The 100 Stars of the 2007-2008 Bowl Season
West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart
West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart
Posted Jan 9, 2008

Lots of bowl games equals lots of stars, coming in the form of players, coaches, units, tandems, teams and games. This past post-season followed the script, providing an array of great moments and great individual efforts to help bridge the divide between the end of the 2007 season and the start of spring ball in a couple of months.

The 100 Stars of the 2007-2008 Bowl Season

By Richard Cirminiello

- The 100 Stars of the 2006-2007 Bowl Season

Almost three dozen bowl games equal plenty of stars, coming in the form of players, coaches, units, tandems, teams and games.  This past postseason followed usual the script, providing an array of great moments and great individual efforts to help bridge the divide between the end of the 2007 season and the start of spring ball in a couple of months.  Of course, there were some memorable flops as well that’ll precipitate a slew of head-scratching questions that’ll linger well into the offseason.  If not for that national championship in 2000, would Bob Stoops be college football’s version of Marv Levy? Did the Rose Bowl ever seriously consider selecting Georgia over Illinois? Will future BCS wannabes from the mid-majors be impacted by Hawaii’s performance in the Sugar Bowl? Is USC the best team in the nation, after all?

Discuss, and as always, don’t be bashful about sharing your thoughts.

100. BYU DT Eathyn Manumaleuna – The Cougars appeared to have let the Las Vegas Bowl slip away against UCLA until Manumaleuna got his big paw in the way of a Kai Forbath chip shot field goal with no time left on the clock.  The block salvaged a 17-16 victory and a Top 25 finish for the Cougars, who’d lost their last seven games to the Bruins.      

99.Maryland LB Adrian Moten – The Terrapin freshman served notice in the Emerald Bowl that he has a very bright future in College Park, collecting five tackles and a couple of sacks, one of which separated the ball from Oregon State QB Sean Canfield.

98. Auburn QB Kodi Burns – Yeah, other quarterbacks had much better numbers in December, but Burns lit a spark under the Tiger offense, giving a glimpse of what the spread offense will look like beginning in 2008.  The freshman ran threw a touchdown pass to give Auburn a lead in the third quarter, and ran for 69 yards and the game-winning score in overtime. 

97. Wake Forest WR Kenneth Moore – In a Meineke Car Care Bowl that was short on offensive firepower, Moore provided a spark to the Deacons, catching 11 passes for 112 yards en route to being named game MVP.

96. Colorado TE Tyson DeVree – After falling behind 27-0 to Alabama, DeVree helped keep the Buffs in the Independence Bowl, catching a game-high nine passes for 94 yards and a pair of touchdown catches from Cody Hawkins.

95. Arizona State WR Michael Jones – The offensive star for the Sun Devils in their Holiday Bowl loss to Texas, Jones pulled down eight receptions for 107 yards and a pair of Rudy Carpenter touchdown passes. 

94. Purdue DE Keyon Brown – Where were you all year, Keyon?  In the best game of his Boilermaker career, Brown was the defensive star of the Motor City Bowl, collecting five tackles and 2.5 sacks, setting the stage for what could be a breakout senior season.

93. Cincinnati CB DeAngelo Smith – A player Southern Miss QB Jeremy Young won’t soon forget, Smith picked off three passes in the Bowl, helping the Bearcats to a 31-21 victory while propelling into the Big East lead for interceptions.

92. Colorado QB Cody Hawkins – Although he fell a little short in the Independence Bowl, Hawkins nearly rallied the Buffaloes all the way back from an early 27-0 deficit to Alabama.  The freshman finished 24-of-39 for 322 yards, three touchdowns and two picks, saving his best play for the final three quarters.

91. Cincinnati WR Dominick Goodman – With top receiver Marcus Barnett out of the game with a broken leg, Goodman stepped up in a big way in the Bowl, catching a game-high seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

90. Oregon State WR James Rodgers – Just a freshman, Rodgers had the game of his brief career in the Emerald Bowl, carrying 10 times for 115 yards and a touchdown, adding a game-high five catches for 40 yards and another score.

