Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami Hurricanes vs. Washington State Cougars
Date: Dec. 26, 2 p.m. ET on CBS
Location: El Paso, Texas | Sun Bowl
Best moment: There were better wins, but Miami’s game-winning touchdown as time expired against Duke will go down as one of the wildest plays in the sport’s long history. After giving up the lead with seconds remaining, Miami used eight backward passes to take the kickoff back for a touchdown. Replays would show Mark Walton’s knee was down before an early lateral, however, and there was at least one clear block in the back. The referees threw a flag but picked it up. After two reviews consisting of more than nine minutes, the touchdown stood and Miami won. It was Larry Scott’s first game as interim coach and sparked the Canes the remainder of the season.
Lowest moment: There was some belief the Hurricanes could upset undefeated Clemson in South Florida after nearly taking down Florida State two weeks earlier. The result was the worst loss in program history, a 58-0 humiliation. During and after the game, several prominent Miami fans and former players blasted coach Al Golden and expressed embarrassment. Clemson outgained Miami by 421 yards and rushed for an ignominious 416 yards. The Palm Beach Post estimated that only 5,000 fans stayed until the end of the game.
Key player: Since suffering a concussion against Clemson and missing the Duke game, quarterback Brad Kaaya is playing the best football of his career. In November, he averaged 9.1 yards per attempt and 293 yards passing per game. He completed 62.8 percent of his passes, his best output in any month of his two-year career. More importantly, Miami went 3-1 in November and arguably played its most consistent football since the first half of 2013.
Motivation level: High? It’s a little hard to say, considering the unstable status of the coaching staff with Mark Richt replacing Scott. It’s clear the Hurricanes loved playing for Scott, who made it his priority to emphasize the experience for his team over the final five games. How might Miami respond if Scott is not on the sideline later this month for the bowl game? The Hurricanes should still be highly motivated to win nine games, a feat they’ve accomplished only twice since 2006. -- Jared Shanker
Best moment: There’s a few to choose from, but the Cougars’ victory over Oregon gets the nod. Even within that game, there are several options. First, quarterback Luke Falk connected with Dom Williams with a second left in regulation to force overtime. Then, after trading touchdowns in the first overtime, Falk connected with River Cracraft, who fumbled into the waiting arms of Robert Lewis for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown after Shalom Luani intercepted a pass on the Ducks’ ensuing drive to seal it.
Lowest moment: Is there a bowl team out there with a lower moment than WSU’s loss to FCS Portland State to open the season? At that point, the concept that the Cougars were about ready to put together their best season in more than a decade was laughable. There was a large faction of the fan base ready to move on from coach Mike Leach and a here-we-go-again mindset was a natural worry.
Key player: QB Falk. If Falk’s value wasn’t already obvious through the Cougars’ first 11 games, his absence in the 45-10 loss to Washington in the Apple Cup made it even clearer. He shared first-team all-conference honors with Cal’s Jared Goff after throwing for 4,266 yards, 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions and generated some Heisman Trophy buzz as the Cougars surged during the second half of the season. There are some concerns about Falk's availability following a scary injury against Colorado in which he was carted from the field, but the widely held expectation is that he will be ready for the bowl game.
Motivation level: Washington State hasn’t won a bowl game since defeating Texas in the Holiday Bowl in 2003. Motivation won’t be an issue. -- Kyle Bonagura