Fiesta Bowl: This was an easy decision. Nebraska and Texas both populate the south side of the bracket and face upset winners in the Elite Eight that they frankly should beat. The prospect of the Cornhusker-Longhorn battle that didn't happen in the regular season in 2001 was too much for the Fiesta Bowl, whose only official tie is to the Big 12, to pass up.
Sugar Bowl: The Sugar Bowl's consolation is that both Florida and Miami look like strong candidates to advance, producing the Sugar Bowl that actually occurred in 2000. (Miami beat Florida 37-20 in that one.)
Just when you thought I had run out of explanations for alternate helmets, I managed to think up one or two more. Hit the jump to see my latest wacky justifications.
OK, who didn't see Florida beating Colorado coming? That was sort of obvious after the way the Gators waylaid Louisville. Colorado had an amazing running game, but Pesavento was definitely the weak link in the equation. And for as much as Rex Grossman sucks in the NFL, he was a pretty damn good college quarterback.
So, I've labored for seven years under the delusion that either Colorado or Oregon deserved a shot at Miami more then Nebraska, and then they both fall to lower seeds. Go figure. Oh, well - that's why I enjoy this project so much. You never quite know how things are going to play out, just like the NCAA Tournament in real life.
That doesn't mean Nebraska was deserving either, though. It's probably for the best that Maryland upset them - the Huskers would have just embarrassed themselves down the line anyway, much as they did in real life. It's clear, however, that I dramatically underestimated this Maryland team. The only question I have is why they were really good that year, and then completely mediocre every season thereafter. Strange. By the way, the ACC is now 11-3 in playoff games (.786) and the Big 12 is in 2nd place at 19-8 (.704). That's not something I expected to see this far in.
So, after today one would fully expect to see Miami and Texas play for all the marbles, right? Thus, it wouldn't surprise me one iota if it ends up being Florida and Maryland in a repeat of the real-world 2001 Orange Bowl. After doing this for a few weeks, nothing surprises me anymore.
Game 1: No. 4 Colorado Buffaloes (11-2) VS. No. 5 Florida Gators (10-2)
Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl
Florida Citrus Bowl - Orlando, Fla.
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2001 - 11 AM EST
Wind: NW 12 MPH
Final Score: Florida 48, Colorado 26
Player of the Game
Florida QB Rex Grossman
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Finally, some good news for the SEC.
Florida (11-2) beat Colorado (11-3) 48-26 Saturday to become the first SEC team to advance to the Final Four in FBS Playoff history.
Florida QB Rex Grossman was the difference in the game, helping the Gators overcome Colorado's 323-179 rushing advantage by completing 21-30 passes for 377 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs. He was subsequently named Player of the Game for the second straight playoff game, a nice consolation prize for losing out on the Heisman to a less-heralded passer, Nebraska's Eric Crouch.
His favorite target was WR Jabar Gaffney (5 catches, 114 yards), while Colorado QB Bobby Pesavento (9-16, 133 yards) got little aid from his receiver corps and relied mainly upon RB Bobby Purify (18 carries, 156 yards, 1 TD) to help move the chains. It wasn't enough for the Buffaloes.
Chris Brown rushed for a 22-yard TD three minutes into the game to give the Buffaloes an early 6-0 lead, but Florida's offense responded with a 54-yard Grossman-to-Carlos Perez TD pass and a 29-yard Robert Gillespie (12 carries, 60 yards) TD run to exit the 1st quarter leading 14-6. The two teams then traded two TDs each in the 2nd period and the halftime score read 28-19 Florida.
Things started to come apart in the 2nd half for the Buffaloes, who wore plain gold helmets without their standard "buffalo" decal to honor the victims of Sept. 11. Perez caught a second TD from Grossman to give the Gators a 35-19 lead after three quarters, and then Grossman completed another TD pass to Kelvin Knight (one of eight Gators to catch a pass today) to push the lead to 41-19.
When Gillespie ran in for his second TD of the day with 3:45 left in the game, everyone knew it was over. Only a 54-yard Purify TD run a minute later made the score look more respectable than it really was. Coach Steve Spurrier left no doubt that he made the better halftime adjustments in this game.