89. Boston College WR Rich Gunnell – Who says Boston College has no deep threats on the receiving corps?  Gunnell burned the young Michigan State secondary for six catches for 138 yards and two long touchdowns in the Champs Sports Bowl. 

88. New Mexico RB Paul Baker – No Rodney Ferguson, no problem.  With New Mexico’s 1,000-yard rusher on the shelf for academic reasons, Baker exploded in his first career start for 167 yards on 22 carries in a New Mexico Bowl rout.

87. Rutgers QB Mike Teel – The aerial portion of the Scarlet Knights’ high-octane offense in the International Bowl, Teel was an efficient 16-of-25 for 303 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.  Displaying great touch on his deep balls, all of three of his scoring strikes were at least 35 yards, helping Rutgers amass a season-high of 595 yards of offense.

86. Kentucky WR Steve Johnson – Andre Woodson’s big play target in the Music City Bowl, Johnson caught seven passes for 124 yards and a pair of touchdown catches.  On his second score from 38 yards out, Johnson left more than half of the Florida State defense behind in his wake.

85. The Gator Bowl – Although the first 57 minutes of the Gator Bowl were forgettable, the waning moments made it one of the best bowl games of the postseason.  Texas Tech rallied for 17 unanswered points in the final 3:34, stunning Virginia, 31-28, on an Alex Trlica field goal in the waning seconds.

84. Michigan RB Mike Hart – Hart finished his amateur career much the way he started it, toughing out 129 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the Wolverines’ upset of Florida in the Capital One Bowl.   Losing two fumbles, however, was highly uncharacteristic of the senior.

83. USC RB Joe McKnight – McKnight showed a hint of his vast potential in the Rose Bowl, rushing for 125 yards and a score on just 10 carries, and catching six passes for 45 yards in the Trojan rout.

82. The UCF D – Forgotten in the Knights’ 10-3 loss to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl was the play of the defense, which limited the Bulldogs to just 199 total yards and 10 first downs.  It was a season-best performance for John Skladany’s kids, who got progressively better as the season wound down.

81. Penn State LB Sean Lee – Serving yet another notice that he’s the next big thing at LB U., Lee parlayed 14 tackles and a tackle for loss into Defensive MVP honors in the Alamo Bowl.  The junior sparked a Nittany Lion defense that allowed a pair of Mike Goodson touchdown runs in the first quarter before holding Texas A&M to just three points over the final 49 minutes of the game.

80. Wisconsin LB Jonathan Casillas – The brightest spot in the Badgers’ 21-17 Outback Bowl loss to Tennessee, Casillas led the defense with 10 tackles, while racking up four tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

79. Boston College S Jamie Silva – It was a typical day at the office in the Champs Sports Bowl for Silva, who had 10 tackles and his seventh and eighth interceptions of the season.  A big reason that Michigan State star WR Devin Thomas was held to only four catches for 34 yards, Silva was named MVP of the game. 

78. Central Michigan WR Bryan Anderson – Anderson was Dan LeFevour’s preferred target in the Motor City Bowl, pulling down seven passes for 129 yards and three touchdowns, the final one knotting the game at 48 with a minute left in the fourth quarter.

77. USC QB John David Booty – Booty enjoyed an efficient cap to his career in the Rose Bowl, carving up Illinois for 255 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-37 passing, while throwing an interception to Illini DB Justin Harrison. 

76. Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant – Welcome to the future at wide receiver in Stillwater.  Just a freshman, Bryant capped a breakthrough debut season by catching nine passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the Pokes’ rout of Indiana in the Insight Bowl.

75. Florida QB Tim Tebow – Yeah, Tebow has seen better days and failed to engineer a Capital One Bowl victory over underdog Michigan, but he did account for four touchdowns without turning the ball over in a 41-35 loss.

74. Alabama QB John Parker Wilson – Wilson was razor sharp in the early stages of the Independence Bowl, sparking the Tide to a 27-0 cushion, and finishing 19-of-32 for 256 yards, three touchdown passes and a pick.

73. Cincinnati DT Terrill Byrd – Playing as if he was channeling a young Warren Sapp, Byrd consistently blew through the Southern Miss offensive line in the Bowl for a game-high nine tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. 

