Tuesday, January 31, 2012

There's a First Time for Everything

And the 2011 NCAA Division 1-A football playoffs (well, at least this person's version) bore that out. In fact, the four quarterfinal games resulted in a situation where the remaining four teams were vying for a playoff championship they'd never won before.

Well...here's the proof (with seeding in parentheses):

FIRST ROUND: Wisconsin (9) 21, Louisiana Tech (24) 0; Arkansas (16) 38, Clemson (17) 22; Kansas State (13) 42, Northern Illinois (20) 28; TCU (12) 33, Oklahoma (21) 21; Georgia (19) 21, Arkansas State (14) 7; Michigan (11) 35, Nebraska (22) 31; South Carolina (15) 35, Michigan State (18) 14; Southern Mississippi (10) 28, Cincinnati (23) 14.

SECOND ROUND: Louisiana State (1) 42, Wisconsin 21; Oregon (8) 49, Arkansas 21; Stanford (5) 47, Kansas State 8; Oklahoma State (4) 42, TCU 10; Alabama (6) 37, Georgia 0; Boise State (3) 38, Michigan 9; Virginia Tech (7) 28, South Carolina 7; Houston (2) 35, Southern Mississippi 0.

QUARTERFINAL ROUND: Oregon 30, Louisiana State 29 (1 OT); Oklahoma State 24, Stanford 20; Alabama 42, Boise State 21; Houston 42, Virginia Tech 31.

SEMIFINAL ROUND: Oregon 28, Oklahoma State 14; Houston 21, Alabama 20.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Oregon 49, Houston 35.

Now, how about some highlights?

FIRST ROUND: The Badgers held the Bulldogs (in their first playoff game since 2001) to 31 rushing yards in 27 attempts while RB Montee Ball picked up 128 yards (and two touchdowns) in 22 tries. Even so, Wisconsin held a 7-0 halftime lead.

In losing to the Razorbacks, the Tigers wasted WR Sammy Watkins' 10-catch, 144-yard, two-TD game. And Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson completed 20 of his 29 throws for 319 yards and three TDs (with no INTs).

The Huskies (now under Dave Doeren) could've made history...but they squandered a 14-7 first-quarter lead, then they let the Wildcats catch them at the half, 21-21. This game was a battle of running QBs: In rushing yardage, the winners' Collin Klein bested the losers' Chandler Harnish, 37-157-2 to 17-142-2. (Okay...so Harnish had an 82-yard scoring run in the first period and Klein's longest run was 10 yards.)

The Red Wolves (they used to be called the Indians; their only other playoff appearance was in 2005) became the first Sun Belt Conference team to host a 1-A playoff game; they had their fans going when Andrew Tryon took the opening kickoff back 95 yards for a score.

But Hugh Freeze's club couldn't build on the momentum.

That's because the Bulldogs' defense bedeviled Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin, picking him off four times (twice by S Shawn Williams).

The Golden Eagles set up their rematch with Houston by breaking their first game open in the second half, thanks mainly to QB Austin Davis (20-30-306-3 TDs-2 picks), who also scored on an 18-yard run.

Speaking of rematch...this time, the Wolverines outgained the Cornhuskers, 558-488 (in rushing, Brady Hoke's club had a 408-347 edge).  And the winners' Denard Robinson totaled the same number of rushing yards as the losers' Rex Burkhead: 161. (But Robinson needed more carries, 29-17.)

Plus: 107,816 showed up to Michigan Stadium.

And when the Spartans lost to the Gamecocks, LB Denicos Allen's big game (three sacks of South Carolina QB Connor Shaw) turned out to be all in vain.

SECOND ROUND: The Crimson Tide went 17 for 24 on third down...and Mark Richt's Bulldogs couldn't convert one single third down in 11 tries. Meanwhile, Alabama's Trent Richardson toyed with Georgia by gaining 220 yards in 43 trips...two of those trips to paydirt.

The Cowboys ripped their soon-to-be Big 12 foes, the Horned Frogs, for 616 yards of total offense. QB Brandon Weeden accounted for 377 of those yards in his 45-for-50 spree (it netted three air scores); his favorite target, WR Justin Blackmon, caught 12 aerials for 142 yards.

The Case Keenum Show canceled USM's plans for a repeat win. The Cougars' record-setting passer had a 32-for-50 outing that got him 397 yards and a trio of scores.

The Ducks exorcised three years of playoff demons by forcing Bobby Petrino's club into three giveaways (two fumbles and a pick).

RB Stephen Taylor (27 runs, 136 yards, a TD) and QB Andrew Luck (26 for 32 for 319 yards), along with LBs Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy (a couple of sacks apiece), were the main reasons the Cardinal sent the Wildcats packing.

