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Top 12 individual performances during bowl season

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Bob Levey / Associated Press
Leonard Fournette imposed his will in a thorough beat down of Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl.

Bowl season is the most wonderful time of the year. It's science.

Even when games turn out to be non-competitive, as a few did this year, watching the best players in the country show their stuff on the sport's brightest stage while feeding your face with holiday cheer is worth the 11 months of waiting.

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These 12 performances were especially fun to watch, whether the efforts were portending of future stardom at the NFL level or simply showing off the skills that helped their teammates celebrate a bowl victory.

12. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Davis is the best receiver on the team you've least likely to have seen. His eight-catch, 183-yard effort against Middle Tennessee in the Broncos' win in the Bahamas Bowl was noteworthy, even against a 7-5 Middle Tennessee squad, because he displayed all of the attributes that you want in a great receiver: excellent hands, crisp route-running ability, elusiveness with the ball in his hand, and straight-line speed. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Davis has been an impact player since arriving on campus, and his bowl performance shows why.

11. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
For just a while, Dixon was the all-time leading touchdown scorer in NCAA history (his 87 scores was soon bested by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds) thanks to the four scores he had against Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl. Even ripping off the numbers on his jersey couldn't stop Dixon, who went from No. 28 to No. 1 to finish off the game. He had 100 yards rushing and receiving on the day, and scored twice by each method, giving him an excellent all-around performance.

10. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
In response to not getting enough respect from Heisman voters to earn a trip to New York City, Fournette decided to prove them wrong against Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl. He gained 212 yards and scored four times on the ground, adding a fifth touchdown with a 44-yard pass reception (a career first). It was his fourth 200-yard game of the year, his first since Oct. 3. Fournette's accomplishment would be higher on the list if it wasn't against the second-worst defense in the country in total yardage allowed.

9. Jack Cichy, OLB, Wisconsin
The redshirt sophomore missed the first half of the Badgers' win over USC in the Holiday Bowl after a targeting call in the regular-season finale. His second-half performance against the Trojans, however, ensured Wisconsin held on for the victory. He had nine tackles in the half, including sacks on three consecutive plays, and then forced USC quarterback Cody Kessler to throw an interception that led to the Badgers' game-winning field goal. With All-American pass rusher Joe Schobert leaving for the NFL, Cichy showed opponents that there's another playmaker on the way.

8. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor
The Bears rolled up 645 rushing yards against North Carolina in a 49-38 Russell Athletic Bowl win. That's 6-4-5. Johnny Jefferson (299 yards, three TD), Devin Chafin (161, 1), Terence Williams (97, 2) and Lynx Hawthorne (63 yards, 1) all deserve credit for running amok against the Tar Heels ... but when so many backs have so much success, then the big guys up front are doing something right. Drango showed why he's an All-American, leading the way for backs by sealing the edge, backing up his man straight off the ball, and pulling inside to knock out linebackers. He and the rest of Baylor's offensive line deserve a tip of our hats for this effort.


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7. Jake Coker, QB, Alabama
Alabama's domination of Michigan State was a team effort. Cornerback Cyrus Jones had a 57-yard punt return and an interception that thwarted a Spartans' touchdown drive at the end of the first half. The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, with Jonathan Allen consistently getting into the backfield to blow up plays. But I include Coker here because he needed to excel in this game to show NFL scouts he is a legitimate candidate to start at the next level. His 25-for-30, 286-yard performance displayed his athleticism and arm strength as well as his ability to throw the ball away when necessary.

6. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Collins simply would not be stopped in Arkansas' 45-23 win against overmatched Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Already known as one of the hardest runners in college football, the junior once again churned his legs behind his pads for 185 yards and three scores. The Razorbacks were the clear favorite to run over the 6-6 Wildcats with their physical offensive line leading the way -- but Collins' second, third and fourth efforts downfield were quite impressive.

5. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Junior defenders Devonte Fields (eight tackles, three sacks, two pass breakups) and Josh Harvey-Clemson (eight tackles, sack, interception, forced fumble) played well in the Cardinals' 27-21 Music City Bowl win against Texas A&M, and they'll have tough calls to make on whether to return to school for 2016. But it was the true freshman quarterback that wowed fans across the country with his elusive, quick running (226 yards, two scores on 22 carries) and playmaking ability as a passer (227 yards, two scores, no interceptions). He joined former Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel as big conference players to have 200 yards rushing and passing in a bowl game ... and there's no reason to doubt Jackson will be on the short list of players looking to join Manziel as Heisman winners next fall.

4. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Watson's passing stats were not exceptional (16-31, 187 yards, one touchdown, one interception), but he made enough plays through the air in the third quarter to complement his rushing effort (24, 145, 1 TD) to be the MVP of Clemson's blowout win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. If the Tigers can repeat their defensive performance (despite losing star junior defensive end Shaq Lawson due to injury early on) against Alabama, the national title game should be a battle.

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3. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
This spot could go to Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (302 passing yards, 73 rushing yards, four pass TD) or stud receiver Laquon Treadwell (7 catches, 73 yards, three TD) for their performances in the lop-sided Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma State. But let's give props to the team's top lineman, who shut down the Cowboys' Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah frustrated a lot of offensive tackles this season while he was ranked among the national leaders in tackles for loss (17.5) and sacks (13). His stat sheet against Tunsil and right tackle Fahn Cooper (an East-West Shrine Game invitee himself)? Three tackles, one pass breakup. Tunsil's strength and athleticism on the edge neutralized Ogbah's hustle rush, showing he is the best tackle in the country. He hasn't had an easy year, having to come back from a leg injury in last year's bowl game and then being served a seven-game suspension by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits. All of that was forgotten, though, as he danced to his heart's content with his teammates after catching a pass behind the line and running it two yards for a score at the end of the first half -- leaving every offensive lineman proud and jealous at the same time.

2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
With two star defenders, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, out of the Fiesta Bowl due to an ejection (targeting) and injury, respectively, someone needed to provide the star power in this highly anticipated matchup. Elliott once again proved himself worthy, running strong between the tackles and in goal-line situations (two 1-yard scores, one 2-yard touchdown in the first half) as well as exploding past Irish defenders for a 47-yard score in the second half that created the separation the Buckeyes needed to pull out the 44-28 win. As the game went on, Elliott kept reminding coaches that they needed to feed him the ball, so they did ... 27 times. He also caught one pass and executed multiple lead blocks that showed the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year can do it all.

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
With another exemplary performance in the Cardinal's 45-16 blowout of Iowa in the Rose Bowl, McCaffrey gave more ammunition to those who believe he was the best player in college football this season and the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman in 2016. He rolled up 368 all-purpose yards looking as elusive and explosive as ever while scoring on a pass reception on the first play of the game. McCaffrey wound up covering over 100 yards both as a runner (172) and receiver (105) during the course of the Rose Bowl, as well as 91 as a returner (including a 66-yard punt return for a score), setting the tone for the Stanford win.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.

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