Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A playoff cycle for the books!

The first six-touchdown performance in the history of these "shoulda-coulda-woulda" Division 1-A football playoffs...the first second-round loss by a Number One seed in six years...a team that'd been 0-2 in playoff appearances finally rising up to win a pair of postseason contests...a Mid-American Conference team making the Final Four for the first time...and a new color in the throne room.

Well, I'm just going to cut to the chase and tell you how the 2016 edition of this version of a big-school NCAA football playoff went down: 

FIRST ROUND (seeding in parentheses): Michigan (9) 63, Oklahoma State (24) 21; San Diego State (16) 28, Toledo (17) 7; Colorado (13) 30, USC (20) 23; Wisconsin (12) 31, Nebraska (21) 0; Florida State (19) 41, Western Kentucky (14) 34; Stanford (22) 24, South Florida (11) 21; Louisville (18) 28, Temple (15) 14; West Virginia (10) 31, Appalachian State (23) 27

SECOND ROUND: Michigan 37, Alabama (1) 22; San Diego State 28, Boise State (8) 7; Ohio State (5) 21, Colorado 13; Washington (4) 42, Wisconsin 10; Penn State (6) 46, Florida State 7; Clemson (3) 30, Stanford 21; Oklahoma (7) 28, Louisville 21; Western Michigan (2) 19, West Virginia 3

QUARTERFINAL ROUND: Michigan 42, San Diego State 17; Washington 13, Ohio State 12; Penn State 38, Clemson 27; Western Michigan 35, Oklahoma 28

SEMIFINAL ROUND: Washington 20, Michigan 6; Penn State 34, Western Michigan 20

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Penn State 29, Washington 13

Now...on to the highlights!

FIRST ROUND: Freshman RB Chris Evans (12) keyed the Wolverines' rout of the Cowboys by scoring six TDs- four on the ground, one on a catch, and the other on an 84-yard punt return- to break Ki-Jana Carter's one-game record of five, set in 1994 (still the mark for a championship game)...after two first-round failures (1986 and 2015), Aztecs rode RB Donnel Pumphrey's 18-carry, 200-yard spree to victory over the Rockets...Hilltoppers' 30 first downs (and 574-527 yardage edge) weren't enough to stop the Seminoles, who won the game when WR Kermit Whitfield ran it in from seven yards with 3:05 to go in the fourth quarter...in a battle of Mountaineers, West Virginia pulled it out with 4:15 left in the fourth on RB Justin Crawford's two-yard scoring jaunt after K Michael Rubino's 48-yard field goal gave Appalachian State a brief 27-24 lead...Buffaloes avenged a 20-5 loss to the Trojans when QB Sefo Liufau scooted to paydirt from the USC 11...Badgers capitalized on Husker QB Tommy Armstrong's absence (due to an injury against Iowa) by limiting Nebraska to 229 total yards and by avoiding turnovers and penalties...RB Christian McCaffrey (20 runs, 133 yards, 2 TDs) helped Cardinal overcome Bulls' 14-10 halftime lead.

SECOND ROUND: Broncos dismissed the Men from Morgantown by holding WVU to a sickening 76 total yards (44 on the ground, 32 in the air)...RB Saquon Barkley (23 rushes, 101 yards) and QB Trace McSorley (two TD passes, two rushing scores) keyed Nittany Lions' dismantling of Seminoles...QB Baker Mayfield hooked up with WR Dede Westbrook for a 54-yard TD to advance Sooners over Cardinals (and their Heisman-winning QB, Lamar Jackson)...McCaffrey took the opening kickoff 100 yards for a score, but Tigers overcame all that with QB Deshaun Watson's three TD tosses (and 20-of-29 passing for 187 yards)...the Pumphrey Express flattened Boise State (he gained 131 yards on 23 tries and scored a TD)...QB Jake Browning's four air scores (18-29-359 yards-2 INTs on the night) helped Huskies oust Badgers...Crimson Tide outgained Wolverines, 334-253, and kept Evans out of the end zone- but six sacks by Michigan's defense led to Alabama's demise (six years after Wisconsin embarrassed top-seeded Auburn, 28-21, in the second round). 

QUARTERFINAL ROUND: 19 Tiger penalties (for 131 yards) caused Clemson to waste Watson's 38-49-358 yard-3 TD-2 INT effort...for the first time ever, a team from the Mid-American Conference reached the semifinals- because WMU QB Zach Terrell flipped a one-yard scoring toss to WR Corey Davis with 4:54 remaining in regulation to kick the Sooners out of the playoffs...in what was a game of three-pointers, WR Aaron Fuller won it for the Huskies by running a punt back 80 yards to daylight (after returning just one other punt during the season- and that for five yards)...QB Wilton Speight's five TD throws (he went 20 for 31 for 311 yards and two picks) helped the Wolverines bury the Aztecs.

SEMIFINAL ROUND: Terrell outdueled McSorley (316 passing yards to 290), but Trace flicked three air scores to Zach's two- and got help from Barkley, who ran 24 times for 121 yards...Huskies held Wolverines to 272 total yards- 54 on the ground (in 28 carries); meanwhile, Browning and WR Chico McClatcher hooked up for two scoring strikes.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Barkley (this season's playoff MVP) toted the Nittany Lions on his back by scoring a pair of TDs (while running 24 times for 88 yards).

Result: Penn State won it all for the first time since 1994 (when the team from State College, PA crushed Kansas State, 63-14, in Carter's monster game).

The Nittany Lions kept the "shoulda-coulda-woulda" crown in Big Ten Conference hands (Iowa was last season's champ after stopping Alabama, 14-7, in overtime).

The Blue and White became the fourth club in the history of these playoffs to win it all under two different head coaches- joining Nebraska (Tom Osborne in 1982, 1989, 1990, 1993, and 1997 and Frank Solich in 1999), Miami (FL) (Dennis Erickson turned the trick in 1992, followed nine years later by Larry Coker), and Ohio State (which won in 1996 under John Cooper, then did it again in 2005, 2007, and 2010- all on Jim Tressel's watch).

And 22 years after Joe Paterno brought the crown to Happy Valley, James Franklin got it done...and became the first African American to head up a champion in this version of a D-1-A playoff. 

Had Washington come through, Chris Peterson would've made "shoulda-coulda-woulda" history, too...as the first head coach to take two different teams to the top. (His Boise State squad went all the way in 2006 and 2008.)

This playoff cycle was truly one for the books.

Can the 2017 playoffs top that? 

I'm Jim Boston...thanks for reading this blog!

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