Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Illinois Hoosier National Championship

Welcome to the national championship game. We're at the Orange Bowl in Miami for the finals of the 8-team Illinois Hoosier college football playoff. Florida, the 8 seed, faces Oregon, the 4 seed.

The Gators reached the finals by upsetting Alabama in the quarterfinals and TCU in the semifinal round. It is not a complete surprise the lowest-seeded team reached the finals. Florida was undefeated and ranked No. 1 the entire season, until Alabama pulled the upset to gain the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Oregon may be somewhat of a surprise in the finals, but in reality the Ducks are a product of the draw. Oregon beat Ohio State at first round, then Cincinnati in the semifinals. Both teams were not considered real championship contenders.

Florida has to enter the game as the favorite, given its two huge wins since losing the SEC Championship and the location of the game. But don't discount Oregon's chances. The Ducks knocked off USC, Utah, California and Oregon State, all of which are ranked. They also score an average of nearly 38 points per game.

Unfortunately, Florida has nearly as powerful an offense, averaging more than 34 points per game. The Gators also have a defense that can win games by itself. They give up less than 12 points per game. The Oregon defense allows nearly 24 points per game.

Defense is the difference in this game. The two teams play to a 14-14 tie in the first half, but Florida makes an adjustment at halftime and in the third quarter, Oregon has trouble moving the ball. The Ducks can manage only 35 yards of total offense in the third quarter and two first downs. Meanwhile, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow takes over, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for another in the period.

Florida tries to sit on the lead in the fourth quarter, but Oregon makes it interesting. Jeremiah Masoli throws a 55-yard touchdown after a Florida defender falls down in coverage to cut the lead to seven, then leads the Ducks on another long drive that results in a field goal.

The Gators' lead 28-24 with 5 minutes to go. Oregon pulls out all the stops on defense and gets the ball back with 2 minutes left. Masoli gets the team across midfield with 10 seconds to go, but the hail Mary pass falls incomplete.

Florida wins its fourth national championship since 1996 and Tebow graduates among the most decorated college football players ever. TV ratings are off the charts, beating the best figures for any BCS championship game. There is talk in the future it could rival the Super Bowl in popularity and viewership.

The revenue generated by the tournament is unprecedented in college football. And bowl committees find the traditional bowl games, many of which were still played, still drew more than enough fans. There is general agreement the new idea was a success and college presidents begin to talk about whether the playoff can be expanded to 16 teams.

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