Cigar Aficionado

The Alma Mater Bowl

There isn't enough Mylanta in the world to cure me of college bowl sickness. This malady creeps up in my stomach once a year when I rediscover that there are more bowls than cereals to put them in. The past bowl season offered up no fewer than 25 bowl games in 17 days. 'Twas the season to be inundated. Worse yet, the Bowl Championship Series, while ultimately deciding a national champion, could have left the whole college scene in a mess. Fortunately, the one game that really counted among those 25 -- the Rose Bowl contest between Miami and Nebraska on January 3 -- ended not only with a clear winner, but a clear-cut national champion. We were lucky this time.

The solution to this madness? We need a playoff. A genuine playoff between the top teams would decide the winners. Only, in my series I want to change things. Since I regard performance in the pros as more significant than college performance, I want to know which colleges would win an All-Star Game using only those players they've put in the pros.

To that end, we set up an eight-team championship series in which each of the seven games counts. Notice that in the NCAA Bowl Championship Series, the top eight teams don't actually play one another. That is, after Miami won the Rose Bowl, it was declared No.1 without having had to play the other six contestants. Imagine if this happened in golf or basketball seedings! Should Tiger Woods be declared No.1 in the Masters for just beating the second-ranked player in the tournament? Then why play the rest of the Bowl Championship games? Just to sell tickets -- and products -- and make some money for television?

Here we will play the games using a computer simulation to run an eight-team, single-elimination tournament. The teams will comprise current National Football League players, and the simulation will be based on the players' performance in the pros during the 2000 season, because we had full-season stats to rely on. In cases of some outstanding rookies for the 2001 season, such as Santana Moss of the New York Jets, we fudged a little bit and used 2000 college stats. The other benefit of a computer simulation? You don't have to sit through names like The Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl or the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. Who invented these titles? An ad writer on a binge?

We had wanted to kick this off with a field comprised of the top-12-ranked colleges by the number of players they put in the NFL. But four of these 12 teams were eliminated before the first coin flip because of roster holes. Those eliminated are Nebraska, Ohio State, Florida and Georgia. I'm not doing this to be mean-spirited or because I want to aggravate the fans of those teams. Nebraska has to go because it doesn't have a single quarterback or wide receiver on any of the 31 NFL rosters. Teams have won games, even Super Bowls, with poor quarterbacks. But you'd be hard pressed to find a team that has won with no quarterback. Ohio State? It's out for less obvious reasons: it lacks a center, a guard and a offensive tackle in a pro uniform. Florida can't make the tournament either, as it would be playing without a linebacker, strong safety and free safety. Georgia gets the boot since it lacks a strong and free safety.

That leaves a strong field of eight, seeded by the number of players each college put in the pros: Florida State (41), Notre Dame (41), Miami, FL (37), Michigan (37), Texas A & M (34), Penn State (31), Tennessee (29) and the University of Southern California (28). Hence the pairings are as follows: in one bracket, the winner of USC versus Florida State will play the winner of Texas A & M versus Michigan. In the other bracket, the victor of Tennessee versus Notre Dame will take on the winner of Penn State versus Miami.

In case you were wondering, there's nothing mysterious about a computer simulation. Since the process is grounded in statistics that measure performance, it is more objective than polling. You start by entering the rosters and the relevant numbers for each player. These statistics include a mix of the obvious and the complex -- like yards per attempt for runners and quarterbacks, but also blocking, tackling, break-away ability and other player tendencies. If the passing statistics of quarterbacks like Kurt Warner and Kordell Stewart were similar, the computer will still make distinctions between a pocket passer like Warner and an effective scrambler like Stewart. Likewise, the simulation will treat differently punishing backs that run between the tackles, such as Jerome Bettis, and slashing runners like Edgerrin James, who can run wide. It is this numerical subtlety that makes the results so true to reality, or at least our manufactured reality.