QB Kellen Moore (25-37-276) tossed four air scores- three to WR Tyler Shoemaker (six catches in all for 105 yards)- to help Boise State sink Michigan.

And Les Miles' Tigers wiped out a 14-7 Badger lead to make sure Bret Bielema's club couldn't pull off an instant replay. (In last season's playoffs, Wisconsin- a ninth seed that campaign- knocked top-seeded Auburn out of the playoffs in the second round, 28-21.)

QUARTERFINAL ROUND: Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle ran for a couple of scores...while Weeden's hot passing continued (30 for 40 for 346 yards, plus a score). And Luck was stumbling around with a 21-for-33 showing (for 245 yards and a pair of TD tosses).

Keenum's 26-43-338 outing (featuring five TD passes and no INTs) fueled a Cougar victory that saw Tony Levine's team go just 5 for 13 on third down.

Richardson went wild again for Nick Saban's ball club, what with four scores and 133 yards on 28 rushing attempts.

Chip Kelly's contingent broke into the semifinals when, with 11:04 to go in overtime, Oregon stopped Tiger QB Jordan Jefferson at the Ducks' one-yard line on a two-point conversion attempt that would've won it for Louisiana State. (And this after the Ducks caused a safety to send the game into overtime to begin with!)

SEMIFINAL ROUND: The Cowboys blew a 14-0 second quarter lead when the Ducks racked up the game's other 28 points. What's more, the Oregon D let Blackmon have eight catches...but held him to 76 yards and away from the end zone.

In the other semifinal, Matt Hogan's PAT (with 10:29 to play in regulation) won it. It came after Keenum hooked up with WR Tyron Carrier on a two-yard scoring toss.

And all of that took place after Richardson (28-127-3) ran it in from the Houston four with 13:47 remaining in the fourth...only to see Jeremy Shelley miss the extra point.  

And then Cougar DE Kelvin King iced it when he, with 1:12 to go in the last period, swiped an A.J. McCarron pass at the Houston one and ran it 16 yards.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: The Cougs go on to waste Case's 36-46-501 spree...one that featured four TD throws. Twelve Cougars snared at least a toss apiece (including wideout Patrick Edwards, with seven balls for 158 yards and a pair of scores)...but MVP LaMichael James' big night rendered Houston's offensive efforts useless. 

James had 15 rushes for 134 yards and a TD...AND three punt returns for 129 yards and a score. (With 13:01 left in the third quarter, he ran back a Richie Leone punt 81 yards for said score.)

QB Darron Thomas didn't do too badly, either, completing 19 of 26 passes for 276 yards. He got intercepted once, but still flicked a couple of touchdown throws.

Result: The first title for a Pac-8/10/12 club since USC nailed the 2003 and 2004 playoff championships. And it also means four different squads in as many seasons have gone all the way in this version of a Division 1-A football playoff (Boise State won it all in 2008, followed by Florida the next year, Ohio State in 2010, and now Oregon).

One more thing left to ask: "Will it be vive la difference in 2012?" 

Stay tuned! 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Never Thought This Day Would Come

I guess that 21-0 victory by Alabama over Louisiana State in this past season's Extra Bowl (oops...I mean BCS national championship game) was the last straw.

I guess Bill Hancock and his people are now, at long last, getting tired of their event's status as the biggest joke in North American sports (whether it's ever hit them or not that it's a joke at all).

Mark Emmert has stepped into the debate.

That's right.

This past Thursday (three days after The Rematch at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA took place), Emmert (the NCAA president) gave his annual State of the NCAA speech at the association's headquarters in Indianapolis, IN.

And during the speech, he said something some kind of earth-shattering.

Emmert said he'd support a four-team Division 1-A football playoff...as long as Hancock and his BCS lieutenants decide to adopt it.

Me, I'll believe it when I see it.

And besides, if approved, such a sports event won't make its long-awaited debut until 2014. (Hancock and the commissioners of the six wealthiest NCAA Division 1-A football-playing conferences have given themselves until this coming July to decide if they want to take The Plunge.)

In fact, it's a plunge that should've been taken as early as 1982, when the changes to NCAA guidelines for membership in football's Division 1-A took effect. But the then NCAA president, Walter Byers (his job back then was called "executive director"), would hear none of that talk about a playoff for the football teams that represent the biggest NCAA schools.

Anyway, Hancock and the commissioners got together in the Big Easy the day after the Extra Bowl (sorry, I mean BCS national championship game) and lifted up fifty to sixty different possibilities for various changes to this deeply flawed system.

