Gators near-unanimous No. 1 in final AP poll
Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 10:35 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 10:35 a.m.
GLENDALE, Ariz. - For more than a month, the Florida Gators stewed in silence.
Asked about Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, they heaped on the praise. Asked about No. 1 Ohio State, they poured on the compliments.
When they got on the field Monday night, the Gators showed how they really felt.
Second-ranked Florida turned out to be way too good for the Buckeyes, embarrassing them 41-14 to run away with college football's national championship.
"Honestly, we've played a lot better teams than them," Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said. "I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them."
Florida got all but one of the 65 first-place votes in the final Associated Press poll. Ohio State dropped from No. 1 and finished second.
Chris Leak and Tim Tebow showed off coach Urban Meyer's twin quarterback system to perfection as the Gators became the first Division I school to hold national titles in football and basketball at the same time.
Now, only one question remains: What about 13-0 Boise State, the last undefeated team left standing after stunning Oklahoma on the very same field in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day? The No. 5 Broncos got the other first-place vote in the AP poll.
Florida's amazingly easy victory left the Gators with a 13-1 record and the Buckeyes at 12-1. That, and with Wisconsin and Louisville also having lost just once, will almost surely renew calls for a playoff system.
"I love Boise State. We don't want to go play them. We're done, we're done, we're finished," Meyer said.
"There are probably five, six, seven great football teams in this country and there is one way to figure out who the better team is and that's to go play the game," he said.
Meyer was certain his team was among the best, even though many questioned whether Florida belonged in this game. The coach urged his Gators not to take the bait.
"Always say great things about your opponent. If you're going to talk, talk about your teammates," Meyer said.
"Like I said, motivation, it was not an issue. If you are looking for a great pregame speech, didn't have to make any. We had one for 30 days there," he said.
Ohio State started out like the one-touchdown favorite it was, but only for an instant.
Ted Ginn Jr. returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, but then it quickly fell apart for the Buckeyes. Ginn hurt his foot in the touchdown celebration and hobbled off after Ohio State's first offensive play.
By the time he returned for the second half on crutches, Florida led 34-14.
"We scored on the first play of the game and from that point on really couldn't keep the pressure where we needed it to be," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said.
"Ohio State didn't get it done," he said.
Leak, maligned for never winning the big one, completed 25 of 36 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. The Rambo-like Tebow threw for one TD and powered into the end zone for another.
"My legacy was to get the University of Florida back here," Leak said.
Smith, meanwhile, joined a long list of Heisman Trophy quarterbacks - Jason White, Eric Crouch and Gino Torretta, among them - to fall apart in bowl games. He was just 4-of-14 for 35 yards with one interception, sacked him five times and held him to minus-29 yards on 10 runs.
"Not everything in life is going to go the exact way you want it," Smith said. "I don't have any regrets, though. I really don't. We came out and fought. We came up short.
"Sometimes you have great games and sometimes you don't."
Defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Moss made it a miserable night for Smith. Linebacker Earl Everett got into the act, too, running down Smith on one play despite missing his helmet.
"Nobody never gave us a chance at all," Florida receiver Dallas Baker said. "We came here with a chip on our shoulder and something to prove. Nobody gave us a chance, but finally we can throw up the No. 1."
It was the second national title for Florida, adding to the one Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel brought home in 1996 under coach Steve Spurrier with a 52-20 romp over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
This time, the man in charge was the 42-year-old Meyer, once a .200 hitter in the low minors in Atlanta's baseball farm system. Since then, he's made a rocket rise in the coaching ranks, topped off by a title in his second year at Florida.
The trophy will make a perfect bookend for the one the basketball Gators won by beating UCLA for the national championship in Indianapolis last spring.
"How do I compare them? Both have confetti landing on my head," athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "I couldn't believe it in April, I can't believe it now. I can't believe I can talk about it without jinxing us. Obviously, things had to break our way to even get here."
Tressel's team, meanwhile, looked as if it belonged at the Holiday Bowl, because it took this night off. Given 51 days to prepare, the Buckeyes were confused from the get-go once Florida got the ball.
In the first football matchup between these schools - they've both played the sport for 100-plus years - the Gators emphatically stopped Ohio State's 19-game winning streak.
The Buckeyes beat a pair of No. 2 teams, defending champion Texas and Michigan, earlier in the season, but they were no match for Florida's speed, strategy and style.
Ohio State hoped to win its fifth national title, having taken it behind Maurice Clarett in 2002.
But these Buckeyes looked completely flummoxed by Florida's frenetic offense at the outset. Trying to match up with the Gators' shifting formations, they often jumped around at the line and still were out of position.
Leak gladly took advantage of the confusion, picking wide-open receivers at will and hitting his first nine passes. Criticized most of his career for a lack of fire, the guy with the soft, green eyes seemed real comfortable.
By the end, the numbers were numbing. Florida outgained the Buckeyes 370 yards to 82, led in first downs 21-8 and time of possession 40:48 to 19:12.
"They earned the national championship, no doubt about it," Tressel said.
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