by Rob Joyce
There’s just one game left in the 2017 college football season, and it will be an all-SEC affair when Alabama and Georgia meet next Monday night in the national championship game in Atlanta. The 41-game bowl slate was a bit of a dud compared to prior years, with 18 games decided by 10-or-more points, but that doesn’t mean the season as a whole lacked excitement.
From New Years’ Six bowls to smaller games between Group of Five programs, here are the five postseason games that, from a purely football standpoint, were the most exciting to watch:
5) Arizona Bowl:
The only game to go to overtime, New Mexico State and Utah State – both nicknamed the Aggies – traded kickoff returns for touchdowns in the first quarter, and back-and-forth they went. Three ties and a lead change later, the two went to overtime. Utah State missed a field goal, meaning New Mexico State only needed a three-pointer of their own to win. They got a touchdown instead, when Larry Rose went 21 yards to pay dirt for the 26-20 victory.
4) Music City Bowl:
There was a lot going on in Nashville. Kentucky’s best player, running back Benny Snell, was ejected for (very light) contact with an official. Northwestern’s leading tackler was ejected for targeting in the second quarter. Both starting quarterbacks got hurt in the first half.
Then there was the matter of coaching – up 24-17 with 2:39 left at his own 39, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald chose to go for it on fourth down and got stuffed. That allowed Kentucky to score a touchdown with :37 left. Instead of kicking the extra point and tying it up, UK went for the two-point conversion and the win. They failed, giving Northwestern the 24-23 win.
The (NW) Wildcats end the year on an eight-game win streak and win back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.
3) Birmingham Bowl:
USF was the one many in the preseason predicted would be in UCF’s shoes, but a 10-2 regular season meant they’d face Texas Tech in Alabama. For two high-powered offenses, the game was surprisingly low-scoring heading into halftime, tied at 10. The Red Raiders took a 24-17 advantage into the quarter, the Bulls tied it early in the quarter, thus commencing the shootout.
Over the final 5:02 there were 24 points scored. The highlights were TJ Vasher’s 25-yard score with 1:31 left to give Texas Tech a 34-31 lead. Then Quinton Flowers capped his brilliant collegiate career with a seven-play, 75-yard drive, including the winning 26-yard touchdown with :16 left to pull out the 38-34 USF victory.
2) Belk Bowl:
Defense was optional in Charlotte on Dec. 29. In fact, it was discouraged when Wake Forest met Texas A&M. In a game that saw 1,260 yards of total offense, 63 first downs and 14 touchdowns, it was the Demon Deacons that made the one defensive stop needed to come out on top 55-52. Individually, Wake quarterback John Wolford threw for 400 yards and four scores, along with 68 yards rushing. His counterpart at A&M, Nick Starkel had 499 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
1) Rose Bowl:
It’s hard to top last year’s 52-49 affair between USC and Penn State, but Georgia and Oklahoma managed to do so. After the Sooners jumped out to a 31-17 halftime lead, the Bulldogs ripped off 21 straight points to take a 38-31 lead, then back-and-forth it went. A scoop-and-score gave Oklahoma a 45-38 lead, but Georgia responded with a touchdown drive, so to overtime we went for the first time in Rose Bowl history.
In the extra session the two teams traded field goals. In double overtime OU’s 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked, meaning all UGA needed was a field goal of their own to advance. Instead, Sony Michel sprinted 27 yards to the end zone to thrust the Bulldogs into the championship game, 54-48.