SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Fortunately, most of Gator Nation stopped listening to the incessant rantings of ESPN’s male model, Herbie, about six weeks ago. He’s ranted. He’s raved. He’s darn near certifiable. But, he has convinced the Buckeyes that they’re invincible and most of the nation believes that Florida doesn’t have a chance to win Monday night in the Tostitos National Championship Game.
Herbie’s not the only one that thinks the Gators are in deepest and darkest linguine. If you ask the media folks that are gathered here in record numbers, it’s either Ohio State winning a respectable, hard fought game or Ohio State destroying the Gators in a fashion similar to the last time Florida ventured into the Valley of the Sun. I could have gone all day without mentioning Nebraska but from a historical context, it had to be done. Anyway, outside of some of the Florida writers that feel an obligation to go with the Gators, you won’t find too many that think Florida is going to win it.
The Buckeye believers will tell you that Ohio State has everything needed to win it big from best players to best coaching to a been there, done that attitude since they’ve basically lived in Arizona for the post season the last four years. They are 12-0 and other than close encounters with the Fighting Zookers and Michigan in the game that allowed the nation to crown Lloyd Carr as the biggest whiner since Floyd the Barber was retired along with most of The Andy Griffith Show cast, the Buckeyes have taken care of business with a certain amount of panache.
You take a walk in Old Town Scottsdale, where a majority of the emporiums that sell adult beverages are catering to scarlet and grey clad folks — many of whom have mastered the art of puking their guts out on the sidewalk — and the arrogance will astound you. Ask an Ohio State fan if Florida can win this game and they act as if it is the most ludicrous thought that has ever crossed their minds. This isn’t isolated. This is 90 percent. Or more.
This is also where I’ll differ with those fine folks from Columbus and the Ohio hinterlands. Not only do I think Florida CAN win the game, I think Florida WILL win the game.
Oh, I know. Some of you are already saying, no surprise there, it’s my job to write that the Gators are going to win. Edgar Thompson of the Palm Beach Post said I would take the Gators against an entire Panzer Division.
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.
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.
1. THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE: That’s The Eraser. Reggie Nelson. I understand completely that Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. He had a great year for the team that Herbie anointed as the second coming of Nebraska ‘95 and he won the Heisman fair and square. If we were picking teams and I had first pick, I would pick Reggie Nelson. That’s no offense to Troy Smith, who I think is the best quarterback the Gators will face this year, but I just think Reggie Nelson is a better football player and I think his impact on this game will be more significant. Reggie Nelson gives Florida’s corners the confidence that they can make plays because they know The Eraser will do what he does if they make a mistake and that’s erase. I think Reggie Nelson is going to have the game of his life in memory of his mama. I think Reggie Nelson is going to be the MVP of this football game.
2. THE DALLAS BAKER FACTOR: I believe that he is going to earn himself at least a million more dollars Monday night. I don’t think Ohio State has anyone that can cover him one-on-one. Of course, nobody has covered him one-on-one this year. Those 56 catches for 897 yards and nine touchdowns were all against double teams. He’ll get his catches and look for him to come up big in the red zone where he’ll prove to be the tallest and most physical receiver the Buckeyes have faced this year, but his greatest value will be the fact he commands the double team. Single coverage is suicide. Double cover him and you have to single cover Jemalle Cornelius, Cornelius Ingram and Bubba Caldwell.
3. THE PERCY HARVIN FACTOR: Trust me, folks, now that he’s healthy, you’ll see the offense you were hoping to see the whole season. You saw it in the first half against FSU. You saw it against Arkansas. Now you’ll get to see it on the big stage. Okay, you double up on Dallas. You’ve got to do that. You double up on Percy. You’ve got to do that, too. But what happens when Percy goes in motion? What happens when he moves to tailback? What happens when you line him up out wide on the same side with Dallas? Oops.
4. THE CI FACTOR: I think he has a HUGE game. I think he comes up big the way he came up against Arkansas. I know they don’t have a linebacker that can cover him and if they bring in another corner or safety to try, then that’s only going to open it up for the running game. Oh my. Isn’t that why we run the spread in the first place?
5. SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS: They have come up big all year long and I believe they do it again. I do not believe Ohio State has faced a team that will bring the pressure on the punter that Florida does. If they max protect, then Brandon James will bust one. If they don’t max protect, then Jarred Fayson or Reggie Nelson or Jemalle Cornelius will get a punt.
6. THE WILL TO WIN: Somehow, someway, these Gators keep finding ways to win. Some folks say Florida wins ugly. Well, I say ugly is a beautiful thing if you win. I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty. I believe if this settles in to an old-fashioned duke it out slugfest that the Florida Gators have the street toughness and the stay on your feet instincts to win the football game. I believe they can take a standing eight count and come back to deliver the knockout. Everything I’ve seen of them this year tells me they can do it. I believe they do it Monday night.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Ohio State is a good team, a most worthy opponent and definitely deserving to be in this game. But, does that mean I think they win the game? No way. I think Florida can. I think Florida will.
I wonder what Herbie will say if that happens?