College football bowl takeaways – What we learned from every game

Bowl season has begun, and our reporters are breaking down all of it.

Below you’ll find takeaways from every game as well as game MVPs and the top moments from social media.

At the end of each day, we’ll crown the current MVP of bowl season. The leader at the moment is Ohio freshman running back Rickey Hunt, who scored five touchdowns in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.

Full schedule | Results

Monday, Dec. 18

Famous Toastery Bowl: Western Kentucky 38, Old Dominion 35 (OT)

The inaugural Famous Toastery Bowl was a classic, with Western Kentucky, without star quarterback Austin Reed, rebounding from a 28-0 deficit to win 38-35 in overtime for the fourth-largest comeback in FBS bowl history.

The Hilltoppers started redshirt freshman Turner Helton, WKU coach Tyson Helton’s nephew (and son of Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton) but he was benched in the first quarter after losing a fumble and throwing an interception. In came Caden Veltkamp, who had made one appearance all season, going 1 of 2 for four yards against FIU. Against ODU, Veltkamp went 40 of 52 for 383 yards with five touchdowns to one interception.

It marked the first win after facing a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit since 2015 when Houston beat Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl. According to ESPN Stats & Info, each of the last 109 teams trailing by that much have lost.

This was Old Dominion’s 11th game of the season that was decided by a single score. The Monarchs finished 6-5 in such games while finishing 6-7 on the season, but they reached a bowl game for the third time in school history after becoming eligible in 2015. Western Kentucky (8-5) saw its quarterback throw for more than four TDs in the Hilltoppers’ third straight bowl game (Bailey Zappe with six in 2021, Reed with four in 2022 and Veltkamp with five this year) and won their third straight bowl game, tying the longest such streak in program history. — Dave Wilson

MVP: Quarterback Caden Veltkamp, Western Kentucky. The third-string Hilltopper threw for five touchdowns and 383 yards.

Dec. 16

Ohio secured consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in program history and extended its bowl game winning streak to five behind a stifling first-half defensive effort against Georgia Southern. The Bobcats (10-3) intercepted quarterback Davis Brin three times (twice in the first half) from the safety position — by sixth-year senior Jeremiah Wood, sophomore Adonis Williams Jr. and sixth-year senior Walter Reynolds. The Eagles (6-7) were held to 35 total yards in the first half, turning the ball over three times as the Bobcats jumped out to a 20-0 advantage. Ohio freshman running back Rickey Hunt broke out by registering 133 total yards (115 rushing) and five total touchdowns (four on the ground). Hunt tied the NCAA bowl record for touchdowns from scrimmage as the 12th player in history with five and established a new Bobcats bowl game record. Ohio fifth-year senior quarterback Parker Navarro, taking over the reins of the offense after Kurtis Rourke entered the transfer portal, managed the game effectively, despite the team being outgained 383-352 in total yards. Navarro completed 11 of 16 passes for 120 yards and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Hunt. — Blake Baumgartner

MVP: Running back Rickey Hunt, Ohio. The freshman scored five touchdowns and had 133 all-purpose yards.

Florida A&M senior quarterback Jeremy Moussa didn’t hang his head long after throwing a fourth-quarter pick-six that allowed Howard to reclaim the lead. Moussa recovered quickly, utilizing a flea-flicker to connect with sixth-year senior wide receiver Jah’Marae Sheread for a 38-yard game-winning score. In guiding the Rattlers (12-1) to their first HBCU/FCS national championship since 1998, Moussa completed 19 of 32 passes to nine different receivers for 289 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Howard (6-6) scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, and it didn’t trail until Moussa found senior running back Kelvin Dean (three receptions for 87 yards and two scores) for a 21-yard score early in the fourth quarter. Senior defensive back Carson Hinton had a fumble recovery and a 27-yard interception return for a Bison touchdown, which took Howard’s upset bid of the heavily favored Rattlers down to the wire. The Rattlers’ defense made life difficult for Howard quarterback Quinton Williams, intercepting him three times — resulting in 14 points — and holding the Bison to 187 total yards (106 passing). Howard was up at halftime despite being outgained 107-98 and passing for only 41 yards. — Baumgartner

MVP: Wide receiver Kelvin Dean, Florida A&M. He scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a 53-yarder.

All Jacksonville State wanted was an opportunity. Afforded the chance to play in a bowl game during its FCS to FBS transition because not enough teams qualified for bowls, coach Rich Rodriguez and his Gamecocks took advantage. Freshman Garrison Rippa’s 27-yard field goal — his second career attempt — completed a win over Louisiana in overtime. Jacksonville State (9-4) ran 109 plays, the second most in a bowl game since major classification started in 1937. The Gamecocks held a 526-247 edge in total yardage but nearly lost because they couldn’t take care of the ball. Three of the team’s four turnovers were returned for touchdowns, including redshirt sophomore safety Tyree Skipper’s 43-yard pick-six with 5:32 left in regulation, which gave Louisiana its last lead of the game at 31-24. The Ragin’ Cajuns (6-7) became the first team in the past 20 years to score three defensive touchdowns in a bowl game. With Jacksonville State quarterbacks Zion Webb (leg) and Logan Smothers (arm) both sustaining injuries during the game and rotating in and out, junior running back Ron Wiggins churned out 126 yards and a touchdown to carry the Gamecocks — Baumgartner

MVP: Cornerback Jalen Clark, Louisiana. Even in a losing effort, it’s worth recognizing Clark, who returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown and an interception 16 yards for another score.