So, with that monkey off his back, Spurrier advances to the Sugar Bowl to await either Illinois or Miami, while the two teams who played for the SEC Championship watch from home. So will Colorado, which had one of its best seasons in years snuffed out by another of Grossman's prolific passing performances.
Game 2: No. 10 Maryland Terrapins (11-1) VS. No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-1)
SBC Communications Cotton Bowl Classic
Cotton Bowl - Dallas, Texas
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2001 - 12 PM CST
Wind: W 8 MPH
Final Score: Maryland 37, Nebraska 33 (2OT)
Player of the Game
Maryland RB Bruce Perry
DALLAS (AP) - Every time the Big 12 threatens to overtake the ACC in playoff winning percentage, the ACC finds a way to beat back the attempt.
The latest surprise? Maryland (12-1) won its second consecutive overtime playoff game, defeating Nebraska (12-2) 37-33 to advance to the Fiesta Bowl. A No. 10 seed had never won a playoff game before this season, and now one is going to the Final Four.
Like last week's Maryland-Tennessee game, this one was a thriller, and it took twice as many overtime periods to settle the issue this time around. The game also featured superb performances from a pair of star running backs. Maryland's Bruce Perry was named Player of the Game for the second consecutive playoff game, after rushing 31 times for 227 yards and 3 TDs. Nebraska's Dahrran Diedrick was no less spectacular, with 32 carries for 207 yards and 2 TDs.
Both kickers were excellent, too. Maryland's Nick Novak was 3-3 on FG attempts and Nebraska's Josh Brown was 4-4. That stood in sharp contrast to the mediocre play of both quarterbacks; Shaun Hill was just 8-17 for 110 yards and 1 TD, while Heisman winner Eric Crouch was a disappointing 3-6 for 33 yards.
Brown kicked things off, booting a 29-yard FG to give Nebraska a 3-0 lead after the 1st quarter, and Diedrick extended that to 10-0 with a 21-yard TD run 30 seconds into the 2nd period. Perry answered, though, ripping off TD runs of 43 and 15 yards to give Maryland a 14-10 halftime lead.
Nebraska RB Thunder Collins reclaimed the lead for the Huskers with a 6-yard TD run with 4:32 left in the 3rd quarter, and things were just starting to get really interesting. Maryland WR Scooter Monroe caught his only pass of the game, a 5-yarder, for a TD to restore Maryland to the lead, 21-17. Brown kicked a 33-yard FG to chip that down to 21-20 with 6:18 left in the game, but Novak pushed it back to 24-20 with a 49-yarder with 2:27 remaining.
On the second play of Nebraska's next possession, Diedrick broke loose for a 68-yard TD and a major momentum swing as Nebraska jumped ahead 27-24 with 1:40 to go. Maryland was unfazed, though, as Hill managed the clock well and passed efficiently, calmly driving the Terrapins down the field to within Novak's range. Novak's 25-yarder was right down the middle as time expired, and both teams prepared for overtime.
On Maryland's first possession, the Terps were able to get a 1st down but then stalled out, and Novak kicked a 24-yarder to give them the early overtime lead. However, after a Nebraska 3-and-out, Brown answered with a 44-yard FG to force a second overtime period.
Nebraska was again held 3-and-out, and Brown continued to step up, booting a 38-yard FG just inside the upright. Maryland was determined to win the game outright, however, after Perry and backup Marc Riley each rushed for 10-yard gains to give the Terps a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Then, just like last week, it was Perry who slammed the door shut, scoring a TD with a 4-yard carry on a draw play, and Maryland's improbable run gained another one-week lease on life.
It was a fantastic finish to a day that started off poorly for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose equipment manager mistakenly brought the wrong helmets to Dallas; Maryland switched to new helmets this season but had to wear its old helmets from the 2000 season in the game.
Meanwhile, Nebraska coach Frank Solich is sure to feel some serious heat after this one. Nebraska was a strong favorite in this game, but the Huskers blew an early lead despite having a Heisman winner under center. Solich is now 2-4 in playoff games, an abhorrent mark for a fan base that is accustomed to winning championships.
Game 3: No. 6 Texas Longhorns (11-2) VS. No. 14 Toledo Rockets (10-2)
Culligan Holiday Bowl
Qualcomm Stadium - San Diego, Calif.
