Top Bowl Moments (01/12/16)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
The top moments and players from bowl season.

With Alabama winning the College Football National Championship the bowl season has officially wrapped up. After the biggest bowl season ever, here are the top straight-up and against-the-spread plays from the Live ScoreCaster as well as the top performances from college football.

Straight-Up: How the game was won

Valero Alamo Bowl – TCU vs. Oregon

TCU erased a 31 point deficit to beat Oregon in triple overtime. The comeback tied a record for the largest deficit overcame to win a bowl game. The Horned Frogs needed everything to break right in the second half to win including a poor punt in the closing minutes of regulation.

With just over two minutes to play and Oregon leading 31-28, Ducks punter Ian Wheeler punted 35 yards from the Oregon 10-yard line. TCU returned the punt nine yards for a first down at the Ducks 36-yard line. The special teams play netted Oregon just 26 yards of field position. TCU, with a short field, became the projected winner (54 percent likely) for the first time since the game was scoreless three minutes after kickoff.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Duke vs. Indiana

Duke won its first bowl game in 54 years but it came with controversy. After Ross Martin kicked a 36-yard field goal in overtime to give the Blue Devils a 44-41 lead, Indiana's Griffin Oakes missed a 38-yard attempt that would have tied the game. Oakes' kick sailed above the upright and was ruled wide right.

Oakes had converted a 45-yard attempt earlier in the game. Before the kick Indiana had a 31 percent chance to win.

National Funding Holiday Bowl – Wisconsin vs. USC

The Badgers beat the Southern Cal Trojans for the first time in seven tries with a 23-21 bowl victory. After a Rafael Gaglianone 29-yard field goal gave Wisconsin the lead with 2:27 to play, the Badgers intercepted USC quarterback Cody Kessler after the Trojans had picked up a first down near midfield. Wisconsin's expected win probability jumped from 61 percent to 97 percent with the turnover, all but guaranteeing the win.

Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl – Nevada vs. Colorado State

The inaugural Arizona Bowl got exciting late as two lead changes occurred in the final four minutes of the game. After Colorado State took the lead on a 38-yard field goal, the Wolf Pack put together an eight play 72-yard game-winning drive. The biggest play on that series was a 22-yard gain (Nevada only had 74 total yards passing) on a pass from Tyler Stewart to Hasaan Henderson. The big gain increased the Wolf Pack's expected win probability by 33 percent (97 percent likely to win) as the team got well into field goal range trailing 23-22.

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – Western Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee State

Western Michigan won its first bowl game with a 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the Bahamas Bowl. Jamauri Bogan ran for 215 yards and four touchdowns in the Broncos win. Bogan's biggest run was a 61-yard scamper midway through the fourth quarter that put Western Michigan in the red zone with the game tied 31-31. The long run increased the Broncos' expected win probability by 31 percent.

Against-the-Spread: How tickets were cashed

New Era Pinstripe Bowl – Duke vs. Indiana

Not only did Duke win its first bowl game in more than half a century, the Blue Devils also covered the spread. As three point underdogs, cashing a ticket on the Dukies didn't look promising late. Duke trailed by a touchdown with less than a minute remaining but got a 5-yard run that tied the game and forced overtime. By tying the game late, Duke's chances of covering the spread increased to 77 percent (+66 percent gain).

Valero Alamo Bowl – TCU vs. Oregon

As the possibility of a win became more probable for TCU after trailing by as many as five scores, the Frogs were still not guaranteed to cover. A 12-yard run by Aaron Green to start the third overtime changed all of that. The Horned Frogs probability of covering as touchdown underdogs increased by 50 percent as near locks for at least a field goal and a higher probability of scoring a touchdown.

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl – West Virginia vs. Arizona State
Arizona State lost a heartbreaker 43-42 to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl. The Sun Devils totaled 520 yards of offense including a 58-yard touchdown that gave them a 42-36 lead with less than five minutes to play. The big score wasn't enough for the win but it did increase Arizona State's chance of covering by 41 percent to 85 percent as 2.5 point underdogs.

