Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Baylor: 2016 Cactus Bowl Champions

PHOENIX -- KD Cannon had 14 catches for a Cactus Bowl-record 226 yards and two touchdowns, helping Baylor end a difficult season with a 31-12 victory over Boise State on Tuesday night.

Baylor (7-6) went into a downward spiral the last half of the season after opening with six straight wins. Quarterback Seth Russell suffered a season-ending ankle injury, the sexual assault scandal that cost coach Art Briles his job continued to linger and the losses piled up, six straight to end the regular season.

The Bears ended on a positive note by revving up their quick-hitting offense again behind freshman quarterback Zach Smith, who threw for 375 yards and three scores.

"I couldn't be more proud of these guys," Baylor interim coach Jim Grobe said. "We've been through a lot of adversity together. I love every one of these guys and they know that. This is a family win."

Boise State (10-3) tried to keep up with the Bears, but struggled in the red zone: two field goals, an interception in the end zone and a failed fourth down try.

Boise State started with single coverage on Cannon and the Bears exploited it throughout the first half.

The Baylor junior scored on a 30-yard pass from Smith in the first quarter, out-leaping Boise State's Jonathan Moxey in the end zone, then beat him on a 68-yard score in the second to put Baylor up 14-3. Cannon had eight catches for 182 yards and two TDs by halftime.

"We just had to prove a point," Cannon said. "Coming off a bad season, we had to finish strong for Baylor Nation and coach Briles."

Smith had some ups and downs in three games after Russell broke his ankle, but had a month to prepare for the Cactus Bowl. The freshman from Texas was sharp with the extra work, completing 28 of 39 passes. He also threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ishmael Zamora in the fourth quarter to put Baylor up 31-6.

Boise State's Brett Rypien moved the Broncos up and down the field, but had his share of mistakes.

He threw an interception at the Baylor 5-yard line on Boise State's second drive and had an overthrow on what would likely have been a touchdown later in the first quarter, forcing the Broncos to settle for a field goal.

Rypien also threw an interception in the end zone in the second quarter. He finished with 305 yards and a touchdown on 32-of-51 passing with two interceptions and a lost fumble.


Baylor will be looking to get back to its winning ways under new coach Matt Rhule. The former Temple coach has already started recruiting, but Grobe coached in the bowl game. Grobe hopes to continue coaching.

Boise State has to replace running back Jeremy McNichols and senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck next season, but Rypien is a sophomore and should only get better.

Minnesota: 2016 Holiday Bowl Champions

SAN DIEGO -- After a few days of turmoil and perhaps more to come, the Minnesota Golden Gophers played lights-out in shutting down Luke Falk and the Washington State Cougars to win the Holiday Bowl.

Shannon Brooks caught a tipped pass from Mitch Leidner for a 13-yard, go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter and Minnesota, mired in controversy after 10 players were suspended after a sexual assault investigation, won 17-12 on Tuesday night.

The Golden Gophers (9-4) were looking to regroup after backing down from a threat to skip this game if their teammates suspended after the investigation weren't reinstated. Their boycott lasted less than 36 hours, with university leadership never blinking. The players backed down amid pressure from many who read details of the allegations.

"I don't think it's a matter of anybody not wanting to be here. It's just a matter of wishing our brothers could be here with us as well," Leidner said. "I love this team, these coaches. You couldn't ask for a better way to go out. I'm just really proud of these guys."

Brooks' TD catch was one of the few exciting plays in an otherwise pedestrian edition of what traditionally has been one of the country's most exciting bowl games.

WSU cornerback Marcellus Pippins reached up with his right hand and deflected Leidner's pass in the end zone but it went right to Brooks for the TD and a 10-6 lead. That capped an 84-yard, 10-play drive on Minnesota's first possession of the second half.

The Gophers had to face Falk and WSU's normally high-powered Air Raid offense without starting defensive backs KiAnte Hardin and Antoine Winfield Jr., and key backup Antonio Shenault, who were among the suspended players.

Their replacements stepped up.

