Grading out the performances in Florida's 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game.
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Quarterback: Tim Tebow had his struggles in the first half, throwing as many picks (two) as he had all season and finding little running room. He bounced back after halftime to finish 18-of-30 passing for 231 yards and two scores, one off his trademark jump-pass, and ran for 109 yards.
Running backs: Chris Rainey's injury took away some of the group's depth, but luckily Percy Harvin, who doesn't really fit the position but is still oh-so dangerous there, returned with his usual explosiveness, running for 122 yards and a touchdown on a direct snap.
Receivers: Harvin made his presence felt in his natural position (four catches, 46 yards) and so did Aaron Hernandez (five catches for 57 yards) on the shovel passes. But it was Louis Murphy (two receptions, 44 yards) who made a ridiculous grab for the game's first score before leaving with an injury.
Offensive line: The Gators had their problems against the zone blitz early on and Tebow rarely had time to throw; but the group found its footing in the second half, paving the way to 249 rushing yards and giving Tebow more time to throw.
Defensive line: The group wasn't great vs. the run, but was better than average in giving up 107 yards. Torrey Davis did come up with a big stop of Chris Brown on 4th-and-goal in the second quarter and Carlos Dunlap and Co. managed to do what so few had: Put pressure on Sam Bradford.
Linebackers: The unit made some big plays like Brandon Hicks' sack, Ryan Stamper's 3rd-and-goal stop to set up Jimmy Stevens' blocked field goal and Ahmad Black's interception. But they couldn't keep up with Sooners tight end Jermaine Greshman, who simply dominated.
OK, so you saw Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators raise the crystal football tonight in Miami after beating Oklahoma to win the BCS National Championship, but are they really the national champions? The only thing that seems undisputed after this season's bowl games is that we have a clear-cut Final Four that would make for a nice little playoff (but we all know that's not going to happen any time soon). So who is the national champion in your eyes? Here are the top four candidates and the case for and against each one:
Florida Gators (13-1)
Why They Should Be No. 1: Well, first of all, they're holding the almighty crystal football after winning the BCS National Championship and will likely take home the AP and any other national title as well. No team in the country finished the season stronger against quality opponents than the Gators, who beat six ranked teams, including two No. 1 teams to finish the season. The Gators, who averaged over 40 points during their 10-game winning streak, hasn't had a team come within single digits of them since their lone loss of the season in September to Ole Miss and proved their defense might be just as good as their offense after they shut down the highest-scoring team in college football history in the title game.
Why They Shouldn't Be No. 1: The Gators are the only team in this foursome (and the BCS top nine) to lose at home. And not only did they lose at home, they lost to an Ole Miss team that was unranked and 3-4 through its first seven games.
Utah Utes (13-0)
Why They Should Be No. 1: The only undefeated team in the nation. Need we say more? Not only did the Utes go unbeaten, they began the year by going to yhe Big House and beating Michigan (you can laugh now, but that's how you schedule non-conference games, folks), beat Oregon State (which as we all know beat USC), beat TCU (which beat Boise State and will finish the year in the top 10), beat BYU (who most thought would be this year's BCS buster) and finished the year off by dominating an Alabama team that was the No. 1 team for a good portion of the season before losing a classic SEC title game to Florida.
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).
Jay Christensen produces The Wiz Of Odds.
• John Harwood, CNBC: President Elect Barack Obama, on which team should be national champion: "I think Utah has a pretty good claim. They're undefeated. And Florida and Oklahoma both are well ... (unintelligible). I think USC, which had a great Rose Bowl, beat Penn State pretty badly. They've got a pretty good claim to being number one. Florida and Oklahoma, I think, both have a claim. Texas, at this point, has got to feel like, 'Well, we did OK, too.' I think -- I think a football playoff system makes sense. I've spoken about this quite a bit, and I think if you look at knowledgeable sports fans, they agree with me. But, you know, I've got to pick and choose my battles. I probably am going to be spending more time focusing on creating three more -- three million more jobs."
• Bill James, Slate: The statistical analyst takes a stand against the Bowl Championship Series. "This isn't a national championship -- it's a big-money waltz. The only role that the computer rankings play in this is that they're there to take the fall when the system doesn't work -- and it doesn't work most of the time."
• Ralph D. Russo, Associated Press: BCS coordinator John Swofford said his organization complies with the law and is ready to fend off any legal challenges.
• Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The BCS title game is nothing more than a glorified exhibition game that sadly, doesn't settle a darned thing.
• Ileana Morales, Miami Herald: One sports merchandising firm stands to make $200,000 in sales if Florida wins the BCS title game.
another crystal football tonight.
Ron Schwane/Icon SMI
Sweep contributors offer their quick picks for tonight's BCS National Championship Game:
Stewart Mandel: Florida 45, Oklahoma 27
Tim Tebow and the Gators' plethora of speed guys will exploit Oklahoma's suspect defenders in space, and for the first time since Texas, the Sooners will be facing a defense that can slow then down a bit.
Andy Staples: Oklahoma 45, Florida 38
Both offenses will score their share of points, and punts should be few and far between. The winner will force turnovers on defense and protect the ball on offense, and Oklahoma has done that better than anyone this season.
Cory McCartney: Florida 38, Oklahoma 35
With all the offensive firepower, somebody's going to have to get a big play on defense to win this thing, and that somebody is the Gators. The young Florida defense may, at times, get winded by the breakneck pace of the Sooners' no-huddle attack, but a group that had 34 interceptions will find a way to force Sam Bradford into at least one uncharacteristic mistake.
Arash Markazi: Oklahoma 38, Florida 35
I don't see any defense in the country being able to stop this Oklahoma offense. The Sooners set an NCAA record by scoring 60 points in five straight games and broke Hawaii's single-season scoring record of 656 in one less game by putting up a mind-boggling 702 points. They won't hang "half a hundred," as Barry Switzer used to famously say, but they'll hang just enough on Florida to return the "Big Game" moniker back to Bob Stoops' name.
Gennaro Filice: Florida 45, Oklahoma 35
Boasting the No. 3 scoring offense and the No. 4 scoring defense, Florida's certainly the more complete team. And in a battle between the last two Heisman Trophy winners, I'm rolling with the 2007 recipient, Tim Tebow, who will be the best player on the field. A healthy Percy Harvin is just the icing on the cake. Texas fans may recognize my predicted score ...