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2001 - 1:30 PM PST
Wind: S 3 MPH
Final Score: Texas 40, Toledo 3
Player of the Game
Texas RB Cedric Benson
SAN DIEGO (AP) - Colorado and Nebraska may have left the 2001 playoff as upset victims, but there is still a team in burnt orange carrying the torch for the Big 12.
Texas (12-2) crushed Toledo (10-3) Saturday, 40-3, to advance to the Final Four and a date with this year's Cinderella team, Maryland. The Longhorns have outscored their two playoff opponents 112-6, which is a playoff record and, frankly, a staggering sum for any two-game stretch.
Texas RB Cedric Benson was named Player of the Game after he carried the ball 32 times for 165 yards and 1 TD. Fellow RB Ivan Williams rushed 17 times for 75 yards and 1 TD. QB Chris Simms was solid but unspectacular, completing 13-25 passes for 216 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. K Dusty Mangum was 4-4 on FG attempts.
For the Rockets, the brightest spot was probably Corey Morris' two sacks. QB Tavares Bolden was a woeful 5-19 for 53 yards, while the hero of last week's upset at Oregon, RB Chester Taylor, had 26 carries for only 74 yards.
The Longhorns jumped on Toledo early. Less than two minutes into the game, B.J. Johnson caught a 54-yard TD pass from Simms to give Texas an early 7-0 lead. Mangum kicked a 32-yard FG and Johnson caught another TD pass, this one from 20 yards out, to stretch the lead to 17-0 going into the 2nd quarter. Mangum added another FG from 24 yards out and the Longhorns led comfortably at halftime, 20-0.
K Todd France finally got Toledo on the board early in the 3rd quarter with a 33-yard FG, but those were all the points the Rockets would muster today. Williams and Benson each rushed for a late TD and Mangum added two more FGs in the 4th quarter to put the finishing touches on the blowout.
Game 4: No. 1 Miami Hurricanes (12-0) VS. No. 8 Illinois Fighting Illini (11-1)
FedEx Orange Bowl
Pro Player Stadium - Miami Gardens, Fla.
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2001 - 8 PM EST
Wind: NW 12 MPH
Final Score: Miami 41, Illinois 3
Player of the Game
Miami RB Clinton Portis
MIAMI (AP) - Miami and Texas might be on a collision course, assuming the Hurricanes can handle the potent Gators next week.
Miami (13-0) handled Illinois (11-2) with relative ease, dispatching the Big Ten Champion by a score of 41-3. It was the day's most lopsided score, but only by one point. Like Texas, Miami is crushing its playoff opponents so far, having won both games by a total score of 91-13.
In the end, the Hurricanes simply had more offensive weaponry than the Fighting Illini. RB Clinton Portis was named Player of the Game after he rushed 27 times for 165 yards and 4 TDs, while QB Ken Dorsey was 14-24 for 205 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, completing many of those passes to WR Andre Johnson (4 catches, 100 yards).
Against that, Illinois really only had RB Antoineo Harris, who was solid with 21 carries for 105 yards. QB Kurt Kittner had a poor game, completing 16-30 passes for 114 yards and 2 INTs while being sacked twice.
K Todd Sievers (2-2 FG) got the Hurricanes on the board first with a 31-yard FG with 32 seconds left in the 1st quarter, and then Portis took over. He rushed for TDs of 18, 26, and 5 yards over the next two quarters, and Miami led 24-0 after three periods.
Portis added another 1-yard TD run early in the 4th quarter, and that essentially ended the game as Miami led 31-0 and outscored Illinois 10-3 down the stretch.
Miami advances to the Sugar Bowl to face the Gators, who are a near match for the Hurricanes in offensive output, but have some question marks on defense. That doesn't bode well against a Miami offense that is averaging 45.5 PPG in playoff action this season. This will be Miami's second consecutive Final Four appearance.
All helmet images are courtesy of The Helmet Project. Check it out - it's pretty cool.
All bowl logos are courtesy of sportslogos.net.
Nokia Sugar Bowl
#1 Miami vs. #5 Florida
New Orleans, La.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
#6 Texas vs. #10 Maryland
Sun Devil Stadium