Another college football bowl season has come and gone, and for the first time in a few years, all of the scheduled games went off without a hitch. It's amazing what can be accomplished when there isn't a global pandemic putting the sanctity of college football's postseason at risk, huh?
Ultimately, 41 postseason games have been played, including the College Football Playoff semifinals. Some of them were great (like the semis), while some others ... well ... they helped kill a few hours, if nothing else. All were worth having, however, no matter what monsters like my Cover 3 Podcast co-host Danny Kanell believe.
All the bowl games deserve to be ranked, too. If I have the courage to rank them before they're played, the least I can do is rank them after they are over. So which games ruled and which drooled? Let's settle it once and for all.
2022-23 College football bowl rankings
41. Citrus Bowl
No. 17 LSU 63, Purdue 7: We waited until the final day of bowl season to play the worst of them all. When I ranked the game before Bowl Season began, Jeff Brohm was still the head coach at Purdue and LSU's Kayshon Boutte was planning to come back and play again next year. That all changed, and there were so many opt-outs on both sides of this one that it's hard to imagine it going any other way than the eventual outcome. And it only went one way. LSU was up 35-0 at halftime, and Purdue didn't score until the fourth quarter when it was already 49-0. That seemed to be a mistake because it just caused LSU to keep playing. Pregame ranking: 20
40. Las Vegas Bowl
No. 14 Oregon State 30, Florida 3: The saddest field goal of all time occurred in this game, but it didn't do anything for its ranking. Florida came into the game with a streak of 436 consecutive games scoring points, not having been shut out since the 1998 season. It was the longest such streak in the nation -- 57 games longer than any other program. It's the kind of streak that only the team that holds it cares about, and darn it, Billy Napier was going to make sure the streak was extended.
That's why he sent Adam Mihalek out with 37 seconds left to kick a 40-yard field goal to save his team from the embarrassment of losing 30-0. Losing 30-3 looks so much better! As for Oregon State, it was an emphatic statement to end a fantastic season that saw the Beavers win 10 games for the first time since 2006. Pregame ranking: 7
Super Sibo sighting 👀🦸♂️pic.twitter.com/V2Z2F8bNyg— Oregon State Football (@BeaverFootball) December 17, 2022
39. First Responder Bowl
Memphis 38, Utah State 10: This game never pretended to be interesting. It was tied 3-3 halfway through the second quarter before Memphis ripped off three touchdowns before halftime. Utah State was never able to recover. Memphis QB Seth Henigan threw for more yards (284) than Utah State had as a team (261). Pregame ranking: 41
38. Music City Bowl
Iowa 21, Kentucky 0: OK, here's the thing. I loved this game. It was exactly what it was supposed to be. Iowa was missing its top two quarterbacks, while Kentucky was without its starting QB and two leading rushers. These were two awful offenses during the regular season, and it turns out that when you remove all the starters from the equation, they didn't improve. There were 21 points scored in the game and 18 punts ... and Iowa's defense scored two of the three touchdowns on pick sixes!
If you tuned into this game, you knew what you were in for and that's what you got. That said, just because it went the way it was supposed to doesn't mean it was a good game. I loved it, but in the way a mother still loves her child after they've been convicted of heinous crimes against humanity. Pregame ranking: 17
🚨ANOTHER IOWA PICK SIX!!!🚨 21-0 Hawkeyes #MusicCityBowl pic.twitter.com/yG2Oj42Qlf— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) December 31, 2022
37. Sugar Bowl
No. 5 Alabama 45, No. 9 Kansas State 20: The good news is Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. played in the game, and nothing disastrous happened to either of them. The bad news is the game might've been much more entertaining had they sat out. The Wildcats got off to a hot start, taking a 10-0 lead in the first half, but Alabama then scored five touchdowns before the Wildcats scored again. Young reminded us why he won the Heisman in 2021 as he helped put this game out of reach while throwing for 321 yards and five touchdowns.