Since these are one-time All-Star games, the computer couldn't analyze what a team's historic tendencies are, say, on third-and-2 -- is it running, passing, changing zone coverage, making personnel substitutions? -- or how often it employs gimmick plays, or whether first-and-10 is a passing or running down. Rather, the computer had to analyze the talent of each All-Star squad and come up with lineups and strategies based on comparisons to teams of comparable skill throughout NFL history.

Once the button is pushed, there is no digital equivalent of thermonuclear war. Nothing like the whirring of machines and blinking of lights that accompanied Frankenstein's birth, either. The simulation takes a matter of minutes to go through all seven games. It generates a complete play-by-play report -- usually 150 to 175 plays per game -- and a box score. All games are played on a neutral site.

Let the games begin.



A ROSTER OF THE PLAYERS

 

These rosters consist of players from each college who were on active rosters in 2001. Their performances from their 2000 season were used in the computer simulated games.

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

Quarterbacks: Brad Johnson, Chris Weinke
Running Backs: Zack Crockett, Warrick Dunn, Travis Minor
Receivers/Tight Ends: Laveranues Coles, Ron Dugans, Marvin Minnis, Peter Warrick
Offensive Line: Char-ron Dorsey, Todd Fordham, Walter Jones, Kevin Long, Tra Thomas
Defensive Line: Tony Bryant, Jerry Johnson, Jamal Reynolds, Orpheus Roye, Corey Simon, Larry Smith, Greg Spires, Reinard Wilson
Linebackers: Brian Allen, Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Sam Cowart, Henri Crockett, Deon Humphrey, Marvin Jones, Tommy Polley
Defensive Backs: Terrell Buckley, Devin Bush, LeRoy Butler, Tay Cody, Mario Edwards, Corey Fuller, Derrick Gibson, Dexter Jackson, Samari Rolle
Kickers: Sebastian Janikowski, Scott Player

NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH

Quarterbacks: Steve Beuerlein, Jarious Jackson, Rick Mirer
Running Backs: Jerome Bettis, Autry Denson, Marc Edwards, Ricky Watters
Receivers/Tight Ends: Tim Brown, Jabari Holloway, Raghib Ismail, Dan O'Leary
Offensive Line: Mike Doughty, Mike Gandy, Luke Petitgout, Tim Ridder, Mike Rosenthal, Tim Ruddy, Dusty Zeigler
Defensive Line: Bertrand Berry, Junior Bryant, Jim Flanigan, Oliver Gibson, Paul Grasmanis, Lance Legree, Renaldo Wynn, Bryant Young
Linebackers: Anthony Denman, Bobbie Howard, Scott Kowalkowski, Kory Minor
Defensive Backs: Jeff Burris, Tom Carter, Tony Driver, Deveron Harper, Todd Lyght, Allen Rossum, Bobby Taylor, Brock Williams, Shawn Wooden
Kickers: John Carney, Craig Hentrich, Hunter Smith

MIAMI HURRICANES

Quarterback: Vinny Testaverde
Running Backs: Donnell Bennett, James Jackson, Edgerrin James, Derrick Harris, Nick Williams
Receivers/Tight Ends: Bubba Franks, Jammi German, Andre King, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne
Offensive Line: Kerlin Blaise, Mondriel Fulcher, Richard Mercier, Leon Searcy, Kipp Vickers
Defensive Line: Michael Boireau, Kenny Holmes, Kenard Lang, Damione Lewis, Warren Sapp
Linebackers: Jessie Armstead, Michael Barrow, Ray Lewis, Dan Morgan, Twan Russell, Darrin Smith, Nate Webster
Defensive Backs: Robert Bailey, Al Blades, Delvin Brown, Earl Little, Ryan McNeil, Leonard Myers, Duane Starks, Darryl Williams
Kicker: Jeff Feagles

