For the eighth consecutive season, WhatIfsports.com is proud to present the ultimate college football playoff in a tournament we refer to as December Madness 2011.
Over the next three weeks, the Top 16 college football teams (11 conference champions and five at-large programs based on BCS rating) will compete for the December Madness title.
Utilizing our award-winning college football simulation engine, we "play" each matchup 1,001 times.
View the December Madness playoff bracket and complete box score here: http://www.whatifsports.com/decmadness/
Stanford arrives to December Madness as somewhat of a wild card. The Cardinal, coming off a win in last year's Orange Bowl and ignited by the return of Andrew Luck, entered the 2011 campaign with high expectations.
Void of any early-season competition, Luck and company obliterated their out-of-conference adversaries and Pac-12 competition, with the only test coming in Los Angeles versus a frisky Trojans team.
After surviving a triple-overtime scare from Southern Cal, a date with Oregon appeared to be the only thing in Stanford's way of a BCS Championship berth. Alas, David Shaw's crew was dealt a beatdown at the hands of the Ducks, quickly dousing the flames on any national championship aspirations.
The Cardinal admirably bounced back with wins against rivals California and Notre Dame, earning them a berth to our postseason tournament.
You may be acquainted with this Luck fellow, but two names unfamiliar to most of America are receiver Griff Whalen and running back Stepfan Taylor. Whalen, a former walk-on senior, is leading the team in receiving with 664 yards on 49 receptions, while Taylor has accumulated 1,153 yards for the Cardinal. It's this surrounding skill that has facilitated the awe-inspiring figures from Luck this season.
The Golden Eagles were a late addition to the competition, as many pigskin pundits had the undefeated Houston Cougars penciled into our hypothetical event as the C-USA representative heading into the conference's championship game.
Apparently Southern Mississippi missed this memo, as the team delivered a thumping on the Cougars by a count of 49-28, earning their invite to December Madness.
Despite winning nine of the final 10 contests heading into their conference title game, the Golden Eagles were largely ignored during college football's 2011 campaign after a disappointing early-season defeat to Marshall. A shame, too, as Southern Miss boasts one of the more balanced offensive attacks in football. Quarterback Austin Davis runs a ship that gained over 3,400 yards in the air and ran for 2,700 yards on the ground. This stability equated to 37.8 points per contest, 14th best in the country.
It was this stability that allowed the Golden Eagles to be trailing by one point heading into the fourth quarter against the Cardinal. Kept alive by three field goals from kicker Danny Hrapmann in the first half, the Southern Miss offense awoke in the third quarter, with Davis creating two excursions into the end zone off touchdown passes to Tracy Lampley and Ryan Harris.
Yet it was not to be for Southern Mississippi, as the Cardinal pulled away in the fourth, thanks to a five-yard Taylor touchdown run and two-yard pass from Luck to Zach Ertz, giving Stanford a hard-fought 38-23 W.
Luck was slightly off his game but still managed to be effective, hitting 19-of-32 intended targets for 214 yards and three scores. Taylor earns Player of the Game honors with 193 yards and two touchdowns off 22 carries, figures that were fueled by a 76-yard run in the first quarter.
Player of the game: Stepfan Taylor (193 rushing yards, 2 TD)
Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Stanford 84.4% - Southern Mississippi 15.6%