"You've got to go off practice, and those kids practiced awfully well," coach Tracy Claeys said. "They did a tremendous job. All of them played their tails off. When you get in those situations and you're missing people, it all goes back to that the next person's got to step up and you ask them to do things, they're going to do it. Nobody's going to be successful if you ask them to do things you're not very good at."

WSU (8-5) ended on a three-game losing streak and was held to its lowest point total of the season. The Cougars had scored more than 50 points four times this season, a school record.

The Golden Gophers frustrated Falk most of the game, holding him to 264 yards -- 86 below his average -- on 30-of-51 passing. Falk didn't crack 200 yards until the final minutes, when he led a drive capped by an 8-yard TD pass to Kyle Sweet. After three tries due to Minnesota penalties, the conversion attempt failed. Minnesota then recovered an onside kick.

Falk came in having completed 71 percent of his passes in throwing for 4,204 yards and 37 touchdowns. The Cougars were ranked second in the nation in passing.

Falk was intercepted by Adekunle Ayinde on fourth down with 3:05 left. That set up Rodney Smith's 9-yard TD run with 2:06 left for a 17-6 lead.

"I don't think we played well offensively at all," coach Mike Leach said. "We never got any rhythm. We were frantic. You can say we were rusty and had some time off, whatever it is. We tried to make things happen and then when it didn't happen, we got frantic. We unraveled. We were pouting on the sidelines."

WSU lead 6-3 after a lackluster first half that included just three field goals.

The Cougars crossed the 50 just twice, getting field goals of 26 and 41 yards by Erik Powell.

Powell's second field goal was set up when Nnamdi Oguayo hit Leidner and forced a fumble that Isaac Dotson recovered at the Golden Gophers' 38.

Minnesota got a 43-yard field goal by Emmit Carpenter in the second quarter.


Minnesota: The Golden Gophers had only 110 yards of total offense in the first half before finally coming alive in the second half. Smith gained 74 yards on 17 carries. He came in averaging 90 yards.

Washington State: The Air Raid offense was a no-show. After Powell kicked a field goal to cap WSU's first drive, the Cougars went three-and-out on their next four possessions. The Cougars had to settle for Powell's 41-yard field goal at the end of the first half after Falk's pass to Tavares Martin Jr. to the 1 was overturned after review.


Minnesota: Tensions remain between the school administration and the team after the threat to skip this game.

Washington State: Leach said Monday that Falk would return for his senior season rather than declaring for the NFL draft. However, asked about it after the game, Falk said: "I'm not focused on that at all. All my focus has been on the team, and that's irrelevant at this point." Asked if he was still contemplating his decision, Falk said: "Next question."

Wake Forest: 2016 Military Bowl Champions

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- When Wake Forest fans look back at 2016, perhaps they will remember an exciting victory in the Military Bowl as the culmination of the team's first winning season in eight years.

At least, that's what Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson would like to believe.

Wake Forest attached a positive ending to a season marred by scandal, using a strong performance by quarterback John Wolford to beat heavily favored Temple 34-26 on Tuesday in the Military Bowl.

After throwing an interception on the first series of the game -- a turnover Temple used to take a 7-0 lead -- Wolford helped the Demon Deacons rattle off 31 straight points before halftime.

Wolford left with a neck strain in the third quarter with the score 31-17. Wake Forest (7-6) then withstood a comeback bid by Temple (10-4) to secure its first bowl victory since 2008.

That gave the Demon Deacons something to talk about this offseason beside a troubling spy story. According to a Wake Forest investigation, broadcaster Tommy Elrod leaked or attempted to leak game plan information to at least three opponents. Though Elrod has not released a public statement on the scandal, the school has since fired him.

The scandal was dubbed "Wakey Leaks."

"It was really important we win this game so this game and this bowl championship becomes the lasting memory for this football team and not some stupid hashtag that nobody in our program was responsible for," Clawson said. "That becomes the lasting memory for the team and not a bitterness of something we're ready to move past."

In spite of the distraction, the Demon Deacons snapped a three-game losing streak and won for only the second time since Oct. 8.

"I'm trying to fight back tears right now," linebacker Thomas Brown said. "It's such a great feeling. I really don't even know how to describe it."

Wolford, a junior, completed 10 of 19 passes for 183 yards and two scores. Though he wasn't there at the finish, he certainly did enough while in the game.