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Jim Harbaugh
Running Backs: Tim Biakabutuka, Anthony Thomas, Tyrone Wheatley
Receivers/Tight Ends: Derrick S. Alexander, Mark Campbell, Desmond Howard, Marcus Knight, Tony McGee, Jay Riemersma, Aaron Shea, Tai Streets, David Terrell, Amani Toomer, Jerame Tuman
Offensive Line: Jeff Backus, David Brandt, Aaron Gibson, Steve Hutchinson, Jon Jansen, Jon Runyan, Maurice Williams
Defensive Line: James Hall, Glen Steele, Josh Williams
Linebackers: Ian Gold, Tommy Hendricks, Dhani Jones, Sam Sword
Defensive Backs: Ty Law, DeWayne Patmon, Charles Woodson
Kicker: Jay Feely

TEXAS A & M AGGIES

Quarterback: Randy McCown
Running Backs: Detron Smith, Rodney Thomas
Receivers/Tight Ends: Dan Campbell, Chris Cole, Albert Connell, Robert Ferguson, Hunter Goodwin, Dante Hall
Offensive Line: Calvin Collins, Jerry Fontenot, Jason Mathews, Steve McKinney, Cameron Spikes, Rex Tucker, Richmond Webb
Defensive Line: Sam Adams, Ron Edwards, Ronald Flemons, Ed Jasper, Brandon Mitchell, Pat Williams
Linebackers: Jason Glenn, Warrick Holdman, Keith Mitchell, Dat Nguyen, William Thomas
Defensive Backs: Rich Coady, Aaron Glenn, Donovan Greer, Michael Jameson, Brandon Jennings, Ray Mickens, Jason Webster
Kicker: Shane Lechler

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Tee Martin
Running Backs: Shawn Bryson, Phillip Crosby, Charlie Garner, Jay Graham, Travis Henry, James Stewart
Receivers/Tight Ends: David Martin, Peerless Price, Cedrick Wilson
Offensive Line: Chad Clifton, Cosey Coleman, Bubba Miller, Jeff Smith, Trey Teague
Defensive Line: Johnathan Brown, Shane Burton, Shaun Ellis, Leonard Little, Darwin Walker, Steve White
Linebackers: Scott Galyon, Ray Thompson, Eric Westmoreland, Al Wilson
Defensive Backs: Dale Carter, Terry Fair, Dwayne Goodrich, Deon Grant, DeRon Jenkins, Dave Thomas
Kicker: Jeff Hall

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

Quarterback: Kerry Collins
Running Backs: Richie Anderson, Ki-Jana Carter, Sam Gash, Kenny Watson, John Jon Witman
Receivers/Tight Ends: Kyle Brady, Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius, O.J. McDuffie, Tony Stewart
Offensive Line: Roger Duffy, Jeff Hartings, Kareem McKenzie, Marco Rivera, Dave Szott, Floyd Wedderburn, Steve Wisniewski
Defensive Line: Courtney Brown, Tyoka Jackson, Brandon Noble, Brad Scioli
Linebackers: LaVar Arrington, Terry Killens, Justin Kurpeikis, Jim Nelson, Brandon Short
Defensive Backs: Joe Jue Bhawoh, James Boyd, David Macklin, Kim Herring
Kicker: Brett Conway

USC TROJANS

Quarterbacks: Rob Johnson, Rodney Peete
Running Back: Chad Morton
Receivers/Tight Ends: Brad Banta, Curtis Conway, Windrell Hayes, Keyshawn Johnson, Johnnie Morton, Larry Parker, R. Jay Soward
Offensive Line: Tony Boselli, Travis Claridge, Derrick Deese, Bruce Matthews, Matt Willig
Defensive Line: Willie McGinest, Darrell Russell
Linebackers: Chris Claiborne, Zeke Moreno, Junior Seau, Markus Steele, Brian Williams
Defensive Backs: Rashard Cook, David Gibson, Brian Kelly, Sammy Knight, Daylon McCutcheon, Ifeanyi Ohalete, Jason Sehorn

First Round:
University of Southern California vs. Florida State University

FSU Seminoles 30, USC Trojans 14

In the end, the Seminoles' quickness won out and sent the Trojans' passing game limping home. Florida State's balanced talent on offense and defense prevailed over the individual USC heroics of linebacker Junior Seau and quarterback Rob Johnson. Johnson littered the field with 47 passes, racking up 418 yards for USC. The Trojans even overcame wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson's fumble on the first play from scrimmage and led, 14-13, at halftime.

