ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28: Malcolm Lewis #9 of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates with teammates after a three-yard touchdown reception against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second quarter of the Russell Athletic Bowl at Camping World Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Miami captures first bowl win in a decade thanks to victory over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl

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Mark Richt returned to his alma mater this year to win national championships but his first task in the postseason was to end Miami’s decade-long drought of frustration when it came to bowl games.

After Wednesday’s 31-14 Russell Athletic Bowl triumph over West Virginia, you can cross that one off the list for the head coach in his first season in Coral Gables.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya bounced back from a slow start to light the Mountaineers vaunted secondary on fire (282 yards, four touchdowns) and the Hurricanes used a nice second quarter surge to leave any doubt about the final outcome in this one for their first win in the postseason since 2006.

Keying that run was terrific young wideout Ahmmon Richards, who turned a short pass into a 51 yard catch-and-run for the team’s first touchdown. That would be the first of five straight scoring drives for Miami that included big plays from David Njoku and Braxton Berrios to find the end zone among others. The rushing attack wasn’t much to write about for the team (82 total yards) but with so much success through the air it’s no surprise to see them trend away from it until needing to kill the clock late in the fourth quarter.

Things didn’t start out all that bad for West Virginia, which had a swarming defense early in the game that didn’t allow a first down in the entire first quarter. Things quickly went down hill after allowing the first score however and the team never could get on track offensively as quarterback Skyler Howard proved ineffective. Even the normally productive running game for the Mountaineers failed to get much going on the night as their signal-caller led them in most statistical categories on the ground.

As a result, Miami was able to move on and capture their ninth win to close out a very good debut year with the school for Richt and his new coaching staff. While the Hurricanes will suffer some key losses to graduation and the NFL Draft, the team likely returns their quarterback and a host of playmakers on both sides of the ball and should enter the top 20 of next year’s preseason polls with plenty of momentum.

WVU does pick up their third loss of the season in the process for what was otherwise a very impressive bounce-back campaign for the team — the bowl performance notwithstanding after getting beat up down in Orlando.

Late offensive surge helps Miami take halftime lead in Russell Athletic Bowl

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 28: Brad Kaaya #15 of the Miami Hurricanes warms up prior to the start of the Russell Athletic Bowl against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Camping World Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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This postseason has seen several bowl droughts end in impressive fashion but if Miami wants to break their decade-long streak of losses, they better pick things up against West Virginia in the second half of the Russell Athletic Bowl.

The Hurricanes showed flashes of that with a late offensive surge to take a 21-7 lead into halftime against a  Mountaineers squad that played very solid defensively but were hurt by a few missed tackles and broken plays.

It took until several minutes into the second quarter for the Hurricanes to even pickup a first down (and that came thanks to a pass interference flag), but quarterback Brad Kaaya shook off a rough start to finish 14-of-22 for 186 yards and three touchdowns to completely flip momentum in the game during the final minutes of the half. That was a performance made all the more impressive considering how much the offensive line struggled early in the contest and the fact that the team had virtually no running game to lean on with tailback Joseph Yearby not seeing any carries for an unknown reason.

Speedster Ahmmon Richards jump-started Miami by taking a short pass 51 yards to the house for a nifty catch-and-run that tied the game up late in the second quarter. That seemed to inject some life into the team, which followed that up with a six play, 59 yard drive on the next series that was capped off with a Malcolm Lewis touchdown in the back of the end zone. Braxton Berrios added another score on a wide-open 26 yard catch.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen expressed his frustrations at the Mountaineers offensively countless times in the half too. They averaged just 2.8 yards per play, turned the ball over on a fumble and managed just four third down conversions.

When it was announced, the Russell Athletic Bowl was expected to be one of the better games this postseason but that isn’t exactly how things have turned out after a rather lackluster two quarters in Orlando. Luckily for both teams, there’s still plenty of time left in this one for things to get interesting.

Royce Freeman eschews NFL, returns to Oregon for senior season

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 10:  Royce Freeman #21 of the Oregon Ducks runs the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers at Autzen Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Willie Taggart has in part himself to thank for his first significant “recruiting” win since taking over as Oregon’s head coach earlier this month.

Coming off a season in which injuries played a role in slowing him down, Royce Freeman announced Wednesday that he has decided to return to the Ducks for his senior season.  While the running back thanked his formed head coach in a statement, Freeman stated that Taggart “was certainly a factor in my return.”

Below is the back’s statement, in its entirety.

After consulting with my family and giving this considerable thought, I feel this is the best decision for me in regards to my future on and off the field. My education was one of the most important reasons I chose to come to Oregon and that priority hasn’t changed.

“I wish to thank Coach (Mark) Helfrich and the entire coaching staff for the roles they have played in my success thus far. I am extremely grateful to Coach (Gary) Campbell for everything he has taught me and the influence he has had in my life over the last three years.

“However, the prospect of playing for Coach (Willie) Taggart my final year here was certainly a factor in my return. His enthusiasm and vision for this program are contagious. I am excited to be coached by him and to enhance my development.

“All praise to the Most High; and Go Ducks.

Despite the injury issues, Freeman led the Ducks in rushing for a third straight season with 945 yards.  He rushed for 1,365 as a freshman in 2014 and a school-record 1,836 last season.  He’s less than 1,000 yards away from breaking LaMichael James‘ school record for career rushing yards (5,082) and needs 10 rushing touchdowns to break James’ mark of 53.

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  The Miami Hurricanes kick off to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.

Notre Dame defense suffocating Miami in South Bend

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 24:  DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a touchdown during the first half of a game against the Duke Blue Devils at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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DeShone Kizer has thrown two touchdowns in the first half to help give Notre Dame a 20-7 advantage on visiting Miami. The defense of the Irish has played one of the best halves of the season against Brad Kaaya and the Hurricanes, holding Miami to just three rushing yards.

Notre Dame started off as well as they could have dreamed, with a touchdown drive to open the game for an early lead. Kizer connected with Torii Hunter Jr. from the five-yard line for the score. Miami’s offense then lost eight yards on a three-and-out on their first drive, setting Notre Dame up with a great chance to do some more early damage. Notre Dame was held to a field goal, but the defense then picked off Kaaya on Miami’s third down on the ensuing possession. This time, Notre Dame cashed in with a touchdown with Kaaya finding Equanimeous St. Brown from 14 yards out.

Miami did catch one break in the first half on special teams by recovering a fumble by Hunter Jr. that led to a Miami touchdown a few plays later (Kaaya completing a pass to David Njoku for the score). But that has been just about all Miami has managed to do against Notre Dame so far. Miami has been flagged six times for 55 yards too.