Friday, January 10, 2014

Wild Card Weekend (and then some) Sports Chowdah Update- 'Nole and Void, Late FSU Drive Caps BCS Title Game; Wild Wild NFL Wild Card Weekend Sets Up Some Familiar Opponents

Without a doubt, the football gods have certainly been smiling down on both the NFL and NCAA over the last couple of weeks. When I wasn't travelling for the holidays, I was doing my best to watch some of these instant classics.

Chris Carlson- AP Photo
NCAA FOOTBALL- This was supposed to be the final year of the BCS format, and if you're a fan of the game you couldn't have asked for a much better finish than the BCS Championship game from Pasadena's Rose Bowl on Monday night.

The title game pitted SEC's Auburn Tigers- no stranger to unlikely late-game heroics- against ACC Champion Florida State and Heisman winning freshman QB Jameis Winston. The Seminoles got on the board first with a 35 yard FG from Roberto Aguayo five minutes into the first quarter before Auburn responded with a drive that was capped by a 12 yard TD pass from QB Nick Marshall to RB Tre Mason with three and a half minutes to go in the first, making it 7-3.

The Tigers would score two more TDs in the second quarter to give Auburn a 21-3 lead before the Seminoles found the end zone for the first time thanks to a 3 yard rushing TD from 'Noles RB Devonta Freeman to make it 21-10 Auburn with less than two minutes in the half.

The 3rd quarter was pretty uneventful, with the 'Noles chipping away at the Auburn lead thanks to another Aguayo FG, making it 13-21 Auburn. This merely set the stage for a wild 4th quarter as Jameis Winston connected with Chad Abram on the 'Noles opening drive to put Florida State within one. Nursing a 21-20 lead and with the momentum starting to swing FSU's way, the Tigers had to settle for a chip shot FG from Cody Parkey after getting as far as the Seminoles 6 yard line with just over 5 minutes remaining, expanding the Auburn lead to 24-20.
That Auburn lead quickly went by the wayside on the ensuing kickoff when Levonte Whitfield went the distance- returning the kickoff 100 yards to give the Seminoles their first lead since the first quarter, 27-24.

Starting out on their own 25 with four and a half minutes to go, the Tigers were able to march down the field to FSU's 37 before Tre Mason was able to break free for a 37 yard TD run on 2nd and 15.

The good news for Auburn was that they were back out on top 31-27. The bad news was that there was still a minute and nineteen seconds to go for Winston and FSU to take the lead. After getting the ball back on their own 20, Jameis Winston connected with WR Rashad Greene for 49 yards, giving FSU the ball on the Tigers 23 with 1:05 left. A pass interference call on Auburn gave FSU the ball at the Tigers own 2 yard line. With 21 seconds to go, Winston connected to WR Kelvin Benjamin to put FSU back on top by 34-31.

There would be no last second heroics for Auburn as FSU's kickoff was returned to the Tigers 17 as Auburn lateraled the ball with before the game ended. Florida State breaks the SEC's winning streak in the FBS by going on to win by a 34-31 final. The last time a non-SEC team won the FBS title game was the Texas Longhorns in 2006.

This also marked the last game of the current BCS format before it goes to a playoff format in which the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl act as a semifinal in which the winners will advance to a BCS title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

ELSEWHERE IN NCAA FOOTBALL- Here are the finals from the other bowl games:

Gildan New Mexico Bowl-
Washington State 45 Colorado State 48

Las Vegas Bowl-
Fresno State 20 USC 45

Idaho Potato Bowl-
San Diego State 49 Buffalo 24

R+L Carrier New Orleans Bowl-
Tulane 21 LA-Lafayette 24

Beef O'Brady's Bowl-
Ohio 20 East Carolina 37

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl-
Boise St 23 Oregon St 38

Little Caesar's Bowl-
Pitt 30 Bowling Green 27

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl-
Utah State 21 Northern Illinois 14

Military Bowl-
Marshall 31 Maryland 20

Texas Bowl-
Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17

Fight Hunger Bowl-
BYU 16 Washington 31

New Era Pinstripe Bowl-
Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29

Belk Bowl-
Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39

Russell Athletic Bowl-
Miami (FL) 9 Louisville 36

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl-
Michigan 14 Kansas State 31

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl-
Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl-
Mississippi 25 Georgia Tech 17

Valero Alamo Bowl-
Oregon 30 Texas 7

National University Holiday Bowl-
Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37

Advocare V-100 Bowl-
Arizona 42 Boston College 19

Hyundai Sun Bowl-
Virginia Tech 12 UCLA 42

Auto Zone Liberty Bowl
Rice 7 Mississippi State 44

Chick Fil A Bowl-
Duke 48 Texas A&M 52 Gator Bowl-
Nebraska 24 Georgia 19

Heart of Dallas Bowl-
UNLV 14 North Texas 36

Capital One Bowl-
Wisconsin 24 South Carolina 34

Outback Bowl-
Iowa 14 LSU 21

Rose Bowl-
Stanford 20 Michigan State 24

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl-
Central Florida 52 Baylor 42

