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! 

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