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What we learned from New Year's Eve bowl games

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David Goldman/Associated Press
TCU linebacker Paul Dawson had a big day for the Horned Frogs in the Peach Bowl.

The whole "actions speak louder than words" thing -- TCU had that down pat Wednesday in the Peach Bowl.

TCU finished 11-1 in the regular season and tied with Baylor for the Big 12 title. But despite going into the final week of the season ranked third in the College Football Play selection committee top 25 and despite winning their regular-season finale by 52 points, the Horned Frogs slid to sixth in the final poll and were shut out of the playoffs. They certainly made a case Wednesday that they should have been in the final four.

Reporters asked TCU coach Gary Patterson if the Horned Frogs' 42-3 evisceration of ninth-ranked Ole Miss -- the Rebels managed just 129 total yards -- was a statement that his team belonged in the playoff. "I don't think I have to say anything," Patterson answered.

TCU wide receiver Kolby Listenbee, who both threw and caught a TD pass, wasn't as reticent, telling reporters that "I think people around the nation will be talking about us for a while now."

Ole Miss is the only team that has beaten Alabama, which is ranked first and meets No. 4 Ohio State in Thursday's Sugar Bowl. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze was asked if TCU was the best team the Rebels had faced this season. "They deserved every mention they got this year to be in the hunt for one of the four (playoff spots). They certainly, rightfully, deserve to be in it with the others. ... They certainly could compete with any of those in it, no question in my mind," he said.

There was zero consternation about Alabama, Florida State and Oregon making the playoff field, but there was some about Ohio State. Expect that buzz to grow tenfold if the Buckeyes don't play well against the Tide. The main talking point in that scenario will be that TCU deserved the fourth spot -- and that, hey, maybe it should be a six- or eight-team playoff anyway.


» Predictions for top 10 college bowl games


Here are a few more things you need to know from the three "New Year's Six" bowls on New Year's Eve:

2. Is there such a thing as 'The Year of the Frog'? OK, so TCU made a statement about this season's playoff. The Horned Frogs also made a statement about next season, as in, "We better be highly ranked in the preseason." Going by the Horned Frogs' Peach Bowl depth chart, they are set to return 10 starters on offense (all but massive LT Tayo Fabuluje, who is 6-foot-7 and 360 pounds) and six on defense; All-Big 12 K Jaden Oberkrom also will return. Good news for Patterson: None of those 16 returning starters is likely to turn pro early, a rarity for elite teams. Boykin should be on every preseason Heisman list. C Joey Hunt and OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai should be two of the best linemen in the Big 12. There will be an incredibly deep group of tailbacks and receivers. The defense will have holes at linebacker, and DT Chucky Hunter, CB Kevin White and SS Sam Carter will be missed. But Patterson-coached defenses almost always are high-level units; besides, the offense should be even better than it was this season -- and this season's offense scored at least 41 points nine times and rolled up at least 500 yards six times. The Big 12's "One True Champion" moniker looks as if it will be applied to the Horned Frogs next season.

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3. Boise State TB Jay Ajayi goes out strong. Ajayi already has announced he is turning pro, and he had a good final game for the Broncos. He ran for 134 yards and three touchdowns -- including a 16-yard run on a Statue of Liberty play in the first period -- in Boise's 38-30 win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. He also scored on a 56-yard run on Boise's first possession; Boise ended the first quarter leading 21-7 and led 31-17 at halftime. Boise's offense didn't score in the second half (the Broncos scored on an interception return in the third quarter), but its defense did just enough to keep the Wildcats at bay. Ajayi finishes the season with 1,823 yards and 28 touchdowns. He lacks top-end speed and isn't all that elusive, but he is a physical, downhill runner with top-notch receiving abilities (he had 50 catches this season). He likely will be a second-day pick in a running back class that includes a lot of highly productive juniors.

4. Record-setting Arizona QB Anu Solomon needs refinement. Solomon, a redshirt freshman, threw for 335 yards in the Fiesta Bowl loss, which gives him a FBS freshman-record 3,793 yards for the season (the old mark was 3,740 by UCLA's Brett Hundley in 2012). He also threw a TD pass, giving him 28 for the season. But Solomon tossed two picks and was sacked eight times. While Arizona's receivers had trouble dealing with press-man coverage, most of the sacks were on Solomon, including an egregiously bad sack on what turned out to be Arizona's final play; the Wildcats were on Boise's 8 with 14 seconds left and no timeouts, but Solomon still was dragged down for a 2-yard loss. He had trouble navigating in the pocket all game and blew numerous chances to throw the ball away to avoid sacks. Solomon is a solid dual-threat quarterback, but his production tailed off late in the season; in the final five games, including the Fiesta Bowl, he threw three TD passes and four interceptions. He definitely has some learning to do as a passer.

5. SEC fans likely will have a hangover Thursday morning. And it will be from trying to forget what happened Wednesday. Two SEC teams were in action in "New Year's Six" bowls, and both were obliterated, with Ole Miss losing to TCU in the Peach and Mississippi State to Georgia Tech in the Orange. The two losses dropped the SEC West to 2-3 in the postseason, and the three losses have come in a row; Alabama and Auburn play Thursday. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the losses by LSU and the two Mississippi school is that their defenses played poorly. Mississippi State allowed 452 rushing yards in falling 49-34 to Tech.

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6. Oct. 28 was a lifetime ago, at least in Mississippi. The first selection committee top 25 came out on that Tuesday, and Mississippi State was ranked first and Mississippi was ranked fourth. Those two rivals combined to lose seven games the rest of the way, and their seasons came to ignominious ends Wednesday with the Rebels getting hammered by TCU and the Bulldogs getting run over by Georgia Tech. While Ole Miss (9-4) still will be able to remember a "New Year's Six" bowl berth fondly, this was the 11th season in a row, the 21st time in 22 seasons and the 39th time in 43 seasons that the Rebels lost at least four games. Mississippi State (10-3), meanwhile, had been looking for its first season with as few as two losses since 1999 and just its second such season since 1963.

7. Sometimes, 453 passing yards don't mean much. That was the case for Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who torched Georgia Tech's secondary. The Bulldogs played from behind the whole game -- that's what happens when you give up 452 rushing yards to a triple-option team -- and Prescott's big total was for naught. The performance did give Prescott 3,449 yards for the season, meaning he is the first Bulldogs quarterback to reach the 3,000-yard plateau. He rushed for 47 yards, giving him 986 rushing yards for the season but leaving him 14 yards shy of becoming just the seventh player in FBS history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season.

8. The Pac-12 leads the way. Headed into the final stretch of bowl games, even though its lone team in action lost Wednesday, the Pac-12 leads the Power Five leagues with a 4-1 bowl record (three of the four wins are over other Power Five schools, while the loss is to a non-Power Five). The SEC is second at 4-3 (all four wins over Power Five schools), with the ACC at 4-5 (two wins over non-Power Fives), the Big Ten at 2-3 (both wins over other Power Fives but also a loss to a non-Power Five) and the Big 12 at 1-3 (the win was over another Power Five).

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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