But the Trojans couldn't fight off a swarming Seminoles defense in the second half. Florida State got interceptions from four different backs and erased the halftime deficit to win, 30-14.

While amassing 483 total yards, USC committed five turnovers. Meanwhile, Florida State-cum-Carolina Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke passed for just 164 yards (12-for-24) but didn't throw any interceptions. The turning point came in the third quarter, when Florida State's Warrick Dunn broke off a 64-yard touchdown run that gave the Seminoles a 20-14 lead. They never looked back.

Seau made a game-high 15 tackles for USC. Leroy Butler, a 12-year veteran, led a balanced defensive effort for Florida State with 12 tackles.

 

Box Score:
Florida State Seminoles   7 6 7 10   30 USC Trojans   7 7 0 0   14

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense FSU
20
36-122
31-15-230
1-4
2
1-15
0
31:56
4-15
0-1
348 USC
22
11-69
31-47-418
9-74
1
5-42
5
28:04
4-11
0-2
413

 

First Round:
Penn State vs. University of Miami

UM Hurricanes 27, Penn State Nittany Lions 13

The 79-degree temperature at the Los Angeles Coliseum was warm enough for June baseball. But Miami's vaunted defense -- sprinkled liberally throughout the pros -- was stone cold in its disdain for Penn State. The Miami Hurricanes completely stymied State's offense after its first possession. Too much talent in too many places was an appropriate Miami mantra in its 27-13 victory.

After the Nittany Lions' Kerry Collins hit Joe Jurevicius -- his end mate on the Giants -- with a 19-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, Penn State didn't find the end zone for the next 49 minutes.

Linebacker Ray Lewis played big for Miami, putting a hellacious hit on Collins that made him cough up the ball near midfield with 8:57 left in the third quarter. Vinny Testaverde then mixed Edgerrin James carries and short passes, culminating in a 15-yard touchdown strike to Santana Moss, who had run a hitch across the middle. When Penn State engineered a long drive in the fourth quarter, Jesse Armstead foiled a short out pass intended for Kyle Brady. After Armstead's interception, Miami needed just four plays to run out the clock.

James was well under his rushing average, with just 64 yards on 33 carries. But Testaverde took up the slack, completing 18 of 27 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Box Score:
Penn State Nittany Lions   7 6 0 0   13 Miami Hurricanes   7 7 7 6   27

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense PSU
19
11-23
48-25-359
3-21
1
8-54
2
21:05
7-15
0-2
361 MIA
18
36-63
27-18-213
2-4
0
7-54
1
38:55
8-18
2-2
252

 

First Round:
Texas A & M vs. Michigan

Michigan Wolverines 44, Texas A & M Aggies 0

Texas won the coin toss. That was easy to remember because it didn't win anything else. Eight seconds after the game started, Michigan intercepted a pass, then scored on a 22-yard Elvis Grbac to Derrick Alexander hitch pattern less than three minutes later and the rout was on.

A capacity Orange Bowl crowd in shirtsleeves on this 70-degree day was eager for a tight contest. What they got instead was a Michigan tsunami. The game was so one-sided that the All-Star Wolverines replaced Grbac with Brian Griese at the beginning of the third quarter just to try someone new. Michigan prevailed, 44-0.

The Aggies couldn't get out of their own way on offense, turning the ball over five times and totaling minus-one yards of rushing offense. After jumping to a 31-0 halftime lead, Michigan turned more to its running attack, with Tyrone Wheatley rushing for 104 yards and Anthony Thomas getting 42 on just 11 carries. Grbac and Griese shredded the Aggies' defense with 22 completions in 29 attempts for 249 yards. Back Charles Woodson led a fevered Wolverines defensive effort with 14 tackles and three interceptions. Michigan also had five sacks.