It's not how Alabama fans wanted their season to end (they wanted to win the last game, but at SoFi Stadium, not the Superdome), but the Tide finished 11-2. It's the 15th straight season Alabama has won at least 10 games, and it says a lot when an 11-2 record is viewed as a disappointment. Pregame ranking: 19
36. LA Bowl
Fresno State 29, Washington State 6: The one thing the LA Bowl gets right is that it's not a bowl game with a storied tradition, and it doesn't behave as such. It's a gimmick meant to get two teams in an NFL stadium to play a game with low stakes. So why not have your mascot be a vomiting came?! Unfortunately, while last year's debut game was a banger, this year's had a lot in common with the vomiting camel. Pregame ranking: 8
35. New Orleans Bowl
Western Kentucky 44, South Alabama 23: I only had this game ranked at No. 23 previously, but it did not come close to meeting the average expectations. It's always interesting to see high-powered offenses go against strong defenses, but Western Kentucky put this game's version of the debate to rest quickly. The Hilltoppers were up 31-3 at halftime, and while I appreciated South Alabama's effort in the second half, there was never any sense of jeopardy. Pregame ranking: 23
34. Fenway Bowl
Louisville 24, Cincinnati 7: This game would've been so much better if Scott Satterfield had been forced to spend the entire game in a cage between the benches (they had to share a sideline at Fenway Park), but I'm not sure even that would've saved this game. The team that seemed happy to lose its coach showed more energy than the team that seemed surprised by losing its coach, but it was a low bar to clear. Louisville finished the first half strong to take a 21-7 lead at the half, then sat on it the rest of the way. Cincinnati's offense was hapless and finished with 127 yards. Of those 127, 73 came on the Bearcats' lone TD drive. That left 54 yards for Cincinnati's other 11 possessions. Pregame ranking: 14
In baseball stadiums they aren’t explosive plays, they’re home runs. pic.twitter.com/KMt9FVDwb1— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) December 17, 2022
33. Military Bowl
Duke 30, UCF 13: You'd have thought UCF getting John Rhys Plumlee back for this game would've led to a thriller, but the Duke defense neutralized him as a runner and forced him to beat it through the air. You saw the score; you know how it went. The Knights put together a nice fourth-quarter drive to make it look respectable, but Duke controlled this game the entire second half. It was an emphatic finish for Mike Elko's team in his first season as the Blue Devils finished 9-4, capping their first nine-win season since 2014. Pregame ranking: 26
32. Armed Forces Bowl
Air Force 30, Baylor 15: The question facing bowl games with options teams always centers around how willing the non-option team will be to deal with an option offense. To its credit, Baylor came out ready to face the challenge, but that only went so far seeing as Baylor's rush defense was pretty suspect this season. The Falcons ran for 267 yards on the day, and while they weren't running wild, they hit enough singles and doubles to stay on the field and grind the Baylor defense into powder. The Bears got a touchdown just before halftime to cut it to 9-7, but Air Force finished things quickly in the third quarter. It was 30-7 late in the fourth before Baylor scored a cosmetic touchdown. Pregame ranking: 31
31. Orange Bowl
No. 6 Tennessee 31, No. 7 Clemson 14: So it turns out D.J. Uiagalelei wasn't the problem. What if I told you that Clemson ran 101 plays on offense but only managed 14 points? Because that's what happened. Tennessee was hitting big shot after big shot with Joe Milton launching passes that required nuclear codes. Meanwhile, Clemson's offense was the football equivalent of "Waiting for Godot." If I was in the mood to watch a few hours of existential dread, I'll take "The Banshees of Inisherin" next time. As for Tennessee, Joe Milton is not what Hendon Hooker was in this offense, but he makes superhuman throws. It'll be interesting to see where this offense goes next season. Pregame ranking: 12
Pinpoint accuracy from Joe Milton 🎯 pic.twitter.com/74cH7rfanT— ESPN (@espn) December 31, 2022
30. Myrtle Beach Bowl
Marshall 28, UConn 14: It's not a great sign that I barely remember anything about this game, but that's why we take notes. Marshall lived up to its nickname as the Thundering Herd thundered for 210 yards rushing in the game and won by two scores despite only 93 yards through the air. UConn turned the ball over four times, and it was 28-0 before the Huskies put a number on the board. Pregame ranking: 39
29. Birmingham Bowl
East Carolina 53, Coastal Carolina 29: This was all set up to be an epic battle. After entering the transfer portal, QB Grayson McCall surprised a lot of people by playing in the game, and while he was dueling with East Carolina's Holton Ahlers, this game was fun. The Chanticleers led 14-10 in the second quarter before McCall was forced out of the game with an injury, and the Pirates took over from there. What looked destined to be a classic finished as a blowout, but at least Ahler's 15-year career ended in style. He threw for 300 yards, rushed for 48 more and even caught a pass for 14 yards. He finished with six total touchdowns. Pregame ranking: 37
