The Final Countdown
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - All the preparations have been made, the coaches have broken down every conceivable scenario and the final walk- throughs will take place in the next 24-to-48 hours. So the one question remains after nearly a month of anticipation -- how can the BCS Title Game ever live up to the hype?
Forget the side stories about what teams got the short end of the stick. Utah finished the year as the only undefeated team in the country, but few people outside of the Beehive State actually believe that running the table in the Mountain West Conference and topping a good Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl warrants consideration for a national title.
A stronger debate can be made for the Texas Longhorns and the USC Trojans. The Longhorns knocked off Oklahoma (45-35) in a memorable mid-season affair, but could not maintain their lofty perch throughout a murderous Big 12 slate, falling to Texas Tech (39-33) in the waning moments of their clash in early November.
The Pac-10 simply gets no love across the nation and the Trojans losing to Oregon State (27-21) to open league play overshadows anything after that, including a thorough whipping of Big Ten champion Penn State (38-24) in the Rose Bowl.
So, going on the premise that the two most deserving teams are playing for the national title in Miami on Thursday (Oklahoma finished number one in the BCS, while Florida was tabbed number one in the AP Poll), how will this game unfold and more importantly, will it be everything it has been built up to be?
The Florida Gators are no stranger to the national spotlight, as they won the inaugural BCS title game in 2006, destroying Ohio State (41-14). Urban Meyer's team successfully navigated the always-treacherous SEC schedule and despite one small transgression (a 31-30 home loss to eventual Cotton Bowl champ Ole Miss), was able to capture the SEC crown with a win over Alabama in the conference title game (31-20) and move into a spot to play for the national championship.
It all starts with last year's Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow under center. Although his numbers weren't equal to last year's, Tebow was still plenty effective and was named a finalist for the Heisman as a result. It remains to be seen where Tebow will stand in college football history, but he is one of the best football players I have ever seen on the gridiron, and I have seen my fair share.
What makes him so dangerous this season is the talent around him. His numbers in 2007 were ridiculous because he had to put the team on his back at times and carry them to victory. This year is different. The influx of young talent has only enhanced Florida both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and no one knows that more than Tebow.
"I think my role is a little bit different this year. Last year I had to do a little bit more, make a few more plays this year, more of a manager, more of trying to just be the field general out there and put our offense in positions to score points, get first downs, manage the clock, manage the turnovers. I think we've done a pretty good job of that this year, and it's a blessing to be up here and be in this game, and it's definitely worth it. I wouldn't trade this season for the world."
The numbers reflect that, as Tebow has completed 65 percent of his passes, for 2,515 yards, with 28 TDs and just two interceptions. He has also added over 560 rushing yards and an additional 12 TDs on the ground.
The versatile Percy Harvin (538 yards rushing, nine rushing TDs, 35 receptions, 595 yards, seven TD catches), freshmen tailbacks Chris Rainey (7.9 ypc, four TDs) and Jeff Demps (8.4 ypc, seven TDs) and senior wideout Louis Murphy (36 receptions, for 611 yards, six TDs) have certainly made Tebow's job a lot easier.
The Florida defense is a thing of beauty as well, with the Gators thriving on big plays (24 interceptions, 32 sacks) and utilizing unbelievable "team speed" to effectively negate even the most prolific offensive attacks.
Speaking of stellar offenses, Florida will be facing one of the nation's best in Oklahoma. To make matters even worse for the Gators is the fact that since the loss to Texas, the Sooners have turned it up a notch on offense, including closing out the year with five straight 60-plus-point performances, including a 62-21 rout of a good Missouri team in the Big 12 Title Game.
The Sooners are led by this year's Heisman Trophy winner, as Sam Bradford edged out Tebow for the 74th annual award. Deserving of the coveted piece of hardware, Bradford followed up a stellar freshman season in 2007 with an unbelievable sophomore campaign.
Orchestrating the nation's top scoring team (54.0 ppg), Bradford completed just over 68 percent of his passes, for 4,464 yards, with a whopping 48 TDs and just six INTs. With a full array of weapons at his disposal, Bradford used them all, with the top targets being WR Juaquin Iglesias (69 receptions, for 1,092 yards, 10 TDs) and TE Jermaine Gresham (58 receptions, for 888 yards, 12 TDs).
The ground game plays second-fiddle to the passing attack in Norman, but this second-fiddle strums to the tune of about 205.5 yards per game. The Sooners will be without talented tailback DeMarco Murray due to injury, but leading RB Chris Brown (1,110 yards, 20 TDs) will still be in the backfield, keeping Florida's defenders honest.
The Sooner defense is top-notch as well and although Florida gets a great deal of credit for its overall speed, Oklahoma is not exactly slow-of-foot.
Head coach Bob Stoops thinks his defense hasn't gotten enough credit at times.
"We have been called a lot of things but slow is not one of them. We have matched well with people with speed and hopefully we will be able to do it this game."
This showdown has all the makings of a classic. Two coaches and two teams completely focused on the task at hand. There are likely to be several momentum swings in this one and "big plays" will probably determine the outcome.
I know Christmas was two weeks ago, but fans may just get one more gift before the holiday season, and 2008 college football campaign, officially come to a close.
Thursday can't get here soon enough.
01/06 10:44:53 ET