Cotton Bowl: After the Orange Bowl selected the Miami region, the Cotton Bowl had a choice of three regions, all with Big 12 and SEC teams in them. However, of LSU and Texas, one was a guaranteed 1st round elimination, so that meant the choice was between the possibilities of Nebraska-Tennessee or Colorado-Florida. The Cotton Bowl opted for the two national powers, while working out a behind-the-scenes agreement with the Citrus Bowl that allowed it to host Florida.
Holiday Bowl: In a rare stroke of luck, the Holiday Bowl received a region in which Oregon and Texas were favored to advance, producing a traditional Big 12-Pac-10 Holiday Bowl pairing - barring any upsets, of course.
Were the bowls' guesses correct? Hit the jump to see.
Yes, I am aware that the State of Louisiana is backward on the Louisiana Tech helmet. I'm running out of excuses and neither Nebraska or Tech has a suitable alternate helmet I could use. I have decided to just deal with it, figuring they would lose badly and be gone after today anyway.
I'm only going to go to extreme efforts to accommodate helmet issues when they have lettering that cannot be reversed. If it's only vaguely amorphous shapes that look strange, I'm going to just accept it. You might have noticed that Tulane's helmet from 1998 didn't look quite right when reversed, but since the "T" still read fine, I just went with it. Louisiana Tech is a similar case, although Louisiana looks a lot weirder backwards than that green wave. Stupid Cajun state and its annoying little mid-major helmets...
As far as the actual games go, there's not too much to say. Yes, we did get the upsets I predicted, but neither was especially surprising. I ceased being surprised by 14-over-3 upsets sometime last week, I think. That said, Oregon losing so early would have been pretty shocking in 2001 terms.
I still think they were the second-best team in the country that year, and they might have given Miami a run for their money in the Rose Bowl, although I think even they would have lost. Falling out in the 1st round as a prohibitive favorite would be pretty earth-shaking news, if not for how much the Pac-10 has been sucking wind in these playoff games.
Tennessee choking is nothing new. In general, it's a little surprising that the SEC is doing this bad, until I remember that the SEC circa 2001 was not the SEC of today. Saban was just getting started at LSU, Richt had just been hired at Georgia, Auburn hadn't been turned around yet, Alabama was screwing around with crappy coach after crappy coach, etc.
Florida and Tennessee were the two constants at that time, and given that Fulmer never matched the achievements of 1998 in the 10 years that followed, Tennessee's continued early losses do not overly surprise me. As for Spurrier's current playoff 2-3 record, let's wait and see how he does this year before we pass judgment. Bill Snyder had a lot to do with that, after all.
In general, this raises my opinion of the 2001 season somewhat (an opinion admittedly colored by K-State having its first mediocre season in eight years). I remembered it as a bunch of teams with good records but significant warts, all eating Miami's dust, but perhaps that was unfair. Florida, Miami, Nebraska, and Texas all broke the 50-point barrier, and Colorado put up 41 on a pretty decent BYU squad. Illinois and Maryland surprised me by advancing, when I had disdained them for not being among the "elite" teams of this decade, but I think tomorrow is the end of the line for both of them. Despite No. 3 and No. 5 falling out, the real fun is about to start as all these offensive juggernauts face off.
I'd like to think today's slightly more realistic results have something to do with my new seeding protocols, but it's probably more because we're starting to see some truly weak teams emerge as the Sun Belt gets going and the MAC and the WAC start to become poached by better conferences. It will probably only get worse as the ACC and the Big East start to slide. The one constant is that studly Big 12, which is now 18-6 in playoff games, has advanced a team to the championship game every year (and claimed two of them), and now fills three of the Elite Eight spots in 2001.
Game 1: No. 15 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (7-4) VS. No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-1)
Nebraska Memorial Stadium - Lincoln, Neb.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2001 - 10 AM CST
Wind: SW 5 MPH
Final Score: Nebraska 51, Louisiana Tech 17
Player of the Game
Nebraska RB Dahrran Diedrick
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - In its first game since being embarrassed at home by Colorado, Nebraska looked a lot more like the team that rattled off 11 straight wins to begin the season.
