Monday, January 08, 2007

Hours away from another potential BCS classic

The clock is ticking down the final hours of what has seemed like an interminable wait for the top two teams in college football to get on the field and decide which is the best.

Shoot, it's only been 50 days since the Buckeyes last took the field. I'm sure they're not the least bit rusty.

The extended layoff for Ohio State and Florida was made agonizingly longer by dragging the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Az. out one week after the New years confetti has fallen. What on Earth is the point of that? By now everyone is trying to recover from the holidays, stick to their resolutions, and get into the NFL playoffs.

And you mean to tell me that the NCAA needs to put bowl games on TV nearly every day between Jan. 1 and now just to keep the interest in the sport fresh? Bullshit.

The same stuffed suits who won't agree to a playoff system have no problem with extending practices, worrying about the game, and the inability to make any holiday plans for players & coaches involved. Thus we have the first game played this late in the newest month of the newest year. Crazy.

But as long as they are playing the game tonight I'm going to make the most of it and I'm sure by game time I will be truly fired up. Right now I am just so stuffed that I feel like flushing my Poinsettia down my Emerald Bowl.

2Florida Gators (12-1) vs. 1Ohio St. Buckeyes (12-0)
8:15 PM EST, FOX
Glendale Arizona, University of Phoenix Stadium
Line: OSU - 7 1/2

Let me just say that I am no Gator fan- hate them in fact- and my wife's family is from Ohio. So there is a bias there. But I will resist the urge to trash Florida by saying they played a mediocre schedule against a bunch of overrated teams in the parity-filled SEC and lucked their way into the championship game when USC lost to UCLA on the final Saturday of the regular season. Which I think was about a month and a half ago.

Meanwhile the Buckeyes became only the third team in history to beat two #2 teams in one season. By defeating the Gators it would become the first team to beat three #2 teams in one season. Overrated they are not.

In the mane of fairness I will break the game down in a partisan way to determine who should come out on top (note: this is not a "pick", merely a guideline)

The Buckeyes will trot out Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, a superb passer and threat as a runner who masterfully guided the Buckeyes offense to 36 PPG, 6th best in the country. Smith has been a staple of highlight reels since his coming-of-age against Texas last year, a game the Buckeyes lost to Vince Young and the Longhorns but in which Smith established himself as the unquestioned leader of the team; the Buckeyes have only lost one game since that defeat a year ago September.

His numbers are fantastic (2,507 yards, 30 TDs, 5 INTs) but it is his uncanny ability to avoid trouble, read defenses, and throw the ball with velocity and accuracy that makes him so dangerous. Although he didn't run as much this year as he did his junior year (233 yards- 611 yards) he still has the ability to break out of the pocket any time and run for a big gain.

Florida has been using a two-headed attack at QB all year to accommodate Urban Meyer's intricate spread offense. Senior Chris Leak is the unquestioned starter, having broken all kinds of records in his 4 years in Gainesville and leading the team to numerous big wins. But Urban LOVES freshman Tim Tebow, a battering ram of a quarterback who would just as soon as run over a linebacker for a first down as throw for one.

The two are exact opposites in many ways yet have come together to form a potent two-pronged threat. The combination of Leak's passing (2,729 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs) and Tebow's running (430 yards rushing, 7 TDs along with 357 yards passing and 4 TDs) have given teams fits all year and helped the Gators average a respectable 28 PPG, good for 4th in the rugged SEC.
ADVANTAGE: Gotta go with the Heisman winner- Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes' Tedd Ginn Jr. was a preseason Heisman favorite and despite not getting the recognition his childhood friend Smith did the speedster still had a solid junior campaign: 59 catches for 781 yards and 9 touchdowns. Not to mention he is a deadly kick returner as well.
But the Bucks also got a terrific season from hard-nosed Anthony Gonzalez (49 catches, 723 yards, 8 TDs) and unheralded-but-productive Brian son of Terry Robiskie (29 recs, 383 yards, 5 TDs) can get yardage downfield as well.

Florida has a bevy of playmakers at receiver who make the offense click. Dallas Baker is the big play maker, hauling in 56 catches for 897 yards (16 YPC) and 9 TDs, but Tampa's Andre brother of Reche Caldwell (55/571/5), and the duo of Jemalle Cornelius Ingram (55/795/4) have also provided plenty of firepower.

