Round 1 recaps
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Arkansas State
It may not quite have been the blowout that many expected, but the game was never in doubt as top-ranked USC pounded Sun Belt Conference Champion Arkansas State in front of a sold-out partisan crowd in San Diego. More importantly, the game marked the opening of the first-ever December Madness college football playoffs.

Arkansas State who boasts wins over perennial NCAA D-IA bottom-feeders Florida International, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette, as well as D-IAA Tennessee Martin, stuck with USC for the first 20 minutes of the game, even pulling within four points at 7-3 early in the second quarter. Then, someone woke up Heisman Trophy winning junior running back Reggie Bush and to remind him that this game counted and that everyone in the nation was tuning to in to watch the historical event.

USC answered Arkansas State’s unexpected score with a six-play, 87 yard drive that featured a Reggie Bush 38 yard scamper and 11 yard touchdown run. Bush followed that drive up with a 28 yard run to set up a 12 yard pass from senior QB Matt Leinart to sophomore wideout Dwayne Jarrett, their 16th TD connection of the season.

Ultimately, Bush and the entire USC defense did not disappoint. For the game, USC outgained the Indians 494-186 yards. Bush accounted for 231 of those yards on 19 carries and three receptions. Leinart was efficient as well, with 233 yards and four touchdowns passing on just 15 completions. The lone notable for Arkansas State came in the form of senior RB and two-time 1,000 yard rusher Antonio Warren who finished with 77 yards rushing despite being targeted by USC’s athletic defense. The Trojans will move forward to play the winner of the #8 Miami vs. #9 Auburn contest.

Player of the Game: Reggie Bush (231 yards from scrimmage, 3 TDs)
With the winner earning a chance to take on top-seeded USC in the quarterfinals of the December Madness tournament, Miami and Auburn stepped up their intensity before a well-divided 60,000-plus fans in Tampa.

The teams each stuck to their game plans, pounding the ball consistently, and then taking a couple of deep shots with passes over the top. Miami connected on a deep ball when sophomore quarterback Kyle Wright found 6’3” junior receiver Ryan Moore for a fourth-quarter, game-clinching, 38 yard touchdown.

Despite being outrushed, 151-75, outgained, 237-200, and turning the ball over four times, Miami advances on the heels of a stellar defensive performance and a few timely plays. Unfortunately for the Tigers as well, sophomore QB Brandon Cox threw two fourth quarter interceptions and usually reliable junior kicker John Vaughn missed a 46 yard field goal in the last minute to keep Auburn from at least tying the game.

Still the efforts of 202-pound junior running back Kenny Irons and the entire Auburn defense proved that the team, which lost early to Georgia Tech and by just three at LSU but defeated #7 Georgia on the road and #18 Alabama at home, deserved to be part of the madness.

Irons finished with 154 yards rushing and the Tigers lone touchdown, while the defense held Miami to less than three yards per carry and just 1.5 yards per play. The eighth-seeded Miami Hurricanes will move forward to play #1 USC in the December Madness quarterfinals at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Player of the Game: Kenny Irons (154 yards rushing, 1 TD)
Ohio State
Boise State
Fourth-seeded Ohio State harkened memories of its 2002 BCS National Championship squad in its opening playoff game against WAC Champion Boise State, winning soundly, but not pretty.

Ohio State set the tone in its usual fashion with a 13-play, 8:32 drive to start the first quarter. Rushing and passing six times each, OSU took advantage of consecutive encroachment penalties on Boise State’s frustrated defense to turn a third and six into a first and goal from the three yard line. The Buckeyes capitalized with a two yard toss from junior dual-thread QB Troy Smith to senior standout Santonio Holmes.

The Broncos mustered just four plays on their first drive and thus was the game. Senior kicker Josh Huston culminated a terrific season replacing All-American Mike Nugent with four second quarter field goals. Boise State finally broke through Lombardi Award winning linebacker AJ Hawk and the OSU defense for a score late in the third quarter, but Troy Smith immediately answered with a 25 yard TD run on another solid drive that also included a 38 yard run by Smith, to quiet any talks of a comeback or upset.

Boise State, which backed into the playoffs after Fresno State floundered over its last three games, finishes off a disappointing season the same way it started it with a frustrating loss to a better football school.

