Friday, January 9, 2009

And so it is

Florida is your "official" national champion.

Was it ugly? Eh, depends which side you were rooting for, I suppose. The execution wasn't particularly sharp on either side, especially in the first half -- but what do you expect when your participants have a two-month layoff before the game?

The important thing is that when the clock hit 0:00, the Gators had a 10-point lead over the No. 2 team in the country.

Oklahoma was the better team in the first half, I don't think there's any question about that. The Sooners' offense -- at times, anyway -- didn't look to much different than the one we saw for most of the second half of the season, and Oklahoma would have been comfortably ahead going into the break if not for two drives that ended inside the Florida 5-yard line (one fourth-down stop at the 1, one interception at the 3 just before the half).

There were just a lot of little mistakes by the Sooners -- the missed block on the fourth-down play, a big sack taken by Sam Bradford when he could have unloaded the ball and kept the opening drive alive -- and it all added up to a 7-7 tie, despite Oklahoma looking like Oklahoma and Florida looking ... well, not very good.

But you could feel the tide turning in the third quarter, and when Percy Harvin took the direct snap and scored on a 2-yard run, you just had a feeling it was the Gators' night. From there on out, Florida looked like Florida -- Harvin ripping off a huge 52-yard run on the first play after Oklahoma had battled back to tie it, Tebow finding Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez on crucial third-down plays on the clinching drive -- this was the team we saw tearing apart SEC defenses all year.

Fittingly, it was Tebow's signature jump pass that completed the scoring, and when he plowed ahead for 9 yards on a third-and-2 to run out the clock, this image seemed so appropriate:

I'm not one for hyperbole, but I'm not sure we've ever seen anyone quite like Tebow in college football -- a player with Heisman talent who just seems to be able to will his team to victory with raw emotion.

On the Gators' final touchdown drive, Tebow was 6-for-6 for 76 yards, including the clinching 4-yard TD pass. Two of those six completions came on third-and-long situations, both of which were the direct result of a false-start penalty on Florida tackle Phil Trautwein.

Tebow reminds me a bit of the Bobby Hurleys and Christian Laettners that Duke seemed to regenerate on an annual basis during its dominating stretch in the early '90s. You probably don't like him a whole lot if you're not a fan, but you damn well know you'd want him on your team.

On the other sideline, there were some questionable calls that will only lead to more of the same criticism about Bob Stoops.

Yes, the fourth-and-goal running play was stuffed, and I said before the ball was snapped that in a close game, I think you take the points. But if the offensive line doesn't allow immediate penetration, Oklahoma may very well take control of the game right there and cruise to victory.

The 49-yard field-goal attempt also seemed a bit odd, considering that it was only fourth-and-5. In that situation, the odds of picking up a first down are probably better than making a field goal, especially with a passing game as good as Oklahoma's.

But I'll repeat what I've said before: Stoops is an excellent coach, and if you're going to point to his losses in national title games as an argument against that, you're missing the bigger picture.

I'll gladly take a coach who can get my team into the national championship game every other year -- which is what Stoops is averaging in his time at Oklahoma -- because regardless of all other factors, he's going to win some and he's going to lose some. He's already won one title, and I'm willing to bet that he'll win another.

But this year, the trophy belongs to Florida.

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