10 reasons Florida/Oklahoma will win

Originally Published: January 8, 2009
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Which team is going to win the FedEx BCS National Championship Game? Pat Forde offers 10 reasons Florida will chomp all the way and earn the Gators' second national championship in three years, and Ivan Maisel counters with 10 reasons the Sooners will boom the Gators to win Oklahoma's first title since 2000.

10 Reasons Oklahoma/Florida Will Win
Ivan -- Why Oklahoma will win Pat -- Why Florida will win
10. History, tradition, Broadway and Hollywood all lean toward the Sooners. Oklahoma leads Florida in national championships (7-2) and Heisman Trophies (5-3), 10-win seasons (31-11) and All-Americans (70-26). The best play and movie about a land grab: Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote "Oklahoma!" The Marx Brothers wrote "The Cocoanuts." I defer to no one as a Grouchophile, but you have to go with the wind sweeping down the plain. And, of course, the young Shirley Jones over the old Margaret Dumont.

9. Oklahoma has the coaching edge for three reasons. One, Bob Stoops (.824) has about the same winning percentage as Urban Meyer (.817) over two more seasons. Two, four BCS Championship Games in nine seasons is off the charts. Three, Gators offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is working two jobs. I know Bo Pelini (LSU/Nebraska last season) and Gary Anderson (Utah/Utah State this season) handled it. But Mark Richt (Florida State/Georgia) did not. Both staffs are terrific. The Gators have one more distraction.

8. Urban Meyer has defied Coaching 101. He has built a national championship contender with virtually no seniors. Left offensive tackle Phil Trautwein is the only Gators starter remaining from the BCS Championship Game two years ago. Let's commend Meyer, then let's go with experience. The Sooners have eight senior starters. Strong safety Nic Harris will start the 50th game of his career Thursday night. Oklahoma's offensive line has a combined 170 cumulative starts. Experience always matters.

7. Florida won the week leading up to the game. When the Gators arrived in Miami, they did not face questions about their defense. They did not have to defend their legitimacy based on the defensive shortcomings of the rest of their league. Florida didn't have to hear about losing four BCS bowls in the past five seasons. What does this matter? Three reasons: motivation, motivation, motivation. Oklahoma is angry. The Sooners are doubted. It is their biggest advantage.

6. Oklahoma played the tougher schedule. If you project final poll standings, the Sooners defeated a top-10 team (TCU) and four other ranked teams (Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri) and lost at a neutral site to a top-five team (Texas). Florida defeated a top-10 team (Alabama) and two other ranked teams (LSU, Georgia), maybe three (Florida State). The Gators lost at home to a ranked team (Ole Miss). Oklahoma has more wins against ranked teams and a better loss.

5. The Oklahoma defense is good. It's not great, no. But it's not exactly semisoft cheese, either. The defensive numbers (24.5 points, 359.1 yards per game) are skewed. The special teams gave up four touchdowns. The backup defenses gave up eight touchdowns. The Sooners' defense had to play more plays because the offense played so much hurry-up. But this D still produced 42 sacks and 32 turnovers and limited opponents to 33 percent of third-down conversions.

4. The Oklahoma offensive line has one consensus All-American (left guard Duke Robinson) and two All-Big 12 first-teamers (center Jon Cooper and left tackle Phil Loadholt). The five starters average 6-5, 303 pounds. The Sooners' O-line allowed 11 sacks. The line is why both DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. The line is why this offense set so many records. The Florida defensive line is good but not great. Advantage: Sooners.

3. Oklahoma has more offensive depth. DeMarco Murray can't play because of injury. But the Sooners have another 1,000-yard rusher in Chris Brown. The Sooners have more receiving depth than even the Gators. There's All-American junior tight end Jermaine Gresham (58 catches for 888 yards, 12 touchdowns), QB Sam Bradford's security blanket in senior wideout Juaquin Iglesias (69-1,092, 10 touchdowns) and a deep threat in senior wideout Manny Johnson (38-685, nine touchdowns). Ten receivers caught a touchdown, and eight made at least five third-down catches.

2. The Oklahoma offense is not just good. It has made history. The Sooners are the first team ever to score 700 points. The Florida defense will be the best Oklahoma has faced. But the Sooners did play TCU and Texas, two of the best in the nation. They each "held" Oklahoma to 35 points. Hey, the Gators will slow down the Sooners. Florida has too much speed. Oklahoma's streak of five straight games of 60-plus points will end. But 13 games tell us that the Sooners will score, and score again.