Fourth-seeded Ohio State will advance forward to play the winner of the unpredictable 5-12 Oregon vs. Florida State game at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

Player of the Game: Troy Smith (88 yards rushing, 102 yards passing, 2 TDs)
Florida State
A surprise in respect to seeds only, traditional football powerhouse Florida State ran all over the untested (save for the USC game) Ducks to claim December Madness’ first official upset. Coming off an impressive performance against Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, FSU continued its offensive ways with 388 total yards, including 244 rushing yards on just 31 carries for an outstanding 7.9 yard rushing average.

Leading the way, 202-pound senior running back Leon Washington plowed through Oregon’s porous rush defense for 203 yards and two touchdowns. Washington’s final touchdown, a 15 yard run with just 2:04 left in the fourth quarter, answered Oregon’s bid at a late comeback to ensure the Seminoles victory. For Washington, the performance was especially sweet after a disappointing senior year for the former All-ACC selection, that had been marred with injuries and inconsistency.

The same could not be said for the Ducks’ senior quarterback Kellen Clemens, who was forced to miss the final three games of the regular season after throwing for 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions in Oregon’s first eight contests. His return was relatively mediocre Clemens completed 17 passes for 234 yards, but threw an interception, was sacked three times and rushed on ten occasions for a mere 41 yards in the loss.

It was not as telling that Oregon’s numbers were so poor as the fact that FSU’s ball-control attack and the athleticism of its defense, led by junior LB Ernie Sims and senior S Pat Watkins, never allowed the Ducks to get in rhythm.

Florida State will look to keep up its winning ways against another better rated opponent, but now more known for its defense than offense, when it takes on Ohio State at the Orange Bowl in the quarterfinals of the December Madness playoffs.

Player of the Game: Leon Washington (203 yards, 2 TDs)
Penn State
After putting together one of the best seasons from any team, third ranked and third-seeded Penn State earned the right to play in the playoffs and to face one of the weakest qualified teams, in this case a four-loss Tulsa squad that defeated UCF to win the C-USA Championship in its first year as part of the conference.

The beauty of the playoffs though, is that any team that gets there is alive and that the best teams will be able to prove their worth on the field. Penn State could barely do that at home against the apparently overlooked, unranked Golden Hurriane.

Even after a relatively even first three quarters, ahead 31-17 late in the fourth, having just scored on a 27 yard run by senior do-it-all QB Michael Robinson, the Nittany Lions had to feel comfortable with their chances of advancing on in the tournament. In a split second though, it was all in doubt.

Tulsa kick return specialist and NCAA record holder for most kick return touchdowns in one season, Ashlan Davis, returned the ensuing kick 97 yards to the Penn State one. Sophomore QB Paul Smith plunged into the endzone and the margin was back to one score with plenty of time on the clock.

Penn State was able to milk some clock on its next possession, but Tulsa still received the ball on its own 20 with 1:47 left to play. With all of its timeouts remaining the Golden Hurricane attempted to put together a well-balanced drive moving down the field. A couple of solid runs and a 36 yard pass play put the team in great position to strike at the endzone. But, their efforts were all for naught though as Smith missed on three consecutive passes and Tulsa’s dream of being Cinderella fell with them.

Penn State will advance, but it learned that it must shore up its kick return defense and be able to throw the ball a little more efficiently when necessary. Still though, the Nittany Lions ground attack was dominant, as two players exceeded 100 yards rushing for the game and the team averaged just less than seven yards per carry.

Does the narrow margin and dramatic win mean that Penn State is a bit overrated? Or, does their dominant rush attack and ability to advance despite weakness indicate that the team has a good chance to beat any team? More questions will be answered as Penn State moves forward to face the victor of the Notre Dame-TCU first round matchup.

Player of the Game: Michael Robinson (151 yards rushing, 87 yards passing, 2 TDs)
Notre Dame
Fans watching live in Detroit and on television all across the nation were treated to the most exciting finish of the first round in this year’s December Madness college football playoff as historical juggernaut Notre Dame was forced to use some of the Irish’s luck to top unheralded Mountain West Conference Champion TCU.

While everyone has followed the story of head coach Charlie Weis leaving the NFL with four Super Bowl rings to become the man at his alma mater, very few have noticed a season almost as impressive put together by the Horned Frogs. After garnering some intrigue with a victory over then seventh-ranked Oklahoma, TCU fell in a trap game to SMU and people stopped paying attention even though they have not lost since.

Both teams struggled to get comfortable in this game, but neither held anything back. After TCU pulled ahead 13-0 on the heels of its solid running game and special teams, junior QB Brady Quinn and the Fighting Irish rebounded with 35-yard scoring drive to end the first half.

