The Sweep

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Mandel_stewart
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Jorts-wearing Gators fans have taken over Miami Gardens.
Stewart Mandel/SI

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Crawling through the Dolphin Stadium parking lot traffic about three hours before kickoff of Thursday night's BCS National Championship Game, I looked out the windows of our bus and swore I must surely be in Gainesville.

There are reportedly two teams playing tonight, Florida and Oklahoma, but the tailgate lots looked very much like those outside The Swamp on a fall Saturday: All orange-and-blue. Miami may be five hours from Gainesville -- but it's a whole lot closer than Norman, Okla., and Gator fans are doing their best to turn this championship bout into a de facto home game.

I saw more Oklahoma fans upon reaching the stadium entrance -- for whatever reason, they appeared far more eager to get inside the stadium than their Florida counterparts -- but it's clear they're going to be heavily outnumbered here tonight. It's still a bowl game, however, at a fairly sterile NFL stadium. Don't expect Sam Bradford to have to use a silent snap count.

It's a crisp, clear night here in South Florida (temperature should be in the 60s.) I had a brief chance to go down on the field just now. The teams had not arrived yet, so it was mostly media members milling about, including a whole bunch of TV reporters doing live shots for the 6 o'clock news. I did, however, get within about five feet of the big, crystal trophy these teams are playing for tonight (see accompanying picture).

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It just doesn't get more beautiful than this.
Stewart Mandel/SI

Personally, I'd like to get a replica for my coffee table.

I've covered two BCS National Championship Games here, and it tends to be a pretty electric atmosphere by kickoff. Unfortunately, the previous two (Oklahoma-Florida State in 2000 and USC-Oklahoma in '04) turned into lopsided affairs that took the crowd out of the game fairly early. I would love to see a great game tonight, both because I just spent the past week writing my brains out about it, but also to see just how much the crowd gets rocking as the game goes on.

The stakes don't get any higher than this. With two mega-star coaches, two Heisman Trophy winners and an anticipated 20 to 30 million watching at home, I can't help but get the chills a little bit. I hope you're excited, too.

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