1. Only someone who spent the fall setting records could knock Florida quarterback Tim Tebow off his Heisman perch. Sam Bradford is smart enough to split the atom. He is accurate enough, as offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said in the week's best quote, to "win a lot of teddy bears at the fair." Bradford has thrown for 48 touchdowns and 4,464 yards despite missing the equivalent of two games of garbage time. As leaders go, he is Tebow with an NFL arm.
Final score: Oklahoma 38, Florida 35.
10. Special teams. The Sooners are decidedly un-special in the third element of the game, and the Gators have thrived. Oklahoma is 106th nationally in kickoff coverage, having surrendered four returns for touchdowns, and ranks 83rd in net punting. The Sooners have missed one-third of their 12 field goals, as well as five point-after attempts. Florida, meanwhile, ranks eighth nationally in net punting and punt returns and has missed only one field goal and one extra point. Return man Brandon James has taken two punts to the house this season and has had eight kickoff returns longer than 30 yards.

9. No school. Florida coach Urban Meyer basically said Wednesday that his team has blown off the books all week: "We've asked our players to focus on the task at hand, to win this game, and then everything is in place once we get back to catch up. … We just don't have time with all the functions and practice going on. We've discussed that, but we've made the decision that we accelerate the process once we get back." In other words, no annoying academics have compromised the Gators' preparation.

8. With apologies to TCU, this is the best defense Oklahoma has faced. For much of the season, the Sooners were playing touch football in the Big 12 -- and never more so than in their last game, against Missouri. Now comes tackle football. Florida ranks ninth nationally in total defense, sixth in red zone defense, fifth in scoring defense and second in pass efficiency defense. If OU's powerful offense stalls early, frustration and/or panic could set in.

7. Big Game Boob. Bob Stoops hasn't lived up to his nickname in recent years, losing his past four BCS bowl games in embarrassing fashion. There was the defeat as a one-touchdown favorite against LSU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl; the 36-point humiliation against USC in the '05 Orange Bowl; the stunning upset by Boise State in the '07 Fiesta Bowl; and the equally stunning upset by interim-coached West Virginia last year in the Fiesta. Oh, and he has lost three of his past four against rival Texas. Urban Meyer, meanwhile, is 2-0 in BCS bowls and has feasted on rivals Tennessee, Florida State and Georgia (combined 11-1 record against those three teams).

6. Urban loves his big uglies. "This is the best offensive line I've been around," Meyer said. "And I've been around some really good ones." If the front five of Phil Trautwein, Carl Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey and Jason Watkins performs well, Florida will score plenty of points. Oklahoma will be facing a run-blocking team that's more physical than the vast majority of Big 12 schools.

5. Healthy Harvin. Unhealthy Oklahoma. Meyer has declared playmaker Percy Harvin 90 percent recovered from the ankle sprain he suffered in late November -- and that's bad news for the Sooners. Harvin is versatile and explosive, averaging 8.8 yards per rush and 17 yards per reception and scoring 16 touchdowns. He has produced 17 plays of 20 yards or longer this season alone despite missing two games with injury. Harvin is one of several healing Gators who have benefited from the long layoff since Dec. 6. Meanwhile, Oklahoma must do without injured leading rusher DeMarco Murray and starting defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, a pair of key losses.

4. Turnovers. Yeah, I know Oklahoma has lost only two fumbles and thrown just seven interceptions all season. But have the Sooners been smacked the way they'll be smacked Thursday night? Florida puts heavy hitters in the middle of the field in linebacker Brandon Spikes and safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black. Don't be surprised if the Gators jar loose at least one fumble. Florida also has picked off 24 of the 415 passes thrown against it this season, or one out of every 17 opponent attempts.

3. The Shaky Big 12 South. Remember when it was supposed to be the best division in college football? That was before Oklahoma State was upset by Oregon in the Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech was routed in a major upset by Mississippi in the Cotton Bowl and heavily favored Texas gasped past Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. If you're judging Oklahoma by its peers' bowl performances, you can't be overly impressed.

2. Florida is fast. Sure, everyone at the highest level of college football has a lot of team speed. But Meyer announced his intention to field the fastest team in America, and he might have done it. The Gators have produced 114 plays of 20 or more yards this season -- runs, receptions, kick returns, or defensive returns of fumbles and interceptions. Fourteen of those plays have gone for more than 50 yards. If OU gives up a crease for 5 yards, guys such as Harvin, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey can turn it into 55 very quickly.

1. Tim Tebow is mad. Mad that he didn't win the Heisman Trophy. Mad that Oklahoma defensive back Dominique Franks ranks him lower than three QBs in the Big 12. Giving freakishly competitive Tebow extra motivational fuel is like giving John Daly the keys to a Krispy Kreme bakery and a bottle of scotch. Very bad idea. Tebow will be so jacked, he'll probably lobby Meyer for a spot on the kickoff coverage unit so he can blow somebody up. He'll blow up the Sooners just fine playing only offense, though. Final score: Florida 35, Oklahoma 31.