Highlights, good & bad, of bowl season

The good thing about having 34 bowl games is the inventory. With so many games and so many plays, the postseason had enough bests to compensate for the worsts. These bests and worsts aren't presented only as a public service. But if the memories and debating points help you endure the eight months until kickoff of the 2009 season, it is the least we can do. Let us pause for just a second here -- LSU is lining up to kick another extra point. OK! Now you can read on.

Best Stiff-Arm

In the Liberty Bowl against East Carolina, Kentucky senior defensive end Ventrell Jenkins picked up a fumble at his team's 44-yard line with the score tied at 19 and about three minutes to play. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound former high school fullback rumbled down the sideline toward the Pirates' end zone. East Carolina quarterback Patrick Pinkney angled in for the tackle.

But Pinkney, proving he doesn't tackle much, aimed high. Big mistake. Jenkins shot his left arm out into Pinkney's face mask with such force that it jarred an earpiece out of the quarterback's helmet. When Pinkney fell, Jenkins nimbly hopped over him and continued toward a 56-yard touchdown that won the game 25-19.

"I knew he was an athlete, and obviously faster than me," Jenkins said. "I just said to myself that I can't let this guy catch me. I did two moves at one time, a stiff-arm and a high step. Next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground in the end zone with my teammates on top of me."

Worst Pairing

That would be Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and Rich Meisner, the ACC line judge who had the misfortune of working from the Sooners' sideline. Stoops got in Meisner's ear early in the game and didn't climb out until the game had been decided. It didn't help that Ron Cherry's crew looked as rusty from the five-week layoff as Oklahoma and Florida. Stoops was up to his shirt logo in frustration with the officials, and Meisner provided the nearest target.

If I ever officiate games, don't make me a line judge on the sideline of the losing coach.

Best Heisman Preview

With third-place Heisman Trophy finisher and 2007 winner Tim Tebow announcing Sunday he would return to Florida for his senior season, and with second-place finisher Colt McCoy having already announced he would return for his senior season, the bowls provided a great preview of the 2009 race.

McCoy led a Longhorns team to an exciting fourth-quarter comeback.

Tebow led the Gators in his inimitable fashion to a national championship.

And Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, should he return for his junior season, played well in the BCS Championship Game but didn't produce the jacked-up numbers he'd delivered all season. Given that the Sooners will return only one starter on the offensive line, Bradford's numbers in 2009 may well decline from the great ones that won him the Heisman in 2008.

Worst Win

Missouri played the Alamo Bowl as if it didn't want to be there. The Tigers trailed Northwestern for most of the game and made it into overtime only because Wildcats kicker Amado Villarreal bounced a third-quarter extra point off the right upright. Mizzou won 30-23 after Jeremy Maclin caught a 7-yard scoring pass from Chase Daniel in overtime.

Best Loss

The Ohio State Buckeyes redeemed themselves after playing in two consecutive BCS Championship Games as if they would have preferred to have stayed on campus and start 6 a.m. winter conditioning drills. Ohio State rallied in the fourth quarter for a field goal and two touchdowns to take a 21-17 lead over Texas with 2:05 to play. A great call by the Longhorns against a Buckeyes blitz resulted in a 26-yard touchdown pass from Colt McCoy to Quan Cosby with 16 seconds left.

Every loss stinks. But at least, and at last, the Buckeyes played hard and played smart in January.

Worst Finish
Oklahoma's fade in the fourth quarter? Georgia Tech's flailing for four quarters? Alabama? No, this distinction goes to the BCS as a whole, thanks to the song that Will Forte sang during Weekend Update on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend. It is entitled "I Love the BCS."

Here's the BCS' problem: Tina Fey's impersonation on SNL defined Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in popular culture before the Republican vice-presidential candidate defined herself. Although most sports fans revile the BCS, that negative image hadn't reached pop culture before Saturday night.

Now it has, and "Saturday Night Live" attached the BCS to a list of things no one wants to happen to him. President-elect Obama continues to take shots at the system, but he'll move on to other topics soon enough. Now the BCS has been saddled with one more public relations headache.