28. Texas Bowl
Texas Tech 42, Ole Miss 25: It turns out the two best teams in the Big 12 were TCU and Texas Tech because aside from the Horned Frogs' upset over Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl (more on that later!), Tech was the only other Big 12 team to win its bowl game this season. The final score of this game doesn't tell the whole tale, either, as this was a Red Raider trouncing. Tech had a 26-7 lead at halftime and was up 35-13 with half the fourth quarter over. It was a two-score game at minimum for the final 37 minutes of action as the Tech defense forced five Ole Miss turnovers. The Raiders had three of their own. Frankly, neither team valued the ball much, but it made for entertaining moments. Pregame ranking: 15
Texas Tech returned the onside kick for a TD 😮 pic.twitter.com/EWAmwCuyvD— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 29, 2022
27. Potato Bowl
Eastern Michigan 41, San Jose State 27: Unlike nearly all of the bowls we've already covered, the Potato Bowl had a lead change. That's an key ingredient in an entertaining game! We also had a 13-point comeback! The problem was that San Jose State took a 13-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, but Eastern Michigan blocked the PAT on the second TD, returned it for a safety and it turned out to be the most momentum-shifting safety in the history of sports. San Jose State didn't score again until the third quarter after giving up 33 straight. Eastern Michigan's Taylor Powell threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns. In the end, Chevan Cordeiro's 366 yards passing just weren't enough for the Spartans. Pregame ranking: 30
26. Rose Bowl
No. 11 Penn State 35, No. 8 Utah 21: For a moment it looked as if we were about to get a sequel. In last year's Rose Bowl, Utah was locked in a shootout with Ohio State when QB Cam Rising left the game with an injury, was replaced by Bryson Barnes and one of the best bowl games of last season commenced from there. It was 21-14 Penn State when Rising went down with this year's injury while the teams were in the midst of trading touchdowns. Sadly, the sequel is never as good as the original. Barnes threw an interception shortly after coming in, and Penn State took over. The Nittany Lions scored two touchdowns of 80+ yards (an 87-yard TD run by Nick Singleton in the third and a 88-yard TD catch by KeAndre Lambert-Smith in the fourth) to put this thing away, though the Utes did get a consolation touchdown with 25 seconds left. It made over bettors happy, if nothing else. Pregame ranking: 3
USC and UCLA join the B1G and the Rose Bowl immediately adopts Midwestern New Year's weather. pic.twitter.com/9iJ5DliKdd— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) January 3, 2023
25. Pinstripe Bowl
Minnesota 28, Syracuse 20: It finished a one-score game, but it wasn't a one-score game. Minnesota took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as running back Mohamed Ibrahim became the programs all-time leader in rushing yards while also setting the single-season mark for rushing touchdowns. But then Ibrahim took the rest of the afternoon off and Minnesota's offense didn't do anything because its defense made sure that was the case. The Gophers scored on a 70-yard pick six, and another turnover set them up for an easy 25-yard touchdown drive. Syracuse got a score with 2:30 left to make it 28-20 but failed to recover the onside kick. The Gophers ran out the clock and won the game despite 215 yards of offense. Just truly Big Ten West stuff, but nothing compared to what Iowa did in the Music City Bowl. Pregame ranking: 29
24. Quick Lane Bowl
New Mexico State 24, Bowling Green 19: An undoubtedly great moment for New Mexico State's football program, but not a great bowl game. The Aggies controlled most of the game and took a 24-7 lead into the fourth quarter before Bowling Green rallied to cut it to 24-19 with 6.5 minutes left. The Falcons never got the ball back, though, as New Mexico State ran 13 plays and drained the rest of the clock to move 43 yards and ice it.
The star of the game was Aggies QB Diego Pavia, who had the pleasure of being one of those players who most of the country did not know beforehand only to become a folk hero during bowl season. Pavia is shaped like a fire hydrant and continuously hurled his body into the defense to keep drives alive. He helped give the Aggies their first bowl win since 2017, and the seven wins the team picked up nearly matched the eight wins total the program earned from 2018-21. Pregame ranking: 35
23. Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Wisconsin 24, Oklahoma State 17: This game was an odd visual. Not because it was a football game played in a baseball stadium -- we've seen plenty of those -- but because Luke Fickell was on the sideline in a headset even though he was not coaching the team. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was still the interim coach, and Bobby Engram was calling plays on offense, but the cameras kept showing Fickell on the sideline. He was even got the halftime interview on the way to the locker room.