The secret weapon is freshman sensation Percy Harvin. The two-way threat has given the Gators a big spark by receiving (25/367/2), and rushing (36/406/2) and is a guy who can change the game in the blink of an eye; it was his 67-yard touchdown run to start the 4th quarter in the SEC Championship game against Arkansas that blew the game open for the Gators.


Running Backs:
No contest here as the Buckeyes have one of the best- and most underrated- backs in the country. Antonio Pittman would have been a Heisman candidate and featured weapon on about 98% of other teams but at OSU he is just an important cog in a well-oiled offensive machine. The hard-running junior had 1,171 yards on the ground with 13 touchdowns and rushed for over 100 yards in 7 of their 12 games.

Freshman Chris Wells also contributed 567 yards and 7 TDs; helping the Buckeyes rank 18 nationally in rushing with 180 YPG.

The Gators pulled in at #36 in the country with 160 YPG, most of them from senior tailback Deshawn Wynn. Wynn led the team with 630 yards on 124 carries and 5 touchdowns. The drop-off after that is steep- Tebow is the second-leading rusher on the team.


Florida will try to combat the ground attack of Ohio State with the 6th toughest rush defense in the NCAA. The Gators have allowed less than 75 yards/game on the ground and will try and force the Buckeyes to go one-dimensional with a pass-oriented offense. LB Brandon Siler is a monster in the middle, wreaking havoc wherever he ends up, and safety Reggie Nelson is one of the most talented, athletic players in the country. The Gators allowed a stifiling 13 points per game this year.

All season long everyone said that OSU's defense would be its downfall after losing 9 starters, 6 to the NFL, but the newly gelled unit has outperformed all both believers and doubters alike. Led by "animal"-like linebacker James Laurinaitis, NFL-bound DT Quinn Pitcock and sophomore cornerback Malcolm Jenkins the unit allowed a mere 9.6 PPG, mind-boggling for a defense that had to replace so many stars.

All in all it's pretty even on defense, but the public consensus is that the Gators have the better, and speedier, D. But the numbers prove otherwise.


Kicking/Special teams:
The Gators kicker, Chris Hetland, has been getting death threats. That's what happens when you miss 9 of 13 field goals in SEC country.

Ohio State's Aaron Petry was 8-11 and 53 of 54 on extra points.

The Gators block a lot of kicks. Eight of them this year. In fact it was a blocked field goal against South Carolina on the final play of the game that kept the Gators undefeated and allowed them to play in this game tonight.

ADVANTAGE: Gators (slight)

Both coaches have as much personality as a box of detergent. The Sweater-Vested One, Jim Tressel, has won more big games in Columbus than all of his predecessors dating back to Earl Bruce combined. National Championship? Got one. Big 10 Championships? Got that too. Bowl wins? Last years Fiesta pounding of Notre Dame was the latest in his 4-1 mark. Beat archrival Michigan? How bout 5-1?

In other words, Tressel and the Buckeyes have a "been here, done this" attitude that has been cultivated by numerous trips to the desert (3 games in the last 4 years), plenty of big game wins and a never-nervous demeanor.

Urban Meyer led the Utah Utes to a BCS appearance after the 2004 season. And he won the Outback Bowl last year. This year the Gators won some big games (archrival FSU, SEC Championship game, LSU, Tennessee) but they haven't faced anything like two #1 vs. #2 matchups in one year.

Experience matters in games like this, and you can almost guarantee that Leak will get nervous, make a mistake, and the vulture-like Buckeyes will be ready to pounce when he does.

Harvin will be good for a couple of big gains to move the chains and put up some points, and Ginn will have to match him in order to neutralize his effectiveness. If Pittman can't get untracked (which he will, remember he shredded the vaunted Michigan run defense for 139 yards and a score) then Troy will have to get the job done.

Which he will do.

I'm not a predicting man (anymore) but if I were I would like the Buckeyes to win this game by something like 34-24.

But that's just an opinion.

Enjoy the last college football game of the year (finally)

Let's hope it's half as exciting as the Boise State Fiesta Bowl.

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