A bowl season that began with blowout after blowout eventually delivered the goods, rewarding college football fans with the best semifinal in the four-year history of the College Football Playoff and capping off the year with an overtime thriller between two SEC behemoths that refused to back down. But in the four weeks that comprised 40 games from Troy’s New Orleans Bowl win to Alabama’s national title clincher, several players took full advantage of the national stage awarded their season finales. With another thrilling bowl season in the books, let’s look back and highlight the standouts from the final month of an epic college football season.
QB: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (National Championship Game)
A true freshman quarterback who comes off the bench and leads his team to a national title will get the nod in this spot every time. Sent out to start the third quarter in place of Jalen Hurts, Tagovailoa threw three touchdowns, including the winning score in overtime, to help the Crimson Tide erase a 13-point halftime deficit.
RB: Sony Michel, Georgia (Rose Bowl)
Michel sliced through Oklahoma’s defense with such ease that it was a surprise Georgia ever needed to throw the ball. Michel ran for 181 yards and three touchdowns on only 11 carries, the last of which was a 27-yard scamper for the game-winning score in double overtime. (Senior backfield partner Nick Chubb tossed in a mere 145 yards on 14 carries against the Sooners.)
RB: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State (Armed Forces Bowl)
Penny could have run for 400 yards if the offense had the ball enough—in fact, his chunk plays may have ultimately worn out his own defense, which spent most of the game taking a beating from Army’s option attack. Penny capped off a brilliant career with 221 yards and four touchdowns in a 42–35 loss to Army.
WR: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M (Belk Bowl)
Kirk was a man among boys (in this case the Wake Forest secondary) in Charlotte, catching 13 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. The Aggies’ defense didn’t show up in a 55–52 loss, but Kirk’s final college showcase should have NFL scouts frothing.
WR: Cedrick Wilson, Boise State (Las Vegas Bowl)
Wilson caught 10 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown as Boise State raced out to a 24–0 lead and held on for a 10-point victory over Oregon.
TE: Cam Serigne, Wake Forest (Belk Bowl)
Serigne led all tight ends this bowl season with nine catches for 112 yards and a score as the Demon Deacons survived a shootout.
Offensive Line: Navy (Military Bowl)
The most dominant group of the entire bowl season, the Midshipmen line mauled Virginia’s defense all afternoon, rushing for 452 yards and helping the offense keep the ball for 42 minutes in a 49–7 rout of the Cavaliers.
DL: Deadrin Senat, South Florida (Birmingham Bowl)
An underrated disruptive force in the middle of the Bulls’ defense, Senat had five tackles, including three sacks, in the Bulls’ 38–34 win over Texas Tech.
DL: Sam Hubbard, Ohio State (Cotton Bowl)
Hubbard lived in the USC backfield all night in Arlington, recording 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks of Sam Darnold as part of a dominant defensive performance against the Trojans.
DL: Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama (Sugar Bowl)
Da’Ron Payne earned the headlines with his 21-yard interception return and touchdown catch to put Clemson away, but Hand was instrumental in helping hold the Tigers to 1.9 yards rushing on 33 carries. Hand had five tackles and a sack in the game.
LB: Kyahva Tezino, San Diego State (Armed Forces Bowl)
Tezino and his Aztec counterparts on defense had their hands full against the Army rushing attack, Tezino was all over the field, recording 17 tackles, including 11 solo stops in a 42–35 loss.
LB: Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida (Peach Bowl)
Griffin helped the Knights secure an undefeated season with 12 stops, including 1.5 sacks in the Peach Bowl victory over Auburn, terrorizing the Tigers’ O-line with his speed off the edge.
LB: Jawuan Johnson, Northern Illinois (Quick Lane Bowl)
It’s certainly not Johnson’s fault the rest of the Huskies’ defense couldn’t stop Daniel Jones and the Duke offense. Johnson had 12 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in a 36–14 loss.
LB: Mack Wilson, Alabama (Sugar Bowl)
Pressed into starting duties due to serious depth issues in the Alabama front seven, Wilson played the run and pass equally well in New Orleans, finishing with six tackles (a career high he doubled a week later in Atlanta) and two passes defensed, including a pick-six that helped send the Tide to the national title game.
DB: Damon Webb, Ohio State (Cotton Bowl)
Webb picked off Darnold and returned it 23 yards for a score and also scooped up a fumble on the game’s third play from scrimmage that helped lead to Ohio State’s first touchdown.
DB: Julian Blackmon, Utah (Heart of Dallas Bowl)
Blackmon backed up his second-team all-Pac-12 honors with two interceptions in Fort Worth, helping to expose the flaws in West Virginia’s offense without Will Grier under center.
DB: Mark McLaurin, Mississippi State (TaxSlayer Bowl)
McLaurin would have tied for second among Louisville players in receptions—if he actually played for Louisville. McLaurin intercepted Lamar Jackson three times and also had 11 tackles in the Bulldogs’ close win over the Cardinals.
DB: Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech (Frisco Bowl)
Robertson, a freshman, had a pick-six, four solo tackles and a tackle for loss in Tech's 51–10 rout of SMU.
P: Michael Dickson, Texas (Texas Bowl)
Probably the easiest and obvious choice of the entire team, Dickson put Missouri in bad field position all night, downing 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. For his efforts, he was named the game’s MVP.
K: Cole Bunce, TCU (Alamo Bowl)
Bunce’s 33-yard field goal with three minutes left provided the winning score in the Horned Frogs’ comeback win over Stanford.
All-Purpose: Akrum Wadley, Iowa (Pinstripe Bowl)
Wadley had 283 all-purpose yards—171 on kick returns and 88 more on the ground—to help Iowa snap a five-game bowl losing streak with a win over Boston College.