A dream matchup for the national championship


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:29 p.m.

FORT LAUDERDALE Florida and Oklahoma have both been playing football for more than a century. But over the course of all those years, their paths have somehow never crossed. The Gators and Sooners have no history. Zero.

That, of course, changes tonight at Dolphin Stadium in a historical matchup between two of college football's elite programs.

With all the drama, all the hype, all the intriguing storylines surrounding this BCS Championship Game, the Gators and Sooners will have a chance to make up for a lot of lost time when they finally get together tonight.

This kind of feels like an old-time rivalry game the way the players from both sides have bantered back and forth all week, making promises and vowing to prove the other team wrong.

Now, it's game on.

"I don't really care what it's about," Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said. "All I know is that we're going to go out there and we're going to play our football and hopefully win. That's our goal, and I don't really care too much what the hype is about."

Tebow was drawn into the hype earlier in the week, when a quote leaked out about Tebow saying he wished he had a chance to play against Big 12 defenses.

The Sooners took offense, of course, and cornerback Dominique Franks responded by saying Tebow would be the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12.

Tebow kind of let it die after that.

"Who knows, that might have been a compliment," Tebow said. "We'll see."

Really, though, this game isn't about the hype, but the many storylines. There are enough for three or four national title games.

There's the Heisman vs. Heisman matchup between Tebow, the 2007 winner, and Sam Bradford, the 2008 winner.

There's OU's video-game, fast-break offense against a strong UF defense.

There's Tebow and Percy Harvin vs. an Oklahoma defense seeking respect.

There's Bob Stoops vs. Urban Meyer, two Ohio boys, with the winner becoming the first head coach to win two BCS national titles.

There's Stoops, a former UF defensive coordinator who helped the Gators win their first national title in 1996, renewing acquaintances with some old Florida friends.

There's the SEC vs. the Big 12 in a clash of styles and philosophies.

It all adds up to a potential dream matchup between two schools that have never played before.

"Our players are excited, they're anxious to play," Stoops said. "I get that sense."

The SEC-Big 12 argument has become a popular theme this week. There is a perception that the SEC is a strong defensive league, and that they don't play defense in the Big 12. As a result, Bradford and the Sooners have put up some ridiculous numbers, including scoring 60 or more points in their last five games.

"You know, I don't monitor the media waves maybe as much as I should, but I've gotten that feel from just the questions that have been asked," Stoops said. "It just seems to be more of a theme each year. There's a lot of comparing teams by conferences. I don't know, it just seems to be a good discussion.

"It's always a debate. You can speculate on the quality of defenses (in the Big 12). That's fair. I don't think there's any question that we have a lot of excellent quarterbacks in our league. It's up to you guys to discern if it's because of the quarterbacks or because of poor defenses."

Stoops admitted earlier in the week that this OU defense has not quite met the school's usual high standards. But it's a defense that has improved over the course of the year, he said.

Meyer agrees, saying when you break down the OU defense, it has been very strong when the games are on the line.

"We call it competitive snaps," he said. "You take the (total snaps) and you probably cut it right in half because they're just beating the mess out of teams. You get to the third and fourth quarter, and you can take all the statistical analysis out of it from there.

"What's happened to Oklahoma is a little bit like what happened to us in the second half of the year. Your backups are in there, you're way ahead, teams start throwing the ball all over the place and you take a hit statistically. I see a fine defense, an excellent defense that we're getting ready to play."

As for the Florida defense, it will be facing its biggest challenge of the year a hurry-up OU attack that has blitzed opponents with big play after big play.

"What you see is a group of players executing at a high level," Meyer said. "You have substitution limitations because of tempo, you have the fatigue factor and you have the chaos factor where to line up.

"The positive is we've had three weeks to prepare and we've been operating at a very high level of chaos trying to get lined up and ready to go. The (OU) personnel is a problem. I'd like to play a team that does this with really bad players, and it's not a problem. It's the fact that they are really good."

How good? The Gators will find out tonight.

Game on.

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