College Football Playoff – National Championship Game

Alabama might have won the title, thanks in part to an onside kick, but Clemson covered the spread. Trailing 45-33 with 17 seconds to play, Deshaun Watson hooked up with Jordan Leggett on a 24-yard touchdown pass (increased the Tigers' chance of covering by 42 percent) in garbage time. The score was enough to give Clemson the cover as touchdown underdogs.

Hyundai Sun Bowl – Washington State vs. Miami (FL)

Washington State held on for a 20-14 win, the first bowl win in 12 years for the program. The Cougars needed a big defensive play to not only win but cover the spread. After a punt gave Miami the ball at the Washington State 28-yard line with three minutes to play, the Cougars intercepted a halfback pass. The pick increased Wazzu's (three point favorites) chance of covering by 42 percent.

Top Player Performances

Skyler Howard

West Virginia's quarterback set a Cactus Bowl record with 532 yards passing. Howard found David Stills on a 15-yard pass for the game-winning score with 2:19 to play. Howard's five touchdown performance was worth 81 percent toward the Mountaineers 43-42 victory.

Joel Stave

The Wisconsin quarterback didn't put up the gaudy numbers like Skyler Howard but Stave was nearly as valuable. The senior passer went 18-of-27 for 217 yards and a touchdown but many of those passes were for key first downs. Stave was worth 73 percent toward the Badgers' net win probability.

Nate Sudfeld

Not every top performance comes in a win. The Indiana quarterback went 28-for-51 for 389 yards and three touchdowns. The Hoosier signal caller's (+70 percent in net value) stats could have been even bigger if a narrowly missed field goal had been good to force a second overtime.

Jamauri Bogan

“Can't catch me!” I assume that is what Bogan thought each time he carried the ball for Western Michigan. The halfback rushed 19 times for 215 yards and four touchdowns. The monster day on the ground was worth 63 percent in win probability toward the Broncos' 45-31 bowl win.

Tommy Armstrong

After falling behind 21-7 early, Armstrong led Nebraska on five consecutive scoring drives. The Cornhuskers quarterback (250 total yards, one passing and one rushing touchdown) was worth 56 percent in net win probability as Nebraska rallied to win the Foster Farms Bowl 37-29.

Tim White

The junior receiver for the Sun Devils only had four catches in Cactus Bowl but he made the most of them. White scored two touchdowns and returned a blocked point after attempt for two points. Arizona State fell to West Virginia but White did his part try to win adding 59 percent in win probability to the team.

Simms McElfresh

Appalachian State rallied past Ohio for a 31-29 victory in the Raycom Media Bowl. Receiver Simms McElfresh (+56 percent in win probability) led the team in receptions and yards, none bigger than a key first down late in the game that got the Mountaineers near midfield trailing 29-28. App State would kick a game-winning field goal a few plays later.

Bram Kohlhausen

Filling in for the suspended Trevone Boykin, Kohlhausen made the most of his opportunity passing for 351 yards and totaling four touchdowns including the winning score in the third overtime. Kohlhausen's net value was 56 percent as TCU rallied to beat Oregon 47-41.

Brandon Doughty

Western Kentucky overcame an early 14-point deficit to beat South Florida 45-35 in the Miami Beach Bowl. Brandon Doughty, in his last collegiate game, threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns. The Hilltoppers quarterback was worth 51 percent in net value to the team's win.

Mitch Leidner

Quarterback Mitch Leidner ran for a 13-yard score with less than five minutes to play to give Minnesota a 21-14 win in the Quick Lane Bowl. In addition to the game winning score, Leidner threw for 223 yards and a touchdown. The Gopher quarterback was worth 50 percent in net value for Minnesota as the team finished the season (6-7) on a high note.