I awake today sobered by the reality of how high Florida has climbed, and how quickly, after its lowly Zook years. Competing for the BCS national championship tonight. Coming off a championship basketball season. A chance to win it all again in basketball.
Of course, Florida fans aren't the only ones to realize the weight of history is upon the Gators. Mark Bradley from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote:
Florida, the reigning basketball national champion, can win the football national championship Monday night. No school has ever held concurrent ownership of the two biggest collegiate titles. Woe unto everybody else - Georgia fans and us neutrals alike - if it happens now. Florida has always acted as if it owns the world. If the Gators are champs in the two sports that matter most, won't it mean they do own the world?
"Pretty much," said Max Starks, the Pittsburgh Steelers lineman who stopped by his former school's practice Saturday. "It would mean the Gators definitely have the edge on everyone athletically."
Starks is only one of dozens of former Gators now in the NFL who will be banding together tonight the cheer on their team.
Mark touches on the impact of the Gator Nation on the collective sports consciousness in a light-hearted and humorous way. Clearly, the Gators take up a lot of mindspace in the world of collegiate sports. (For an example, just look at how many fans of other teams take the time to read -- and comment upon -- this space.)
But what about tonight -- the game which the naysayers say Florida can't win? (If you haven't noticed, I really love saying that.) Here's a hit of Franz Beard for you:
Welll, here's a little surprise for you. I'm picking the Gators to win because I've actually watched Ohio State on video tape. I've got eight games on tape and I've studied them for more hours than I care to admit. I think the Buckeyes are good. I think they're very, very good, in fact. But, I think LSU is better and Florida beat LSU. I do not believe Ohio State could beat LSU. I think Auburn's defense would shut the Buckeyes down. Because Auburn's very pedestrian offense would have trouble moving on a front four made up of Hollywood Bob, Big Money, Major Gator and me, I would pick Ohio State to win that game but by a score of 14-10 or something of that nature. I think the defenses at Alabama and Georgia would give Ohio State fits.He's right, of course. Only a fool would choose Ohio State to roll over Florida. And by the same token, it would also take a fool to say Florida will demolish Ohio State. Possible, yes -- theoretically. Likely, no.
Now, Florida lost to Auburn thanks to a second half meltdown on offense, but the Florida defense didn't give up an offensive touchdown in that game. Those same LSU Tigers that put up 41 points on Charlie Cheeseburger and the Domers --- and let's face it, if LSU hadn't jacked around for 30 minutes it would have been 42-7 at the HALF --- scored 10 points on the Gators.
For all the talk about Ted Ginn and Antonio Gonzalez --- and they're good ... really, really good --- I can't say that they're better than Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Early Doucet at LSU. Nor can I say they're better than Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith at Tennessee or DJ Hall and Keith Brown at Alabama or Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley at South Carolina or Earl Bennett and Marlon White at Vanderbilt.
For all the talk about Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells --- and they're good ... really, really good --- they aren't even in the same league with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas.
For all the talk about the huge offensive line at Ohio State --- and they're big ... they're really, really big --- the offensive lines at Arkansas and LSU were every bit as big and you could make an argument that they're every bit as talented.
For all the talk about the Ohio State defense --- and they're good ... they're really, really good --- are they as good as the defenses at LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia and Florida State? Maybe as good, but better? I don't think so.
So add all these factors together and what do you get? You get a team that the Florida Gators are certainly very capable of beating. The Buckeyes are not invincible. Good? Absolutely. Well coached? Definitely. But compare them to some of the teams that Florida has already played and beaten and there is not a significant difference.
Could Ohio State blow the Gators' doors off Monday night? It could happen although I don't think it will.
Could Florida blow Ohio State's doors off Monday night? It could happen although I don't think that will, either.
I do think Florida can win the game. I do believe Florida will win the game. I believe it will happen because I think Florida has several factors in its favor that can't be discounted.
Like most college football games, there will likely be some unusual play or strange mistake made by a player on one of these teams that will greatly affect the outcome. Perhaps it will be a bad call. Either way, if it's a negative for Florida, I like the Gators' ability to absorb and adapt to the situation. They have been here before. They have kept an emotionally even keel even when the scenario unravels and goes FUBAR. They have come back. They have fought with tooth and nail, game in and game out.
Ohio State just hasn't been in that situation this year, except perhaps against Illinois, a team which outpassed the Bucks by 100 yards and nearly outrushed them too. Will they hold up under the pressure? Perhaps. But when you look for battle-hardened troops, there's no question they're in abundance over on the Florida sideline. For the Bucks, we just don't know. They haven't been forged like steel in fire throughout a season of hard-hitting, physical, injury-ridden football games. Sorry, Ohio State fans, they just haven't, and while you may assign them qualities which you believe they possess, they haven't had to demonstrate toughness the way the Gators have. They have played two difficult games -- against Illinois and, arguably, Michigan (although it really wasn't that close.) Florida's 2006 SEC schedule was the toughest the conference has to offer, but the Gators emerged with only one loss.
The day of truth. The weight of history. An entire state holding its breath. The Gator Nation standing atop dizzying heights, prepared to climb much higher if they can produce and execute for sixty minutes in the desert.
I leave you with Bradley:
There's a good chance Florida could become the first school in 15 years to stack basketball titles back to back, and if the football team wins in the desert the hoop Gators could, come April, be going not for a mere double but for a triple in, of all places, the Georgia Dome.Amen, Max. Amen. Go Gators.
Said Starks: "That would be a great day if we could run the trifecta."