Wow, what a day! Two upsets, the infancy of Horned Frog Nation's big-winning ways, an 0-3 day for the SEC, a thrilling shootout on the Michigan tundra, and stellar 200+ yard performances from future Pro Bowlers LaDainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander kicked the 1999 playoff off in high style.
It took a little longer than normal to write up today's recaps, because - damn, these would have been some exciting games to watch! I just hope I helped you to visualize them a little better than the box scores let you do. Another day of awesome playoff action that makes you grow just a little more non-accepting of the current system.
Game 1: No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (11-0) VS. No. 16 Boise State Broncos (9-3)
Doak Campbell Stadium - Tallahassee, Fla.
Friday, Dec. 10, 1999 - 11 AM EST
Wind: NW 10 MPH
Final Score: Florida State 24, Boise State 14
Player of the Game
Florida State QB Chris Weinke
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida State kicked off the 1999 version of "December Madness" with a familiar sort of win: a solid victory at home over an over-matched Big West Champion.
The Seminoles (12-0) defeated the Boise State Broncos (9-4) 24-14 Friday at Doak Campbell Stadium. Unlike last year's 1-16 match-up between Tennessee and Idaho, this one was competitive, but Florida State never trailed.
Florida State scored five minutes into the game on a 8-yard Chris Weinke-to-Peter Warrick TD pass, but Boise State answered with 4:30 left in the 1st quarter with a 26-yard Nick Calaycay FG to make it a 7-3 Seminole lead.
Six minutes into the 2nd quarter, Weinke slung another TD pass to Robert Morgan to give Florida State a halftime lead of 14-3.
Boise State came out of the locker room strong and Calaycay added a 42-yarder at the 11:22 mark in the 3rd quarter to cut the Florida State lead to just eight, but the 'Noles negated the gain when Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 30-yard FG five minutes later to stretch the lead back to 17-6.
Boise State would not go away, however. The Bronco defense stepped up and held Florida State scoreless through much of the 4th quarter, and when Ryan Dinwiddie threw a 7-yard TD pass to Brock Forsey, who followed that play with a 2-point conversion to make it 17-14 Florida State with 5:09 left on the clock, Seminole fans began to grow nervous.
The playoff-tested Seminoles responded, though. Weinke managed the clock well and drove Florida State 66 yards in six plays, throwing his third TD pass of the day to Ron Dugans from 12 yards out with 2:42 remaining to make it 24-14.
Dinwiddie was able to get his team to the Florida State 31-yard line with one minute left in the ballgame, but Florida State's defense came up big on a 4th-down stop and Weinke was able to take a knee to run out the rest of the clock.
Boise State lost despite outscoring Florida State in the second half 11-10, out-rushing them in the game 163-75, and controlling time of possession (35:48 to FSU's 24:12). They also had four sacks of Weinke, blemishing his otherwise excellent passing day.
Weinke, named Player of the Game, was 22-41 passing for 279 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs, while Dinwiddie was actually slightly more efficient, completing 14-26 passes for 165 yards and 1 TD and distributing throws to nine different receivers.
Florida State's Travis Minor was solid on limited touches, rushing nine times for 78 yards, but he was out-shined by Forsey, who ran 30 times for 155 yards, and his backup, David Mikell, who had 14 rushes for 44 yards.
Warrick continued a string of spectacular playoff performances with eight catches for 88 yards and 1 TD, and several of them were quite acrobatic.
After the game, Boise State accepted a bid to the Humanitarian Bowl to play Louisville on the Broncos' blue home turf. Meanwhile, Florida State will prepare for their 2nd round opponent, the winner of tonight's game between rival Florida and Michigan.
Game 2: No. 13 Michigan State Spartans (9-2) VS. No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2)
Bryant-Denny Stadium - Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Friday, Dec. 10, 1999 - 1 PM EST
Final Score: Michigan State 37, Alabama 29
Player of the Game
Alabama RB Shaun Alexander
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - The SEC is having a bad day.
Coming into Friday, only No. 9 seed Florida was an underdog, but the Gators may have performed the best in losing a close road shootout.