The Cornhuskers (12-1) rolled to an easy 51-17 victory over Louisiana Tech (7-5) Saturday to advance to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year. As expected, Nebraska out-rushed the Bulldogs 461-174 and the Blackshirts held Louisiana Tech to just over 300 yards of total offense.
Player of the Game Dahrran Diedrick led the Husker ground assault with 33 carries for 186 yards and 2 TDs, while Thunder Collins added 13 carries for 92 yards and 2 TDs of his own. QB Eric Crouch supplemented that by completing 5-7 passes for 91 yards and a TD.
Louisiana Tech RB Joe Smith was unable to match such production by himself, rushing 17 times for 137 yards, and QB Luke McCown wasn't much more effective, completing 16-32 passes for 129 yards and 2 TDs.
The Bulldogs took an early 3-0 lead after Josh Scobee's 46-yard FG, his only attempt of the game, but Nebraska soon seized control as Collins scored both TDs in the 1st quarter to make it 14-3 Nebraska. Then McCown and Crouch traded TD passes in the 2nd quarter, and the halftime score was 21-10 Nebraska.
After K Josh Brown made a 35-yarder midway through the 3rd quarter, Diedrick rushed for his two TDs to put the game out of reach at 37-10. Nebraska would add two other rushing TDs in the 4th quarter to extend the lead even further, but they were hardly necessary, as Louisiana Tech would only score one more time against the attacking Husker defense.
Louisiana Tech has accepted a bid to the Humanitarian Bowl, while Nebraska awaits the winner of tonight's game between Maryland and Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl.
Game 2: No. 3 Oregon Ducks (10-1) VS. No. 14 Toledo Rockets (9-2)
Autzen Stadium - Eugene, Ore.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2001 - 10 AM PST
Wind: N 6 MPH
Final Score: Toledo 33, Oregon 30
Player of the Game
Toledo RB Chester Taylor
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - It appears some conferences are just better at this whole playoff thing than others. The MAC appears to be one such. The Pac-10? Not so much.
Toledo (10-2) went into the "Autzen Zoo" and upset Oregon (10-2) 33-30 Saturday, in what would be one of the most shocking upsets in playoff history if not for the fact that it seems to keep happening.
This is the third consecutive year a No. 3 seed has lost at home to a No. 14 seed in the 1st round (Nebraska lost to Marshall in 1999 and Washington lost to TCU in 2000), which is especially odd when you consider that in 1998, the No. 3 seed (Kansas State) went on to win the national championship.
The chief ingredient for this surprise win was Toledo's underrated running game. Player of the Game Chester Taylor carried the ball 36 times for 124 yards and scored both his TDs in the 1st quarter to give Toledo an early 14-7 lead, while his less-heralded teammate, Antwon McCray, actually outperformed him, rushing 16 times for 185 yards and a TD.
Oregon tried to match that with RB Maurice Morris' yards (18 carries, 155 yards) and RB Onterrio Smith's TDs (16 carries, 68 yards, 3 TDs), but to no avail. QB Joey Harrington's Heisman candidacy is probably dead now, after a mediocre 11-23 performance for 109 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT failed to give the Ducks an aerial advantage.
Toledo QB Tavares Bolden was just 8-14 for 124 yards and 1 INT, but the other real key to the Rockets' victory was K Todd France, who was perfect Saturday with kicks of 21, 27, 22, and 26 yards. Three of those came in the 2nd quarter, giving Toledo a commanding 23-7 lead at halftime.
Smith got the Ducks back within 10 early in the 3rd quarter, but K Jared Siegel (1-2 FG) missed the PAT, and McCray answered seven minutes later with his lone TD of the day. That 30-13 lead seemed to make an Oregon comeback unlikely, especially since the morning kickoff had produced a crowd that was much less unruly than normal.