This is something that will become the norm. One of the best ways for new coaches to learn about their new players is to be on the sideline with them during a game, so I'd bet we'll see this happen more. Still, it was awkward, but so were football games in baseball stadiums and we got used to them, right? Anyway, the fact that's my biggest takeaway from this game says a lot. It was 24-7 entering the fourth quarter as both teams played with backup QBs, and while the Cowboys made an effort late, it wasn't nearly enough. Pregame ranking: 25
22. ReliaQuest Bowl
No. 22 Mississippi State 19, Illinois 10: The final score for this one is misleading; it was a one-score game until the final play of the game. Mississippi State, playing for the first time since the death of coach Mike Leach, drove 68 yards in 106 seconds to set up the game-winning, 27-yard field goal with 4 seconds left. Illinois had time for one play after the ensuing kickoff, threw a bunch of laterals and State's Marcus Banks picked one of them up and housed it for a touchdown. While the game was close, it was never that exciting. Neither offense did much until Mississippi State got going in the fourth quarter. The game did begin with a tribute to Leach as Mississippi State lined up in an Air Raid formation and took a delay of game penalty, which Illinois declined. Pregame ranking: 10
Mississippi State lines up in an air raid formation on their first play from scrimmage to honor Mike Leach ♥️🏴☠️pic.twitter.com/69IGMm51aY— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 2, 2023
21. Alamo Bowl
No. 12 Washington 27, No. 20 Texas 20: I had such high hopes for this game, ranking it in the top 10 before games began, and while it wasn't bad, it could've been so much better. Consider me the one billionth person disappointed by a Texas team failing to meet expectations. Now to be fair, Washington didn't light it up, either. I wanted this to be an Alamo Bowl shootout between Michael Penix Jr. and Quinn Ewers. Penix threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns but averaged only 5.3 yards per attempt. It was more volume than quality. Ewers played well, throwing for 369 yards, but the lack of a run game for Texas (the 'Horns were without Bijan Robinson and Roshon Johnson) made it much simpler for Washington to defend. Plus, my unofficial count of 432 drops by Texas receivers didn't help much. Washington never trailed and took a 27-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. After that, it was content to sit on the lead. Texas got a field goal with 1:40 left but didn't recover the onside kick. Pregame ranking: 9
Jalen McMillan what a grab 😱 pic.twitter.com/BSkmeqUwPa— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 30, 2022
20. Cure Bowl
No. 24 Troy 18, No. 25 UTSA 12: This game was similar to the Alamo Bowl in that I had very high hopes for it -- I ranked it in the top five! -- as a matchup between the Sun Belt and Conference USA champions. Two Group of Five teams that don't get a lot of attention but were good and entertaining to watch. To Troy's credit, its defense was outstanding as it flustered Frank Harris and the Roadrunners. Harris threw for only 194 yards and had two interceptions to go with one touchdown. UTSA was held to 345 yards, and 75 came on its lone TD drive. Meanwhile, Troy managed only 153 yards of offense and 1.05 yards per carry in the game, and it was more than enough! Pregame ranking: 4
19. Gasparilla Bowl
Wake Forest 27, Missouri 17: It was one last ride for Wake Forest's duo of Sam Hartman and A.T. Perry. Hartman recovered from a rough second half of the season to throw for 280 yards and three touchdowns in this game; Perry, as usual, was his favored target. He caught 11 passes for 116 yards, though he didn't catch any of the three touchdowns! Missouri struggled offensively in the second half, killing a shot at making this one interesting down the stretch. The Tigers took a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter but only managed to run three plays in Wake territory after that. Their final five possessions saw them punt twice and turn the ball over on downs the other three times. Pregame ranking: 28
18. Independence Bowl
Houston 23, Louisiana 16: Sit down, and I'll tell you a tale of a man who didn't seem to care much about winning bowl games in his past but has changed his ways. That's right. After Dana Holgorsen went 2-6 in his first eight career bowl games, he's won two straight after his Coogs knocked off Louisiana in Shreveport. It was an impressive performance by the Cougars, who fell behind 13-0 in the first half but outscored the Ragin' Cajuns 17-0 in the second half. Houston put together a monster drive to finish it, too, going 92 yards in the final minutes. Clayton Tune hooked up with Tank Dell one last time on a 12-yard touchdown to give the Coogs a 23-16 lead with 20 seconds left. Also, we'll never forget Houston's kicking tee retriever, Hawk, who had one of the most incredible tee-retrieving performances the world has ever seen. Pregame ranking: 32
Hawk, Houston’s kicking tee retriever, just won MVP of the Independence Bowl with this performance pic.twitter.com/Z4GwU93Os6— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) December 23, 2022
17. LendingTree Bowl
Southern Miss 38, Rice 24: This game wasn't supposed to be very good, and in truth, it was not. However, it received some bonus credit in these rankings because it had something only one other bowl game had this season: a tie entering the fourth quarter. We'll get to the other game later (it's ranked much higher because it had other appealing attributes), but this one was never as close as it felt. Rice scored 21 points in the third quarter to make it a game, but Southern Miss dominated the rest of the way (including the fourth quarter), 31-3. Frank Gore Jr. was the star, rushing for an FBS bowl record 329 yards in the game. Gore got the people hyped, nobody more so than his auntie. Pregame ranking: 38
Lmao Frank Gore Jr telling his auntie to chill 💀pic.twitter.com/0yTDRJZRzo— Overtime (@overtime) December 18, 2022
16. Duke's Mayo Bowl
Maryland 16, No. 23 NC State 12: You into conspiracy theories? Because I've got a doozy of a conspiracy for you here. Before the game, both coaches -- Mike Locksley and Dave Doeren -- agreed to have a bucket of mayo dumped over their head to celebrate. There had been questions about whether they'd be willing to because, well, it's mayo on your head. But also because South Carolina coach Shane Beamer nearly suffered a traumatic brain injury when he got his mayo bath last season with a nice smack on the back of his head.
