• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

The best moments of college football’s 2023 bowl season


“I’m up to my a– in bowls, bowls, all types bowls.
Chips and mints and seashell bowls.
My mom’s got bowls for everything.
Potpourri and nuts and everything.
Bowl on the toilet.
Bowl on the shelf.
Bowl of M&M’s and I can help myself …”

— “Back Home Baller,” Leslie Jones

With all due respect to Mom, no one loves bowls more than us. Since my beloved Myrtle Beach Bowl kicked off on the teal turf of Conway, South Carolina, three weeks ago, we’ve been bowling like Pete Weber, from New Orleans and New Mexico to the Big Apple and San Francisco. A Santa’s bag of college football filled with everything from touchdown passes and spiffy new uniforms to mind-blowing comebacks and intestine-blowing servings of sideline french fries dipped in mayonnaise.

Even for us, the folks who live for bowls, it can be a lot to track. After all, there were 42 games played over a span of 16 days. So now, as we await the last contest on the calendar Monday night, here’s a look back at the best and worst of the 2023-24 bowl season.

Yes, we are aware the Rose Bowl went to OT. Heck, I was standing on the sideline. However, when it comes to pure entertainment, it is difficult to top the show put on by the Tigers and Wildcats, who slugged through the first half but then scored a combined 42 points in the fourth quarter with five lead changes, including three in the final 4:20, ultimately won by Clemson with 17 seconds remaining.

If history looks back on the Dawgs’ demolition of TCU at the start of 2023 as the moment that spurred College Football Playoff expansion, then perhaps it will also remember their last game of the same year as the contest that validated that expansion. There’s no question Georgia deserved a spot among the nation’s best teams in the postseason, and there’s also no question Florida State’s mass exodus after the Seminoles were left out was a result of the same feelings. Either way, the Orange Bowl was over in 10 minutes and we were all forced to watch Hallmark holiday movies with our families whom we’d been ignoring all month.

Best bowl performance: Jason Bean, QB, Kansas

In the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, aka the Hey, Didn’t You Both Used To Be In The Bottom 10 All The Time? Bowl, between Kansas and UNLV, the Jayhawks quarterback threw for 449 yards and six touchdowns after throwing only a dozen TD passes during the regular season. He locked up the 49-36 win over the Rebels even with a trio of INTs and a whopping 18 team penalties, including four personal fouls, adding up to 210 yards. He also added 21 yards rushing. It was the best holiday season performance for a Mr. Bean this side of the department store clerk in “Love Actually.”

Worst bowl performance by someone not named Florida State: Cure Bowl — Miami (Ohio) and Appalachian State

The RedHawks fell to the Mountaineers 13-9 in the midst of a Noah’s ark kind of rain. The teams combined for 13 fumbles, the most in any bowl game since the 1977 Independence Bowl. In related news, the football from the 2023 Cure Bowl declared independence from gloves.

Most explosive bowl performance: Independence Bowl

Speaking of the I-Bowl, that game ended with more fireworks than New Year’s Eve at Disney World. To be clear, that’s not a metaphor. I’m talking about actual fireworks.

Best bowl perk: Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR hot laps, Duke’s Mayo Bowl

Yeah, I know, I write this every year. But it’s still true.

Most meta bowl perk: bowl bowlers bowling

This “Inception”-like trend started early as the Myrtle Beach Bowl teams went bowling. Then it peaked with the Military Bowl presented by GoBowling.com. Speaking of the Military Bowl …

Best name from a bowl: Slade Nagle

Nagle was handed the interim head coach reins for the Military Bowl after Tulane head coach Willie Fritz bolted for Houston. Not only does Slade Nagle’s name sound like it belongs to someone who just suplexed Brock Lesnar to win the WWE world heavyweight championship, the dude is giant, has a fire-red beard and used to be the quarterbacks coach for the Dodge City Community College Conquistadors. When “Yellowstone” is done, I fully expect Taylor Sheridan to make a movie about Slade Nagle.

Best reminder that rivalries never stop: Jerry Kill’s post-New Mexico Bowl rant

The only aspect of bowl season more explosive than the Independence Bowl’s arsenal was Kill’s temper. The head coach of the New Mexico State Aggies took umbrage with what he believed was unfair treatment from bowl host and archrival New Mexico and used some curse words to express those feelings. The Rio Grande Rivalry never sleeps! In his tirade, Kill threatened to stop coaching and go to Mexico to “drink margaritas.” The next week he indeed stepped down. No word yet on the margarita situation.