72. Boston College QB Matt Ryan – Ryan made up for a fumble and an interception in the Champs Sports Bowl, throwing three touchdown passes and going 22-of-47 to cap a terrific amateur career with a win over Michigan State. 

71. The Oregon State D – The Beavers gave up a couple of touchdown passes in the first quarter of the Emerald Bowl before shutting out Maryland over the final 46 minutes.  The veteran Oregon State defense allowed just 11 first downs, while holding the Terps to 224 total yards and a season-low 19 yards rushing. 

70. Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk – Yeah, he threw three picks and displayed questionable arm strength, but the Bearcats probably don’t beat Southern Miss in the Bowl without the passing and leadership of Mauk.  The senior went 30-of-52 for 334 yards and four touchdowns, adding 41 yards on the ground in the 31-21 win.

69. The Poinsettia Bowl – After a sluggish first half, Utah and Navy put on a show in San Diego, kicking off the bowl season with an exciting 35-32 Ute victory that went back and forth in the final quarter.  Utah won its seventh straight bowl game, yet didn’t seal it until S Joe Dale picked off a pass in the final minute after the Middies had successfully converted an onside kick.    

68. The Chick-fil-A Bowl – This year’s game in Atlanta was every bit as physical and tight as predicted between a pair of Tigers, Auburn and Clemson.  Auburn got a Ben Tate touchdown run in the fourth quarter to knot things up, winning the game, 23-20, on a Kodi Burns scamper up the middle in the first overtime. 

67. The Kansas Linebackers – The unsung heroes of the Jayhawks’ Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, Mike Rivera, Joe Mortensen, and James Holt were stupendous in run defense, combining for 28 tackles and three sacks. 

66. Oregon CB Jairus Byrd – The defensive star of the Ducks in the Sun Bowl, Byrd led the team with eight tackles, adding four pass breakups, a couple of picks, and a forced fumble in an all-around dynamic effort. 

65. Cal RB Justin Forsett – Forsett bolted all day through gaping holes in the Air Force defense, leading the Bears to a comeback win with 140 yards rushing and a pair of key second-half touchdowns on just 23 carries.

64. Armed Forced Bowl – Featuring a ton of offensive fireworks from the Cal passing attack and the Air Force ground game, the Armed Forced Bowl was a 42-36 slugfest won by the Bears, who spotted the Falcons a 21-point cushion in the first half.

63. Oregon State RB Yvenson Bernard – In his first game back from arthroscopic knee surgery, Bernard ran with no ill effects in the Emerald Bowl, carrying a Beaver offense that needed the lift.  The senior wore out the Maryland defense for 177 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries.

62. Virginia RB Mikell Simpson – Simpson was the offense for the Cavaliers in the Gator Bowl, running for 170 yards, including an NCAA bowl-record 96-yard gallop for a score, and catching a team-high five passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.

61. West Virginia RB Noel Devine – With starter Steve Slaton sidelined with an injury in the Fiesta Bowl, Devine stepped up with 108 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, adding 47 yards on a pair of catches and 88 yards on kick returns.

60. Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall – If only for a moment, Mendenhall gave the Illini a hint of hope for a comeback in the Rose Bowl with a 79-yard touchdown run shortly after halftime.  He finished the afternoon with 155 yards on the ground and five receptions for 59 yards in a losing effort.

59. Kentucky RB Rafael Little – Little gave the Wildcat offense a dose of offensive balance in the Music City Bowl, rushing for 152 yards on 28 carries, while catching a game-high eight passes for 50 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

58. Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell – It was not vintage Harrell in the Gator Bowl, but it was enough to set a bunch of records and pilot the Red Raiders to a come-from-behind win over Virginia.  The junior went 44-of-69 for 407 yards and three touchdowns without turning the ball over, establishing new Gator Bowl marks for yards, completions and attempts.

57. Alabama DE Wallace Gilberry – Virtually unblockable from the opening snap of the Independence Bowl, Gilberry tore through the Colorado offensive line for eight tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack, earning defensive MVP honors.

