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New Year's college football bowl recap: Streaks, turnovers and the best hit you'll ever see

Stanford and Northwestern ended long bowl droughts, Jadeveon Clowney is ridiculous, the Big Ten lost a lot, Tyler Russell and Jordan Lynch struggled, and Aaron Murray did not. Let's recap a fun January 1.


687. Northwestern games between bowl wins. The No. 7 Wildcats beat No. 5 California, 20-14, in the 1949 Rose Bowl, then set off on one of college football's greatest droughts.

They went 0-8-1 in 1955, 0-9 in 1957, 1-9 in 1968, 1-10 in 1976, 1-10 in 1977, 0-10-1 in 1978, 1-10 in 1979, 0-11 in 1980, 0-11 in 1981, and 0-11 in 1989. They came out of nowhere to win the 1995 Big Ten title but lost in the Rose Bowl. They lost in the Citrus Bowl the next year. And then the Alamo Bowl in 2000. And the Motor City Bowl in 2003, the Sun Bowl in 2005, the Alamo Bowl again (barely) in 2008, the Outback Bowl (barely) in 2009, the TicketCity Bowl in 2010, and the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas in 2011.

Barnett raised the profile of the program, Randy Walker gave it an identity, and Pat Fitzgerald raised expectations, but none of them could win a bowl … until Tuesday, when Northwestern surged to a 13-0 lead in the Gator Bowl, watched Mississippi State tie the game in the third quarter, then calmly pulled away for a 34-20 win.

Northwestern underwent a record losing streak in the early-1970s and early-1980s, but even though it had figured out how to win football games over the past two decades, this streak still tied the Wildcats to their miserable past. No more.

472. Stanford games between Rose Bowl wins. In comparison to Northwestern, this is almost nothing, as Stanford has at least gotten other bowl wins in the meantime.

Still, most of the parents of the members of Stanford's roster were young children the last time the Cardinal took the Rose Bowl title. Like Northwestern, Stanford's football reputation has changed a few times along the way. The Cardinal were a giant killer in the early-1970s under John Ralston. Ranked 12th, they beat No. 2 Ohio State, 27-17, in the 1971 Rose Bowl; the upset prevented the Buckeyes from winning the national title. Then, ranked 16th, they beat No. 4 Michigan, 13-12, in 1972. When Ralston left for the Denver Broncos, however, it set in motion a long chain of ups and downs. Stanford won between five and seven games for eight of the next 11 years, hovered around .500 for most of the Jack Elway era (1984-88), won 18 games in 1991-92 (first under Dennis Green, then Bill Walsh), cratered to 3-7-1 in 1994, reached the Rose Bowl at just 8-4 in 1999, then completely and totally fell apart following Tyrone Willingham's departure in 2001 (2-9 in 2002, 1-11 in 2006). Jim Harbaugh showed up in 2007, crafted an incredible, brute-strength-as-underdog-tactic identity, and won four games in 2007, five in 2008 and eight in 2009.

Stanford has now gone 35-5 in the last three seasons. The Cardinal went to two BCS bowls with Andrew Luck at quarterback, and in his absence their record has improved. Their Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin moved them to 12-2 for the season, complete with a Pac-12 title and a higher season-ending poll ranking than they achieved in 2011. Stanford did not need a Rose Bowl title to prove its legitimacy; it has already done that. But it's still pretty nice, no?

159. Yards gained by Stanford in its first two Rose Bowl possessions. The Cardinal gained 105 yards in four passes, faced just one third down and scored two easy touchdowns in bolting to a 14-0 lead, then basically coasted. They would gain just 52 yards in their proceeding 16 passes and gain just 185 yards the rest of the way. They managed just two field goal drives the rest of the game, but with a dominant defense, that was all they needed.

82. Yards gained by Wisconsin in the second half of the Rose Bowl. The Badgers battled back from their 14-0 deficit with a couple of lovely second-quarter touchdown drives, but they trailed 17-14 at halftime and could never make up that deficit. They never advanced beyond Stanford's 46 in the second half, and their hopes for a fourth Rose Bowl win for interim coach Barry Alvarez went down the drain when Curt Phillips was picked off by Usua Amanam at the Stanford 42 with 2:03 remaining.

67.3. Tyler Russell's passer rating. The Mississippi State quarterback struggled all afternoon against an opportunistic Northwestern defense. But hey, he at least improved. After 12 passes, Russell was 4-for-12 for 18 yards and three picks. Passer rating: minus-4.1. Russell's first pick was returned by Quentin Williams for 29 yards, a touchdown and a 7-0 Northwestern lead. His second and third took place in Northwestern's red zone. His fourth, in the fourth quarter, was returned by Nick VanHoose to the MSU 10 and set up the game-icing touchdown. It was a miserable performance for a reasonably solid quarterback.

37. Jordan Lynch's completion percentage. Unlike Russell (who managed a 43-percent completion rate), the Northern Illinois quarterback avoided catastrophe for the most part, but he was constantly harassed by a dominant Florida State front four, and he was forced to throw difficult passes to well-covered receivers. He was 2-for-13 to start the game, then completed 13 of 28 thereafter.

Thanks to some excellent field-flipping by the NIU punting game (plus a NIU fake punt), the Huskies managed to trail just 7-3 late in the first half and 17-10 heading into the fourth quarter. But they could ever trust that the offense would bridge the smaller-than-expected gap, and eventually the defense fell apart.

9. Completions of at least 18 yards for Georgia's Aaron Murray. Georgia's junior quarterback was far from flawless. He threw two interceptions in his first nine passes and completed only 55 percent of his passes for the game. But when you throw a deep ball this pretty, you can get away with some mistakes.