Allstate Sugar Bowl-
Oklahoma 45 Alabama 31

AT&T Cotton Bowl-
Oklahoma State 31 Missouri 41

FedEx Orange Bowl-
Clemson 40 Ohio State 35

BBVA Compass Bowl-
Houston 24 Vanderbilt 41 Bowl
Ball State 20 Arkansas State 23

PENN STATE- Former Nittany Lions head football coach Bill O'Brien announced that he would be leaving Penn State to fill the head coaching vacancy with the Houston Texans. O'Brien, Penn State's first new head coach since 1966, took over from the late Joe Paterno amid allegations his successor and Penn State officials attempted to cover up sexual abuse committed by former offensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky between the late 1990s and 2009.

Under O'Brien, the Nittany Lions went 14-10- including 8-8 against Big Ten opponents- over the last two seasons. O'Brien fills the head coaching vacancy left in Houston when the Texans fired Gary Kubiak in December. After winning their first two games of the 2013 season, the Texans would go on to lose 14 consecutive games.

Meanwhile, Penn State officials are reportedly set to announce Vanderbilt's James Franklin as their new football head coach over the weekend.

Elise Amendola- AP
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS- As far as both week 17 and the first round of the playoffs went, the NFL couldn't have asked for much more than what took place.

The Patriots came into week 17 after a satisfying 41-7 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, essentially knocking Baltimore from playoff contention before wrapping up the regular season with a home game against the Buffalo Bills. With New England clinching a playoff berth by winning the AFC East, all that was left to play for on Dec 29th was a first round bye.

New England would go on to beat Buffalo by a 34-20 final in a rainy Gillette Stadium to secure a first round bye (along with Denver) in the playoffs. They had to wait for the outcome of the games for the Wild Card weekend to see who their opponent would end up be- they get a somewhat familiar for in the Indianapolis Colts, but this is the first time the two teams have met in the postseason since Peyton Manning's departure from Indy.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL- I cannot stress how much week 17 in the NFL exceeded expectations. The day started with the Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, Chargers, Bears, Cowboys, Packers, Eagles and Cardinals with an outside shot at making the playoffs. By the end of the first round of games the Ravens and Dolphins were eliminated while Pittsburgh took care of Cleveland but still needed things to break Kansas City's way in the afternoon game to punch their ticket into the postseason.

In the NFC, a couple of long-standing division rivalries essentially became de-facto conference championship games- Green Bay bested the Chicago Bears in a surprisingly high-scoring game at Soldier Field to clinch the NFC North title while Philly bested the Cowboys by a 24-22 final in Dallas to be the lone NFC East representative in the postseason in the last primetime game of the regular season on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, it was an all AFC West Week 17 out west as the Broncos ran roughshod over the hapless Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers dodged a bullet when the Chief's Ryan Succop missed a 41 yard FG attempt with the game tied at 24-24 with 8 seconds to go in regulation. The Chargers would end up punching their own ticket into the postseason and eliminating the Steelers when Nick Novak nailed a 36 yard FG with five and a half minutes remaining in overtime.

Wild Card weekend got underway with the Colts matched up against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. The Colts fell into a seemingly insurmountable 31-10 hole at halftime and an early turnover quickly made it 38-10 Chiefs in the early part of the second half. However, after giving KC the short field and capitalizing on the turnover with 13:39 to go in the 3rd, the Colts would keep the Chiefs out of the end zone and came roaring back to win by a 45-44 final.

Meanwhile, the Saints racked up a road win over the Phillies at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night, going on to win by a final of 26-24.

Interestingly, the only contest of Wild Card weekend that wasn't close was the Bengals hosting the Chargers on Sunday afternoon. Cincinnati went into the locker rooms at halftime with a 10-7 lead but San Diego would go on to score twenty unanswered points to make it a 27-10 win and set up a rematch with division rival Denver on Sunday.

Wild Card weekend wrapped up with the 49ers travelling to Lambeau Field to face the Packers. San Francisco seemed undaunted by the cold temperatures and frozen tundra, going on to beat Green Bay by a 23-20 final.

This weekend's matchups are set- on Saturday, the Seahawks are coming off of their bye week to host the New Orleans Saints. That game kicks off at 4:35 PM ET, 1:35 PT and will be televised on FOX. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Patriots will host the Colts after their first round bye. This prime time matchup is scheduled to kick off at 8:15 PM and will be televised on CBS.

On Sunday, the Panthers will host the 49ers at Bank of America stadium at 1:05 PM ET and can be seen on FOX while the Divisional weekend wraps up with the Broncos hosting the San Diego Chargers in the Mile High city with kickoff at 4:40 ET and can be viewed on CBS.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS- The Indianapolis Colts announced this week that they have signed former Patriots receiver Deion Branch. Branch, who was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX has also logged time with the Seattle Seahawks and had worked out with the Colts in the previous month.

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