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Stop worrying about conference power narratives and just enjoy these bowl games

Georgia Tech and TCU complete major turnarounds with incredible performances, and Boise State plays the hits early in the setlist. And if you stop worrying about whether the SEC is overrated or not, you'll have a better time.

The major bowls began on Wednesday, and the narratives flowed like New Year's Eve champagne. Here's a look at Wednesday's key numbers.


Georgia Tech headed into Wednesday night's Orange Bowl battle with the No. 1 offense in the country, according to Off. F/+. The Yellow Jackets had averaged 6.1 yards per play against Virginia Tech (No. 4 in Def. F/+) and 5.8 against Clemson (No. 1), and they had emasculated lesser defenses: 8.9 against North Carolina (No. 108), 8.1 against Pitt (No. 73), 7.6 against NC State (No. 70), 7 against Georgia Southern (No. 74). Paul Johnson doesn't recruit many blue-chippers, and he runs the opposite of a trendy offense, but his spread option clicked as never before.

Through this prism, the fact that Tech gashed Mississippi State for 577 total yards (7.9 per play) and 452 rushing yards in a 49-34 win is a little surprising (MSU ranked ninth in Def. F/+ heading in), but only so much.

Once Johnson realizes you're a step behind, you're done. And while State kept up -- despite falling behind 14-0, the Bulldogs did force two punts and a turnover in Tech's first five possessions to come within 14-13 -- the grim reaper was on his way. The Yellow Jackets scored on a 12-play, 82-yard scoring drive as the first half wound down, then scored on their first four possessions of the second. Fullback Synjyn Days plowed through multiple tackles on a 69-yard run one minute into the third quarter. Quarterback Justin Thomas, Johnson's muse and only a sophomore, juked a Bulldog defender out of his ankle sockets on a 32-yard run six minutes later. Three minutes after that, Thomas hit the gas and blazed past gasping defenders on a 15-yard score.

It could have been so much worse. Thomas threw a second-quarter interception from the MSU 33 that killed one scoring drive, MSU was bailed out of an obvious fumble with a terrible call in what became a second-quarter field goal drive, and the Bulldogs scored on a Hail Mary attempt as the first half expired. Instead of being down 21-20 at half, it could have been 28-10.

Still, MSU's fate was sealed. The defense didn't have answers, and the offense was doing the one thing you cannot do against Georgia Tech: turn the ball over. MSU's Dak Prescott was picked off on a deflection on the third play of the game, setting up a short-field score, and Jamal Golden lit up MSU's Josh Robinson on an option pitch in the third quarter, forcing a fumble that Roderick Rook-Chungong recovered near midfield. Tech's defense can't stop you without turnovers -- after all, despite sloppiness, MSU did gain 605 yards (28 more than Tech) and score 34 points. But turnovers are like broken serves when you have an offense as good as Tech's.

Tech got a couple of breaks, and there was no way MSU was going to catch up.

If you want to make Tech's win a referendum on the Mississippi schools, on the SEC West, on the SEC ... go ahead. The SEC begs you to do that when it's doing well, and you reap what you sow. But the "every game is a referendum on everything" tack that has been so prevalent this bowl season has exhausted me. I just want to enjoy some bowl games, and Tech's performance was perhaps the most enjoyable.

Kudos to grumpy old Paul Johnson. You were supposed to be on the hot seat, and instead you won 11 games for the second time in six years and fourth time in school history. That's pretty cool.


Sometimes a team that feels it should have been playing for the championship lays an egg in bowl season. See: 2013 Alabama, 2012 Florida, 2008 Alabama, maybe 2009 Cincinnati.

Other times, a jilted team heads into a big-time bowl with a point to prove. Good examples: 2012 Oregon, 2011 Oklahoma State and Stanford, 2010 TCU and Stanford, 2009 Florida.

TCU was the primary victim of the Playoff committee's misguided decision to release weekly rankings. The Horned Frogs stood at No. 3 in the rankings after a dominant 48-10 win over Texas, beat Iowa State by 52 points to finish the regular season, and fell to sixth. It would have been forgivable if Gary Patterson's charges had gone out and played frustrated ball against Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. Instead, they opted for revenge.

