The 2022 bowl season was one to remember for the Mid-American Conference, which watched its member programs participate in a handful of thrilling contests. Five of the MAC’s six bowl games this December were decided by five points or fewer, including one contests which went to overtime.
Eastern Michigan, Toledo, Buffalo, and Ohio all emerged triumphant in their respective contests, while Miami (OH) and Bowling Green fell in narrow fashion. Overall, the MAC produced a 4-2 bowl record this season to earn the recognition as the Bowl Challenge Cup winner. Since this award’s inception in 2002, it was the second time the MAC claimed the honor, sharing a split with the C-USA for best bowl record in 2011.
Four bowl wins is the most the MAC has seen since 2011, which means it’s time for facilities across the midwest to make room for new hardware this offseason. Now that the college football season has officially wrapped up, let’s review how the 2022 bowl season from a MAC perspective:
HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl: UAB 24, Miami (OH) 20
Back and forth fourth quarter. Two yards short of victory.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Eastern Michigan 41, San Jose State 27
Eagles win first bowl since 1987. Creighton gets French fries.
RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo 21, Liberty 19
Liberty made it interesting, but Toledo’s run game took control.
Quick Lane Bowl: New Mexico State 24, Bowling Green 19
McDonald injured. Pavia’s valiant first down conversions prevented Falcon comeback.
Camellia Bowl: Buffalo 23, Georgia Southern 21
Justin Marshall star of aerial showdown. James Patterson sendoff game.
Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl: Ohio 30, Wyoming 27 (OT)
Vakos kick ties it. Harris to Foster for walkoff win.
Best game: Arizona Bowl — Ohio 30, Wyoming 27 (OT)
Only two bowl games saw overtime action this postseason. One was the thrilling triple-overtime Liberty Bowl between Arkansas and Kansas, while the other was a game nobody quite expected to generate the excitement it did. Ohio and Wyoming had all the makings of a low-scoring defensive slugfest, especially considering the absence of Ohio star quarterback Kurtis Rourke and Wyoming’s offense scoring 31 points across its final three regular season games.
But the Bobcats and Cowboys started exchanges touchdowns immediately after kickoff, and 22 total points were observed in roughly the first 11 minutes of the contest. While the fireworks ultimately slowed down in the second and third quarters, the game remained interesting due to a one-score separation that persisted from start to finish.
Wyoming running back Jordon Vaughn powered through to the end zone on a 5-yard rushing touchdown with 2:04 remaining, but led by backup quarterback CJ Harris, Ohio concocted an efficient two-minute drill in response. Kicker Nathanial Vakos, who drilled two 40+ yarders earlier in the night, survived an icing attempt from Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and drained a clutch 46-yarder to send the game into overtime.
The Bobcat defense, led by Cannon Blauser’s stellar performance, held firm in overtime and forced Wyoming to a field goal, leaving the door ajar for Harris and the offense. A trio of Sieh Bangura rushes matriculated Ohio down to the Wyoming 10-yard line until the Bobcats faced 3rd and 8. Head coach Tim Albin dialed up a shot for the win.
Harris dropped back and fired the ball to the back left corner of the end zone. Tight end Tyler Foster, face-guarded by a Wyoming defender, didn’t lose focus and instead made a spectacular leaping grab for the ball. The catch would have counted in the NFL ranks as Foster dragged both feet inbounds. When he arose from the ground, the Bobcats officially claimed win No. 10 — tying their winningest season in program history and reaching double-digit victories for just the third time.
It was the only bowl game with a walk-off touchdown in 2022.
Offensive player of bowl season: Justin Marshall, WR, Buffalo
This wasn’t your older brother’s Buffalo team that ran 60 times per game. A head coaching change and significant personnel movements over the past several years moved Buffalo away from the ground-oriented squad it used to be. While the Bulls generated moderate success on the ground in a 23-21 Camellia Bowl win over Georgia Southern, this game was all about what was accomplished through the air.
Former Buffalo quarterback Kyle Vantrease dropped back 45 times for Georgia Southern in a revenge game, while current Buffalo quarterback Cole Snyder fired 38 attempts in an aerial showcase. Of Snyder’s 38 attempts, 11 landed in the hands of wide receiver Justin Marshall, who claimed MVP honors of the game. Marshall cashed in those 11 catches for 127 yards, and he secured a 32-yard touchdown to launch the scoring effort for Buffalo.
On that touchdown, the Louisville transfer utilized a beautiful stutter step to blow his defender in the dust and his ability to get open was on full display for all four quarters. Marshall capped off his first season in the MAC with eight first down conversions — as an essential component to Buffalo’s third bowl win in program history.
Defensive player of bowl season: Joshua Scott, CB, Eastern Michigan
Yes, Eastern Michigan actually allowed more points in regulation than any other MAC team this bowl season. However, the Eagles still receive the honor of fielding the best defensive player the conference saw in bowl season. Cornerback Joshua Scott was an absolute menace on the boundary, finishing with two tackles, four pass deflections, and an interception in a 41-27 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl triumph over San Jose State.
