It was a triumphant return to the postseason and paradise for the Mustangs and second-year coach June Jones, who left Hawaii after nine seasons and has revived a dreadful SMU program hit hard by the NCAA death penalty.
SMU fans chanted "Thank you, June!" in the fourth quarter, but it was his young quarterback who shone and earned the MVP award.
The 18-year-old Padron, who was 32 of 41 and completed two touchdown passes, was confident and composed on the biggest stage of his young career.
He earned the starting job after Bo Levi Mitchell was injured in the seventh game of the season and was largely unknown coming out of Southlake Carroll in Texas, which produced quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Greg McElroy.
The Mustangs (8-5), who were 1-11 the previous two years, have their most victories since their last postseason game in 1984.