The college football bowls season from A to Z …

A is for Alabama, which played defense in the Sugar Bowl the way Alabama is supposed to play defense. When those guys tackle you, you are sure-enough tackled. However, I don’t think it’s fair that Sugar Bowl officials allowed Bama to continuously use 14 players on defense.

B is for Big 10. For all the bragging we will hear for the next week in this part of the country, the Big 10 had by far the best bowls record at 7-1 and won half of the New Year’s Six bowls.

C is for Cam, as in Florida State running back Cam Akers, from Clinton, who ran for 94 yards on just 13 carries against Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl to go over 1,000 yards on the season and become the Seminoles’ all-time leading freshman runner.

D is for defense, which was AWOL in the Rose Bowl where Georgia and Oklahoma combined for 102 points, 1,058 yards, 559 yards rushing, 45 first downs and only two turnovers in Georgia’s thrilling, 54-48 victory.

E is for Egg Bowl. Ole Miss, banned from post-season bowls, made the best of that situation.

F is for Fromm, Jake Fromm, Georgia’s freshman quarterback, who will see every blitz package in the book against Alabama in the championship game. For Georgia to win, he’ll have to make plays. The Bulldogs won’t run on Alabama as they did against Oklahoma.

G is for Group of Five, which is what the conferences are called that the Power Five leagues are threatening to price out of the game. Central Florida won one for the little guys, beating Auburn 34-27 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. That’s Auburn, who beat both Alabama and Georgia, the two teams that will play for the national championship. So where do you put Central Florida, 13-0, in the final poll? No. 3?

H is for high-priced. You want to go to the College Football Playoff National Championship game? It will cost you $2,000 per ticket. Might I suggest a new SEC slogan: “It just costs more.”

Southern Miss running back Ito Smith runs into the FSU defense in the Walk On’s Independence Bowl. Florida State defeated Southern Miss 42-13. Credit: Kevin Langley / Cal Sport Media via AP

I is for Ito, as in Southern Miss running back Ito Smith, who made himself some money with a splendid performance against Florida State’s talented defense. He ran for 92 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 26 yards. Jay Hopson also chose to showcase his kick return skills to NFL scouts and he excelled there. USM will have a most difficult time replacing this remarkable player.

J is for Jeffery as in defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State’s best player. Louisville could not do anything with him in the Taxslayer Bowl. He dominated even when double-teamed. He caved the Cardinals’ line is what he did.

K is for Knox, Greg Knox. All things considered – including a skeleton staff, a back-up, true freshman quarterback and a dreadful end to the regular season – no coach did a better job in the bowls. Knox deserves mountains of credit for State’s 31-27 victory over Louisville.

L is for the little guys. Group of Five teams played seven bowl games against Power Five teams. The Group of Five won four of those.

M is for Mayfield, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is a joy to watch. His journey from walk-on, scout team quarterback to Heisman Trophy winner is Hollywood-like.

N is for Navy, as in Navy 42, Virginia 7. I truly love to watch Army (42-35 over San Diego State), Navy and Air Force achieve what they achieve in college football.

O is for one-handed. Did you happen to see Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin make that leaping, one-handed snag and then juke LSU defenders en route to the winning touchdown in the Citrus Bowl? I did. I still don’t believe he did that.

P is for Penn State, which probably has a stable of running backs, but might have to wait a long time, if not forever, before it has another like Saquon Barkley, who will kill it in the NFL.

Q is for question, and the one question everyone had for Ed Orgeron was why he kicked a field goal on fourth and inches at the Notre Dame goal line with the score tied at 14 with 2:07 left in the Citrus Bowl. After all, field goals are a crapshoot for the Tigers. They made that one, but it wasn’t enough. “I didn’t think they could score,” Orgeron said. “I thought we could stop them.” Miles Boykin proved him wrong.

R is for respectability, which the SEC regained – and then some – when Alabama and Georgia both won in the semifinals. Until then, the proud SEC was 2-5 in bowl games. By the way, the last time the SEC had a losing record in bowl games was 2003 when the league went 3-4.

S is for Sunshine as in the Sunshine State. Florida didn’t qualify for a bowl, but Central Florida beat Auburn, Florida State beat USM, South Florida beat Texas Tech and Florida Atlantic beat Akron. Do they grow more football players or citrus down there?

T is for Thompson, Mississippi State freshman quarterback Keytaon Thompson which I hope spellcheck will not change this time. He was brilliant against the ‘Ville, running for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Incoming coach Joe Moorhead knew what he had in Nick Fitzgerald. Now he knows there’s little dropoff with Thompson.

U is for underdog. SEC champion Georgia is a four-point underdog to Alabama, which did not qualify to play in the SEC Championship game.

V is for victories. With its Sugar Bowl victory over Clemson, Alabama now has 39 bowl victories, the most of any college football program. Southern Cal is second with 34. Georgia is third with 31.

W is for Williams, Mississippi State’s talented running back Aeris Williams, who ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries against Louisville. He has a chance to be State’s version of Saquon Barkley in Moorhead’s offense. That’s saying something.

X is for X-factor. That’s what Alabama punter JK Scott is for the Crimson Tide. Seems almost unfair that a team with so much five-star talent all over the field gets to bring in this freakishly effective punter on fourth down.

Y is for you. You think there are too many bowl games? You don’t have to watch.

Z is for zebras. Isn’t college football so much more fun when the zebras “let them play,” as they did in both semifinal games? I’ll say it is.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

3 replies on “26 lessons learned from the college football bowl season”

  1. I have never understood people saying, “Let the players play.” That sentence equals “Refs, stop doing your job. Refs, stop enforcing the rule book.”
    The best players are those who can ascend to greatness while abiding by the rule book.

  2. Rick you could have made ‘E’ for error that the ref’s made in the Gator Bowl. For the personal foul call made on McLaurin, when he hit Jalen Smith of UL while he was clearly in-bounds and then clearly fumbled the ball. Forget the Eggbowl stuff.

  3. Lol @ “E”.

    Poor little Rebels. They spent all that money on recruits and all they have to show for it is an Egg Bowl trophy lolololol.

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