No. 5 seed Tennessee and No. 4 seed Alabama don't have any excuses. Both lost at home to double-digit seeds in games they were expected to win comfortably, completing a "perfect" 0-3 day for the highly-touted conference.
The coup de grace for SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was watching the SEC Champion Crimson Tide (10-3) fall to the 13-seeded Michigan State Spartans (10-2) 37-29, despite out-rushing them 370-283 and attaining a mind-boggling 6.9 YPC average.
In fact, Tide RB Shaun Alexander was named Player of the Game for his 33-carry, 248-yard, 1-TD performance, and his backup Shaud Williams was equally impressive, gaining 129 yards on just nine carries, yet somehow Alabama lost the game.
Maybe it was a lack of balance - QB Andrew Zow was only 9-17 for 106 yards. It certainly wasn't bad kicking that cost the Tide; Ryan Pflugner, who had a career day, made FGs of 38, 41, 43, 36, and 28 yards, missing only from 47 yards out.
But the Spartans had some equally impressive performances. RB Lloyd Clemons rushed 20 times for 140 yards and 1 TD. Reserve T.J. Duckett carried 12 times for 95 yards. QB Bill Burke was outstanding, completing 10 of his 14 passes for 190 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT.
Spartan star WR Plaxico Burress only caught two passes for 40 yards, but teammate Gari Scott snagged three more for 60 yards to offset Burress' low-productivity day. And K Paul Edinger was even more reliable than Pflugner, making all three of his tries from 47, 38, and 43 yards.
Perhaps Michigan State's competitive edge was a simple matter of motivation. Ranked 9th in the FBS standings, the Spartans knew they would not be re-matched with No. 8 seed and hated rival Michigan, but they certainly didn't expect to fall this far in the bracket, and many MSU fans took it as a slight.
The team seemed as if it felt the same way, jumping out quickly to a 10-0 start in Tuscaloosa after Edinger's first kick and Clemons' 8-yard TD run. Alabama had been punched in the mouth, and the Tide didn't respond until 3:36 left in the 1st quarter when Pflugner booted his first kick to cut the deficit to seven.
Early in the 2nd quarter, Pflugner added another three points and Williams ran it in from 10 yards out to give Alabama its first (and only) lead of the game, 13-10, at the 9:38 mark, but the Spartans responded. Burke's 44-yard TD pass to Little John Flowers put Michigan State back on top by four, and they stretched the lead to 20-13 after Edinger's second make.
Pflugner kicked his 46-yarder as time expired in the 1st half, so the Tide went to the lockers only down 16-20, but they needed more answers than just FGs, as Edinger negated that momentum when his last kick six minutes after halftime made it 23-16 Spartans.
Alabama found at least some answers behind the running of Alexander, as he seemed determined to outdo LaDainian Tomlinson's rushing performance from later in the day. His 21-yard TD run with 14 seconds left in the 3rd quarter tied the game at 23 and set up a crucial final period.
Burke threw a 42-yard TD pass to Scott early in the 4th quarter to get the lead back for the Spartans, and Alabama was only able to answer with Pflugner's last two FGs. Down 29-30, his one miss came back to haunt his team as Michigan State sealed away the game on Chris Baker's 7-yard TD catch with 2:30 left.
Michigan State will advance to meet TCU, an upset winner at Tennessee this evening, in the Cotton Bowl, which might have to be renamed the "Cinderella Bowl" in light of today's events. It will be the second straight road game for the disrespected Spartans, as TCU's campus in Fort Worth is not far from Dallas and the Horned Frogs should have good fan representation at the game.
Alabama's consolation, meanwhile, will be its SEC Championship and, they hope, a minor bowl victory. The dream of adding another piece of hardware to the trophy case is over, at least for this season.
Game 3: No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers (9-2) VS. No. 12 TCU Horned Frogs (7-4)
Neyland Stadium - Knoxville, Tenn.
Friday, Dec. 10, 1999 - 4:30 PM EST
Precipitation: Light Rain
Wind: SW 9 MPH
Final Score: TCU 28, Tennessee 26
Player of the Game
TCU RB LaDainian Tomlinson
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A No. 12 seed upset a higher-ranked, favored No. 5 seed. The Tennessee Volunteers fell to a lower-ranked, lower-seeded underdog. Is this starting to sound familiar?
