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Instant Analysis: BCS Championship Game

Staff Columnist
Posted Jan 9, 2007


A senior quarterback displayed total command of an offense. A team with better weapons won. A coach born in Ohio ruled the college football world. A rout took place in Glendale. Just what most folks expected, right?


Wrong.

Everything about the BCS Championship Game made sense, except for this little inconvenient truth: the Florida Gators were the ones dealing out the devastation and providing the punishment. The championship game of college football has historically elevated the underdog to lofty places, but this was a result that recent history couldn't easily explain.

A guy by the name of Steve Spurrier--who won Florida's first national title ten years ago--once used a word that would perfectly apply to the events that unfolded on Monday night in suburban Phoenix. The Gator icon--now joined by Urban Meyer as a championship coach in Gainesville--had a choice term for any coach or team that would lie low for a time but then spring a surprise on an unsuspecting opponent: "sandbagger."

In the wake of a game that saw Ohio State's vaunted offense scratch out a mere 82 yards, while Florida's once-inconsistent offense unleashed 41 points on the Buckeyes, it's fair to say that Urban Meyer did a little bit of sandbagging in the dry and dusty Desert Southwest. Florida--much like the national championship team Jim Tressel coached four years ago at Ohio State--barely survived a regular season filled with close-shave wins that were earned through blood and sweat, sans the artistry. But once the Gators got to the big stage, their Studebaker of an offense became a roaring Ferrari. An already-great defense found an even higher level of excellence against Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the rest of a shellshocked Buckeye offense that, even without Ted Ginn, should have been able to score more than one touchdown in a high-stakes battle.

The conventional wisdom on this game was that Florida would have to play perfect football to merely stay close. As it turned out, however, Florida's A-game was enough to crush the Buckeyes in much the same way that the Nebraska Cornhuskers once trounced Spurrier's Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, which marked the last time Florida competed for a national title in suburban Phoenix. The totality of Florida's triumph has America wondering how this shocking result could have happened.

Simply stated, speed killed the kids from Columbus.

Florida didn't do anything incredibly different from its regular season run through the Southeastern Conference. The Gators used spread formations and employed a short passing game to an array of shifty receivers. Yet, these basic bubble screens and flat passes repeatedly ripped through the lines of a Buckeye defense that--to this point in the season--had played far beyond preseason expectations. A unit that lost a number of big-name players after the 2005 season was viewed as Ohio State's achilles heel before 2006 began, but James Laurinaitis and the rest of his Buckeye brothers answered the bell. Despite a relative lack of experience, the less-touted side of the ball in Columbus helped Troy Smith and the OSU offense reach Glendale with a 12-0 record. Monday night, however, the mojo that had carried Ohio State's defense abruptly left the building, as the Buckeyes were bludgeoned by the basics throughout a first half that no one outside the Florida locker room anticipated. Florida won this game by a wide margin, but what's even more impressive about the Gator romp is that it came without lucky breaks, home-run plays, or anything else that would cast any doubt over the proceedings. Florida bruised and battered the Bucks by gaining four yards here, five yards there, and repeating the cycle for 60 minutes of gridiron greatness. By outflanking and outhustling Ohio State on both sides of the ball, the Gators quite literally ran away with this contest.

And so, as one sifts through the wreckage on the sideline of the Big Ten champions, it's hard to determine the bigger surprises from this title tilt: Troy Smith playing that poorly, or Chris Leak playing that well? Urban Meyer succeeding this soon on a stage this big, or Jim Tressel having a total lack of answers in a big game? Florida pounding OSU physically, or OSU looking so slow? Florida's secondary smothering the Buckeye receivers, or those same Ohio State pass catchers showing no juice when Ted Ginn went down early on? Florida hitting field goals (kudos to Chris Hetland for a step-up performance after a season of psychological hell and plenty of abuse at the hands of fans), or Ohio State failing on fourth down and less than a yard late in the first half (the key play of the game)? Pick your surprise, positive or negative, and it emerged in this contest.

The greatest story to emerge from this game is, without a shadow of a doubt, Chris Leak. There's no getting around the fact that Leak was one of the most criticized quarterbacks in college football history, a man who was viewed as the imperfect leader of a flawed offense on a team whose defense led the charge to an SEC championship. But even when his own game (not to mention his offense as a whole) floundered, Leak still found ways to win over the course of the 2006 regular season. Armed with the perseverance of a champion, Leak made every crucial play down the stretch of the Gators' march to Atlanta (for their SEC title) and then Glendale. On Monday night, Leak played virtually perfect football in the last and biggest game of his college football life. It's the stuff dreams are made of, but no one could have dreamed of this scenario two months ago... not to mention two years ago.

Chris Leak, a national champion? To quote CBS Sports' Jim Nantz after Florida won its NCAA basketball championship nine months ago, "That's as good as it gets."

So are these gridiron Gators, who have made the goliath in Gainesville the owner of a football-basketball double, something unprecedented in the long and colorful history of Division I-A collegiate athletics.

Three years ago, the University of Connecticut played the best basketball in America, as the Huskies owned both the men's and women's titles at the same time. Tonight, after Florida's rout of Ohio State for a second football championship and a second consecutive big-ticket title, it's clear that the University of Florida has the best men's sports teams in the United States.

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