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Fate is outmatched Florida's best friend
For Gators, there appears little hope on paper. But history suggests they should show up anyway.
By JOHN ROMANO
Published January 8, 2007
BCS national championship - 8:30 kickoff tonight, Ch. 13 - tampabay.com/gatorfootball for continuous coverage
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Do not look at today's statistics, for the story they tell is not very promising. Do not look toward the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, for they would have you believe your hope is misguided.
Do not look to the heavens and, for goodness sakes, do not look elsewhere to barter your soul.
If you need a reason to believe in Florida against Ohio State in tonight's national championship game, just look toward the past.
Look at the other improbable stories and the other unlikely champions of college football's recent history. They will reassure. They will suggest possibilities.
The underdog, you probably know, does not often win the Super Bowl. By the end of an NFL season, the best team is usually evident and, mostly, victorious.
But college football is different. Maybe it's because of the tender age of players. Probably, it has something to do with the imprecise comparisons of conferences.
Whatever the reason, the No. 1 team at the end of the regular season is often not the No. 1 team after Jan. 1. Since 1970, AP or BCS No. 1 teams have tumbled in nearly half - 16 of 36 - of their bowl games.
Granted, most of those upsets were in the 1970s and '80s. And a lot of those seasons involved multiple undefeated teams that were equally heralded.
Yet the hope lives. The chance exists.
So what are the realistic possibilities for Florida? Ummm, not real good. It is difficult to look at these teams objectively, and say that Florida is superior.
Where the Gators were efficient, the Buckeyes were dominant. Where the Gators have noticeable flaws, the Buckeyes seem largely bulletproof.
Florida has not had much of a running game, its cornerbacks can be beaten and its placekicker has been on the edge of disaster.
So why should you have any trust?
Because sometimes fate just seems to go your way.
Like it did for Miami in 1983. The Hurricanes began New Year's Day ranked No. 5, but watched as No. 2 Texas lost in the Cotton Bowl, No. 4 Illinois lost in the Rose Bowl and No. 3 Auburn looked sluggish in a 9-7 Sugar Bowl win.
Suddenly, the 'Canes were in position to win the national championship and pulled off the 31-30 upset against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Which is sort of a microcosm of UF's final month of the regular season when Michigan, Louisville, Texas, Auburn and USC - all ranked ahead of the Gators in November - stepped out of the way with losses.
Yeah, but Ohio State looks like such a powerhouse.
The Buckeyes have won 19 consecutive games, including nine against ranked opponents. They've been ranked No. 1 since winning the season opener, and have Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at quarterback.
How does Florida compete with that?
The same way Penn State did in 1986. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 2 but were considered hopeless underdogs against No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes were unbeaten, had outscored opponents 420-136, and came strutting into Arizona wearing battle fatigues and smirks.
Yet Penn State unnerved Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde and kept forcing the 'Canes into mistakes. The Nittany Lions won 14-10 and claimed the national championship when Testaverde threw an interception on the goal line in the final minutes.
Okay, but you can't count on Ohio State being overconfident even if it is a 7-point favorite. Coach Jim Tressel is too good in big games, and the Buckeyes have hit all the right notes when talking about their respect for the Gators.
You can't bank on this team making an abundance of mistakes, so what is the formula for a Florida victory?
Sort of like Ohio State's in 2002. The Buckeyes were 12 1/2-point underdogs against Miami, which was riding a 34-game winning streak, heading into that Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State did not play a perfect game, but it played a smart game. The Buckeyes kept it close. They did not make mistakes. They took away Miami's running game and made quarterback Ken Dorsey try to beat them.
Of course, they also got a controversial pass interference penalty in the second overtime that led to a 31-24 victory.
But that's the point. Things happen. Mistakes are made, and opportunities are presented.
Just as they were in 1977 when No. 5 Notre Dame won the national title by beating No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl or in 1973 when the No. 3 Fighting Irish beat No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, or even in 1942 when unranked Holy Cross beat No. 1 Boston College 55-12 to deny the Eagles the national title.
There is no logical reason to believe Florida will win tonight.
The UF offense has scored fewer points than Ohio State, the defense has given up more than Ohio State and the team has committed more penalties and turnovers than Ohio State.