For the second straight season, a "Cinderella" was seeded 12th and advanced to the 2nd round of the FBS Playoff. Last year it was Virginia; this year it is TCU (8-4), who won in Knoxville Friday evening in a 28-26 classic.
And for the second straight season, Tennessee (9-3) fell victim to an upset. Last year it was No. 8 Florida who knocked the Vols out early, but this was even worse. Tennessee lost on its home field as a 2-TD favorite to a team that many felt least deserved to be in the field.
TCU rose to the top of a three-way tie in the WAC to claim an automatic bid by virtue of its Sagarin computer ranking, which was slightly higher than those of Fresno State and Hawai'i. Still, with a 7-4 record and several ugly losses, they had the worst resume of any team in this year's field, and many felt they should have been seeded 15th or 16th.
Instead, they landed the dangerous 12 seed, and proved they definitely belong in the hunt for a championship.
Fans of the running game were in for a treat in this one. TCU won largely because of star RB and Player of the Game LaDainian Tomlinson, who was simply marvelous as he rushed 33 times for an astonishing 268 yards and 3 TDs and provided the bulk of TCU's 303 rushing yards.
Yet the Horned Frogs were actually out-rushed by the Tennessee tandem of Travis Henry (16 carries, 148 yards, 1 TD) and Jamal Lewis (28 carries, 119 yards), and QB Tee Martin chipped in with 12 carries for 51 yards, as well.
Martin might as well have gotten in on the rushing act, as quarterbacks were largely irrelevant in this one. He completed only 10-23 passes for 172 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, while TCU QB Patrick Batteaux was even more marginal, going just 4-11 for 111 yards and 1 TD. Not to be overlooked, though, is Tennessee WR Cedrick Wilson's excellent day. He had six catches for 105 yards.
Tennessee was cruising early, after a 23-yard Alex Walls FG and Henry's 63-yard TD run gave the Vols a 10-0 lead in the 1st quarter. But Tomlinson finally sparked the Frogs at the 10:36 mark of the 2nd quarter when he picked his way down the left sideline for an 82-yard gain. Two plays later, he swept left for four yards and a TD.
TCU's offense was largely ineffective the rest of the half, though, resulting in several punts and a 27-yard Chris Kaylakie missed kick. Tennessee threatened to score again on a long drive right before halftime, but the TCU defense rallied to stop the drive and force a 47-yard Walls FG, resulting in a Tennessee halftime lead of 13-7.
It was not enough of a lead, as Tomlinson really got going in the 3rd period. Seven minutes in, he picked up 36 yards on a draw play and then punched it in for an 11-yard score two plays later, giving TCU its first lead of the ballgame at 14-13.
Tennessee went 3-and-out, and that was apparently enough rest for Tomlinson as he started the next drive on his own 28, but on 1st down carved up the Tennessee defense and bolted loose for a 72-yard TD run. TCU led Tennessee 21-13 and an upset watch was in full effect.
Tennessee did answer this time, though; Lewis converted a 3rd-and-2 with a 44-yard sweep to the left, and on the next 3rd down, Martin found Eric Parker from 17 yards out to draw the Vols within one point and set up a thrilling conclusion.
After several punts were exchanged, TCU found itself on its own 26 facing a 3rd down and not wanting to go 3-and-out again. Instead, Batteaux made his best play of the game, hitting TE Matt Schobel in stride for a 74-yard TD to stretch the lead back to 28-20.
Tennessee returned the kickoff to its 30 and the comeback attempt was under way. On 3rd and 9, Martin found Wilson for a 17-yard gain, and then hooked up with him again two plays later for a 20-yard gain. On the next play, with 5:02 remaining, Martin tucked it and scrambled through a wide gap in the line as a blitz came from outside.
TCU safety Reggie Hunt was the last man to beat, but he missed the tackle. Martin's 30-yard scrambling TD run put the Vols in position to tie it, but Lewis' 2-point conversion run was stopped short of the end zone.
TCU was only able to bleed about a minute off the clock, so Tennessee had another chance with 3:32 left. A promising 37-yard drive was cut short, however, when Hunt atoned for his earlier mistake by intercepting Martin and returning it to the TCU 29.