Anyway, both coaches agreed to the bath and then proceeded to coach this game as if they were doing everything in their power to avoid winning and getting the mayo bath. Locksley wearing the giant hat after the game and having to be coerced into removing it for the mayo only further convinces me this is what happened. This leads me to wonder if the Duke's Mayo Bowl should consider threatening the losing coach with a mayo bath next season. Give an added layer of motivation. In fact, what if every non-playoff bowl game found something unpleasant to dump over a coach's head if they lost? Might that lead to even better games? There's nothing wrong with asking questions, folks. Pregame ranking: 16
THEY DIDN’T HURT HIM! pic.twitter.com/l5fYIOE8G2— Duke's Mayo Bowl (@DukesMayoBowl) December 30, 2022
15. Boca Raton Bowl
Toledo 21, Liberty 19: This was a boring game for nearly the first 3.5 quarters of action, and it suddenly got interesting at the end. Liberty jumped to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter but Toledo took over from there, building a 21-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. Then Liberty woke from its slumber to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but a 2-point conversion attempt after a 67-yard touchdown pass to Bentley Hanshaw was no good to leave the score at 21-19. Liberty didn't attempt an onside kick with just under 4 minutes still to play, but the Flames never got the ball back. Toledo never even faced another third-down decision let alone a fourth down. Pregame ranking: 27
14. New Mexico Bowl
BYU 24, SMU 23: This game was ugly but close! Well, close-ish. BYU didn't do much of anything noteworthy on offense, but it had a 76-yard pick six and kept SMU from doing anything, which was more than enough. The Cougars had a 24-10 lead going into the fourth quarter, and things finally got interesting. After cutting it to a one-score game early in the quarter, SMU went on a 14-play, 88-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes. Jordan Kerley caught a 12-yard pass from Tanner Mordecai to make it 24-23, and the Mustangs had no desire to go to overtime. Unfortunately for them, the 2-point conversion attempt failed. Mordecai kept it on a draw and was stuffed a yard short to give BYU the victory. Pregame ranking: 24
13. Camellia Bowl
Buffalo 23, Georgia Southern 21: Listen, I'll never complain about bowl season because I love all the games, but as a whole, this bowl season was not amazing, and this game helps validate that judgement. The Camellia Bowl was fine. It was one of the few games that never saw either team build a double-digit lead, ensuring it was close and interesting throughout, but there wasn't much back-and-forth, either. Georgia Southern took a 3-0 lead. A few minutes later, Buffalo went ahead 7-3, and that was the last lead change. The Eagles tied it up early in the third, but the Bulls took the lead again a few minutes later. Also, it was a two-score game for most of the fourth quarter before Southern scored to make it somewhat interesting in the final minutes. And that's good enough to earn No. 13 this season. Pregame ranking: 34
12. Bahamas Bowl
UAB 24, Miami OH 20: Bahamas Bowl, I owe you an apology. I ranked you 40th before the games began, and little did I know it at the time, but not only was the game you gave us to start bowl season entertaining but it would prove to be one of the more entertaining games of the season. I hope you'll forgive me with a free trip to the Bahamas Bowl next season, not so I can spend a week with all my expenses paid on your beautiful island but so I can get a better idea of what the Bahamas Bowl is all about and do a better job of ranking it next year.