56. Texas CB Brandon Foster – Foster saved the best game of his Longhorn career for the last game of his Longhorn career.  The senior was everywhere in the Holiday Bowl, leading the team with seven tackles, forcing and recovering a fumble, picking off two passes, and tipping another that was intercepted by teammate Marcus Griffin.

55. Boston College – The Eagles ran their nation’s-longest bowl unbeaten streak to eight games with a 24-21 defeat of Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl, winning 11 games for the first time in 67 years. 

54. Fresno State RB Clifton Smith – In the best performance of his Bulldog career, Smith ripped through Georgia Tech’s 12th-ranked run defense for 152 yards and two touchdowns on only 18 carries, adding four receptions for 57 yards.

53. Tulsa LBs Chris Chamberlain and Alain Karatepeyan – The Hurricane linebacker tandem was otherworldly in the GMAC Bowl, combining for 31 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles.  Tulsa held Bowling Green to only seven points and 229 total yards, well below its season averages, largely because of the sideline-to-sideline play of Chamberlain and Karatepeyan.

52. Tennessee QB Erik Ainge – Ainge was named Outback Bowl MVP in his Volunteer finale, going 25-of-43 for 365 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Wisconsin.  His big day against the Badgers came despite the absence of top receiver Lucas Taylor, who was academically ineligible.

51. The Penn State Running Game – The Lions cranked out a season-high 270 yards on the ground in the Alamo Bowl, getting at least 50 yards and 6.8 yards a carry from RB Rodney Kinlaw, RB Evan Royster, and QB Daryll Clark.  While Kinlaw was the hero, gaining 143 yards on 21 carries, Royster and Clark gave glimpses of what the Penn State backfield will look like in 2008.

50. The Wake Forest D – The swarming Demon Deacons kept Connecticut out of the end zone in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, holding the Huskies to nine first downs, 213 total yards, and a mere 3.6 yards per play.  Connecticut’s only points came on a Larry Taylor punt return for a touchdown and a Tony Ciaravino field goal.

49. Kentucky QB Andre Woodson – Woodson took full advantage of the abridged Florida State defense in the Music City Bowl, going 32-of-50 for 358 yards, four touchdowns and an interception, breaking the SEC single-season record for touchdown passes with 40.

48. Texas Tech –  For the second consecutive postseason, the Red Raiders used a stirring comeback to secure a bowl victory.  Down 28-14 to Virginia with a little more than three minutes left in the Gator Bowl, Tech scored the final 17 points, capping the rally with an Alex Trlica 41-yard field goal with no two seconds left on the clock.

47. Cal – Down 21-0 and seemingly drained of any emotion, the Bears rallied for six touchdowns in the final 40 minutes to squelch Air Force’s upset bid in the Armed Forced Bowl.  The Bears rolled up 500 balanced yards, getting a particularly terrific afternoon from the veteran offensive line.

46. The Hawaii Bowl – One of the most entertaining of this year’s December bowl games, East Carolina upset Boise State, 41-38, on a Ben Hartman field goal with no time left on the clock.  The Pirates’ drive for the victory came just moments after bowl MVP Chris Johnson coughed up a fumble that Bronco S Marty Tadman took 47 yards for the game-tying touchdown.

45. Texas RB Jamaal Charles – You’d think that over a month away from the game might have slowed Charles’ torrid close to the regular season.  Think again.  The junior with the explosive burst tore through Arizona State’s 13th-ranked run defense for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in the Holiday Bowl. 

44. Fresno State – The Bulldogs completed their rebound season under Pat Hill by pounding the usually stout Georgia Tech defense for 571 perfectly balanced yards in the Humanitarian Bowl.  Fresno State got 286 yards on the ground, and 285 yards from QB Tom Brandstater, upsetting the Yellow Jackets 40-28.

43. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys dashed any thoughts that the Insight Bowl with Indiana would be a nip-and-tuck affair, piling up 513 yards of offense and scoring touchdowns on their first five possessions.  QB Zac Robinson executed the offense exceptionally well, and the Okie State defense, maligned all year, shut down the Hoosiers when it mattered in the first three quarters.