"I wanted to play, but it was probably the safest thing to come out," Wolford said.

His backup, redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns, went 4 for 10 for 60 yards and an interception.

Seeking the first 11-win season in school history, Temple came in as an 11-point favorite. A 48-yard pass from Phillip Walker to Adonis Jennings on the Owls' first offensive play gave them their only lead.

Down 31-7 late in the first half, Temple used a 19-point run to close to 31-26 with 3:56 left. Wake Forest then used an 80-yard kickoff return by John Armstrong and the resulting field goal to make it an eight-point game with 1:59 left.

Temple came in with a seven-game winning streak after capturing the American Athletic Conference title with a 34-10 rout of Navy on this same field Dec. 3.

"I know that once it all sinks in -- on how close we came to winning this game and how close we came to being the best Temple team ever -- it's going to hurt worse than it does right now," interim coach Ed Foley said.

Foley took the reins after Matt Rhule was hired by Baylor on Dec. 6. The Owls subsequently signed Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins as their new head coach, and he got a first-hand look at his new team on Tuesday.

Walker finished his career by going 28 for 49 for 396 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jennings. He was sacked four times, including a pivotal 22-yarder on second down from the Wake Forest 6 preceding the Owls' final field goal.


Foley loved the way the Owls played in the second half, but he lamented their performance over the first 30 minutes.

"We have a certain way that we like to play football," he said. "And we did it for one half today.

"We were trying to be the best Temple team ever. Obviously, we're tied for the best Temple team ever. It doesn't sound great, but we are champions."


Temple: The Owls showed their stuff in the second half, but this performance against a team that went 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference was not the way they want to remember this season.

Wake Forest: Impressive outing against a conference champion and a celebration at midfield was a perfect way to end an imperfect season.


Temple: The Owls' next game will be played under Collins. One of his top priorities will be finding a replacement for Walker, the school record-holder for career completions, touchdowns, yards and wins by a starting quarterback (29).

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons hope to put the Wakey Leaks fiasco behind them during the offseason so they can start anew in 2017. Wake Forest won more games this season (7) than in Clawson's first two years combined (6).

Army West Point: 2016 Heart Of Dallas Bowl Champions

DALLAS -- For Army coach Jeff Monken, there was never really a second thought about what to do on fourth down from the 3 on the opening possession of overtime.

Not with the way the triple-option Black Knights dominate running the ball and struggle kicking it.

Jordan Asberry took a toss and scored Army's sixth rushing touchdown in a 38-31 win over North Texas on Tuesday in a rematch at the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

"One of our goals is not flinch and believe no matter what," said quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who ran for 129 yards and a score. "A lot of people say it's a questionable call. ... We were determined to get it in."

The Black Knights (8-5) finished with 480 yards rushing, including 119 yards and two TDs by Darnell Woolfolk. Asberry's score was the 46th rushing touchdown this season, breaking the school record held by the 1945 national championship team that had two Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield.

North Texas (5-8) had its chance in overtime. But after Alec Morris scrambled for 4 yards and Jeffery Wilson lost 3, consecutive incomplete passes followed. The former Alabama graduate transfer threw for 304 yards and three TDs, but his desperation fourth-down throw on the run ended the game.

"We may not have accomplished our mission of winning our bowl game, but these men ... set a solid foundation of brotherhood," first-year coach Seth Littrell said.

North Texas, which lost five of its last six games after winning 35-18 at Army on Oct. 22, was in the bowl based on its Academic Progress Rate.

Army's 1945 team had 45 rushing touchdowns while going 9-0. Doc Blanchard scored 16 of them and won the Heisman that season. Glenn Davis had 15 a year before winning his Heisman Trophy.

The Black Knights have a three-game winning streak, including their first win over Navy since 2001.

"We're a work in a progress. I hope we always will be and be improving," Monken said. "Proud of our guys and how we finished this season."


North Texas showed some positive signs under Littrell despite the tough finish. The Mean Green won only one game in 2015. Wilson, whose 160 yards in October were the most this season against Army, had a 22-yard TD run on the Mean Green's opening drive Tuesday. He finished with 81 yards on 20 carries, and also turned a screen pass into another 22-yard touchdown.

