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Gators win right to face Buckeyes in BCS title game

Florida beat Michigan on Sunday in the only game that mattered.

The Gators, who lobbied hard for this victory, were picked to
play No. 1 Ohio State for college football's national championship,
ending any chance for the Wolverines to get the rematch they so
desired and thought they deserved.

But Florida got in by a whisker -- just a hundredth of a point in
the Bowl Championship Series Standings.

The Gators had a BCS average of .944, and the Wolverines were
just behind at .934. The teams were tied in the computer ratings,
but Florida had a 38-point lead in the Harris poll and a 26-point
advantage in the coaches' poll.

All these factors were sure to set off renewed calls to scrap
the BCS and go to a playoff. Count Florida coach Urban Meyer as
supporter of that plan.

"We're beyond the fact of do we need a playoff," he said.
"It's now, can we get one."

Of course, Southern California could have made things simpler by
beating UCLA on Saturday. Instead, the second-ranked Trojans were
upset 13-9, dropping in the standings and clearing the way for
Florida (12-1) or Michigan (11-1).

The Gators leapfrogged idle Michigan by winning the Southeastern
Conference championship game, 38-28, over Arkansas.

"It's well deserved, and I'm proud of it," Meyer said of the
Gators' selection.

The BCS Championship Game is Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

Michigan's consolation prize is a Rose Bowl bid to play USC
(10-2), a classic Big Ten vs. Pac-10 matchup of teams left to
wonder what could have been.

"I don't think they [Florida] would have moved ahead of us if
USC would have won the game," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.

In other bowls:

• Big 12 champion Oklahoma will meet unbeaten Boise State in the Tostitos Fiesta on Jan. 1.

• Big East champion Louisville will play ACC champion Wake
Forest in the FedEx Orange on Jan. 2.

• LSU will take Florida's spot in the Allstate Sugar and play Notre Dame
on Jan. 3.

When the Wolverines ended their regular season with a 42-39 loss
to the Buckeyes two weeks ago, they talked about getting another
swing at their Big Ten rivals.

While Michigan was left to wait and hope, the other contenders
still had games to play.

As Florida padded its resume, second-year coach Meyer became
very vocal about getting a chance to play Ohio State, especially
when it appeared the Gators would be left out.

He called for a playoff and suggested the BCS should be imploded
if the SEC champ again was left out of the championship game -- the
way undefeated Auburn was in 2004.

In the end, he said he didn't think voicing his opinions about
the BCS helped push his team into the title game.

"It's an imperfect system," Meyer said Sunday. "If you want a
true national championship, the only way to do it is on the field.

Carr agreed: "I hope one day we have a system where all the
issues are decided on the field."

But Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, however, isn't so sure about a
playoff system.

"With a 12-game season, it would be next to impossible to have
a 16-team playoff," he said Sunday. "We'll continually improve
the system. As you look at it over the past few years, it has
gotten better and better."

It's always something with the BCS. The system was created to
make sure No. 1 and No. 2 played in the final game of the season,
but rarely has there been a title game everybody agreed upon. If
it's not too many unbeaten teams, which was the case in '04 when
USC beat Oklahoma for the title, it's not enough, which has usually
been the case. Last year, when USC and Texas were the only
undefeateds, was an abberation.

"What we've got is an extremely exciting regular season that
the BCS actually enhanced by making so many games important not
only in the region that they were played but nationally," said
Mike Slive, BCS coordinator and SEC commissioner. "The next part
is here we are with many deserving teams.

"We need to continue over the next few years to look at the
postseason to make sure it works the way we want it to work."

Slive repeatedly has said he's willing to discuss changes,
including the so-called plus-one model, which would have the
championship matchup set after the big four bowl games are played.

This year, the BCS worked out for the Gators, who can focus on
winning their second national championship. The first came in 1996,
when Steve Spurrier's Gators beat Florida State in the Sugar Bowl --
a rematch, coincidentally, of a November regular-season game won by
the Seminoles.

Michigan had hoped for a similar scenario, but Carr chose not to
publicly pitch for his team.

It's unclear whether that would have helped or whether Meyer
swayed some poll voters. Maybe when faced with the possibility of a
Michigan-Ohio State rematch, the voters, like Meyer, cringed.

At least one coach, who voted for Michigan, said the possibility
of a rematch didn't influence his vote.

"I don't think coaches are, quite frankly, the best people to
vote on that poll," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who had
Michigan No. 2 and Florida No. 3. "But I take it very seriously. I
know it's important, because we're dealing with people's lives."

Tressel decided not to get involved at all. He has a vote in the
coaches poll but abstained.

"We felt it was somewhat of a conflict of interest," Tressel
said.

Tressel said he didn't feel right putting Ohio State in the
middle of the decision of who the Buckeyes are supposed to play for
the national title.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, a member of the coaches' poll, said
there was no scenario in which he would choose not to vote. On
Tressel's abstention, Carr said: "I thought it was real slick."

Meyer could empathize with Tressel.

"I made a decision a year ago when I was asked to vote, not to
vote for this very reason," he said.

Instead of the 104th meeting between the Wolverines and the
Buckeyes, Florida and Ohio State will play for the first time ever.

The Buckeyes have won four national titles, including the 2002
title under Tressel. Ohio State upset Miami 31-24 in an overtime
classic at the Fiesta Bowl.

Last year, Ohio State beat Notre Dame 34-20 in the Fiesta Bowl,
giving the country a taste of what was to come this season.

The Buckeyes have been No. 1 since the preseason. Led by Heisman
Trophy front-runner Troy Smith, they've run roughshod over their
competition. Only Michigan and Illinois stayed within 17 points of
Ohio State.

Senior quarterback Smith capped his season with four touchdown
passes against the Wolverines. He finished with 30 TD passes and
five interceptions.

Florida, meanwhile, seemed to struggle almost every week. The
Gators won at Tennessee by one in September, and none of their last
five victories over I-A teams have been by more than 10 points.

The Gators relied on their defense, a unit ranked 10th
nationally in yards allowed and sixth in scoring.

Florida's senior quarterback, Chris Leak, entered the season as
a Heisman contender but ended up sharing the job with freshman
sensation Tim Tebow.

Tebow's tough running has complemented Leak's passing, but
unlike the explosive Buckeyes, Florida's offense has had its ups
and downs. The Gators' only loss came Oct. 18 at Auburn, a 27-17
setback that was a four-point game until the Tigers scored on the
final play.

"They have a great football team," Tressel said. "When you
can win the SEC championship, you're a great football team."

The Gators are back in the BCS for the first time since Spurrier
left after the 2002 Orange Bowl, but Boise State (12-0), Louisville
(11-1) and Wake Forest (11-2) will make their BCS debuts. Oklahoma
(10-2) is a BCS veteran, making its fifth appearance since the 2000
season.

Boise State from the Western Athletic Conference is the second
team from outside the original six BCS conferences to play in the
big-money bowl games. Meyer's Utah team was the first in 2004.

Notre Dame (10-2) is making its second straight BCS appearance
under coach Charlie Weis. The Fighting Irish will be trying to snap
an eight-game bowl losing streak against LSU (10-2).

The Tigers were set to make their first Rose Bowl presented by Citi appearance,
but USC's loss has them playing in their home state. The Sugar Bowl
returns to New Orleans this season after being temporarily
relocated to Atlanta last season because of Hurricane Katrina.