The Spartans raced out to a 13-0 deficit and Eastern Michigan narrowed the gap to 13-9. But San Jose State inched to the Eagles’ goal line with sights set on extending the lead back to double-digits. On a 4th and goal from the 1, Scott made a crucial wrap-up tackle on Kairee Robinson, stopping the Spartan running back in his tracks for a loss of four.
Scott broke up a handful of passes in the victory, becoming a nuisance for a San Jose State passing attack which completed just 26-of-46 attempts. He also made a spectacular interception in the end zone to stifle a San Jose State trick play in the second quarter. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl did not have a supplementary Defensive MVP award, but if one existed, Scott would have been a worthy claimant of the prize.
Special teams player of bowl season: Nathanial Vakos, K, Ohio
If it weren’t for Nathanial Vakos’ leg, Ohio would have ended the season in a losing effort, bereft of CJ Harris and Tyler Foster’s overtime heroics. But Vakos rose to the occasion in Ohio’s 30-27 Arizona Bowl win over Wyoming, sinking 3-of-4 field goal attempts, including a perfect 3-of-3 from 40-49 yards (with one miss from 53). The freshman drained a 43-yarder in the second quarter and followed it up by nailing a 45-yard attempt with under five minutes remaining to put the Bobcats in front, 21-17. Wyoming responded with a touchdown of its own, but Vakos managed to force overtime on a critical 46-yard boot with four seconds remaining on the clock. He survived an icing attempt and drained the long field goal with ice in his veins to send the Arizona Bowl into an extra period — converting arguably the highest-pressure kick in any bowl game this season, with the exception of Ohio State’s Peach Bowl field goal attempt.
Play of bowl season: CJ Harris to Tyler Foster in OT for walk-off TD
Ohio’s walk-off touchdown to win the Arizona Bowl was so good it that we must reiterate it from the ‘Best game’ section. Even Arizona Bowl color commentator Dan Katz (colloquially known as “Big Cat”) referred to CJ Harris’ 10-yard strike to Tyler Foster as the “greatest touchdown pass ever thrown in college football history.” While that may have been a prisoner of the moment reaction, Harris’ delivery to his tight end could not have been placed more perfectly.
The sophomore quarterback enjoyed a tremendous performance for just his third career start, being unexpectedly thrust into the starting role after an ACL injury to MAC Offensive Player of the Year Kurtis Rourke. But Harris delivered in Ohio’s biggest moment of the season, taking advantage of a size mismatch benefiting his 6’5”, 247 pound tight end. For Foster, it was his first catch of the game and a sensational way to cap off one of the best seasons in Ohio history.
All-Hustle Belt Bowl Team
Here are our selections for the most outstanding MAC players this bowl season, according to position or position group:
2022 All-Hustle Belt Bowl Team
|QB||Taylor Powell||Eastern Michigan||18/30, 298 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT|
|RB||Sieh Bangura||Ohio||25 rush, 138 yards, 1 TD|
|RB||Samson Evans||Eastern Michigan||25 rush, 82 yards, 2 TD|
|WR||Justin Marshall||Buffalo||11 rec, 127 yards, 1 TD|
|WR||Quian Williams||Buffalo||5 rec, 100 yards|
|WR||Darius Lassiter||Eastern Michigan||6 rec, 108 yards, 2 TD|
|TE||Tyler Foster||Ohio||1 rec, 10 yards, 1 TD|
|OL||Sidy Sow||Eastern Michigan||N/A|
|OL||Brian Dooley||Eastern Michigan||N/A|
|OL||Rusty Feth||Miami (OH)||N/A|
|DL||Grant Trueman||Eastern Michigan||4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack|
|DL||Jamal Hines||Toledo||4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR|
|DL||Shane Bonner||Ohio||3 tackles, 2 sacks|
|DL||Peyton Price||Eastern Michigan||5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack|
|LB||Shaun Dolac||Buffalo||13 tackles, 1 TFL|
|LB||Ryan McWood||Miami (OH)||14 tackles|
|LB||Matthew Salopek||Miami (OH)||15 tackles, 1.5 TFL|
|DB||Joshua Scott||Eastern Michigan||2 tackles, 4 PBU, 1 INT|
|DB||Chris Bacon||Bowling Green||7 tackles, 1 INT|
|DB||Chris McDonald||Toledo||3 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 PBU|
|DB||Jordan Anderson||Bowling Green||5 tackles, 3 TFL|
|K||Nathanial Vakos||Ohio||3/4 FG, 3/3 from 40-49 yards|
|P||Dom Dzioban||Miami (OH)||4 punts, 181 yards, 1 IN20|
|RS||Ta'ron Keith||Bowling Green||1 KR, 75 yards, 1 TD|