Army: The Black Knights finished with their most wins since going 10-2 in 1996. In the loss to North Texas two months ago, they had seven turnovers (three lost fumbles, four interceptions). They had only one this time, a muffed punt return that immediately led to a North Texas touchdown at the end of the third quarter.


Woolfolk had a 5-yard TD on the game's opening possession, a vintage Army drive with six different players carrying on 11 rushing plays, but missed the extra point. North Texas led only after a TD and PAT on its opening drive, but Army then had TD runs on each of its next three drives and led 24-7 after missing 2-point conversions each time.


Army will be in North Texas next Nov. 18 to play the Mean Green again. The Black Knights also have a conditional agreement already to play in next year's Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth if they are bowl eligible.


Tyler Campbell's 70-yard TD run in the first quarter was Army's longest running play this season. ... Bradshaw's 65-yard keeper for a score in the third quarter was his career-long run. ... Army LB Jeremy Timpf had 15 tackles (12 solo), and CB Elijah Riley had two interceptions.


North Texas: QB Mason Fine, who started nine games as a freshman before a shoulder injury late in the season, should be back with Wilson when the Mean Green host Lamar in their 2017 opener on Sept. 2.

Army: is set to return Bradshaw along with Woolfolk and several other runners, and four starting linemen, for its triple-option offense. The Black Knights open the 2017 season against Fordham on Sept. 1.

North Carolina State: 2016 Independence Bowl Champions

SHREVEPORT, La. -- North Carolina State quarterback Ryan Finley has a simple philosophy when it comes to getting do-everything threat Jaylen Samuels involved with the offense.

"Just give him the ball in as many ways as possible," Finley said.

The method of choice on Monday was by air, and Finley found Samuels for three touchdowns passes in North Carolina State's 41-17 win over Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.

North Carolina State (7-6) won three of its final four games to finish with a winning record. The Wolfpack built a 28-3 lead by midway through the third quarter -- largely thanks to Samuels' touchdown catches of 9, 55 and 17 yards -- and then held off a brief Vanderbilt rally.

Samuels was named the game's Most Valuable Player on offense and his three touchdown catches were an Independence Bowl record. Finley, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 235 yards, hit Samuels six times for 104 yards.

North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said Samuels' big night wasn't necessarily planned, but when Vanderbilt loaded the defense to stop the run, he was the man who was open. The 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior often has had an unorthodox role on the offense and is listed as a tight end and fullback.

"We were just taking what they were giving us," Doeren said. "And then our receivers did a great job of blocking for him."

Vanderbilt (6-7) had a lot of momentum going into the game thanks to surprising wins over Mississippi and Tennessee to end the regular season. But the Commodores' offense -- which scored a combined 83 points against the Rebels and Volunteers -- struggled for most of the night.

"We looked a little rusty," coach Derek Mason said. "All the way around -- special teams, offense and defense. We just didn't look like the Vanderbilt team that came out of the regular season."

Vanderbilt's Kyle Shurmur completed just 19 of 46 passes for 158 yards and three interceptions.

"There's a fine line between being aggressive and careless," Shurmur said. "And I crossed it a few times."

Even so, the Commodores briefly made things interesting, closing to 28-17 early in the fourth quarter. But that's when NC State's Nyheim Hines responded with a 100-yard touchdown on a kickoff return to put the game out of reach.


Vanderbilt: The Commodores' offense took a step backward after some late-season improvement. Veteran running back Ralph Webb had another nice game with 111 yards rushing and a touchdown, but Shurmur's struggles throwing the ball were too much to overcome.

NC State: The Wolfpack end a frustrating season with an impressive win. They were fantastic on defense for most of the night and the Finley-to-Samuels connection couldn't be stopped by Vanderbilt.


Webb's 111 yards rushing gave him a school-record 1,283 yards for the season. The junior, who already is Vanderbilt's career rushing leader, said during the postgame press conference that he plans to return for his senior season.


North Carolina State's Airius Moore was named the game's defensive MVP after leading the Wolfpack with nine tackles, including two sacks.