Tennessee burned all three timeouts and managed to get the ball back with 1:21 still showing on the clock, but Aaron Schobel's sack cost the Vols most of that time and TCU defensive coordinator Gary Patterson's prevent defense was enough to manage the rest of the clock, allowing only 29 yards on the final drive.
As the final seconds ticked down, TCU players dumped Gatorade on coach Dennis Franchione and then ran excitedly to one corner of Neyland Stadium, where a thin sliver of purple-wearing fans waited to greet them happily. Meanwhile, Tennessee fans clad in orange streamed out of the stadium in disbelief.
Tennessee will almost certainly garner a bowl invitation, although their destination was unknown as of press time, but coach Phillip Fulmer will be left to face another slew of questions this off-season about why his team is unable to win games in which it is favored, while seniors like Martin and Lewis can only wonder how they let two chances to win a national championship slip through their fingers (Tennessee lost to Florida last year as a No. 1 seed).
Meanwhile, TCU cannot bask in its unexpected victory very long, as a motivated Michigan State team will await them next week, but TCU will be the de facto home team in the Cotton Bowl.
The Spartans had better be focused on one thing above all else, though: finding a way (if any exists) to stop LaDainian Tomlinson. TCU can enjoy this in the meantime, knowing they have silenced many of their doubters with this win.
Game 4: No. 8 Michigan Wolverines (9-2) VS. No. 9 Florida Gators (9-3)
Michigan Stadium - Ann Arbor, Mich.
Friday, Dec. 10, 1999 - 8 PM EST
Wind: SW 15 MPH
Final Score: Michigan 45, Florida 38
Player of the Game
Florida RB Earnest Graham
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - What a difference a year makes.
This time last season, Florida dominated a Big Ten team in the warm and friendly confines of "The Swamp," and QB Doug Johnson had one of his best games ever.
This year, they were treated to cold Michigan winds and 110,000 opposing fans while Johnson threw a stunning six INTs in a losing effort.
Wolverine fans came expecting a chance of snow flurries, but instead witnessed a flurry of scoring as Michigan (10-2) beat Florida (9-4) 45-38 in an exciting game that saw both teams combine for over 800 yards of offense.
The Gators struck first, driving 38 yards in eight plays and taking a 3-0 lead on the road with Jeff Chandler's 33-yard FG. Things looked promising early for the Gators, as on the third play of the ensuing possession Michigan QB Tom Brady threw his only INT of the day to set Florida up at the Michigan 31.
However, after an 11-yard run by Earnest Graham, Johnson threw his first oskie of the day to Ian Gold, and Brady capitalized on his second chance by driving the Wolverines 66 yards in seven plays and throwing a 17-yard TD pass to Dave Terrell to make it a 7-3 Michigan lead with 7:28 left in the 1st quarter.
Disaster struck for the Gators when three plays later Johnson was intercepted again by Anthony Jordan. That set up a 29-yard Brady-to-Anthony Thomas pass to make it 1st and goal from the 1, and Thomas punched it in on the next play to make the score 14-3 with 6:06 left in the 1st period.
Johnson's terrible day continued with the first play of the next drive, when he threw his third INT in five plays, which Cato June returned to the Michigan 38. Brady then led a 11-play, 62-yard drive spanning 4:41, and his 5-yard TD pass to Shawn Thompson made it 21-3 with 1:06 left in the quarter.
Most teams probably would have folded up at that point, but not the Florida Gators. After an illegal motion penalty, Florida got back into the game on the next drive when Graham broke loose on a sweep left play and raced 72 yards for a TD to make it 21-10 and complete the 31-point 1st quarter.
The fireworks continued in the 2nd period as the Gators capitalized on a Michigan fumble with a Johnson-to-Alex Willis 11-yard TD pass to make it 21-17 three minutes in. Michigan then went 3-and-out, followed by Florida going 4-and-out.
That set Michigan up at the Florida 45 and Brady did not miss a chance to build the lead back up. It took him just eight plays and 3:31 to cover the remaining 45 yards and throw a 1-yard scoring pass to Marcus Knight, which increased the Michigan lead to 28-17.
