(1) Florida (12-1) vs. (2) Oklahoma (12-1)|
Thursday, January 8th, 8:17 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The top two teams in the country will meet in the third-annual
FedEx BCS National Championship game, as the Florida Gators and Oklahoma
Sooners square off at Dolphin Stadium in Miami this Thursday, with the
national title on the line.
Urban Meyer's Gators are no stranger to this game, as they won the inaugural
BCS Title Game two years ago, with a thorough whipping of the Ohio State
Buckeyes (41-14). The majority of the competition in 2008 can certainly attest
to how the Buckeyes felt in that game, as outside of a humbling setback at
home to Ole Miss in late September (31-30), the Gators have rolled over their
foes, including lopsided wins against Tennessee (30-6), Georgia (49-10) and
Florida State (45-15) outside of Gainesville and an equally impressive
performance against LSU (51-21) at home. The result was yet another SEC East
crown, setting up a showdown with the Alabama Crimson Tide for the SEC Title
in early December. When the smoke cleared, Florida earned a 31-20 victory and
a spot in the national title game.
This game represents Florida's 18th straight bowl game and 36th bowl
appearance overall (16-19). It is also the fifth BCS Bowl game for the Gators,
who have gone 3-1 in the four prior outings, including winning the national
championship two years ago.
Bob Stoops' Sooners earned the right to play in this game by winning the Big
12 title in impressive fashion. Like the Gators, Oklahoma had one little bump
in the road, that being a 45-35 setback to Texas on October 11th. To the
Sooners' credit, the team ran off seven straight wins after that and closed
out the year with five consecutive 60+ point performances, including a 62-21
rout of Missouri in the Big 12 Title Game.
Stoops knows what his team is facing in this contest.
"We are excited about the opportunity to play a great Florida team. Urban
Meyer and his staff have done a great job there and they are a very talented
team when you look at them with their speed and skill. Really in all parts,
you look at them offensively they like to spread it around to all the
positions and they can run it with big time players. And of course their
quarterback Tim Tebow is one of the best in the country. Defensively, it's the
same thing. They have a lot of skill and speed on defense. Up front, in the
front seven you really see it. They are solid in everything that they do
scheme wise and in special teams they a very detailed and well thought out in
their schemes in all that they do. It is a big challenge and an exciting one
at that and looking forward to the challenge."
The Sooners have won seven national titles since 1950 with the latest coming
in 2000. and boast of a 24-16-1 all-time bowl record. The team is making its
10th straight bowl appearance, but has struggled in the postseason of late,
losing two straight bowl games and four of the last five overall.
This is surprisingly the first-ever meeting between these two storied programs
on the gridiron.
The Gator offense is a big reason why the team is in a position to win its
second national title in the last three years. It certainly doesn't hurt to
have a Heisman Trophy winner running the show in Tebow. The junior signal-
caller, who won the Heisman as a sophomore, was a finalist this year, after
leading an offense that had little trouble moving the football both on the
ground (229.8 ypg) or through the air (212.6 ypg). Tebow was certainly a big
part of that, passing for 2,515 yards and 28 TDs against a mere two
interceptions. The talented field general also rushed for well over 500
yards, with another 12 TDs on the ground. The biggest difference between this
year and last for Tebow, is his supporting cast, as he is no longer the
primary weapon on this side of the football. That title has to go to the
versatile Percy Harvin, who was a handful both in the backfield (538 rushing
yards, nine TDs) and on the outside (35 receptions, 595 yards, seven TD
receptions). Other key contributors include freshmen tailbacks Chris Rainey
(team-high 655 yards, four TDs) and Jeff Demps (582 yards, seven TDs) and
senior wideout Louis Murphy (36 receptions, 611 yards, six TDs).
The offense gets a great deal of the attention in Gainesville, but more often
than not, it was the play of the Florida defense that put the offense in
position to score. The Gators ranked second in the country this season with
24 interceptions and made the biggest plays when it counted the most, ranking
first in the nation with 12 interceptions against top-25 foes. That was
despite having several youngsters force-fed early on. The overall numbers on
the year certainly give credence to the notion that Florida has moved up to
one of the nation's premier defensive teams. The Gators allowed just 279.3
yards of total offense per game, showing equal disdain for the run (105.3 ypg)
and the pass (174.0 ypg). The team amassed 33 takeaways in all and also
excelled at getting after opposing QBs, with 32 sacks.