Little went Appalachian State’s way during the first half of 2023. The Mountaineers lost in overtime at North Carolina, blew a 19-7 lead at Wyoming and lost to Coastal Carolina on a field goal as time expired and to Old Dominion on a touchdown with 48 seconds to play. The Mountaineers were 3-4 through seven games, and the season looked lost. Then something clicked. App State won its final five of the regular season, got a shot at the Sun Belt title game thanks to James Madison being ineligible and ended things on a high note in the bowl game. Anderson Castle carried 20 times for 119 yards, and Kaedin Robinson caught eight balls for 118 yards despite difficult rainy conditions. The Mountaineers have now hit the nine-win mark in eight of 10 seasons since moving up from the FCS level, and they’re 7-1 in bowl games as an FBS member. For Miami, it was a brutal way to cap an otherwise remarkable season. The Redhawks finish 11-3, the most wins by the program since 2003, when Ben Roethlisberger was the team’s quarterback. Their lone regular-season losses came to Miami (Florida) and Toledo, a defeat the Redhawks avenged on Dec. 2 to claim the MAC championship. — David Hale

MVP: Mother Nature. The game was played in a downpour from start to finish, causing nonstop mishaps. But if we’re picking a player, it’s Appalachian State quarterback Joey Aguilar, who somehow managed to pass for 211 yards and rushed for his team’s only touchdown.

Fresno State was without coach Jeff Tedford, but the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat in a win over New Mexico State. Tedford stepped aside from bowl prep and coaching due to health concerns, though he is expected to return for the 2024 season. In his absence, the Bulldogs snapped a three-game skid and showcased their share of vintage Tedford offensive fireworks. Quarterback Mikey Keene completed 31 of 39 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, adding a fourth score on the ground, while seven different Fresno State receivers caught at least three passes each. In all, the Bulldogs racked up an impressive 491 yards of offense. For New Mexico State, it was a disappointing end to a magical season. The Aggies opened the 2023 campaign with an embarrassing home loss to UMass then turned things around and finished with 10 wins — including a road victory against Auburn — and a berth in the Conference USA title game. The 10-win season was just the second in program history, and through two years at the helm, coach Jerry Kill has just one fewer victory (17) than the Aggies had in the six seasons preceding his arrival. — Hale

MVP: Quarterback Mikey Keene, Fresno State. Completed 31 of 39 passes for 380 yards and had four overall scores.



Gronk sings special rendition of national anthem for the LA Bowl

NFL legend Rob Gronkowski shows off his vocals as he sings the national anthem ahead of the Starco Brands LA Bowl.

After ending their regular season with a disappointing 33-7 loss to Cal that made many Bruins fans anticipate Chip Kelly’s firing, UCLA bounced back in the LA Bowl, beating Boise State not too far away from the Bruins’ home stadium. With Kelly still at the helm after UCLA announced it would retain him, the Bruins compiled 510 yards of offense and ran the ball for 280 yards thanks to quarterback Collin Schlee’s 128 yards on the ground. After transferring from Kent State last offseason, Schlee saw limited time behind Ethan Garbers and Dante Moore, who is now in the transfer portal. But against the Broncos, Schlee showed exactly what he does best, leading the Bruins’ rushing attack while also throwing for two touchdowns. Many questions remain for Kelly’s team as it heads to the Big Ten, but Saturday night’s bowl win was a strong finishing note after an up-and-down season. — Paolo Uggetti

MVP: Quarterback Ethan Garbers, UCLA. The Bruins turned to Garbers while trailing 16-7 to start the second half, and he completed his first eight passes, resulting in three consecutive touchdown drives.

On the heels of his announcement that he would return to Cal next season, Golden Bears star running back Jaydn Ott struggled against Texas Tech’s defense. Ott, who totaled 1,260 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season, accounted for 45 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown in the bowl game. The Red Raiders’ offense, meanwhile, scored four touchdowns thanks to three touchdown passes from Behren Morton. The sophomore quarterback spread the ball around to seven different receivers, three of whom averaged more than 12 yards per catch. Tech defense stepped up in its own way, picking off Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza three times and forcing him into two fumbles that proved too much to overcome. — Uggetti

MVP: Quarterback Behren Morton, Texas Tech. The sophomore tossed three first-half touchdowns.

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