Vanderbilt: The Commodores took a major step forward this season by making a bowl game in Mason's third season. Vanderbilt will have a few holes to fill, but should return several key players in 2017.

NC State: The Wolfpack are still struggling to push into the upper tier of the Atlantic Coast Conference. NC State finishes with another winning season under Doeren, but the program feels a little stuck at the moment.

Boston College: 2016 Quick Lane Bowl Champions

DETROIT -- Boston College blew a fourth-quarter lead in a loss to Georgia Tech in its season opener in Ireland. In the Eagles' finale, they showed they had learned how to hold on for a victory.

Patrick Towles threw two touchdown passes and caught a pass for a score in the first half, helping Boston College beat Maryland 36-30 in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday.

The Eagles (7-6) led by 16 at halftime, 23 points early in the third quarter and then had to force Maryland to turn the ball over on downs late in the game to seal their first bowl victory since beating Michigan State at the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl.

"We started to really develop a resolve that you see in the players' eyes," Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. "The most critical thing in building your program is having that. And, I really believe we have finally set that platform forward and that's the most exciting thing to me of all."

Maryland (6-7) had the ball at its 35 with 1:48 left with a chance to drive for a go-ahead TD.

"That's all you can ask for," Maryland coach DJ Durkin said. "You'll take that in any game."

But the Terrapins didn't gain a yard before Harold Landry helped finish them off with a possession-ending sack.

Maryland made some big plays on offense, but four turnovers, eight sacks allowed, 11 penalties and poor field position proved to be costly. In the first half, Perry Hills threw an interception, lost a fumble and was sacked four times. On the Terrapins' first snap of the second half, Hills handed off to Ty Johnson and the running back's fumble was recovered in the end zone by Boston College.

With 4:02 left, the Terrapins got to the Boston College 1 with a chance to cut into their nine-point deficit and Hills lost a fumble after bobbling a snap. They got the ball back less than a minute later when Boston College's Jon Hilliman fumbled at his 6, and were forced to settle for a field goal.

"The program is headed in the right direction, but we have to learn to not beat ourselves," Durkin said.


The announced attendance was 19,117 and the actual crowd appeared to be about half of that total.


On a reverse and pass from receiver Jeff Smith, Towles scored on a 20-yard TD catch in the second quarter to give Boston College a 23-7 lead.

"I was just glad I caught it and didn't get ran down," Towles said.


Johnson had 62- and 30-yard TD runs in the first half and a 29-yard run early in the fourth quarter that gave Maryland the ball in Eagles territory, but it turned the ball over on downs at the 41.

"He's consistently been a big-play guy for us all year," Durkin said.

Hills threw a 63-yard TD pass to Teldrick Morgan and a 52-yard pass to Levern Jacobs for a score to get Maryland within nine points.


Landry was the only player in the game on The Associated Press All-America team, earning second-team honors, and showed why he merited the recognition. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior entered with 15 sacks, tying with Florida State's DeMarcus Walker for the most in the nation, and had 1 1/2 sacks against Maryland. Landry also had a one-handed interception and deflected passes on consecutive plays on Maryland's drive late in the fourth quarter that ended with a fumble.

Addazio said he and Landry have talked about his upcoming decision, to stay for his senior season or to enter the NFL draft, and will discuss the topic again soon after gathering information.

"My thing is, you do what's best for the players," Addazio said. "If it's best for a player to leave, you advise him that."


The Terrapins were without their leading tackler, linebacker Shane Cockerille, who was ruled ineligible. Durkin and school officials declined to provide details.


Maryland: Durkin, a first-year head coach, has built a career on defense and special teams. The Terrapins struggled on defense against a previously offensively challenged team, giving him plenty to work on in the offseason.

Boston College: The Eagles were impressive on offense in the first half, scoring 29 points and gaining 238 yards, with a creative mix of plays through the air and on the ground before appearing to relax and regress.


Maryland: With Hills out of eligibility, the Terrapins will have North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson and highly touted freshman Kasim Hill competing for the job. Maryland will play Sept. 2 at Texas in Tom Herman's coaching debut with the Longhorns.

