Meyer, Stoops go for the jugular
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There are so many things to debate here in the run-up to the FedEx BCS National Championship Game:
Which will hold sway, Big 12 offense or SEC defense?
Which is the better sideline look, Bob Stoops' visor or Urban Meyer's hair gel?
But one thing about this game is indisputable: Running up the score pays off. Sooners and Gators alike can agree on that after watching their teams pile on the style points late in games to influence poll voters.
In today's college football, sportsmanship is hazardous to your BCS health. Greed is good.
Oklahoma ran it up last and loudest, scoring 45 fourth-quarter points in its past two games against Oklahoma State and Missouri -- 31 of them in the last half of the last quarter. The Missouri game was particularly egregious, with Bradford chucking for the end zone with less than four minutes to play and the Sooners clinging to a precarious 34-point lead.
Stoops defiantly used the Big 12 championship to rationalize that grinding of the heel.
"If you can't get to a championship game and play to the end then I'm sorry," Stoops said after the game. "We're going to play to the end."
Presumably they'll play to the end of this championship game as well. Last time the Sooners showed up in the title game they checked out early, on their way to a 55-19 humiliation against USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl.
But don't forget Florida's naked scoreboard padding earlier in September -- particularly the field goal the Gators kicked with 25 seconds left against Miami to stretch a 23-3 lead to a 26-3 final score. There was no point in even trying to justify that one, so Meyer didn't. He offered no significant explanation at all.
"Sometimes when you do things and people see what kind of person you really are, you turn a lot of people off," Miami coach Randy Shannon told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel after the game. "Take from that what you want."
Florida did not turn off the USA Today coaches' or AP poll voters with that field goal. The Gators gained points in both polls following that victory.
The presence of the Gators and Sooners here in South Florida reinforces one thing: The new generation of coaches -- guys who have cut their teeth in the BCS Era, like 40-somethings Meyer and Stoops -- know that being vicious can have its benefits.
Meyer spent the closing minute of Florida's 49-10 stomping of Georgia on Nov. 1 calling timeouts in a game long over. After insisting that what happened between the teams in 2007 didn't matter -- the Bulldogs incurred a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when the entire team converged in the end zone after an opening touchdown -- Meyer made it clear that it did matter. And he was going to exact his cold-blooded revenge this time around by making Georgia endure every last miserable second in Jacksonville.
The same mentality also should percolate from now through signing day in February. Nowadays coaches are far less likely to stop recruiting a player who gives a verbal commitment to another school -- another disregard of the gentleman's agreements that once governed the sport.
You go for the jugular, on the field and on the recruiting trail, and worry about it later. That's how the game is played today.
This is another manifestation of a BCS system that is awash in money and finds frustrating ways to crown a champion. The system rewards blowouts -- not in the computer rankings, which collapse margin of victory, but with voters who use scores to help split hairs between powerhouse teams.
"The question probably is valid because of the run OU went on and the number of points they scored," said Grant Teaff, president of the American Football Coaches Association. "There's always that concern. I don't think coaches sit around talking about it, they don't say, 'If we get ahead, let's score some more points.' Most coaches don't think in those terms.
"But we are in a different world now where votes count. I've been a voter, and I may look at scores and not pay attention to the content of the game because I'm too busy. If somebody beats someone by 27 points instead of 14, that can make a difference."
Oklahoma did its best to tilt the scoreboard late in its last couple of games -- but the Sooners did no such thing for most of the season. In fact, other highly ranked teams did more of it.
Of the teams that finished the regular season in The Associated Press top five, only Alabama scored a smaller percentage of its points in the fourth quarter than Oklahoma -- the Crimson Tide scored 12.9 percent of their points in the final 15 minutes, Oklahoma 13.3 percent. Texas, whose fans were maddest at the Sooners because of their down-to-the-wire battle for a BCS berth, scored 21.8 percent of its points in the fourth quarter. Florida: 22.8 percent. And USC was the team most likely to pad its margin late at 23.6 percent.
Despite the heat that surrounded the Sooners' score-a-thon season, Teaff said, "I don't hear a lot of squawking" from coaches who believe sportsmanship is in jeopardy in college football.
"I don't hear coaches threatening one another over it, or anything like that," Teaff said. "And believe me, I hear all the things coaches are unhappy about."
Joe Paterno might wonder how it came to this. Paterno once lost a national title by being too nice to Indiana. The year was 1994, and the undefeated Nittany Lions let up on the Hoosiers in the second half, winning 35-29. Following that game, Penn State was bypassed in the polls by undefeated Nebraska, which beat Kansas 45-17 the same day.
Both teams finished 12-0, but Penn State stayed parked behind Nebraska the rest of the way in the rankings and ended the year No. 2.
Yet classless attempts to run up the score often are in the eye of the beholder -- and the beholder is not always objective. Even Paterno has been accused of running up the score at least once in his career -- by Teaff's daughter, of all people.
Penn State played Teaff's Cinderella Baylor team in the 1975 Cotton Bowl, thumping the Bears 41-20. The Nittany Lions scored their final touchdown when a late Baylor onside kick hit a Penn State player squarely and he returned it for six points. In the stands, 9-year-old Layne Teaff was furious, telling her mother that she was going to get Paterno for rubbing it in.
At field level after the game, Layne somehow got hold of a rock and was waiting for Paterno outside the door to the Penn State locker room, apparently intent on assaulting JoePa. The girl was eventually disarmed by her mom and prevented from becoming an unfortunate Cotton Bowl historical footnote.
Teaff told the story to Paterno, who was scheduled to speak in Texas sometime after the game. Paterno showed up with a stuffed Nittany Lion and a box of Hershey chocolates for Layne.
Her response: "I like him better, but he still ran the score up on us."
Sometimes you can't win that argument. But these days, some coaches don't even bother trying to win it. They go for the jugular and don't apologize.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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