Gators win BCS, but are they No. 1?
MIAMI -- This is all your fault, USC. If you hadn't thrown up on your thigh pads at Oregon State on Sept. 25, the national championship debate wouldn't be tied up in square knots.
Instead, we're still stuck wondering whether we have the right team getting fitted for title rings.
Is it the University of Tebow, which beat Oklahoma on Thursday night to claim the BCS championship?
Is it Utah, the only undefeated team in the country?
Is it one-loss Texas, which still can't believe it got squeezed out of the BCS title game?
Or is it one-loss USC, which pile-drived Penn State in the Rose Bowl and probably stole the glasses off JoePa's statue, too? But -- sigh -- the Trojans couldn't beat Oregon State for the second time in three seasons.
And the answer is
Who knows for sure?
I know who'd get my vote: Florida, but with an asterisk the size of Tebow's heart.
The Gators won a crystal trophy, but the victory over OU was as artistic as a finger painting. It isn't the first time a BCS Championship Game didn't live up to the hype. No shame there.
The difference is that there are three other teams that think they deserved a confetti shower -- or at least the chance to have played for a national title. So what would the Gators say to Utah, Texas and USC?
"Sorry you can't be here," said Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was named the defensive player of the game.
"Good luck next year," defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh said.
Controversy? The Gators didn't notice any controversy after the 24-14 win.
"I think our résumé speaks for itself," wide receiver David Nelson said. "In my opinion, we are national champions."
In Utah's opinion, Florida has one more loss than the Utes' tally, which was zero. Florida ran the table in October, November, December and January. Utah ran the season.
In Texas' opinion, Florida has the same number of losses as the Longhorns (one), the same number of wins against Oklahoma (one) and the same margin of victory against the Sooners (10). But Texas' victory came on a neutral field and the Gators essentially played a home game at Dolphin Stadium. Even UF coach Urban Meyer admitted as much afterward.
In USC's opinion, Florida has the same number of losses, but not the same momentum or same talent. After all, remember Pete Carroll's dis of Florida and Oklahoma after the Trojans' Rose Bowl win? Said Carroll: "With all due respect, those are two great programs, I don't think anybody can beat the Trojans."
Carroll isn't the only one who thinks so. The problem is that we'll never know whether USC would have beaten Florida or Oklahoma. Probably? Maybe? Maybe not?
"We saw the two best teams in America go after each other," said Meyer in the wee hours of Friday morning -- and he wasn't talking about USC as one of the two.
Meyer has a tendency to exaggerate. Then again, he has earned the right after winning two BCS championships in the past three years. Anyway, Meyer said this was "one of the greatest college football games that's occurred."
Not for the first 2½ quarters it wasn't. It was intensely played, that's for sure. But four interceptions -- two thrown by Tebow, two by Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford (they had a combined eight INTs for the entire regular season) -- isn't great. Eight Florida penalties (including three false starts by left tackle Phil Trautwein) isn't great. And let's not even talk about the ACC officiating crew.
Tebow is what we'll remember about the 2008 BCS championship. Tebow and, of course, Florida's defense, which held Oklahoma's record-breaking offense to a season-low 14 points (49 points below OU's 63-point average in the Sooners' previous five games).
The Gators made two crucial first-half red zone stands, a fourth-down stop at the UF 1-yard line and an interception at the UF 3-yard line. And, with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter and OU trailing by only a field goal, Florida safety Ahmad Black ensured he'll never have to buy a dinner in Gainesville in decades to come. He won a wrestling match for a Bradford pass meant for OU receiver Juaquin Iglesias.
"The play of the game," Meyer said.
Afterward, Gators offensive guard Carl Johnson cupped the BCS crystal football with his right hand and hammed it up for a semicircle of photographers.
"What pose you want?" he said.
They wanted Johnson to do a Heisman pose, so he made like his quarterback Tebow. Then somehow the crystal was handed to a man in a wheelchair. Just as the guy cradled the trophy, a University of Florida police officer snatched it away from him and gave it to Meyer.
Meyer would say later that the Gators are "one of the best football teams I've ever had the privilege to be around." But are they the true national champions?
"Absolutely," linebacker Brandon Spikes said.
"No doubt in my mind," Marsh said.
There's doubt at Utah, Texas and USC. Otherwise, after a weird game and an even weirder season, this Florida victory is going to have to do. Just what 2008 deserved.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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FEDEX BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
From kickoff to the final gun, we have Florida's 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the FedEx BCS National Championship game covered.Columnists
• Schlabach: What's next for Gators?
• Wojciechowski: Who should be No. 1?
• Forde: Tebow's unmatched will
• Maisel: Gutsy Gators deliver in fourth quarter
• Schlabach: Missed opportunities haunt Sooners
• Low: Harvin scary good for Gators
• Griffin: Red zone troubles doom Sooners
• Low: Florida's defense answers OU challenge
• Griffin: OU's defense answers doubters
• Griffin: Heisman jinx strikes OU's Bradford
• Low: Transformed Florida secondary key
• Low: Trackin' the Florida Gators
• Griffin: Trackin' the Oklahoma Sooners
• Florida-Oklahoma: Highlights
• Maisel/Forde: Defense, Gators rule the day
• GameDay: Analyzing the Gators' win
• GameDay: Tebow talks national title
• GameDay: Urban Meyer talks title
• Feldman/Schlabach: Instant reaction
• McShay: Breaking down Florida's win
• Tebow guides Gators past Sooners
• Final AP poll: Florida is No. 1, Utah No. 2
• BCS title winners: Rank the '08 Gators
• Rank 'em: Florida, Texas, USC and Utah