Instant Analysis: Florida 38, Arkansas 28

Decades from now, when today’s Gator dads are senior citizens and today’s Gator students are proud papas, they’ll write many words–poignant, poetic and passionate ones–about the team that snapped a six-year SEC title drought in Gainesville. But that’s for 2036.

Right now, though, in the year 2006, the immediate aftermath of Florida’s victory over Arkansas demands one urgent message: voters, rank the Gators second and punch them a ticket to Glendale.

Yes, these Gators–so fragile and mistake-prone but oh-so-resilient–are champions of their conference once again. Every Gator–from a vindicated Urban Meyer to the waterboy–will have a lifetime to cherish and savor the sweetness of this seminal moment in the history of Florida football. Lovers of history and Southern football will celebrate this team for all time, no matter what happens in the political and poisoned world of college football’s so-called postseason system and the sport’s messy power structure. Meyer h imself said on CBS–just moments after this game ended in the Georgia Dome–that he was “going to write a book one day about these kids and what they’ve done.” Regardless of the BCS mess and how it is (not) resolved, the Gators of 2006 have a spot in eternity… and countless numbers of grateful hearts throughout a glowing Gator Nation.

Again, however, that’s for the history books and the realm of deeper, more soulful reflection. Right now, there’s a political argument that will be resolved in less than 24 hours. Poll voters across the United States have some hard thinking to do.

So with that said, here’s what poll voters need to know as they preside over the decision facing the college football world right now: Michigan or Florida?

First of all, tonight’s triumph over Arkansas in Atlanta means the Gators have a conference title. That alone should make them the most deserving candidate to play Ohio State in the BCS title game on January 8. Aside of that hugely important consideration, however, there’s this little thing called strength of schedule. Rumor has it that this should be somewhat important in deciding a beauty contest between two very even teams who, quite frankly, should settle matters on the field.

Gary Danielson of CBS–easily the best college football game analyst on the planet (Gator fans who have ripped him even once this year never knew what they were talking about, given that Danielson did ABC games in the past and didn’t cover the SEC)–made the case for Florida as well as anyone could. By lining up the entirety of Florida’s and Michigan’s schedules against each other, and by comparing the best wins, the two losses (Michigan at Ohio State, Florida at Auburn), and the rest of the two slates, Danielson clearly proved that the Gators have the superior body of work. He was very fair–even generous–to Michigan by giving extra positive weight to the Ohio State loss, and by rating the win at Notre Dame as superior to the Gators’ win over Tennessee. Yet, even within that very fair treatment of Michigan, Danielson still gave the Gators a decisive edge in terms of their strength of schedule. While Michigan’s only really good Big Ten win came over a Wisconsin team that did n’t even play Ohio State (a reason for the Badgers’ 11-1 record), Florida beat LSU and Arkansas. Right there, Florida outflanks Michigan in terms of quality wins.

Then, as one goes down the roster, the depth of the SEC outclasses anything the Big Ten had to offer this season. Penn State, a woefully impotent offensive team, was the fourth-best team in the Big Ten. By point of comparison, Auburn would rate as the fourth-best team in the SEC (behind the Gators, Arkansas and LSU). Tennessee would be fifth in the SEC, compared to Purdue. No contest in favor of the SEC. (And Michigan didn’t play Purdue this year.) Georgia, at 8-4, would be sixth in the SEC, compared to 6-6 Minnesota in the Big Ten. Kentucky, at 7-5, would clearly rate better than 5-7 Indiana in a comparison of seventh-place teams from the two conferences. In eighth place, 7-5 South Carolina would top 6-6 Iowa–another notch in the SEC’s belt. Ninth? Alabama, at 6-6, scores another one for the SEC over 4-8 Northwestern. Tenth? Michigan State, at 4-8, would rate as a push with 4-8 Vanderbilt. Eleventh? Ole Miss or Mississippi State–either one–had a better record than 2-10 Il linois. But given the poor nature of the Mississippi schools, hell, throw the Big Ten a bone and rate either one of those games a push. The SEC isn’t a tremendous conference; it’s merely a tough and deep one. However, in 2006, the SEC certainly had a lot more top-to-bottom quality than the Big Ten. It’s not even a debate.

Given that Florida is sitting at 12-1, having won its conference in a difficult “added game,” an 11-1 Michigan team–despite that brave but still insufficient performance in Columbus–has an inferior resume by comparison. Sure, the Gators and Wolverines should play on the field in a sport with any common sense. But since we don’t have complete logic and justice in this sport, we can only settle for a partially fair result… it’s better than no fairness at all.

Therefore, in the court of simple logic–which, by the way, should also honor the value of college football’s regular season if at all possible–there can only be one reasonable choice for anyone who loves this sport: vote for the conference champ over the non-conference champ. Take the 12-1 SEC team over the 11-1 Big Ten team. Take the team that defeated more ranked ballclubs in a tougher conference. Take the team that came much closer to winning in its one loss of the year. Take the team whose defense never got badly outplayed this season (and of course, we’re not talking about a Michigan team that got undressed by Troy Smith and Company). Take the team that won’t be playing in a rematch of the last game of the regular season, which would devalue the sport of college football by leaps and bounds.

Voters, rate Florida second. Moreover, rate Michigan fourth if you feel that’s what it takes to ensure the humans can override the computer microchips. A lot of people have a huge obligation tonight as they cast their ballots. No, this is not an obligation to vote for the Gators, and it’s not to give the SEC a break in a rankings controversy, either. No, what poll voters must consider tonight is the value of three overriding factors that are supposed to mean something in this sport: a conference championship, the strength of schedule, and the value of a season-ending game that Michigan played… and lost… to Ohio State.

Come on voters. Florida did its thing and won a conference title. Now, it’s your tur