Playmakers abound on this side of the football as well for Florida, starting
with Brandon Spikes. The junior middle linebacker paced the team in total
tackles this year (87), with 8.0 TFLs, two sacks and four interceptions.
The secondary play was highlighted by sophomore DBs Joe Haden (77 tackles,
three INTs, 10 PBUs) and Ahmad Black (54 tackles, six INTs) and freshman
Janoris Jenkins (34 tackles, three INTs). Leading the charge along the
defensive front were sophomore Carlos Dunlap (35 tackles, 12.0 TFLs, 9.0
sacks) and junior Jermaine Cunningham (51 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks).
Spikes credits the maturation of the younger players on defense for Florida's
defensive tenacity this season.
"Well, I think we had a lot of younger guys just step up to the plate. They
made a personal decision, and they wanted to come out and play Florida
tradition defense. I think we've done that. Our off-season that was a really
big part of it, younger guys kind of attack there, and we took that in and
knew if we worked on it in the off-season it would pay off, and I think that's
what happened this season. We've been playing good every Saturday, and
stepping stones -- you know, after we got beat by Ole Miss that was the
reality check for us that we were beatable and guys started doing all the
smaller things, and it kind of worked out for us."
The Gators will face their toughest challenge to date on defense, as Oklahoma
closed the regular season out as perhaps the hottest offensive team in the
country. The numbers are mind-boggling on the year, with OU ranking 19th
nationally in rushing (205.5 ypg) and third nationally in passing (356.5 ypg),
resulting in a national-best 54.0 ppg. Oklahoma also has a Heisman winner
running the show, as sophomore Sam Bradford beat out Tebow for the coveted
award this season, the fifth Sooner to earn the Heisman. Bradford was simply
remarkable this year, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (.683), for a
whopping 4,464 yards, with 48 TDs and just six interceptions. A real
gunslinger, Bradford spread the wealth among his talented receiving corps,
with six players hauling in 27 balls or more. The top two targets were WR
Juaquin Iglesias (69 receptions, for 1,092 yards, 10 TDs) and tight end
Jermaine Gresham (58 receptions, for 888 yards, 12 TDs), but opponents cannot
only concentrate on those two, or WRs Ryan Broyles (42 receptions, for 661
yards, six TDs) and Manuel Johnson (38 receptions, for 685 yards, nine TDs)
will make them pay the price.
The ground game definitely benefits from the prolific passing attack and
although the team will be without 1,000-yard rusher DeMarco Murray (1,002
yards, 14 TDs) in this game due to injury, the team has another workhorse in
Chris Brown, who paced the Sooners with 1,110 yards and an eye-popping 20
The Sooners are not a one-trick pony by any stretch of the imagination, as the
OU defense deserves some credit for the team's success this year as well.
Oklahoma has been especially stout against the run, limiting foes to just
106.0 yards per game. The pass defense has been more generous (253.1 ypg), but
that is more a product of Oklahoma having huge leads and opponents trying to
play catch up. This is another "big play" defense, with Oklahoma amassing 32
takeaways and 42 sacks in 13 games.
Redshirt freshman LB Travis Lewis was a real force in the middle of the field
for Oklahoma this season, ranking among the elite tacklers in the Big 12 with
135 total stops. Among those tackles, were 12.0 TFLs and 3.5 sacks, while
Lewis also picked off four passes and forced one fumble. Keenan Clayton was
also a monster in the linebacking corps, finishing with 76 tackles, 10.0 TFLs,
4.5 sacks and one INT. Lendy Holmes (79 tackles, five INTs) and Dominique
Franks (39 tackles, four INTs) represent the top playmakers in the secondary.
One of the top defensive lines in the country, Oklahoma was able to assuage
the loss of All-American end Auston English (30 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 4.5 sacks)
to injury, as players like sophomores Jeremy Beal (54 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 8.5
sacks) and Gerald McCoy (26 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 6.5 sacks) elevated their
games up front.
The real key for Oklahoma's defense is whether or not the Sooners can handle
Florida's offensive speed. That is something Stoops is aware of but not overly
"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 Florida team has enough veterans on the squad that know what it is like
to play in this type of atmosphere with everything on the line. Expect both
teams to come out fired up, with several momentum swings early on. However,
when things settle down. the old saying that "speed kills" will ring true, and
overall team speed, including the all-important special teams, resides with
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida 36, Oklahoma 31
01/05 08:32:17 ET