5:21 p.m. -- Welcome to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., for the 2007 BCS National Championship Game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Florida. I'll be joining you live throughout the game from my seat in Section 401's auxiliary press box to give you all the sights and sounds. (Apparently, I left the smells behind in Manhattan. "Mystery odor"?!)
5:30 p.m. -- It's one hour until kickoff. The new stadium here in Glendale is beautiful, though from the outside it does indeed resemble, as Florida linebacker Brandon Siler noted this week, a crown. ("It looks like the little butter symbol," added Siler. We think he meant the old logo for Imperial Butter, if we are correctly recalling our saturated fats.) After seeing the stadium in person, the famous "Crown 'em!" tirade by former Cardinals coach Dennis Green after the loss to the Bears last season doesn't seem quite as strange. It's hard not to think about crowns out here.
5:32 p.m. -- It's definitely the nicest stadium ever named for a vaguely cheesy, campus-less, for-profit university. (Famous alum: Shaquille O'Neal, who earned an MBA.) The grass field in the stadium actually gets rolled in for each event. It grows on a retractable, 12-million-pound tray in the parking lot. Maybe the Cardinals could keep potential head coaching candidates in the parking lot and roll a new one in each season; it might make things easier.
5:35 p.m. -- This building has a retractable roof that will stay closed tonight. The weather was beautiful here today, about 70 degrees; but as I have learned it can (and will) get much cooler at night, down to around 40. It's tough to pack for the Phoenix area in the winter. Let me recommend long-sleeve T-shirts.
5:36 p.m. -- Overheard in the press box: They've been showing highlights from past BCS title games on the jumbo screen during warm-ups. At one point, the clips were accompanied by the theme to Hoosiers, which was duly noted by one scribe. Asked another, in all seriousness: "Did you say the Hooters theme?" No, he hadn't, but maybe Hooters should get a theme song. Then guys can claim that they went for the tunes and the wings.
5:41 p.m. -- A lot of omens seem to be pointing the Buckeyes' way here tonight. For starters, the first street when you exit the Phoenix Airport's car rental area is Buckeye Road. Secondly, the seats at University of Phoenix Stadium are either red or gray (or scarlet and gray, as an OSU fan would put it). There are definitely more Ohio State fans in the Phoenix area and in the stadium; I'd say it's about 60/40 OSU. This is Ohio State's fourth trip out this way for the Fiesta Bowl or national title game in five years, and they won the previous three games. Plus Ohio State is 4-0 all-time in No. 1 vs. No. 2 games, including beating No. 2 twice this season (Texas and Michigan).
5:47 p.m. -- Thus, my pick is ... FLORIDA! It just feels like Urban Meyer's time to win a title in his second season at Florida, just as OSU's Jim Tressel and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops did within the past decade. I look for UF freshmen Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow to be difference-makers. I don't think OSU is overrated or a fraud or anything quite so catchy; it's just a gut feeling that the Gators will pull the upset. Let's say 27-24. And for whatever it's worth (likely nothing), I did correctly call Texas last season. Let's see how smart or foolish I look in three hours.
5:55 p.m. -- They actually seem to be rolling down the "sunroof" at the top of the stadium, making me wrong for the first (but certainly not last) time tonight.
5:56 p.m. -- Florida band taking the field. Gators fans chomping madly.
6:02 p.m. -- My new favorite Gator is freshman linebacker A.J. Jones, solely because both of his parents work for the U.S. Postal Service. Both of my parents did as well; my dad after he retired from the New York Police Department. In fact, all six members of my immediate family, including myself, have donned the blue of the USPS. I did so for two summers during college. Please, no "going postal" jokes. We've heard them all.
6:04 p.m. -- Ohio State band about to take the field. This should be fun. I've never seen them dot the 'i' in script Ohio in person before.
6:07 p.m. -- Before the Ohio State-Michigan game, I did a 10 Spot "matchup" in which I gave the edge to Ohio State in the category of band/music. Then I heard from a bunch of Michigan fans insisting that the script Ohio formation had first been performed, in fact, by the Michigan band at Ohio State. That turned out to be true.
6:10 p.m. -- They actually did two script Ohios, one to each side of the stadium, each dotted by a sousaphone, I believe. Pretty cool.
6:12 p.m. -- SI.com producer Jay Clemons, who is editing this running diary, has just informed me that he, too, worked a summer as a mail carrier for the USPS. What are the odds! I remember hearing that something like 12 percent of the American work force had their first job at McDonald's, but never heard a stat about working at the post office. Then again, my first job was actually at McDonald's as well, so there might be some double-counting going on.
