Clash of football cultures looms (cont.)
At a high school all-star event, you can pick out the Florida kids because "they look like athletes," said Miramar High receiver Ivan McCartney. "They look like they belong in the pros. We're quicker, we're stronger. We're more dedicated than any other state."
Their counterparts at Texas -- where 93 percent of the roster hails from the state -- would surely disagree. Last year, they took exception when, prior to the Longhorns' game against Florida Atlantic, outspoken Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger first mocked their "dinky" passing game, then said that while Texas' players were talented, they weren't "physically tough" like his band of Floridians.
"The stuff about our offense didn't really bother them, but [the toughness comment], that made them really mad," said Brown. "I said, 'He called you out and it didn't bother you -- but now he's talking about your heritage.'"
There may be no better way to settle this than by letting the two states' reigning college programs duke it out on the sport's biggest stage.
Mind you, this potential collision has been a long time coming. The two schools haven't met since Dec. 7, 1940, when the 'Horns won 26-0 in Gainesville.
By no means will their roads to Pasadena be easy. On paper, Florida's schedule appears to be favorable, but then again, no one expected the Gators to lose to Ole Miss last September. Their most obvious pothole is an Oct. 10 trip to LSU. Each of the past three years, the winner of this game has gone on to claim the BCS title.
Florida avoids both Ole Miss (sixth in SI's preseason poll) and Alabama (No. 8) on its regular-season schedule, but should the Gators reach the SEC title game, they're sure to face a significant challenge from whichever team emerges from the West division.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the SEC championship," said Tebow. "We feel like if we're the champions of the best conference in college football, then we should have the opportunity to play for it all. But, you know, our focus is the SEC."
Texas' red-letter date remains the same as always: the Oct. 17 Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma. The Sooners, which faced Florida last year in Miami, return Heisman winner Sam Bradford and a bevy of other stars, including tight end Jermaine Gresham, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Travis Lewis. The 'Horns get a slight edge over No. 3 Oklahoma, however, due to the Sooners' inexperienced offensive line and receiving corps.
But even a 45-35 Red River win last year wasn't enough to propel Texas to the title game, as the Horns fell in a three-way divisional tiebreaker with Oklahoma and Texas Tech. This year's version of the high-octane Red Raiders may be Oklahoma State, No. 7 in SI's preseason poll, whom the 'Horns face in Stillwater on Oct. 31.
Other contenders will undoubtedly emerge. No. 4 USC and No. 10 Ohio State stage another early-season showdown Sept. 12 in Columbus, setting up the winner for a potential shot at the big prize. Similarly, No. 5 Virginia Tech and No. 8 Alabama get their own chance to make a statement with their opening-weekend clash in Atlanta.
But Florida begins on top for a reason. The Gators return more proven talent than any defending champion since USC's 2005 team, and they have a chance to become the first team since Nebraska in the mid-'90s to win three national titles in four years.
"That's one of the reasons I decided to come back my senior year -- to rewrite history," said Spikes. "We've got a good chance. We've got Tebow and [many] starters coming back and a lot of young guys. It's going to be great."
Coincidentally, it was Texas that ultimately squashed that much-ballyhooed '05 USC team, also in the BCS title game, also in Pasadena. Brown sees the parallels between his current team and that team, which itself came off an 11-1 season, returned an iconic quarterback and began the year No. 2 in the polls.
"The 2004 team going into 2005 really embraced the fact we were No. 2 going into the season behind USC, and that status didn't really change until the end," he said. "We have to do as good a job of handling those expectations and not get complacent, or get scared and run from it."
So mark it down, proud Texans and Floridians. Find your flights. Book your hotel rooms. Hollywood is always on the lookout for the next blockbuster; this one's coming to it.
-- Andy Staples contributed to this story
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