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Published: December 17, 2008
Posted by: Chris Courtney
(15) Buffalo Bulls [8-5] – MAC Champions at (2) Florida Gators [12-1] – SEC Champions
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, Florida
It really must be great to be a Florida Gator. In each of the previous two seasons, the Gators have enjoyed not only a National Championship (coming in 06-07), but a Heisman Trophy as well (Tim Tebow in 2007). This season has proven to be quite memorable in its own right, with the Gators capping off an impressive run through the SEC with their 31-20 win over Alabama in the SEC Championship. Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer has his team playing arguably the best football of any squad in the entire country, outside of Oklahoma. Despite their gut-wrenching 31-30 loss at home to Ole Miss in late September, the Gators have since been on the war path, blasting opponents by an average margin-of-victory of 36.4 points per game — scoring at least 51 in four of the final nine contests. Led by junior quarterback Tim Tebow and the plethora of offensive firepower that resides in Gainesville, the Gators are primed and ready for a lengthy run through the bracket. Buffalo, on the other hand, is happy to just be in the discussion. In only his third year at the University of Buffalo, Head Coach Turner Gill has morphed the Bulls from perennial MAC doormat to legitimate conference contender. After suffering three straight losses in the middle of the season to Missouri, Central Michigan, and Western Michigan, the Bulls circled the wagons and won six of their last seven, including an impressive victory over unbeaten Ball State in the MAC Championship Game. Sparked by their three-headed monster on offense, in senior quarterback Drew Willy, junior running back James Starks, and junior wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, the Bulls ride a wave of momentum heading into their match-up against the mighty Gators.
The focal point in this contest is maintaining focus. For Buffalo, it’s simple. Stay loose, stay relaxed, and keep things simple. It’s essential that both the players and coaches don’t get mesmerized by the moment and let it overcome them. Despite the fact the Bulls will be playing their biggest game in school history, this is a team that is built on veteran leadership, and it will be the duty of the upperclassmen to set the emotional tone prior to kickoff. For Florida, simply showing up to play should be plenty. The key is to execute early and often and not get caught up in the fact you are playing Buffalo. Get out to a quick lead and don’t look back. Tebow’s leadership combined with the freakish talents of players like Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps, and Brandon James, should have Florida coasting by halftime. Florida wins 55-13.
Player of the Game: Kick returner/Punt returner/running back Brandon James
(10) Ohio State Buckeyes [10-2] – Big Ten at-large at (7) Texas Tech Red Raiders [11-1] – Big 12 at-large
Jones AT&T Stadium – Lubbock, Texas
At one in the season it appeared as if the two teams in this particular match-up were heading in two decidedly different directions. For Ohio State, a lackluster win vs. lowly Ohio and an embarrassing blowout loss to No. 1 USC (two games in consecutive weeks without standout running back Chris “Beanie” Wells), left many wondering how far the Buckeyes would fall this season. Answer: not very. Despite their rocky start, Ohio State rebounded impressively, winning eight of their last nine games and looking more and more improved each and every week. A significant change that came after the slow start was the decision Buckeye Head Coach, Jim Tressel, made to start true freshman wunderkind quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, in place of senior Todd Boeckman. This change markedly altered the complexion of the Buckeye offense, injecting some life into what was an otherwise lifeless unit. Pryor’s tremendous running and throwing ability, coupled with the power running game provided by Wells has been the harbinger for Ohio State’s success over the second half of the season. Add that to the fact they already possess a nasty defense headlined by three-time All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis and lockdown corner, Malcolm Jenkins, the Buckeyes are a serious team to be reckoned with come tourney time. For Texas Tech, their season got off to an impressive start and continued that way through some monumental victories over No. 1 Texas and No. 9 Oklahoma State. The Texas game in particular marked the Red Raiders emergence on the national stage, as senior quarterback Graham Harrell and sophomore wide receiver Michael Crabtree hooked up for a thrilling game-winning touchdown with just seconds left to vault Tech all the way to No. 2 in the national rankings the following week. Their undefeated run came to an end however in a shocking 65-21 beatdown at the hands of No. 1 Oklahoma in Norman. Texas Tech Head Coach, Mike Leach, is known for his high-octane offenses that put up gaudy numbers year-in and year-out. Aside from the incomparable Harrell and Crabtree, the Red Raiders employ a number of other receivers such as, sophomore Detron Lewis, senior Eric Morris, and freshman Tramain Swindell, who are capable of effectively shredding opposing defenses.
This game may arguably provide the most intrigue due to the very opposing styles of play that each team subscribes to. Ohio State is very much a power oriented team with a stout defense, while Texas Tech possesses a much more finesse style of play. When Ohio State takes the field on defense, it is absolutely imperative that they 1) know where Crabtree is at all times and 2) get pressure on Harrell, forcing him to make plays out of the pocket. Crabtree is undoubtedly the most talented receiver, if not player, in the entire country. While he can hurt you in a number of ways, he is at his best after the catch when he is able to utilize his outstanding combination of power and speed. It will be the toughest match-up to date for the extremely talented Jenkins and he must prove that he is once again up to the task. Creating pressure on Harrell is vital as well. When given time to throw, Harrell can pick you apart with surgeon-like precision, yet, when pressured, Harrell is far less effective. The reason Oklahoma was so successful was the fact that they were able to crash their ends off the edge and fluster Harrell by hitting him and rushing his decision making. The onus will be on guys like sophomores Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward who have the unsavory task of going up against Texas Tech’s massive offensive line. When on offense, the Buckeyes have a distinct advantage. Due to their power running game, Ohio State can limit the number of possessions they can give to the potent Red Raider offense. Pryor and Wells are very valuable in this respect and both players are more than capable for making defense pay for poor tackling or blown assignments. Though Wells paces the Buckeye offense, Pryor will be the ultimate X-factor in this game. His terrific running ability, coupled with his live arm, make him terribly difficult to gameplan for and defend. The Tech defense simply hasn’t seen a player the likes of Pryor and unfortunately for them, it will be their undoing. Ohio State downs Texas Tech in a wild, 35-31, instant classic, providing the bracket with its first upset of the postseason.
Player(s) of the Game: Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State running back “Beanie” Wells