Oregon surprised the Rockets, though, as in the first 10 minutes of the 4th quarter the Ducks scored a 31-yard Siegel FG, a 7-yard Harrington-to-Samie Parker TD pass (his only catch of the day), and a 10-yard Smith TD run to tie the game at 30 with 5:28 to play
Most teams might have panicked then and lost the game in the waning minutes, but not the Rockets. Bolden coolly drove them down the field on the last possession of the game, mostly handing off to his running backs, and as Oregon fans and players watched with bated breath and prayed for him to miss, France made his most important kick, as the clock expired, to win the game.
No. 14 seeds are now 3-1 in the 1st round and 4-3 overall, while No. 3 seeds are now 1-3 in the 1st round and 4-3 overall, as well. In men's basketball, the 12-over-5 upset is the most common, occurring slightly more than 50 percent of the time, but in football, the 14-over-3 upset is becoming the norm.
The game continues a horrendous streak for the Pac-10 as well, which has been responsible for the last two 14-3 upsets in consecutive Pacific Northwest home flops. The conference is now 1-8 overall in playoff games, an awful winning percentage of .111, and most of those losses were as the higher seed. The Pac-10 has not won a playoff game since 1998, and both its teams have already been ejected this year, too.
Meanwhile, the MAC keeps rolling, regardless of whether it is Marshall or Toledo doing the giant-killing. The conference is now 3-3 overall, which is even more impressive when you consider that MAC teams have been seeded 14th or lower in every playoff field so far.
The heat is rising on Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who has lost both his 1st round games now. Last year's loss at Nebraska was at least somewhat expected, but this one was not. Oregon was being talked about as perhaps the team in the field best suited to challenge Miami, and it couldn't even win its home opener to advance to the Holiday Bowl, which missed out on hosting a Pac-10 team because of a scrappy mid-major team for the second straight year.
Game 3: No. 6 Texas Longhorns (10-2) VS. No. 11 LSU Tigers (9-3)
Texas Memorial Stadium - Austin, Texas
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2001 - 3:30 PM CST
Wind: N 9 MPH
Final Score: Texas 72, LSU 3
Player of the Game
Texas RB Cedric Benson
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas lost the Big 12 Championship to Colorado, a team it had beaten severely earlier in the season. In the SEC, LSU played the role of Colorado as it avenged an earlier loss to Tennessee.
You wouldn't have guessed any of that if you were watching today's game in Austin.
The Longhorns (11-2) thoroughly embarrassed the Tigers (9-4) Saturday, scoring a playoff record-shattering 72 points while holding LSU to a paltry three points and less than 100 rushing yards.
The Texas offensive surge was a three-headed monster: Player of the Game Cedric Benson rushed 29 times for 186 yards and 2 TDs, RB Ivan Williams added 15 carries for 100 yards and 4 TDs, and QB Chris Simms resuscitated his Heisman candidacy with 21-30 passing for 341 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT.
Simms' favorite targets were receivers B.J. Johnson (4 catches, 98 yards, 2 TDs), Sloan Thomas (5 catches, 72 yards), and Roy Williams (5 catches, 60 yards).
Contrast those performances with LSU's. QB Rohan Davey was 22-46 for 146 yards but was intercepted twice by Nathan Vasher and once by Quentin Jammer. Most of his passes went to WR Josh Reed, who was the Tiger's only effective weapon with eight catches for 80 yards. RB LaBrandon Toefield was held in check all day, rushing 21 times for just 55 yards.
The Texas band started playing "Texas Fight" early and often, as Benson scored a 1-yard TD run and K Dusty Mangum (3-3 FG) added a 39-yard FG to give the Longhorns a 10-0 lead after the 1st quarter.
With five minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, LSU K John Corbello made his only FG attempt from 27 yards out to give the Tigers their only points on the day, and the rout quickly commenced thereafter. Ivan Williams and TE Bo Scaife both scored TDs in the last three minutes, and Mangum added a 43-yard FG as the 2nd half ended, to produce a 27-3 halftime lead for the Longhorns.