42. East Carolina – One of the largest underdogs this bowl season, the Pirates jumped on Boise State early in the Hawaii Bowl, holding on for an impressive 41-38 victory.  East Carolina rolled up 476 yards of offense, getting a record-setting performance from RB Chris Johnson and a bowl win for the first time since 2000.

41. UCLA DE Bruce Davis – A four-quarter terror in the Las Vegas Bowl, Davis schooled the BYU offensive line en route to seven tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.  The senior’s speed off the edge was too much for the lumbering Cougar linemen, who were completely overmatched against No. 44.

40. Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith – The Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year helped carry the Owls to a New Orleans Bowl win in their postseason debut, going 25-of-32 for 336 yards and touchdown passes to five different receivers. 

39. The New Mexico D – Before the New Mexico Bowl, it had been 46 years since the Lobos had won a bowl game, and more than 27 years since Nevada had been shut out.  The New Mexico defense ended both streaks with one hellacious effort, limiting the high-powered Wolf Pack to just 210 yards and 12 first downs.

38. Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom – With an upset of UCF in the Liberty Bowl, Croom’s reclamation of the Bulldogs reached a new high point.  The program’s first bowl victory in seven years may not have been pretty, but nobody in Starkville was concerned about style points after Anthony Dixon plunged in from a yard out for the clincher late in the fourth.

37. The TCU D – The Horned Frogs did the unthinkable against the nation’s No. 4 offense, holding Houston out of the end zone for the final three quarters in a 20-13 Texas Bowl win.  They yielded a mere 32 rushing yards, bottling up pocket rocket Anthony Alridge all night, while racking up five sacks from five different defenders. 

36. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger – Under the steady hand of the 73-year old Schnellenberger, the youngest program to ever play in a bowl game became the youngest program to ever win a bowl game.  The Owls blew past Memphis, 44-27, in the second half of the New Orleans Bowl, pushing Schnellenberger’s postseason record to a nifty 5-0.

35. Kansas CB Aqib Talib – The physical and emotional sparkplug of the no-name Jayhawk defense, Talib set the tone for the Orange Bowl with a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown in the opening quarter.  From that point in the game, Kansas never trailed, holding on to beat Virginia Tech behind the play of their MVP cornerback.

34. West Virginia QB Pat White – Showing no ill-effects from the hand injury he suffered at the end of the season, White parlayed 150 yards rushing and 176 yards and two touchdowns through the air into Fiesta Bowl MVP honors.

33. USC LB Rey Maualuga – When the Rose Bowl mattered in the first half, Maualuga was an unblockable beast against Illinois, making four tackles, collecting three sacks, forcing a fumble, picking off a pass, and generally intimidating everything in his path.

32. Florida WR Percy Harvin – Harvin outshined Heisman-winning teammate Tim Tebow and nearly willed the Gators to a comeback win over Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, rushing for 165 yards and a score and catching nine balls for 77 yards and another touchdown.

31. LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton – Crowton devised a brilliant gameplan for the BCS national championship, which led to 38 points, or 28 more than Ohio State yielded per game during the regular season.  The Tigers were crisp and unpredictable, mixing the run with the pass, and north-south running with misdirections.  The Buckeyes were outcoached in New Orleans, with Crowton getting a lot of the credit.

30. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr – One of the feel-good stories of the postseason, Carr capped his final turbulent season in Ann Arbor with an upset of Florida in the Capital One Bowl and a ride on his players’ shoulders in the aftermath.

29. Oregon QB Justin Roper – As far as first career starts go, Roper was near flawless in the Sun Bowl, efficiently going 17-of-30 for 180 yards and touchdown passes to four different receivers.  The redshirt freshman with an eye on next year’s starting job was the passing component of a Duck offense that peppered South Florida’s No. 21 defense for a season-high 533 yards and 56 points.

28. West Virginia – So much for the Mountaineers being lost without departed head coach Rich Rodriguez.  West Virginia bucked expectations and vexed the experts in the Fiesta Bowl, pounding Oklahoma 48-28 behind an explosive offense and a speedy defense that went the entire year without getting nearly enough credit.  

