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Ashway: Recapping the highlights, lowlights of bowl season
Denton Ashway

We just witnessed a bowl season unlike any other, which followed a college football season unlike any other, which ended a year unlike any other. May we never go through anything like this again.

But here we are, against all odds, anticipating a national championship game that will hopefully prove much more compelling that the two semifinals. We’ve made it to the finish line, something we couldn’t envision back in August.

And let’s pause right here and thank the Southeastern Conference for leading the way to this encounter between Alabama and Ohio State. Instead of following the lead of the Big Ten and Pac-12, the SEC blazed its own course. As a result, we got to have a college football season, truncated though it was.

Likewise, the Bowl Season found itself in abbreviated form, with 25 games played and 16 canceled. But we witnessed no shortage of surprises, oddities, and strange behavior. To wit:

“It’s not me, it’s them.” It was bad enough that his Florida team didn’t show up for its Cotton Bowl appearance against Oklahoma. But you don’t sow team unity and camaraderie or endear yourself to boosters by throwing your entire team under the bus.

Dan Mullen’s post-game debriefing included these choice lines: “The last game the 2020 team played was 11 days ago.” Ouch. Then this: “I thought our scout team guys played well.” Rolling now. A lament ensued: “We didn’t have to play.”

Hey coach, guess what: Your team didn’t play! The 55-20 loss was a debacle in every sense. But be a man, stand up, and take the blame. Say you didn’t have the team ready to play, say you got outcoached, say anything along those lines, and move on. Instead of gaining a modicum of respect, you somehow managed to exacerbate an awful situation.

What have you done for us lately? Apparently, blasting Colorado, 55-23, in the Alamo Bowl wasn’t enough to save Texas coach Tom Herman’s job. Perhaps the fact that the Longhorns were playing in the Alamo Bowl and not the Sugar Bowl was the key factor. And give the Texas powers that be credit for envisioning the ‘Horns beating Oklahoma and vying for national titles. As they should. The Texas program generates more revenue from college football than any in the country.

Now Steve Sarkisian, apparently on stand-by, takes over, the fourth Texas coach in a dozen years. Suggestion: win. Win big. And beat Oklahoma.

Wanna mouth off? Then back it up, part 1: Indiana had a nice season. I liked their team. It’s been a long time since Indiana football was more than a mere diversion until basketball season. The Hoosiers had a gripe with the Big Ten about allowing Ohio State to play in the conference championship game despite only playing five times. Then Northwestern got a better bowl bid.

So, the Hoosiers protested by covering up the Big 10 logos on their Outback Bowl jerseys and helmets. Hey, guys, your protest would carry more weight if you hadn’t lost to a 4-5 Ole Miss team.

Wanna mouth off? Then back it up, part 2: This is America. Everyone is entitled to espouse their opinion. But if you’re Dabo Swinney, you don’t belabor the fact that you ranked Ohio State 11th in your final coaches’ poll ballot. We don’t know that Swinney’s bulletin board quotes made any difference, but we do know that Ohio State played a lights-out game, with unwavering focus. I don’t believe there were 10 teams in the country that could’ve beaten them on New Year’s night, but we certainly know one that couldn’t.

So much for the eye test: The playoff committee thought so much of the ACC that half of its chosen four were conference members. They lost by a combined 38 points in a pair of pillow-over-the-head games. But they weren’t alone. North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest and Miami all rose to the challenge of insuring that the ACC would finish with a perfect 0-6 bowl record.

Wish we’d played an ACC school: Conference USA, not to be outdone, matched the ACC’s 0-6 bowl record. Sadly, these six culprits don’t have the name recognition of their ACC counterparts. But Louisiana Tech, Florida Atlantic, Marshall, North Texas, Western Kentucky, or UTSA certainly deserved a shot at an ACC school in a bowl game to settle this futility matter.

These guys can play, part 1: Hats off to the Big 12. The conference where defense has been an afterthought went 5-0 during bowl season. Oklahoma and Iowa State won two New Year’s Six games. Texas, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State all won. After such a terrific showing, you’ll never convince me that Oklahoma didn’t finish the season as one of the four best teams in the country.

The SEC actually won the most bowls, but with Florida’s no-show and Auburn a befuddled mess between coaches, the league finished 6-2.

These guys can play, part 2. Just four years after posting its own 0-6 bowl record, the MAC went undefeated. Granted, it was only a pair of games, but Buffalo took down Marshall, and Ball State crushed previously undefeated San Jose State.

And the Sun Belt Conference had a lovely Bowl Season. They posted a 4-1 record, with Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, and Appalachian State all victorious.

The lone Sun Belt loser? Undefeated, 12th-ranked Coastal Carolina, which lost to Liberty, 37-34, in overtime in one of the most entertaining bowls of the entire season.