Texas ran up the score in the 2nd half with TDs from Johnson, Benson, Ivan Williams, Williams again, Johnson again, and Williams yet again, and then broke the 70-point barrier with Mangum's third FG. It was Johnson's 29-yard TD catch in the 4th quarter that broke the playoff record, set yesterday at 56 points by the Florida Gators, as he put Texas up 62-3.
Texas advances to the Holiday Bowl to meet upset-minded Toledo, but the Rockets might not be looking forward to this particular challenge. LSU's bowl destination is currently unknown, but after today, they might be too sore to play again for a while.
Game 4: No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers (10-2) VS. No. 10 Maryland Terrapins (10-1)
Neyland Stadium - Knoxville, Tenn.
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2001 - 8 PM EST
Wind: NW 5 MPH
Final Score: Maryland 17, Tennessee 13 (OT)
Player of the Game
Maryland RB Bruce Perry
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - For SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, playoff days rarely bring good news. This day was no exception.
Tennessee (10-3) lost its second consecutive game and its second 1st round home opener in as many tries, as surprise ACC Champion Maryland (11-1) extended a charmed season with a 17-13 overtime upset victory in Knoxville Saturday.
It completed an 0-2 day for the SEC, which earlier today earned a notorious place in the annals of history as LSU, the team that upset Tennessee in the SEC Championship, yielded a playoff-record 72 points to Texas. The conference is now 3-8 in playoff games, although that winning percentage is still more than twice as good as the Pac-10's.
Maryland RB Bruce Perry (29 carries, 158 yards, 2 TDs) was named Player of the Game after he helped the Terrapins out-rush the Volunteers 272-94, despite Tennessee RB Travis Stephens' 27 carries for 103 yards. Why the discrepancy? Well, that was thanks to a stout Maryland defensive effort that saw six different Terrapins collect sacks.
Maryland's defensive pressure was a major storyline today, but neither quarterback was very good in this game. Maryland's Shaun Hill was 6-16 for 65 yards and Tennessee's Casey Clausen was 10-21 for 209 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Despite the punishment, Clausen was able to connect with star WR Kelley Washington four times for 133 yards and 1 TD.
At least Tennessee K Alex Walls (2-2 FG) was a bright spot, while normally reliable Maryland K Nick Novak made just one of his four FG attempts. The one make was the first score of the game, though, giving Maryland a 3-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.
That lead lasted until just seven seconds remained in the 2nd quarter, when Clausen connected with Washington from 29 yards out to give the Volunteers a 7-3 halftime lead. It lasted until 7:16 remaining in the 3rd quarter, when Perry rumbled in from five yards out to put the Terps back on top, 10-7.
Walls made a 37-yarder to tie the game with 13:21 left in the 4th quarter, and both defenses held firm for the rest of regulation. On the first overtime possession, the Vols were denied the end zone and had to settle for a 32-yard Walls FG to take a 13-10 lead.
That put Maryland in position to win it outright, and the Terps did exactly that when Perry took the second hand-off from scrimmage 27 yards for a TD and the win. As red-clad Terrapin fans celebrated wildly in that end of the stadium, it served as an uncomfortable reminder to Tennessee fans of how TCU fans celebrated in a similar fashion two years ago.
Coach Phillip Fulmer suffered another disappointing loss to fall to 1-3 in playoff games, a mark that is sure to give rise to even more off-season criticism of his recent coaching performances. He has one last chance to at least end the season with a win, as Tennessee will face Michigan in the Tangerine Bowl.
Maryland advances to the Cotton Bowl, where they will face the implacable Cornhuskers of Nebraska, who routed Louisiana Tech yesterday.
All helmet images are courtesy of The Helmet Project. Check it out - it's pretty cool.
Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl
#4 Colorado vs. #5 Florida
Florida Citrus Bowl
SBC Communications Cotton Bowl Classic
#2 Nebraska vs. #10 Maryland
Culligan Holiday Bowl
#6 Texas vs. #14 Toledo
San Diego, Calif.
FedEx Orange Bowl
#1 Miami vs. #8 Illinois
Pro Player Stadium
Miami Gardens, Fla.