Two plays later, Johnson threw his fourth pick of the half to James Whitley, and Michigan fans thought they might be able to finally breathe a sigh of relief. But after trading ineffective drives with the Wolverines, Florida finally came up with a huge play to get back into the game again when they blocked a Michigan punt and recovered at the Michigan 14 with 0:52 left before halftime.
Johnson's 2nd-down pass to Willis covered 11 of those yards, and he finished the drive with a 3-yard TD pass to Reche Caldwell. However, Florida's woes continued when Chandler missed the PAT, and the Gators limped into the locker room down 23-28 and thankful the score was not worse, given how much had gone wrong for them already.
Michigan opened the second half strong with a 10-play, 62-yard TD drive capped by B.J. Askew's 1-yard run, making the score 35-23 four minutes in. They then forced several Florida punts and added a 37-yard Jeff Del Verne FG with 5:05 left in the 3rd quarter to put them ahead 38-23. For the third time in the game, Michigan fans must have felt like their team was finally pulling away for good.
Florida saved its best comeback attempt for last, though. Reserve RB Bo Carroll started the next drive with an explosive 57-yard off tackle run, Caldwell caught an 11-yard pass, and Graham scored on a 6-yard run (also off tackle) to make it 38-30. The 3-play, 74-yard drive took just 1:12.
Michigan went 3-and-out, and the next Florida drive covered 52 yards in eight plays and 2:45, opening the 4th quarter with another Graham TD, this one from 12 yards out to make it 38-36. Johnson's 2-point conversion pass to Travis Taylor was good, and the score was tied five seconds into the 4th quarter.
Both Michigan fans and the team seemed too stunned to respond. The Wolverines spent the next four drives trading punts with Florida, a pattern broken only once when Johnson threw his career-high fifth INT to DeWayne Patmon with 10:22 remaining.
Finally, with 3:48 left in the game, Johnson put the exclamation point on his poor decision-making with his sixth INT, which James Whitley returned to the Florida 27. That seemed to be the spark the Wolverines needed to put this one away.
Brady calmly drove Michigan to the 9-yard line, and on 3rd and goal his TD pass to DiAllo Johnson gave the Wolverines the lead for good. Florida had a few more chances, but the Michigan defense held firm and Johnson's funk continued until the bitter end.
It was almost a shame one team had to lose, because this was as exciting as an 8-9 match-up could ever hope to be. Brady was 26-of-47 for 300 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT, while Johnson, despite the half-dozen turnovers, was 18-43 for 202 yards and 2 TDs.
Graham was impressive in a losing effort, rushing 16 times for 156 yards and 3 TDs. Asked after the game how he felt about being named Player of the Game, Graham said, "I guess it's an honor, but I'd rather have the win. I hate this feeling, man."
Bo Carroll spelled him on seven carries, amassing 69 yards. Michigan's only significant rusher was Thomas, who had 29 carries for 85 yards and 1 TD; he was also the leading receiver with six catches for 84 yards. Terrell added seven catches for 75 yards and a TD, while Florida's Darrell Jackson led the Gators with five catches for 60 yards.
Alex Brown, Daryl Dixon, Lester Norwood, and Marquand Manuel each had one sack for Florida, but that was the one bragging point for a Gator defense that was shredded all day by Brady for 300 passing yards.
Florida will finish its season in the Tangerine Bowl, where Johnson will attempt to put this performance behind him. It is a disappointing finish for a team that reached the Final Four last season and was hoping for more. Additionally, Florida was anticipating a rematch with hated rival Florida State, who combined with No. 4 seed Alabama to deal the Gators all of their regular-season losses.
Instead, the Seminoles will face the Wolverines next Saturday in the Florida Citrus Bowl.
All helmet images are courtesy of The Helmet Project. Check it out - it's pretty cool.
#15 Utah @ #2 Virginia Tech
#14 Marshall @ #3 Nebraska
Nebraska Memorial Stadium
#11 Stanford @ #6 Kansas State
#10 Southern Miss @ #7 Wisconsin
Camp Randall Stadium
BracketCat's Protest Playoff Archives
1999: Selection Sunday