27. Cal QB Kevin Riley – If the Armed Forced Bowl was an audition for 2008, Riley may challenge incumbent Nate Longshore for the starting assignment versus Michigan State.  Replacing Longshore early in the contest, Riley went a sizzling 16-of-19 for 269 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers, adding a rushing score and rallying the Bears out of a 21-0 hole to Air Force.   

26. Texas – The Longhorns were determined to close out an up-and-down season on a high note in the Holiday Bowl.  And it showed.  In a game with Arizona State that was labeled a toss-up, Texas scorched the Sun Devils, 52-34, behind the nimble feet of QB Colt McCoy and RB Jamaal Charles, and a defense that delivered four sacks and four turnovers. 

25. The Mississippi State D – Facing one of the country’s hottest offensive attacks, the Bulldogs completely shut down UCF in the Liberty Bowl, while keeping RB Kevin Smith from breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record.  Mississippi State, led by ball-hawking S Derek Pegues, gave up three points and 219 yards, holding Smith to just 3.4 yards per carry.

24. The Motor City Bowl – Purdue outlasted Central Michigan in a 51-48 thriller that had all the elements of a memorable December bowl game.  There was no shortage of great offensive plays, a flurry of comebacks from the Chippewas, and a last-second field goal from Chris Summers that emptied the Boilermaker bench.

23. Michigan WR Adrian Arrington – Arrington played the game of his life in the Capital One Bowl, catching nine passes for 153 yards and two scores, including the game-winner late in the fourth and a couple of the most acrobatic moves of the postseason.

22. The Missouri D – Lost in Tony Temple’s heroics in the Cotton Bowl was the play of the Mizzou defense, which kept Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in check, holding the high-powered Arkansas running game well below its season average.  The Tigers created five turnovers, yielding a meaningless touchdown and getting a huge game from playmaking S William Moore.

21. Central Michigan QB Dan LeFevour – The Chippewas’ comeback attempt in the Motor City Bowl fell three points short, but no one can blame LeFevour, the only reason this game didn’t end in a blowout.  The sophomore was way too much for Purdue to handle, throwing for 292 yards and four touchdowns, while running for 114 yards and two more scores.

20. LSU QB Matt Flynn – Flynn ended his college career about as good as a quarterback could, getting named offensive MVP in the BCS national championship game for tossing four touchdown passes.  He was in total control of the Tiger offense, throwing just eight incompletions and completing passes to eight different receivers.

19. Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson – Robinson might be next year’s Chase Daniel, a Big 12 quarterback that thrusts him into the Heisman picture.  He left a lasting impression in the Insight Bowl, roasting the Indiana defense for 302 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while adding 70 yards and two more scores on the ground.

18. Tulsa QB Paul Smith – If you’re a high school quarterback in the Southwest, don’t you seriously consider playing in Tulsa’s potent offense? Smith flourished all year in Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle attack, capping it by throwing for 312 yards and five touchdowns, and rushing for 46 yards and a score in a GMAC Bowl rout of Bowling Green.

17. Michigan QB Chad Henne – The Wolverines opened up the offense in the Capital One Bowl to the delight of Henne, who went 25-of-39 for 373 yards, three touchdowns and two picks.  The senior found Adrian Arrington for the game-winner with 4:12 left, locking up bowl MVP honors.

16. Oregon – Few expected the reeling Ducks to hold up against the pressure and intensity of South Florida in the Sun Bowl.  It’s a good thing they didn’t listen to their detractors.  Oregon gored the Bulls behind the running of Jonathan Stewart, the passing of Justin Roper, and four interceptions, capping an odd year with a shocking 56-21 rout.

15. The SEC – If there was any doubt about conference supremacy, the SEC ended it by going 7-2 in a postseason coronation, including wins in the BCS national championship game and the Sugar Bowl.  The SEC also landed victories against Wisconsin, Florida State, Clemson, and Colorado to pad its lead against the next best league.   