Box Score:
Texas A&M Aggies   0 0 0 0   0 Michigan Wolverines   14 17 0 13   44

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense TAM
7
9-1
37-21-236
5-48
1
2-15
5
17:15
2-14
0-2
187 MIC
27
43-181
29-22-249
0-0
1
6-60
0
42:45
5-13
0-0
430

 

First Round:
Tennessee vs. Notre Dame

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 25, Tennessee Volunteers 24

It was supposed to be strength versus strength in the final seconds. Instead of running smash-mouth at the core of the Tennessee defense, Jerome Bettis swept left for two yards and into the end zone with six seconds left to give the Fighting Irish a 25-24 win in the most thrilling game of the playoffs.

The Volunteers led at the end of each of the first three quarters. Their defense had contained the burly Bettis, holding him to an ineffectual 36 yards in 13 carries. Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning had twice that many rushing yards by himself. But Bettis staked out rugged territory on crunching, short-yardage plays, running for four touchdowns.

The Notre Dame defense checked the dangerous Manning, holding him to 157 yards in the air. Quarterback Steve Beuerlein compensated for a lackluster Irish running game by peppering the Volunteers secondary for 269 yards, mostly on short passes. On Notre Dame's winning drive -- begun on Tennessee's 46 with 1:46 left to play -- Beuerlein mixed passes to Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail and Ricky Watters, before Bettis's winning run.

Tennessee's rushing defense, led by rookie linebacker Al Wilson with 11 tackles, continually stuffed Notre Dame's running game, as Bettis and Watters combined for a meager 48 yards on 21 carries.

Box Score:
Tennessee Volunteers   7 7 7 3   24 Notre Dame FIghting Irish   6 7 6 6   25

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense TEN
12
23-98
26-16-157
2-17
1
5-80
1
26:02
5-13
0-0
238 ND
21
29-71
40-27-269
3-31
0
4-45
0
33:58
2-13
4-6
309

 

Semifinals:
Miami vs. Florida State

Miami Hurricanes 22, FSU Seminoles 16

Everyone expected Miami to make the playoff finals. Few expected it would be this difficult. In the only overtime game of the playoffs, Edgerrin James took a pitchout from Vinny Testaverde and dashed left, outrunning Florida State's goal-line defense from two yards out to give Miami a 22-16 victory. In regulation, Warrick Dunn had stunned the Sun Devil Stadium crowd with a searing 60-yard run that left Miami with a 16-13 fourth-quarter lead. Then Sebastian Janikowski's 33-yard field goal, with six minutes left, tied the game and set up the extra period.

Miami took the kickoff to open overtime, engineering a 13-play, 87-yard drive that culminated in the two-yard jaunt by James.

Testaverde, who has been on-again, off-again the entire season -- indeed for his entire NFL career -- was on again for his second consecutive game. He passed for 310 yards, completing 25 of 38 passes. His repertoire included a clever mix of mid- and long-range balls to the massive Bubba Franks, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end, and speedy rookie Santana Moss, who caught five throws for 93 yards. On the winning drive, which Miami began on its own 13-yard line, Testaverde connected on three passes to Moss for 68 yards. Chris Weinke also threw with accuracy for the Seminoles, connecting on 20 of 33 tosses for 287 yards.

But Florida State managed just a field goal in the second half. The 'Canes' defense corralled the ever-threatening Dunn, who gained just 51 yards on 13 carries. Warren Sapp starred on defense for Miami with six tackles and three sacks. Peter Boulware spearheaded a rugged Florida State defense with nine tackles and three sacks.

