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Don't write off the Gators

Florida will use speed, trickery to shock Ohio State

Posted: Monday January 8, 2007 1:04PM
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Click here for five reasons why Ohio State will win

Florida's offense has been at its best with it has had a healthy Percy Harvin on the field.
Florida's offense has been at its best with it has had a healthy Percy Harvin on the field.
Bob Rosato/SI
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Florida doesn't have a chance.

That has been the prevailing wisdom in the days leading up to the BCS National Championship Game. The Troy Smith-is-invincible crowd is awaiting the logical coronation on his Heisman season. Las Vegas sportsbooks have listed the Gators as at least a touchdown underdog since the first lines were posted on Dec. 3. Scores of journalists at media day asked questions hinting that Florida's only advantage over Ohio State is its "superior SEC speed" -- almost suggesting that, if Smith were to get hurt early, the game stayed tied 0-0 after three overtimes, and the refs opted to put the pigskin aside and crown the champ by a series of head-to-head 40-yard-dashes, only then would the Gators have any hope of pulling out a victory.

The vox populi is so overwhelmingly in favor of the undefeated, top-ranked Buckeyes at this point that I have to side with the one-loss, SEC champions instead. I know that Smith is no Heisman fraud, Vegas is listening to the money, and Ohio State does hold myriad advantages. But what about the History of the Written-Off in BCS title games? Oklahoma was supposedly going to be helpless against Florida State's top-ranked offense in the 2001 Orange Bowl. The Buckeyes, now a favored juggernaut, were viewed as fodder for the Miami machine in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. And Texas, even with Vince Young, was regarded as merely the last hurdle in the crowning of USC's dynasty at the 2006 Rose Bowl. What happened in each of those cases? Upsets.

The Gators are the latest to be Written Off, and here are five reasons why they'll win:

1. Nothing can wreak more havoc than a nasty defensive line ... And Ohio State hasn't faced anything like Florida's rotating quintet of Jarvis Moss, Derrick Harvey, Steven Harris (on the ends) Joe Cohen and Ray McDonald (in the middle), which has managed to be dominant despite the November loss of tackle Marcus Thomas (whom Cohen called the "best D-lineman in college football" before he was kicked off the team). The Buckeyes are aware of this, too: Said OSU senior offensive lineman Doug Datish, "[The Gators' front four] are the most athletic guys we've seen all year. They play with a lot of power and athleticism, which is a different combination than we've seen."

For historical evidence, hark back to the 2004 Sugar Bowl, when LSU's speedy, D-line -- with Chad Lavalais plowing up the middle and Marcus Spears rushing off the end, as well as intercepting a pass for a touchdown -- smothered Oklahoma Heisman-winning QB Jason White into a 102-yard, two-interception embarrassment. Ohio State will only be vulnerable if Smith feels serious heat in the pocket and is contained from scrambling. Florida is uniquely equipped to do both.

Scout-team quarterback Mike Guilford (who's known as "Sunshine" for his resemblance to Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass from Remember The Titans) has been playing the role of Smith in the Gators' title-game preparations. Of the quickness of the first-string D-line he has to face in practice, Guilford said, "By the time you look downfield, they're on you, especially Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss off the ends. It's ridiculous."

2. The Harvin Factor. When the potential impact of Florida's prime playmaker, freshman Percy Harvin, enters the discussion, the common argument against him is, Talented wide receivers have not fazed Ohio State. The best Big Ten wideout that the Buckeyes kept out of the end zone this year, Michigan's Mario Manningham, is a classic, NFL-sized target -- and nothing like Harvin, a versatile burner who can line up at split end on one play, and on the next run a draw 67 yards for a touchdown (like he did against Arkansas in the SEC title game). The only remotely similar player in the Big Ten is Penn State's Derrick Williams, but the Nittany Lions are far less creative in getting him the ball than Florida is with Harvin.

"When Percy gets to the edge and into the secondary, it's pretty much a done deal," said fellow wideout Jemalle Cornelius. "Any way we can get the ball in his hands, and get him in the open field, increases our chances of winning."

The seemingly endless layoff between each team's final game and Monday night likely means offenses will be rusty early in Glendale. Ohio State, which hasn't played in 51 days, relies heavily precision passing and could be more affected; whereas the Gators, if they can spread the field and simply get the ball to Harvin in space, could break big plays early.

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