One of the changes was the very four-team playoff proposal Emmert now endorses. But when Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford and his Southeastern Conference counterpart, Mike Slive (remember when Slive ran Conference USA?), brought this up to the other BCS potentates in 2008, the leaders of the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, and the then Pacific-10 (now, of course, called the Pacific-12) told Slive and Swofford to go to hell. So did the athletic director at the lone football independent in the BCS, Notre Dame.

But now, Big Ten Conference head Jim Delany- one of the men who shot the proposal down four years ago- has changed his mind. (Maybe that's because, as long as the present system relies mainly on the results of the ESPN-USA Today and Harris Interactive polls, his circuit may never again land a team in the Extra Bowl...or BCS title game.)

Yeah, I know...BCS spokespeople brag about the several computers used to complement the two polls in the selection process. But Hancock and Co. can bring in 500 computers- including the one I'm using to type out this post- and it'll still reflect the results of the ESPN-USA Today survey (with active D-1-A head coaches) and its Harris counterpart (involving the opinions of former collegiate players).

And the two groups- as well as the reporters weighing in when it comes to the Associated Press poll- right now like the football teams in the SEC the best.

Yep...it's all about popularity and about past reputation.

And you can bet I'm glad that Mark Emmert has finally stepped out to endorse a D-1-A football playoff. (In the 1980s, Byers' successor, Dick Schultz, got canned by the university presidents for calling for a Division 1-A football playoff: "We don't think it's in the best interests of college athletics.")

Right from when the former University of Washington official got his present job on 11-1-2009, Emmert has told people he'd long expected changes in this so-called BCS system.

But I disagree with him when it comes to expanding the 1-A playoffs into a sixteen-team affair.

He claims it'll mean too many games ("I think that's too much to ask a young man's body to do") and that expanding the playoffs would intrude into the academic year...as well as end the bowl system "that so many people like now."

Ed Schultz would call that "psychotalk."

All Mark has to do is take a look at the football playoffs his very own organization runs in Division 1-AA (a twenty-team affair that just got through seeing North Dakota State win it all- at Sam Houston State's expense), Division 2 (24 teams in it), and Division 3 (a 32-club event!).

You know what I say?

Make a Division 1-A event a 24-team playoff.

First of all, DON'T rely on the polls to get the field together. Make all eleven D-1-A leagues eligible- each circuit will have an automatic bid. That would leave thirteen at-large clubs to fill up a 24-team playoff.

Put all 123 Division 1-A squads (Massachusetts, Texas State, and Texas-San Antonio will jump up to 1-A this fall; if Appalachian State makes The Move, it'll give the division 124 clubs in 2012) under a point system similar to what your state's high school athletic association uses when it seeds football playoff entries. (This point system will work for even a four-team playoff!)

Here's what I use when I'm conducting my 1-A playoffs:

*A playoff qualifier gets 50 quality points every time it beats a Division 1-A team that enjoyed a winning season.

*It gets 45 quality points for each win against a Division 1-A club that finished at .500 or worse.

*Our team receives 40 points if it beats a Division 1-AA squad that won most of its games.

*The playoff team gets 35 points for stopping a 1-AA team that had a nonwinning year.

*An undefeated season nets that playoff team an extra 55 points.

*The team in question surrenders 50 quality points in the event of a loss to a winning 1-A team.

*Subtract 55 points if the team lost to a Division 1-A team that had a nonwinning season.

*The playoff squad gets 60 points taken off if it loses to a winning D-1-AA club.

*And should the 1-A playoff team lose to a 1-AA squad that had a .500 year or worse, the playoff team loses a whopping 65 points.

Any time two or more squads have the same number of quality points, the following tiebreakers kick in: Total number of victories chalked up by the teams' Division 1-A opponents; head-to-head competition; the tied teams' conference records; point differential in conference play; point differential in all games; and...a coin flip. (And the last five tiebreakers could be used to determine a conference's automatic qualifier. For instance, Cincinnati- and not West Virginia- would've gotten the Big East's automatic bid in 2011. That's because the Bearcats outscored their fellow league champs; the Mountaineers played Cincy and Louisville to a 59-59 tie; and the Cardinals were outscored by the U of C and WVU. All three teams had 1-1 marks against each other this past season.)

A system like this would take the media out of the selection process and would stress how a team did THIS SEASON, not how it did in the past.

Yes, I'm darn glad Emmert decided to publicly stick up for at least a four-team 1-A football playoff. (It's better than no playoff at all.)

After all, for the NCAA to initiate the process of crowning a REAL Division 1-A football titleholder would be a huge step in the right direction.

I'm tired of myths and fairy tales in Division 1-A football. How about you?