In the home stretch, we talked a few times about the scary thought of giving Patterson a month to prepare his defense for whatever it might face in a Playoff semifinal. He might bait Jameis Winston into five interceptions! He might figure out how to destroy Oregon's thin offensive line! Instead, his Horned Frogs decided to take a scalpel to Dr. Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offense.

This wasn't fair. Wallace's first 11 attempts: incompletion, incompletion, interception, seven-yard gain, interception, incompletion, sack, sack, sack, eight-yard gain, interception in the end zone.

TCU overwhelmed Ole Miss' offensive line, blanketed its receivers, and dared Wallace to do anything but throw the ball away. Wallace's Bad Bo habits came out in full force, but vintage 1969 Archie Manning wouldn't have found any success either. TCU was prepared and malicious. By the time TCU eased up a bit, the Frogs were up 42-0, and Wallace was 5-for-16 for 63 yards and five sacks. If you include sacks as passes in the passer rating formula, Wallace's rating through 21 attempts was 7.6.

If TCU's offense had dominated, this game could have finished so much worse than 42-3. But Ole Miss' defense actually held up. TCU averaged 5.4 yards per play --1.4 worse than its average -- and while part of that was due to garbage-time ease-up (first 48 snaps: 5.9 yards per play), the Rebels did force three first-half turnovers.

The narrative machine went crazy, and understandably so. TCU is now in position to carry the Committee Screwed Up!!!!! mantle into the offseason as soon as one of the four Playoff semifinalists plays poorly. Ole Miss' horrific performance PROVED!! that the SEC was overrated and that the Big 12 was underrated (two days after the Big 12 was FALLING APART!! following its 0-3 Monday performance).

But in a narrative-free vacuum, this was one hell of a performance by a team that has put together a few of them in 2014. The committee was doomed by having to choose four semifinalists from a deserving field of six, and TCU was left on the outside, but a year after going 4-8 with an abysmal offense, Patterson put maybe his best-ever team on the field and went 12-1.


The best live bands are the ones that kick ass and give winks to the hardcore fans.

Boise State didn't pull off the strongest finish in bowl history, watching a three-touchdown lead almost disintegrate in a 38-30 Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona. But the Broncos did win, securing their third Fiesta title in nine seasons. And in the process, they gave one hell of a wink to college football fans. Or maybe they just played the hits early in the set.

Regardless ...

It wasn't as flawless as the original; Arizona was only so fooled. But nasty back Jay Ajayi made it work with a broken tackle and a cruel stiff-arm. The score put Boise State up 21-0 just 10 minutes in.

From there, Arizona began to pick up the pieces.

First 10 minutes: Boise State 246 yards (15.4 per play), Arizona 29 (2.9)
Last 50 minutes: Arizona 463 yards (4.8 per play), Boise State 225 (4.2)

Boise State's second-half possessions: punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out), punt, punt, fumble, punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out).

The difference, as far as scoring goes, ended up being Donte Deayon's pick six late in the third quarter. It gave the Broncos their only points of the second half and pushed their lead to 38-20.

The difference in the game, more generally, was the quarterback position. Boise's Grant Hedrick completed 24 of 34 for 309 yards, and while almost all of that damage came early, he avoided crippling mistakes, throwing one interception and taking one sack. Arizona's Anu Solomon completed 28 passes for 335 yards and made a series of huge throws in the second half to keep the Wildcats alive; he also threw two picks (including that terribly ill-advised pass to Deayon) and took eight sacks. His desire to make a play was admirable, but his fight-or-flight clock was broken.

Down 38-30, Arizona got the ball back with 2:53 left and no timeouts, needing to drive 80 yards and complete a two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. Solomon completed three of six for 72 yards and rushed twice for 11 yards. But he also did the one thing you can't do: he took three sacks. The final came from the Boise 10, and it allowed time to expire.

Mid-majors, now called the Group of Five conferences, have more or less gotten the shaft in terms of money, access, et cetera. But they were given one slot in the major bowl lineup, and Boise State -- still the king of the mid-major universe -- took advantage with a pass rush, an early explosion, and a wink.