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National Championship 1/8/07

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National Championship 1/8/07

NCAA College Football National Championship 1/8/07

Rick Gagliano | 1/1/07

Jan. 8, 8:00 pm
BCS National Championship, Glendale, AZ, BCS #1 vs. BCS #2, FOX
(12-1) Florida vs. (12-0) Ohio State (-7.5, 46)

With bowl results already in place for 27 games, there are some interesting tidbits to add to the drama. Probably the most important facet is how the respective conferences (Big 10 and SEC) have fared in the big games. The SEC has done well, winning 4 of 7 games thus far (with two remaining - this, and LSU vs. Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl) while the Big 10 has only 2 wins and 4 losses.

It could have been much more unbalanced, but Penn State rose up and vanquished Tennessee, 20-10 in Monday's Outback Bowl, giving the SEC a loss and the Big 10 a much-needed win. Big 10 losers were Minnesota, Purdue, Iowa and Michigan. The Wolverines were utterly humiliated by USC in the Rose Bowl, 32-18.

The two Big 10 wins, however, were against SEC teams. Along with Penn State's win, Wisconsin held off Arkansas, 17-14 in the Capital One Bowl. Note that both Big 10 - SEC games were relatively close (Penn St. took the lead 17-10 on a 4th quarter 88-yard fumble recovery).

These indicators do not bode well for the Buckeyes. Neither does Florida's defense, which, unlike Michigan's, will not allow Troy Smith to shred the secondary. Florida's secondary is solid, especially cornerback Ryan Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, who will apply tight coverage to Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. The Buckeye tandem combined for 108 receptions and 1504 yards, but may not get many open looks against the aggressive Florida defenders.

Besides the secondary, Florida is also very good up front. They've allowed a mere 74.5 yards rushing per game and should be able to clamp down on Ohio State's Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells. Containing the versatile Smith on the edges will be a challenge, but one to which the Gator defense will respond.

The Buckeye defense is also very good, ranking 2nd in the nation in points allowed at 10.4. But the Gators have seen good - if not great defenses - in games against LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida State and Georgia, while the Buckeyes may not have seen an offense as capable as Florida's.

Offensively, Florida (28.8 pts./game) may not be as proficient a scoring team as Ohio State (36.3), but the yardage is close, with Ohio State leading at 409.8 to 398.1 ypg. The Gators may be a bit more explosive and unpredictable. Chris Leak will start at QB, but freshman Tim Tibow often comes in on short yardage situations and is a load out of the option look.

Coach Urban Meyer has developed a package of plays for Tibow and he'll undoubtedly empty the playbook in this game.

Florida can move the ball equally as efficiently as the Buckeyes and have been improving as speedster Percy Harvin and his 11.3 rushing average has been integrated into the offense. Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell on the wings are swift, lanky receivers who can cause Ohio State problems. That duo has 111 receptions for 1468 yards.

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The strength of schedule issue cannot be easily dismissed. Ohio State easily defeated ranked teams in Iowa, Penn St. and Texas, and survived a sloppy game against then-#2 Michigan at home, 42-39.

Florida's only loss was at Auburn, 27-17, and they survived a tough SEC schedule with wins over Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas (SEC Championship), Georgia, Kentucky and Florida State. Of those, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida State all won bowl games and LSU is still to play.

I certainly would not be alone in arguing that the SEC was the toughest conference in the country in 2006 and the rugged competition will have Florida ready to play. Ohio State may have to adjust to Florida's speed. Moving the ball and scoring points will not come easily for the Buckeyes in the early going.

As far as the coaches are concerned, both Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer have impressive resumes and will have their teams well-prepared. Meyer is 3-0 in bowl games; Tressel is 4-1 with a national championship in 2003 over Miami.

Florida's only weakness is in their kicking game, which has undoubtably been a focus over the long break. Ohio State's Aaron Pettrey hit on 8 of 11 field goal attempts with a long of 51, so the Buckeyes get an edge there.

Underdog status, strength of schedule, an under-deserved defense and Meyer's ability to confound defenses with multiple sets, player packages and gadget plays points directly to a BCS national championship for the Gators.

NOTE: If the Gators win, Downtown Magazine will name Boise State - the only remaining undefeated team - as national champions.

Prediction: Gators 28 Buckeyes 24

Fearless Rick has been picking pro and college football for 25 years and you can help keep these picks FREE with a small donation (yes I'm talking to you, you cheap loser).

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