He threw a pick six to Nebraska's Will Compton in the first quarter, then immediately threw a 75-yard bomb to Tavarres King. With Nebraska up 31-23 midway through the third quarter, he pumped and found Chris Conley for a 49-yard touchdown to tie the game. He scrambled and found running back Keith Marshall on a beautiful 24-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. Then, with 11 minutes left, he iced the game with an easy one: a third-and-12 slip screen to Conley that went for a cool 87 yards and a touchdown.

Oh yeah, and there's this:

4.9. Equivalent point value (as defined here) of this play, as it appears in the box score:

Mich 1-10 at Mich41 Smith, Vincent rush for loss of 8 yards to the MICH33, fumble forced by J. Clowney, fumble by Smith, Vincent recovered by SC J. Clowney at MICH33, J. Clowney for 2 yards to the MICH31.

Without seeing the play, you know it was a big one. Michigan led South Carolina, 22-21, with 8:22 remaining in the Outback Bowl. The Wolverines had just gotten lucky in a confusing scenario; they attempted a fake punt, seemingly came up a chain link or two short when the officials measured for the first down, and were granted the first down anyway.

South Carolina's best player responded by forcing a huge fumble, one upon which South Carolina would capitalize on the next play with a touchdown pass. Again, without visual context, you know that was big.

But here's some visual context for you:

The No. 1 recruit in the country doesn't always end up living up to the hype. It is incredibly difficult to do so. But it's safe to say that Jadeveon Clowney has met the hype in his first two years, and he will start his third season at South Carolina as a serious Heisman candidate.

Also, if you're in the market for some strange parallels: Before Tuesday, this hit was known as one of the biggest in South Carolina's history. It involved Michigan, a run up the middle and a flying helmet.

Of course, that was the 1980s. South Carolina wasn't very good, Michigan was, and Michigan won, 34-3. Almost 28 years later, South Carolina has won 22 games in two seasons.

4. Lead changes in the final 15:02 of the Outback Bowl. I called it the most "telling" Big Ten-SEC battle of the day, and it also ended up being the closest and most entertaining. Michigan responded to Clowney's ridiculous hit by immediately driving for the go-ahead touchdown, but South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw avoided about 17 total sacks on the Gamecocks' final drive and kept moving S.C. downfield, and Dylan Thompson found Bruce Ellington for the game-winning 32-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left. Really, really fun game.

3. Touchdowns scored in one minute of the first quarter in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska scored a touchdown, then picked off a pass for a touchdown; then Aaron Murray responded with the aforementioned bomb to Tavarres King. The first quarter also featured a blocked punt for a safety and a second interception. If you were worried about either team starting the game in a funk following conference title game disappointments, some early-game silliness made sure that wasn't a problem.

1. Games won by the Big Ten on January 1. The conference was once again outmanned with its unfavorable (and lucrative) bowl matchups, and the situation was made even worse by the postseason ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State. Still, it's not like the conference wasn't mostly competitive. A 2.5-point underdog, Northwestern won by 14. A five-point underdog, Michigan indeed lost by five. A 10-point underdog, Nebraska led at halftime before eventually falling by 14. And 6.5-point underdog Wisconsin lost by six. Only Purdue laid an egg, but ... 6-6 Purdue shouldn't have been playing on January 1 to begin with. The near-misses by Michigan and Wisconsin hurt, but the conference still acquitted itself reasonably well. So there's that. And the money.

0.97. Points per minute scored by Oklahoma State against Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. When your second string is basically the same as your first string, you don't really slow down when the backups come in. OSU gained 524 yards, forced five Purdue turnovers, and scored on every possession of the second half (sans the one in which they ran out the clock at the Boilers' 14). Kudos to Mike Gundy for doing something USC's Lane Kiffin couldn't: get his disappointed team up for its bowl game. I expected Purdue to surge early before being overtaken. OSU had other ideas.

0.96. Northern Illinois' per-play average in its final four drives of the Orange Bowl. When you are an outmanned underdog (and considering NIU was pretty small even for a MAC team, the Huskies were certainly outmanned physically), you try to shrink the game down to a small set of winnable moments. NIU stalled like crazy in the first half, repeatedly pinning FSU deep (FSU's average starting field position in the first half: 21.4), forcing the Seminoles to drive the length of the field, and eventually hoping for mistakes. FSU fumbled at the NIU 29 on its first possession and missed a long field goal in the second quarter, and despite completely dominating the game, the Seminoles led only 17-10 early in the third quarter.

NIU had a small window for success, and it presented itself early in the second half. Quarterback Jordan Lynch found Akeem Daniels for 55 yards on third-and-15, then found Martel Moore for an 11-yard touchdown strike to cut FSU's lead to seven points. Then the Huskies tore a page directly out of the Upset Playbook, executing a perfect surprise onside kick and taking over near midfield. A 13-yard pass to Tommylee Lewis got NIU to the 25-yard line. Here was NIU's window. But on third-and-8, Lynch scrambled right, couldn't find an open receiver, and forced a pass that was picked off by FSU's Terrence Brooks. Window: closed. In their final 28 plays, the Huskies gained just 27 yards. Thanks to FSU penalties, they twice more advanced into FSU territory, but they never seriously threatened t score, and eventually FSU, led by Lonnie Pryor (five carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns), put the game away. The Huskies followed the script precisely, but they couldn't score when they had the chance.

And a bonus number: 239.

That's 239 days away. Hope you enjoyed yesterday.

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