This game had nearly everything you could hope for from two average teams with nothing to lose. UAB took an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Miami fought back to take a 13-10 lead in the third quarter and then the two teams traded scores and the lead three more times in the fourth quarter. Finally, Jermaine Brown Jr. capped a big day (116 yards rushing, 2 TD) with a 12-yard, game-winning score to give the Blazers the 24-20 lead with 80 seconds left to play. Pregame ranking: 40
11. Holiday Bowl
No. 15 Oregon 28, North Carolina 27: I expected a lot more points in this game than we got. Everybody did. The total for it closed at 76.5, but while the offenses failed to meet those lofty expectations, we were still provided with an entertaining game. My Cover 3 Podcast co-host and North Carolina Super Fan Chip Patterson has maintained since last spring that the Tar Heels now live with the Coach K Curse. They beat Coach K in his final home game at Duke, and then in his final game, knocked the Blue Devils out of the Final Four. Chip says that to pay the price for all that joy, the Heels are doomed to lose in heartbreaking fashion for a while. This game is another example of Chip's psychic powers.
The Tar Heels took a 24-14 lead early in the fourth, only to see Oregon cut it to a 24-21 game with seven minutes left. Not to worry, though, as the Heels responded with a long touchdown drive to make it 27-21 with 2:29 left, but the field goal wasn't enough. They needed the touchdown because Oregon went 79 yards in 2:10 before Bo Nix found Chase Cota for a 6-yard TD pass with 19 seconds left to win the game. Pregame ranking: 6
THE DUCKS SCORE 🦆@oregonfootball pic.twitter.com/YENGnpB5X0— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 29, 2022
10. Gator Bowl
No. 21 Notre Dame 45, No. 19 South Carolina 38: When discussing the LendingTree Bowl earlier, I mentioned it was one of only two bowl games to enter the fourth quarter with a tie score this season. This was the other, and was the much better game, which is why it cracks our top 10. The Gator Bowl offered much more excitement thanks to all the points scored and back-and-forth shootout nature. While the lead only officially changed hands once, there were three game-tying touchdowns in the final 16 minutes.
South Carolina came out hot, taking a 21-7 lead in the first quarter, but it turns out the Fighting Irish simply wanted to make up for blowing a huge lead against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl last year. This time, the Irish stormed back to tie it early in the third quarter. The Irish took their first lead early in the fourth, going ahead 38-31, and were poised to put it away a few minutes later. Instead, Tyler Buchner was picked off at the goal line, and O'Donnell Fortune (what a name) took it back 100 yards for the pick six to tie the game at 38. It was the second pick six of the day for the Gamecocks, but it wasn't enough. Buchner would recover and lead the Irish on an 80-yard touchdown drive, throwing the game-winning score to Mitchell Evans with 1:38 left. Pregame ranking: 22
Buchner to Evans— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) December 31, 2022
Back up 7️⃣#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/59Slvz5F9K
9. Hawaii Bowl
Middle Tennessee 25, San Diego State 23: OK, hand up. I barely saw any of this game. I'm sorry, but it's played on Christmas Eve, and I spend Christmas Eve at my sister's house with family. Most of the time, there aren't NFL games being played that night, so I can get away with putting the Hawaii Bowl on the television and keeping an eye on it. That wasn't the case this year, and I had difficulty convincing my family that a game between Middle Tennessee and San Diego State was more worthy of their attention than the NFL game that was on at the time. There's only so much I can do. That said, the game looked pretty good! I'm sorry I missed it! It was one of four bowl games this year to feature five lead changes (none had more), and neither team ever led by more than two scores. Pregame ranking: 33
8. Sun Bowl
Pittsburgh 37, No. 18 UCLA 35: If I were to ever rank bowl days instead of bowl games, the day this game was played would've been No. 1 easy. Five games were played on Friday, Dec. 30, and the Orange Bowl (the biggest one) is the only one ranked outside the top 16 bowls (No. 31). The rest were all good-to-great, and the Sun Bowl skewed great. The game was exciting and entertaining throughout with both teams throwing haymakers and trading leads numerous times, but it truly got nuts in the fourth quarter.
Pitt seemed to have taken control, erasing a 28-14 deficit to take a 34-28 lead on a 27-yard field goal with 4:24 left. Then the Bruins, without starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who had left the game with an injury earlier in the half, went on an eight-play, 70-yard touchdown drive with backup Ethan Garbers. T.J. Harden finished it with an 8-yard TD run to give the Bruins a 35-34 lead with 34 seconds left. The celebration was on, though it turned out to be premature. Nick Patti and the Panthers got the ball back, quickly drove into field goal range and Ben Sauls drilled the 47-yard, game-winning field goal with four seconds left. It was an absolute roller coaster ride of a finish. Pregame ranking: 13
PITT CALLED SAULS @bsauls22 #H2P » @TonyTheTigerSB pic.twitter.com/Cv3COuED5c— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) December 30, 2022
7. Frisco Bowl
Boise State 35, North Texas 32: The Frisco Bowl got lost in the shuffle a bit because it was played on the first Saturday of the bowl season, and it had the latest kick, but I hope you caught it. Odds are you didn't because the game got off to a slow start with North Texas ahead 10-6 at halftime. It was then, I assume, a lot of casual viewers decided to do something else with their time, which was a mistake on their part because the second half was exhilarating.