14. The Capital One Bowl – Now this was a New Year’s Day bowl game.  The Capital One Bowl was a four-quarter thrill-ride, packed with emotional storylines and great offensive performances from both sidelines.  In the end, Michigan upset Florida, 41-35, in one of the most exciting and meaningful games of the postseason. 

13. East Carolina RB Chris Johnson – Nearly the goat for his costly fumble late in the fourth quarter of the Hawaii Bowl, Johnson put forth a heroic effort, scoring twice and setting a bowl record with 408 yards, 223 on the ground, 32 through the air, and 153 on kickoffs.

12. Purdue QB Curtis Painter – In leading the Boilermakers to a Motor City Bowl victory over Central Michigan, Painter went 35-of-54 for a school-record 546 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.  Included in that record-setting performance was a final drive that led to a game-winning field goal for Purdue as time expired. 

11. The Georgia D – The potent Hawaii offense never stood a chance against the Dawg defense in the Sugar Bowl.  Georgia harassed Heisman finalist Colt Brennan from the opening series, getting to the quarterback eight times while creating a BCS bowl-record six turnovers.  Kudos to defensive coordinator Willie Martinez for formulating the gameplan that limited the Warriors to just three points through the first three quarters.

10. Missouri – The Tigers’ response to getting snubbed by the Orange Bowl committee in favor of Kansas?  Destroying Arkansas, 38-7, in the Cotton Bowl, the program’s first January bowl game in nearly four decades.

9. Georgia DE Marcus Howard – Playing like a man possessed, Howard became the first defensive player in almost three decades to earn MVP honors in the Sugar Bowl.  He was relentless off the edge against the overmatched Hawaii tackles, collecting three sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and a tipped ball that was intercepted by a teammate.

8. USC – Are the Trojans the best team in the country?  They sure looked like it in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, ambushing defenseless Illinois for 49 points and a Rose Bowl-record 633 yards.  USC pretty much did whatever it pleased against the Illini, pulling away early and copping win No. 11 for a sixth year in-a-row.

7. Michigan – Who could have imagined that a season which began with a loss to Appalachian State would end with an upset of defending champion Florida in the Capital One Bowl?  The Wolverines were brilliant against the heavily-favored Gators, racking up 524 yards of offense, and coming back to win late in the fourth quarter, 41-35.

6. Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart – In order to beat South Florida, the Ducks had to have a big game from Stewart, who delivered a Sun Bowl-record and career-high 253 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 23 carries.  

5. Rutgers RB Ray Rice – If the International Bowl was Rice’s audition for NFL scouts, he certainly improved his draft grade and signing bonus with a monster performance.  The junior exploded for a school-record 280 yards rushing and four touchdowns against toothless Ball State, becoming the third back this year to surpass the 2,000-yard barrier. 

4. Kansas – With a 24-21 upset of No. 5 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, the Jayhawks locked down a Top 10 finish, proving to the nation that they belonged in a BCS bowl game after all.  Hailed for its offensive firepower, Kansas authored one of its most important wins in school history behind the play of a vastly underrated and well-coached defensive unit. 

3. West Virginia coach Bill Stewart – Was that a life-long assistant that out coached Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops in the Fiesta Bowl?  Yup.  Stewart and his staff did a fantastic job of keeping the Mountaineers focused during a turbulent month, becoming the only of seven interim head coaches to win a bowl game.  An assistant no longer, Stewart parlayed his first victory into his first head job, landing the West Virginia opening a day after the Fiesta Bowl.

2. Missouri RB Tony Temple – Overshadowed by Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones before the start of the game, Temple exploded for a Cotton Bowl-record 281 yards rushing and four touchdowns on just 24 carries.  Darting in and out of Reggie Herring’s defense with relative ease, he also overshadowed teammate Chase Daniel, a Heisman finalist that didn’t need to be prolific for a change. 

1. LSU – Ending the debate about the nation’s best team, the Tigers ran circles around Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, digging out of an early 10-0 hole and pulling away for a 38-24 victory.  While the swarming defense had five sacks and three turnovers, the offense executed seamlessly, becoming the first team since Florida in last year’s title game to score more than 30 points on the country’s top-ranked D.