Boston College: The Eagles also will be looking also be looking for a new quarterback. To replace the departing Towles next season, Connor Strachan and Darius Wade will have a shot in the spring and summer to take the first snap when Boston College opens the 2017 season Sept. 1 at Northern Illinois.

Mississippi State: 2016 St. Petersburg Bowl Champions

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mississippi State's sideline erupted in celebration, relieved to escape with a victory to end a challenging season.

Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns in another strong performance by the dual-threat quarterback; however, the heavily favored Bulldogs had to block a field goal in the closing seconds to hold off Miami (Ohio) 17-16 in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Monday.

"Great game. Not exactly how we drew it up," coach Dan Mullen said after defensive tackle Nelson Adams got a hand on Nick Dowd's potential game-winning kick that would have helped Miami finish a stunning turnaround from a 0-6 start to the season to a winning record.

Instead, both the Bulldogs (6-7) and the RedHawks (6-7), who won six straight games to become bowl eligible , finished with losing marks.

"You know what, it's been an interesting year. We've battled. Throughout the year we've lost some tough games on the final play of the game," Mullen said. "I told the guys in the locker room afterward, we're here because we didn't give up. We found a way to go make that final play. Even though we missed a lot of opportunities, we made the final play when it mattered."

Fitzgerald, who led the Southeastern Conference in total offense, scored on runs of 2 and 44 yards on the way to his eighth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. The redshirt sophomore also completed 13 of 26 passes for 126 yards.

Gus Ragland threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns for Miami. He also threw his first interception of the season early in the fourth quarter, and Mississippi State turned the mistake into a 36-yard field goal that put the Bulldogs ahead with 12:03 remaining.

"We were one play ahead of them for most of the game, if not more than one, but they were one play ahead of us at the end," Miami coach Chuck Martin said. "We had opportunities. When you look at it, it didn't need to come down to that last kick, but it did. They made one more play than us. Tough way to end. That's sports, and that's competition."

The RedHawks drove the ball deep into Bulldogs territory on their next two possessions, turning the ball over on downs at the Mississippi State 32 midway through the fourth quarter and reaching the 17 before Dowd had his kick blocked with 5 seconds left.

James Gardner and Ryan Smith caught TD passes for Miami, which also had an extra-point blocked in the opening half.

"We had noticed on film that the kicker kind of did line drives. All that was going through my head was get your hands up as quick as you can," Adams said. "It's been a tough year for us. The only thing going through my mind was make a play, make something happen, and that's what I did."


While there's a tendency to minimize the importance of games played before New Year's weekend, Mississippi State and Miami both felt fortunate to be in St. Petersburg for Christmas. The Bulldogs had a losing record for the first time since 2009 -- Mullen's first season in Starkville -- but qualified for a postseason berth because of the program's NCAA Academic Progress Rate.

Miami's rebound from a poor start was one of the feel-good stories of the year. Finishing in a bowl game against an SEC opponent attracted additional national attention for the RedHawks and also figures to help in recruiting.

"Like I told the guys a couple of weeks ago, if we invited Mississippi State down to spring practice to scrimmage us for 60 minutes, I don't think they'd come. So a pretty good opportunity for Miami football to play Mississippi State and go against some guys that don't look like the guys we normally go against," Martin said. "I thought our kids definitely took advantage of that and made the most of today."


Miami became the first team in NCAA history to start 0-6 and finish the regular season 6-6. The senior class that entered school in 2013 had a 5-37 record before the RedHawks began their six-game winning streak in mid-October.

"They should put statues of those guys outside of our stadium," Ragland said.


Miami: The turnaround following the 0-6 start carried the RedHawks to a share of the MAC East Division title and provides a solid foundation to build on next season with 13 starters returning, including Ragland. Gardner had an outstanding sophomore season as well, finishing with 45 receptions for 750 yards and six TDs.

Mississippi State: Despite finishing with a losing record for only the second time in eight seasons under Mullen, the Bulldogs think they have a promising future with Fitzgerald at quarterback. In addition to throwing for 2,413 yards and 21 touchdowns, the sophomore rushed for 1,385 yards and 16 TDs after beginning his career as a backup behind Dak Prescott.