Best Performance (Quarter)

USC's 24-0 run in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl blew open a game that had been tied at 7 after the first quarter. Quarterback Mark Sanchez played up to the potential that he brought to the Trojans four years ago. In the second quarter alone, Sanchez went 14-of-17 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, USC outgained Penn State 236 yards to 65, converted a turnover into a touchdown and didn't allow the Nittany Lions to cross midfield.

Best Performance (Career)

In his final game at West Virginia, quarterback Pat White completed 26 of 32 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another 55 yards in the Mountaineers' 31-30 victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. In four bowl games, White went 56-for-80 for 759 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. He ran for 427 yards and one touchdown on 87 carries. And, most important, White went 4-0 as a starter.

Worst Performance

Georgia Tech crumpled before LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Tigers' 38-3 victory made a mockery of the Yellow Jackets. (It also made some of us wonder where that LSU team has been all year. But never mind.) The Georgia Tech team that went 9-3 in the regular season never made the trip downtown for this one. LSU limited the Yellow Jackets to 164 rushing yards and forced three turnovers.

Worst Start, Best Finish

For an ACC team that barely qualified to play in a bowl game, Boise, Idaho, would have been a long way to go to lose it. ACC teams have lost two of the six bowls they've played on the blue turf at Bronco Stadium.

Maryland played sluggishly until the third quarter of the Humanitarian Bowl against Nevada. Only then did head coach Ralph Friedgen take tailback Da'Rel Scott off suspension for missing curfew during bowl week. In a quarter and a half, Scott rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries. The Terps rallied to defeat the Wolf Pack 42-35.

Worst Plan B

When Alabama coach Nick Saban suspended left tackle and Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith the week of the Sugar Bowl, he exposed the narrow margin of error the Crimson Tide had as they went 12-0 during the regular season. Left guard Mike Johnson, who started at right tackle in 2007, moved to left tackle. But Johnson suffered an ankle injury early in the game and couldn't return.

To find a left tackle, offensive line coach Joe Pendry went to right tackle Drew Davis. He moved over and proved that as left tackles go, he is a good right tackle. But the Tide had three offensive linemen playing out of position. The results: Utah sacked Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson eight times, and the underdog Utes finished their unbeaten season by cruising to a 31-17 rout of the Crimson Tide.

Best Sign of Life

Florida State overran Wisconsin 42-13 in the Champs Sports Bowl, the largest margin of victory among the Seminoles' 22 postseason wins. Florida State forced three turnovers and allowed the Badgers to convert only two of 10 first downs.

For the first time in years, Florida State is making progress toward returning to elite status. It isn't there yet, as its 45-15 loss to in-state rival Florida in November indicated. But the Seminoles went 9-4 and finished only a fumble into the end zone (in a 31-28 loss to Georgia Tech) from winning the ACC Atlantic Division and playing in the ACC championship game.

Florida State will lose only seven senior starters, so the Seminoles should get even closer to national title contention.

Worst Enforcement

The BCS has a rule that locker rooms must be open to the media after a game. Penn State coach Joe Paterno refused to open the Nittany Lions' locker room after the Rose Bowl loss to USC. No one connected to the BCS with whom I spoke has any idea how to enforce the rule or what the penalty is.

Also, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel refused to include freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor among the 30 players the Buckeyes brought to the Fiesta Bowl's media day. Pryor was the only starter who didn't show, despite an agreement that starters would be included. Tressel refused to bring Pryor despite a plea from Fiesta Bowl chairman Dave Tilson.

It will be interesting to see whether the BCS puts any teeth into its rules or whether it allows coaches to decide which rules they will follow.

Best Timing

One game after giving up 65 points to archrival Oregon, Oregon State shut out Pittsburgh 3-0 in the Sun Bowl. The Panthers gained only 178 total yards and never moved the ball beyond the Beavers' 37-yard line.

It says a lot about Beavers coach Mike Riley, and the way his players feel about him, that they rebounded to play so hard and so well in a game that meant nothing.

Worst Timing

The Big Ten went 1-6 this postseason after two seasons of being hounded for Ohio State's poor performances in consecutive BCS Championship Games. And don't trot out the argument that the Big Ten plays every bowl game on the road. When the league won seven of eight Rose Bowls from 1993 to 2000, the Rose Bowl didn't stage the game at Soldier Field.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.