A David Bruton interception gave the ball to Notre Dame and Quinn hit junior Biletnikoff finalist Jeff Samardzija twice to gain the 35 yards and get on the board with a touchdown. Notre Dame then continued its ways with a three-play, 66 yard drive on its first possession of the second half. Nimble senior tight end Anthony Fasano caught a Quinn pass over the middle and broke through the secondary for a 52 yard gain, the longest reception of his career.

Many teams would have quit at this point with Weis’ attack on fire, but the Horned Frogs replied in style with their own big play touchdown, a 27 yard run by freshman standout running back Aaron Brown. Similar to the epic shootout between Notre Dame and USC earlier in the season, the teams traded scores and Notre Dame found itself down again, 30-28 with just 2:30 to play.

The outcome of this game was different for the Irish though as a Tom Zbikowski punt return put Notre Dame on its own 43 and Quinn promptly marched the team toward the goal line. With just 16 seconds left and TCU out of timeouts, Quinn handed off to sophomore Darius Walker to center the ball and prepare for a 32 yard game winning field goal. The field goal was not to be though as Walker broke through the Horned Frog’s line and jetted 15 yards to the endzone for the win.

A loss is nothing to be ashamed about for TCU as they proved they could play with one of the nation’s best and uncovered a potential star in Brown who went for 140 yards on just 15 carries. Notre Dame will move forward to play Penn State in a quarterfinal game featuring two of the best college programs ever.

Player of the Game: Brady Quinn (17-30, 268 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT)
West Virginia
In another mild upset, a young, brash West Virginia Mountaineer squad held off a much more experienced Georgia Bulldog team in what was essentially a UGA home game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Despite a gameplan about as simple as it gets in football (and one Georgia had to know was coming), West Virginia did not change anything up as the Mountaineers speed and power carried the team to 313 yards rushing and one the biggest wins the in program’s history.

Yet another relatively unheralded team, the Big East Champions were actually underdogs even though West Virginia had only lost once – and in a good game to the then third-ranked team in the nation before the offense was clicking the way it did over the last seven weeks. Either way, the Mountaineers proved their worth by setting the tone early and never deviating from their strengths.

Freshman sensations Steve Slaton and Pat White were outstanding, going for 107 and 131 yards respectively and scoring twice each. White added 117 yards through the air on just five completions. Just as unique, West Virginia’s did not record a sack, fumble or interception and 477 yards of total offense, but still got the job done when it counted, mostly due to the phenomenal clock management of its own offense.

For the Bulldogs, senior quarterback D.J. Shockley did not go out the way he wanted after sitting behind David Greene for four years. Nevertheless, UGA proved that it could be an offensive powerhouse in the future, getting great games out of sophomore running backs Thomas Brown (133 yards) and Danny Ware (58 yards, 1 TD) as well as freshman WR Mohamed Massaquoi (54 yards, 1 TD).

West Virginia will be test its ground game once again as it moves forward to play the winner of the Texas vs. Akron game in the December Madness quarterfinals.

Player of the Game: Steve Slaton (155 total yards, 2 TDs)
Total Domination. One had to expect that a team that could hang 70 on the Colorado Buffaloes in the Big 12 Championship Game would fare pretty well versus MAC Champion Akron’s porous defense that allowed 49 points to Purdue and 56 to Miami (OH) could put on a show. And, in that respect, this game was a little bit of a let down. But, Texas still announced its presence in this tournament with authority as the only team capable of a blowout.

And the scariest thing? The Longhorns only had to pass ten times to score 56. Scoring through the air, on an interception return, on a punt return, and on five rushes, there was nothing Akron could do but watch the spectacle.

Junior All-American quarterback Vince Young paced the team with 100 yards rushing on just 11 carries and 76 yards passing. Not to be outdone, two other Longhorns, as well as Akron running back Bret Biggs, rushed for more yards. 270-pound freshman bruiser Henry Melton’s 126 yards and two touchdowns were bested only by 195-pound sophomore scat-back Ramonce Taylor’s 129 yards and three touchdowns.

And, though they may have not contributed in this game, future teams won’t be able to sleep on freshman Jamaal Charles or junior Selvin Young either. The Longhorns have five players who could legitimately go for 100-plus in any playoff game.

They’ll get their chance to prove themselves all over again against fellow ground-gainer West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the December Madness playoffs.

Player of the Game: Ramonce Taylor (141 total yards, 3 TDs)

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