spectacular season in the shadow of QB Tyler Hilinski’s suicide.

The Wazzu victory also means the Pac-12 snapped a nine-bowl losing streak dating back to Utah’s win over West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26, 2017.

Daniel Jones, QB, Duke: With Justin Herbert opting to stay at Oregon, Duke’s Daniel Jones is one of the quarterbacks in the mix among the top NFL prospects. Jones, who is expected to declare for the 2019 draft, had a strong showing in the Independence Bowl against Temple. Though he did throw two interceptions, the 6-foot-5 Jones completed 30-of-41 passes for 423 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-27 win. According to Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, some NFL scouts believe Jones could be up there with Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins near the top of the first round.

David Cutcliffe: Cutcliffe is worthy of praise for a lot of reasons. He’s known for his tutelage of quarterbacks, and Jones is the next pupil in line to make a splash at the next level. But beyond that, Cutcliffe has done a tremendous job getting Duke to be consistently competitive in the ACC. With the win over Temple, the Blue Devils (8-5) finish with eight or more wins for the fourth time in Cutcliffe’s tenure. Before Cutcliffe arrived in 2008, Duke had just four eight-win seasons dating back to 1960.

Duke’s David Cutcliffe now has a 7-4 record in bowl games as a head coach. (AP)
Duke’s David Cutcliffe now has a 7-4 record in bowl games as a head coach. (AP)

Baylor: In the aftermath of Art Briles’ exit and all that surrounded it, Baylor football was not in a good place. Matt Rhule came in from Temple and endured a 1-11 season in 2017. This year, the Bears went 6-6 to earn a spot in the Texas Bowl against Vanderbilt where Baylor put up 668 yards of offense in an exciting 45-38 win. The winning score came when Charlie Brewer hit Marques Jones on a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 1:50 left in regulation. Brewer threw for 384 yards, ran for 109 yards and combined for three touchdowns in the victory. The folks in Waco are feeling good heading into 2019.

Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota: While Minnesota limited Georgia Tech’s top-ranked rushing offense to nearly 130 yards below its season average, Gophers redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim outrushed the Yellow Jackets (206 yards) all by himself. In the 34-10 Quick Lane Bowl victory, Ibrahim put up 224 yards and two scores on 31 carries. That effort gave Ibrahim 1,160 yards for the year. With Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks expected to return next year, Minnesota could have one of the best rushing attacks in the Big Ten.

Sewo Olonilua, RB, TCU: While the Cheez-It Bowl was largely a mess offensively, TCU junior Sewo Olonilua was able to put the Horned Frogs on his back. With TCU’s quarterback play being remarkably subpar, Olonilua carried 32 times — often out of the wildcat — for 194 yards and the team’s only touchdown in a 10-7 overtime victory. That total was a career high for Olonilua, who had never rushed for 71 yards in a game before Wednesday night’s game.

Losers

The First Responder Bowl: The bowl became the first in FBS history to be canceled because of weather after a line of storms rolled through the Dallas area on Wednesday. Bowl officials cited player safety concerns in not restarting the game because a weather delay was going to take most of the day. While that’s completely understandable, it’s less understandable that there wasn’t a contingency plan in place for the game. Thunderstorms had been in the forecast for days. Could the game have been moved up? A backup plan installed? It’s wholly unfulfilling for everyone involved to have the game — held on the day after Christmas, nonetheless — just simply not happen.

South Carolina: Did the Gamecocks just go to the Belk Bowl for the free shopping trip? Yikes, what a disaster in Charlotte. QB Jake Bentley threw two interceptions and South Carolina couldn’t run the ball at all against Virginia in a 28-0 loss to the Cavaliers.

The loss means South Carolina finishes the season at 7-6 despite opening the season as a borderline top-25 team. There were reasons for optimism in Columbia but USC had a ton of injuries and its only wins over bowl-bound teams were victories over Missouri and Vanderbilt.

Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech: This wasn’t the way we were expecting the Yellow Jackets to end Johnson’s tenure as head coach. Sure, a loss to Minnesota was always possible, but man, this was a brutal one. Georgia Tech didn’t get anything going against a Gopher team that had to beat Wisconsin in the final week just to get to the Quick Lane Bowl. Johnson ends his tenure with the school with an 83-60 record. GT has hired ex-Temple coach Geoff Collins as his replacement.

Paul Johnson’s last game as Georgia Tech head coach did not go as planned. (Getty Images)
Paul Johnson’s last game as Georgia Tech head coach did not go as planned. (Getty Images)

Purdue: What good is there to say about a game where you trailed 56-7 at halftime? Auburn had seven full possessions in the first half and scored touchdowns on all seven of them. A defensive TD was good for the eighth score in the half. At least Auburn took its foot off the gas in the second half to save Purdue from a terrible fate in the second half. Yes, this was the same Purdue team that beat Ohio State this season, but it was also the same Purdue team that had to beat Indiana to simply get to the postseason. The Boilermakers had some fantastic moments this year but also played horrible at times. At least Jeff Brohm stuck around.

Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt is a tough job. Everybody knows that. But if the Commodores couldn’t register a winning record with this senior-laden team, when is it going to happen under Derek Mason? Vanderbilt lost the Texas Bowl to Baylor 45-38 on Thursday night to finish the year 6-7. Vandy has had a losing record in all five of its seasons under Mason, who is now 24-38 (9-31 SEC) during his time in Nashville with an 0-2 record in bowl games. The fact that senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, the program’s all-time passing leader, is moving on won’t make things any easier in 2019.

Temple: Things were going really well for Temple in the first half of the Independence Bowl. The Owls led 27-14 and interim coach Ed Foley looked like he had a good shot at becoming the fourth Temple coach to win a bowl game. Welp. Duke scored 42 consecutive points to win 56-27. The Owls were missing running back Ryquell Armstead, though he wouldn’t have been able to stop the Duke offense. The Owls run game missed him, however. Discounting a bad punt snap that lost 20 yards, Temple had 28 carries for 73 yards.

California: You never want to be a part of an epically bad bowl game. And you especially never want to be the loser of an epically bad bowl game. Cal was on the wrong side of things in a 10-7 Cheez-It Bowl loss to TCU on Wednesday night. The quarterbacks Chase (Garbers 3, Forrest 2) combined for five interceptions on 17-of-33 passing for 164 yards and no touchdowns. That pretty much summed things up for Cal on offense this year.

Manny Diaz: Thursday was not a good day for the Miami defensive coordinator and new Temple coach. Diaz’s new team blew a 27-14 lead and lost 56-27 to Duke. Diaz’s final game with the Hurricanes was worse as Miami lost 35-3 to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. It’s not often that a football coach can have both of his teams lose in the same day, but Diaz pulled off the rare feat.

Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz consoles Miami defensive back Romeo Finley (30) walking off the field after a 35-3 loss against Wisconsin. (Getty Images)
Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz consoles Miami defensive back Romeo Finley (30) walking off the field after a 35-3 loss against Wisconsin. (Getty Images)

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