There was a 36-point third quarter that saw Boise take a 28-24 lead behind Taylen Green. They'd extend the lead to 35-24 in the fourth before North Texas went on a 90-yard touchdown drive to cut it to 35-32 with 8:17 left. Sadly, it never got closer. Boise State's defense and special teams took over and pinned the Mean Green inside their own 20 on their final two possessions while choking the life out of the game. Pregame ranking: 36
6. Arizona Bowl
Ohio 30, Wyoming 27: The final thriller from the historic Friday, Dec. 30 slate of bowl games. The Arizona Bowl was incredible and had everything you could want. There were five lead changes, and neither team led by more than seven points. It was a one-point game heading into the fourth quarter, and the final 5 minutes provided a ton of excitement.
First, Ohio extended its lead to 21-17 with a 45-yard field goal with 4:17 left. Wyoming responded with a 75-yard TD drive to take a 24-21 lead with 2:04 left. It was the Cowboys' first lead since going up 17-11 just before halftime. The Bobcats would respond with a quick drive into field goal range, and Nathanial Vakos drilled his third FG of the evening with a 46-yarder to tie it up with four seconds left. The game went to overtime (one of only two bowls to do so), where the Bobcats got the stop they needed. They held Wyoming to a field goal, allowing C.J. Harris to hit Tyler Foster in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard, game-winning touchdown on their first possession. Also, special credit to the announcing crew in this game, who were very unbiased in their reactions. True journalists. Pregame ranking: 21
Can you believe it! OHIO! Tyler Foster wins the first ever Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl!!!!! #BarstoolAZBowl pic.twitter.com/vzN80JV6ST— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) December 31, 2022
5. Fiesta Bowl
No. 3 TCU 51, No. 2 Michigan 45: OK, so I know what you're thinking. This was one of the two most exciting College Football Playoff semifinals we've ever seen, and it should be ranked higher than No. 5. I hear you, but while this game -- paired with the Peach Bowl -- gave us the greatest day of semifinals, there's one key aspect it was lacking. As hectic as it got and as unexpected as the final result may have been, the lead never changed hands. TCU took a 7-0 lead on Bud Clark's first-quarter pick six and never gave it up. Michigan never even managed to tie the game.
The game was still incredible, though, at least when players from both teams weren't slipping and sliding all over the place as if they were playing on an ice rink. Though I suppose you could argue the turf was a feature, not a bug, because it helped provide us with a 44-point third quarter. The game was so fun that I don't mind looking past some of the terrible calls by the officials, but I didn't have a dog in the fight. It's much easier for me to say that now than it is for a Michigan fan.
In the end, try as it might, Michigan couldn't overcome its mistakes. TCU was simply too good of a team to let them do so, and as the Horned Frogs did all season, they responded to a punch in the face by punching right back. Truly a Fiesta Bowl for the ages. Pregame ranking: 2
4. Cheez-It Bowl
No. 13 Florida State 35, Oklahoma 32: The rematch of the 2001 BCS Championship Game for which we waited over 20 years! This was the kind of bowl game you love in that it gave both teams reasons to feel good about themselves heading into next season, even if only one team emerged victorious. For Florida State, you can argue no team in the ACC had a stronger finish to the season, and this win gives the Seminoles even more momentum heading into 2023. For the Sooners, you can't spin the 2022 season as anything other than a failure. It's the first time the Sooners finished with a losing record since going 5-7 in 1998, the season before Bob Stoops was hired. Still, this game showed plenty of signs for how good the Sooners can be next year.
Offseason narratives aside, the game itself was just a lot of fun. It was high-scoring with a lot of exciting plays, and the fourth quarter was nonstop drama. Oklahoma took a 25-18 lead early in the quarter; the Noles responded right away to tie the game at 25-25 and then took a 32-25 lead a few minutes later. It was then Oklahoma's turn to respond with a 75-yard touchdown drive to tie the game one more time at 32-32. Finally, with the game on the line, Florida State drove into field goal range, and Ryan Fitzgerald kicked the game-winning 32-yarder with 55 seconds left to send the Noles home with all the Cheez-Its. Pregame ranking: 11
3. Liberty Bowl
Arkansas 55, Kansas 53: There were only two bowl games that went to overtime this year, but the Jayhawks and Razorbacks were kind enough to give us three in one game. As you could probably guess after looking at the final score, this was the highest-scoring bowl game of the season with 108 points. The 96-point Fiesta Bowl was second, and we'll get to the third-highest-scoring game here momentarily. What makes this game even more memorable is that we did not look destined for drama early on. Arkansas led 24-7 after the first quarter, and when Kansas scored a touchdown just before halftime to make it a 31-13 game, my initial reaction was, "That will give them something to feel good about going to the locker room at least."