Box Score:
Miami Hurricanes   3 10 3 0 6 22 Florida State Seminoles   0 6 7 3 0 16

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense MIA
20
31-71
38-25-310
7-56
3
2-15
1
37:40
6-19
0-0
325 FSU
14
22-55
33-20-287
6-49
0
7-69
1
29:45
3-14
0-0
293

 

Semifinals:
Michigan vs. Notre Dame

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 36, Michigan Wolverines 34

Notre Dame is but a victory away from reclaiming championship glory, glory that has eluded it for more than a decade. In a game of ebb and flow momentum, bitter intersectional rivals Notre Dame and Michigan threw haymakers at each other for 60 minutes. But Notre Dame threw last, driving 80 yards in the last three minutes to win, 36-34, when Hunter Smith kicked an 18-yard field goal with 43 seconds left. Moments before Michigan had taken a 34-33 lead on a 24-yard slant from Brian Griese to Amani Toomer.

Both Griese and Steve Beuerlein threw for 300-plus yards in this shootout in the Louisiana Superdome. Michigan tied the game on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame regained the lead on its next possession, capping a five-and-a-half-minute drive with a 24-yard field goal. After a long drive led to another Notre Dame field goal, Michigan took the lead on the Griese-to-Toomer connection. For the third straight time, Notre Dame launched a long drive that stalled in the red zone, and Smith had to convert his fifth field goal in the game's final minute.

Box Score:
Michigan Wolverines   3 17 0 14   34 Notre Dame Fighting Irish   3 17 7 9   36

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense MIC
24
26-83
40-30-407
2-23
0
0-0
0
31:51
5-14
0-3
467 ND
26
21-183
39-24-314
3-17
1
7-62
1
28:09
4-10
0-0
480

 

Final:
Miami vs. Notre Dame

Miami Hurricanes 27, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 14

Superior in passing, running and defense, the Miami Hurricanes were never challenged from the second quarter on and won easily, 27-14. Notre Dame's Steve Beuerlein and Vinny Testaverde, the hottest quarterbacks in the playoffs, were expected to shine in this war of real estate acquisition.

Beuerlein threw for 270 yards to Testaverde's 198, but Miami's defense kept Beuerlein off-balance and guessing at unfamiliar secondary coverage all day. Miami sacked him six times and picked him off twice. But the passing game wasn't Miami's biggest advantage.

On the ground, Miami won by a landslide, carrying the ball 41 times for 151 yards, compared to Notre Dame's tepid 33 yards on 12 carries. Grinding it out enabled Miami to control the ball, and it kept the ball nearly 38 minutes to Notre Dame's 22. Edgerrin James was the major player in the rushing game, earning 136 yards. Miami also used the big strike. Santana Moss had one touchdown catch and opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Miami's ubiquitous defense dominated again. After a first-quarter touchdown pass from Beuerlein to Tim Brown that tied it at 7-7, Notre Dame's attack tanked. The Irish couldn't score again until four minutes remained in the game, when a meaningless one-yard pass to Brown made it 27-14. Cornerback Duane Starks led Miami with nine tackles, but it was again Jesse Armstead who symbolized the Hurricanes' athletic versatility. Armstead made seven tackles and got three sacks.

Box Score:
Miami Hurricanes   7 10 3 7   27 Notre Dame Fighting Irish   7 0 0 7   14

 

Team Statistics:
First Downs
Rushes
Passes
Sacks
Fumbles
Penalties
Turnovers
Time
Third Down
Fourth Down
Net Offense MIA
18
41-151
18-15-198
2-15
0
6-50
0
37:34
4-14
1-1
334 ND
16
12-33
37-22-270
6-44
0
5-46
22:26
4-11
3-12
0-2
259

 

 

There you have it. That Miami won is unsurprising. The Hurricanes have been a football juggernaut for more than a decade, so it follows that the individual players they put in the pros would be among the best. Other simulation results across the seven games can always be doubted, but doubted compared to what? In lieu of an actual playoff -- which college football still lacks -- the computer lends some numerical objectivity to a tournament pitting the best colleges at
putting players in the pros.

One more benefit? I don't have to sit through 25 calorie-inducing bowl games, 24 of which have no bearing on who's declared No.1. That alone makes the wisdom of a computer worthwhile.

Kenneth Shouler lives in Harrison, New York. Sean Lahman ran the computer simulation for this article.