6:17 p.m. -- They're honoring veterans from current and past wars at midfield. The biggest cheers were for Arizona Sen. John McCain. The countdown clock is under 15 minutes. The national anthem is about to start.
6:22 p.m. -- That was pretty cool. They unfurled a giant American flag that covered the entire field while bald eagle Challenger swooped down. Challenger actually overshot his trainer and landed in the end zone briefly before hopping up onto the proper podium. Don't blame Challenger, he's probably had a longer layoff than Ohio State, and it's the timing of the aerial game that's the trickiest.
6:25 p.m. -- Florida takes the field!
6:27 p.m. -- Ohio State takes the field!
6:32 p.m. -- Senator McCain flips the coin while simultaneously kicking off the McCain '08 campaign. Will there be a Democratic response at halftime? Florida wins the toss, defers to the second half. Buckeyes will start on offense. Roof is closed again (it might have just been open to see the jets fly over during pregame) so I'm no longer lying. Wow, it gets loud in a hurry here. Let's get it on!
6:34 p.m. -- Ted Ginn, Jr. TOUCHDOWN, Ohio State!
6:36 p.m. -- Well, it didn't take very long at all to make me look foolish, as Ginn makes a mockery of all the talk about Florida's speed (plus my pregame pick) by taking the opening kickoff back all the way. Wow! He found a seam up the middle, cut to his right and outran everybody. Florida gets to try their own kickoff return.
6:37 p.m. -- Phew, for a second there, I thought Florida might return the favor by going all the way, but with a facemask tacked on to a nice return, Florida starts at the Ohio State 46.
6:39 p.m. -- Third-and-three. Florida QB Chris Leak over the middle to Dallas "Foots" Baker, good for the first down.
6:42 p.m. -- After an 11-yard pass to fullback Billy Latsko, Gators backup QB Tebow comes in for the first time and runs for 7 yards from his quarterback spot, second-and-three from the 14 as Tebow heads back to the bench. Leak looks left to Foots Baker, TOUCHDOWN!
6:45 p.m. -- Chris Hetland hits PAT for Florida, game tied 7-7 with 10:31 left in the first quarter. Wow, that's what's called "answering a score." Does this augur a wild shootout, or will the game settle in a bit now that each team has landed a big blow?
6:46 p.m. -- Florida kicks off, predictably well away from Ginn, who was the only man on the goal line. The shortish kick is covered well, OSU starts from its 25, first chance to see Heisman-winning QB Troy Smith.
6:49 p.m. -- Timeout on the field. Just as a note, I certainly won't try to recap every play, in part because I can't type that fast, but also because I know that many of you are watching (or already watched) the game on TV. Still, for those of you that can't get to a TV, especially for our expat audience, I will give enough highlights so you can follow along. Now back to our show.
6:52 p.m. -- Smith sacked on third down by Derrick Harvey, Bucks must punt. Impressive series for Gators defense. On second-and-10, OSU spreads the field with five wideouts and called a Smith run, but Florida held him to four yards. Now there's a late hit on the punt return against the Buckeyes; Florida will start on the OSU 34. All of a sudden, it's all Florida.
6:57 p.m. -- Freshman WR Harvin takes the direct snap, runs three yards around right end before he gets clobbered by Marcus Freeman and Antonio Smith. On third and short, Leak finds TE Cornelius Ingram, who takes it down to the 7. First and goal.
6:59 p.m. -- It's Tebow Time! The freshman takes it three yards to the 4; the ball comes out but he's ruled down. Now with Leak back in, option pitch to Harvin, who stretches over the goal line. TOUCHDOWN! Well, now they'll review it.
7 p.m. -- While the officials review the call (it looks like he got in), my call about Florida being led by Harvin and Tebow is looking a little better. Plenty of time for that to change.
7:03 p.m. -- Call stands and PAT is good, 14-7 Florida with 5:51 to play in the first quarter. Have they not even played 10 minutes yet? Will this game end in time for spring practice?
7:05 p.m. -- Ohio State WR Anthony Gonzalez with a nice return out to the 35. Ginn and Gonzalez switched places just before the kick in an attempt to trick the Gators into sending it to Ginn again, but no luck.
7:07 p.m. -- Third-and-1 from the 44, Antonio Pittman pounds for 4 yards and OSU's first first down.