I did not expect what was to come.
The second half started with Arkansas extending its lead to 38-13 with 8:43 left in the third quarter. The Jayhawks then spent the final 24 minutes of the game erasing the 25-point deficit. Kansas cut Arkansas' lead to 38-23 with 14:07 left, but it wasn't until there were 65 seconds left to play that the Jayhawks scored a touchdown to make it 38-30. Kansas then went with an onside kick, and I don't know if Arkansas' internet went out or something, but the Razorbacks looked like they lost connection as they just stared at the ball rolling toward them. Kansas, meanwhile, did not. The Jayhawks pounced on the ball and went 50 yards for a quick strike. Jalon Daniels hit Luke Arnold for the 2-point conversion and off to overtime we went.
Arkansas got its internet back, and once we got to the third overtime 2-point shootout, the Hogs got a stop, and Kansas didn't. The game ended with 108 points, 1,284 yards of offense, five lead changes and one 25-point, second-half comeback. It was a game worthy of a No. 1 ranking but has to settle for No. 3. Pregame ranking: 18
2. Cotton Bowl
No. 16 Tulane 46, No. 10 USC 45: Don't say I didn't try to warn you before the games were played. I ranked this at No. 5 in the pre-bowl rankings and said that some people were bound to look at a matchup between USC and Tulane and dismiss the Green Wave, but there was a reason Tulane was only a 2-point underdog when the game opened. No matter how good Caleb Williams and the USC offense play, the Trojans defense is still cheeks, making it impossible for them to pull away from good teams. So, what happened here?
Well, Williams and Co. were awesome as the Trojans racked up 594 yards of offense with the Heisman Trophy winner throwing for 462 yards and five touchdowns. But Tulane has awesome players, too. Michael Pratt threw for 234 yards and two scores against USC while also rushing for 83 yards. Tyjae Spears has been one of the best players in the country all season, and he was up against an awful run defense, so things went as you'd expect as he rushed for 205 yards and four touchdowns, including three in the second half.
Oh, and there was a special teams blunder in the final minutes that buried USC at its 1-yard line and led to a safety that made it a 45-39 game. The moment it happened, we all knew what was coming. Tulane was going to go on a long touchdown drive to pull off the upset. And indeed, that's exactly what happened. The Green Wave went 66 yards in 12 plays before Pratt hit Alex Bauman for the 6-yard touchdown. There weren't enough laterals in the world that would have saved USC afterward. Pregame ranking: 5
1. Peach Bowl
No. 1 Georgia 42, No. 4 Ohio State 41: This was the greatest College Football Playoff game of all time. I had high expectations for it going in, and it surpassed them all. Ohio State was largely written off after losing to Michigan to finish its regular season, but it came out like a team on a mission. Every criticism it heard in the six weeks since the Michigan loss, it took to heart and set out to improve upon them. It did. C.J. Stroud was brilliant against one of the best defenses in the country, evading pressure and making fantastic throws. The Buckeyes had the defending champions on the ropes late, taking a 38-24 lead into the fourth quarter. It looked as though we were going to get the least-expected title game matchup of all, but never count out a champion.
The fourth quarter began, and after struggling for so much of the game, Stetson Bennett IV and the Georgia offense came to life in the final frame. The biggest play was on a blown coverage as Bennett found a wide -- and I mean WIDE -- open Arian Smith for a 76-yard touchdown pass to cut Ohio State's lead to 38-35. Ohio State answered with a field goal to go up 41-35 with 2:43 left, but it wasn't enough. Bennett led another touchdown drive, finding Adonai Mitchell for a 10-yard touchdown with 54 seconds left. Still, that wasn't the end of the drama.
Ohio State responded and drove into Georgia territory as time dwindled. Then, as everybody in the Eastern Time Zone counted down the final seconds of 2022, kicker Noah Ruggles' 50-yard field goal attempt sailed well left of the uprights. The game was over. The timing was impecable.
Stroud finished with 348 yards passing and four touchdowns. Both Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. finished with over 100 yards receiving. But it wasn't enough. Bennett had 398 yards, and Georgia scored as many points as needed and not a point more. This was a game between two of the best teams in the country playing at an elite level, and it was incredible. I'll never forget it. Pregame ranking: 1