Biggest temper WTH: Eastern Michigan after the 68 Ventures Bowl

EMU’s Korey Hernandez interrupted South Alabama’s post-victory alma mater moment when he ran across the field and decked Jags defensive back Jamarrien Burt. A brawl broke out as the band played on. Hernandez has since apologized. In the end, anyone ever thinking about fighting needs to thank Hernandez. Why? He gave us all a reminder that no matter how mad you are, you never start a fight when surrounded by 60 guys wearing the same uniform as the guy that you just sucker punched!



Postgame fight breaks out after sucker punch from Eastern Michigan player

Eastern Michigan’s Korey Hernandez runs across the field and sucker punches South Alabama’s Jamarrien Burt in the back of the head.

Best postgame food bath: egg nog, Holiday Bowl

Thank or blame the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, but postgame food showers are now the postseason norm, from french fries and Frosted Flakes to UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor, after being asked about his memories from the Roadrunners’ win over Marshall in the Scooter’s Coffee Frisco Bowl, saying, “I’ll always remember that coffee running down my back.” But the new kid on the supermarket (dump the) bucket list has emerged from one of the oldest games, the Holiday Bowl, which unapologetically now dumps “nog on the noggin'” of the winning coach. When they posted a slo-mo video of Lincoln Riley’s splashdown, it ended up coming off like a scene from a “Saw” movie.

Best postgame food bath homage: Duke’s Mayo Bowl

If you are mad that we slighted the OG water bucket food dump ceremony, don’t worry. These West Virginia fans have you covered. They also have their kids covered. In mayo.

Best use of food-related prop: the turnover kabob

Arizona upset Oklahoma in the Valero Alamo Bowl thanks in no small part to six takeaways — three fumbles and three interceptions. After every turnover, the Wildcats stack another flattened football with their opponents’ logo onto a cactus-shaped sword.

Worst sound: Gronk’s anthem

If you think that nog audio was bad, then whatever you do, DO NOT hit play on Rob Gronkowski singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Starco Brands LA Bowl Hosted By Gronk.

The E. King Gill 12th Man award: Sam Mathews, Texas A&M

Just two years ago, Mathews was tailgating with his buddies in College Station when they convinced him to try out for the Aggies football team. Not only did he make the team but when he was pressed into service because of a flu outbreak in 2022, he recorded six tackles against Florida. So this season the team decided to bestow upon him the coveted No. 12, in honor of the school’s legendary 12th Man tradition. When these post-Jimbo Fisher Aggies showed up shorthanded for the Texas Bowl due to opt-outs, Mathews started. And even in a loss, his interception will go down in A&M 12th Man lore.

Best comeback: Western Kentucky, Famous Toastery Bowl

The Hilltoppers trailed Old Dominion by 28 points in the opening minutes of the second quarter and were down 21 at the start of the fourth, but came back to tie the game with 19 seconds remaining and won in OT. They were led to the toasted promised land by quarterback Caden Veltkamp, who had already decided to transfer at season’s end after being told by WKU coaches he should move to tight end. Instead, he came off the bench in Charlotte to throw for 383 yards and five TDs and was carried off the field by his teammates, a la Rudy. Now he’ll be back on the Hill overlooking Bowling Green, Kentucky, next season.

Best comeback of a different sort: Davis Brin, QB, Georgia Southern

Brin won the Myrtle Beach Bowl MVP in 2021 as the quarterback at Tulsa. Then he turned in a fantastic (albeit losing) effort in the 2023 Myrtle Beach Bowl as QB of Georgia Southern, throwing for 350 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio. This marks the greatest return performance in Myrtle Beach since my high school classmate Dirty McCall won back-to-back shag dancing contests at the Magic Attic and earned two free airbrushed T-shirts and a bucket of saltwater taffy.

You the real MVP of bowl season MVP award: the Pop-Tart

The legacy of edible mascots during bowl season goes back to the Blooming Onion, who used to stalk the sidelines of the Outback Bowl, which is now the decidedly less greasy ReliaQuest Bowl. But with the greatest respect to Spuddy Buddy, the bushy-eyed jar of Duke’s Mayo, the Cheez-It who made it very clear he was not to be eaten, or any other would-be delicious furry football hero, no one stole hearts and headlines like the Pop-Tart. It danced, it performed, it descended into a giant toaster and was cooked so that it could be devoured by the Pop-Tart Bowl winning Kansas State Wildcats. RIP Pop-Tart. Thank you for your bowl season service.

Until next year, keep on bowling, y’all.


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