College bowls leave many teams with satisfied smiles
SHEPHERDSTOWN — This coming Monday, the winner of the LSU vs. Clemson game will be the happiest team when all the kickoffs and trips to Dixie’s sunny shores have been counted.
The national championship will have been decided on the field. No more polls that leave undefeated teams finishing with a No. 2 or No. 3 ranking.
The loser of that game will mutter “what could have been,” but both those juggernauts have recruited very well this winter and will be be primed for another run at the national title in 2020.
Many of the other bowl participants were almost as happy as the prize-winning national champion.
In the largest bowls, those with decades-long prestige and gigantic paydays, it was Georgia downing Baylor in the Sugar Bowl to wipe away much of the stain received from being drowned by LSU in the SEC championship game; then came Oregon’s one-point win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Oregon has been troubled by coaching problems in recent years before landing on top of the mountain in the last two seasons.
Florida, which was mired in losses before 2018, won in the Orange Bowl over Virginia. The Wahoos will settle for a southern trip and national recognition any time.
Penn State smothered upstart Memphis, 53-39, in the Cotton Bowl where the weather wasn’t dreadful.
Some of the more magical moments in the bowls of less stature came at Tulane when the Green Wave defeated Southern Mississippi in the Armed Forces Bowl and in the Military Bowl, where North Carolina cruised past Temple, 55-13.
Tulane is a prestigious icon in educational circles and rarely tweaks the nose of its football opponents. North Carolina had won two games in 2018 and three games in 2017, so its thrashing of Temple completed a satisfying year.
Liberty was in its first season of competing with the schools with large stadiums, large student bodies and wide streams of money. The Flames topped Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl.
Schools from the Brutal Winter Belt that found themselves in San Diego and Tampa to spend their vacations were Iowa and Minnesota. Iowa drubbed Southern California in the Holiday Bowl and up-and-coming Minnesota bested Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Going to a sun-splashed area, and winning the games were a double-bonus for followers of the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers.
Louisiana Tech posted a 14-0 win over Miami of Florida in the Independence Bowl, causing the Hurricanes to promptly fire their offensive coordinator.
Navy not only snapped a three-game losing streak to Army, but also beat Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl to restore confidence by the Severn River in Annapolis, and also claim the Commander in Chief Trophy that had resided in a case at West Point for three winters.
In the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, Kentucky edged Virginia Tech, 31-30, to send long-time Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster into retirement with loss.
The Air Force Academy, which once again lost to Navy, won a 31-21 decision over Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl.
The Big Orange at Tennessee won its last three regular season games to qualify for the Florida-based Gator Bowl. The Vols trailed, 22-9, to Indiana before scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to win 23-22 and complete a season with an 8-5 record.
And Alabama, carrying two losses for the first time in a while, bullied Michigan with a second-half offensive performance, to win 35-16 over a team whose coach belittled the Southeastern Conference in pre-season remarks.
LSU or Clemson will have the broadest grins late Monday night, but other teams will still be smiling when fall football practice begins anew in August.