BCS Cheap Mind Games

FORT LAUDERDALE – When it comes to psychological warfare, Urban Meyer and his players are nonpareil. They’re pretty good at football, too, but they are world class at mind games.

Ask Mark Richt of Georgia. Ask Geno Hayes of Florida State. Ask Ricky Jean-Francois of LSU – if you can find him.

In the old days of the Wild, Wild West, those guys would all be notches on the gun handles of Meyer, Tim Tebow and the boys.

Don’t come hunting Gators with a popgun, threatening to knock out the quarterback or showing off any cheap celebratory acts of territorial imperatives. Meyer and his Gators will make you pay.

Besides, if you want to play mind games with somebody, don’t pick a guy whose college major was psychology.

Just to set the record straight, it’s not like the Florida and Oklahoma coaches or players have taken out classified ads in the local papers just to diss their opponent. But there has been an occasional slip of the lip. And those things are said around several hundred media types who are combing over every quote in search of something inflammatory that can be dangerous.

It’s a little late for people like Oklahoma sophomore cornerback Dominique Franks, who earlier this week had the audacity to not only say Tebow wasn’t the best player in America, but he would be the fourth best quarterback in the Big 12.

“If you look at the three best quarterbacks in the country, they came from the Big 12,” said Franks, in comparison to Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Texas’ Colt McCoy and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell.

As if Tebow needed another kick in the groin about not winning his second Heisman Trophy, despite getting the most first-place votes.

“Don’t wake up a sleeping giant,” warned Percy Harvin.

Trust me on this: His cape has been duly tugged and it’s all Tebow can do not to react, but he bites his tongue and bides his time.

The giant is awakened. I can see it in his eyes. I could see it in the nervous shake of his leg as he was being grilled over and over and over about the Franks comment. It’s like a torture chamber when they release several hundred media members on you about three times a week.

Tebow is sick of hearing it.

Somebody’s just going to have to pay.

OK, let’s be honest here. This wasn’t exactly like Joe Willie Namath flatly predicting the 19-point underdog New York Jets would upset Don Shula’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III – which is exactly what happened here in South Florida 29 in January 1969 at the real (and now late) Orange Bowl.

Franks was simply making a point that the Big 12 was loaded with good quarterbacks this season and that is exactly right. He just overstated his case, and underrated the ire of Tebow.

In the interest of fair play, a young sophomore like Franks has probably been unfairly characterized as a blabbermouth whose remarks were made more out of than normal because – hey – what else are we going to write about this week?

But that’s OK. Urban will take that low hanging fruit for his imaginary bulletin board.

Psychological warfare has been part of the coaching manual since before Knute Rockne made his famed “Win One for the Gipper” speech prior to the 1928 Notre Dame-Army game.

We know all too well that Meyer will seize every advantage in the propaganda campaign, just as he did with the “Ten Feet of Nonsense” wall of bulletin board clippings which was exploited before the 41-14 victory over Ohio State in the 2006 BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.

There is apparently no real bulletin board this year.

We already know of one juicy item, which leaked out this week. There have been all sorts of rumors about injured tight end Cornelius Ingram dressing for Thursday night’s BCS Championship Game, but new information has come out. We are hearing that he will not only dress, but will be on the field as one of the captains – and may even get into the game for one play.

Every time that C. I. appearance has been brought up lately, Meyer has pooh-pooed the idea, saying the trainers and doctors would have the final say. But don’t think for a moment Urban doesn’t have a flair for the dramatic and he will use it.

Meyer was only six years old in 1970 so he doesn’t know about Willis Reed, but the story of how Reed lifted the Knicks in 1970 fits could have been written by Urban Meyer. It’s right up his alley. Reed was injured in game six of the NBA finals but he returned to the lineup, barely able to walk due to a knee injury, limping on to the court to lead Red Holzman’s New York team to victory over the Lakers in Game seven.

Just the appearance of the popular C.I. for Senior Day was an emotional moment for fans and players. No doubt his presence on the field, in full uniform, will give the Gators a big left.

There will be other surprises. If he follows form, Meyer will pull off a fake punt or a gadget play or even come up with a way to slow down Oklahoma’s fast-break offense and the Sooners’ No-Huddle Express.

The question is how they will slow down Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and the Sooners’ No. 1-ranked offense. Obviously, getting the right players on the field for down-and-distance situations is Charlie Strong’s challenge because bringing heat on Bradford before he sets his feet is mandatory.

Bradford seems to think Florida’s blitzes won’t be an issue for him.

“If they want to blitz, there will be even less guys in the secondary to cover our receivers, and we’ll take one-on-one matchups all day,” said the Oklahoma quarterback. “I think we have answers to pretty much anything they’re going to throw at us.”

The X factor for the Gators, I think, is the young, aggressive secondary which reacts to the thrown football as well as any I’ve seen in years.

Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins can man up and play on an island, which frees safeties Major Wright and Ahmad Black to roam, along with Will Hill as the nickelback. If Oklahoma thinks it can fool these players because they are all sophomores or freshmen, the Sooners are making a huge mistake.

For that reason, I see this game being won by the Gator defense on turnovers, with at least two and maybe as many as three interceptions.

Then, of course, the Sooners can’t forget about the guy who would be the fourth best quarterback in the Big 12, dressed in orange and blue.

Rest assured that Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator for the day Dan Mullen, who returns to his job as head coach of Mississippi State Friday, are aware of these stats about the Sooner offense: No. 63 nationally in total defense and 98th in pass defense. I’ve just got a feeling Tebow wants to make his own statement about that – but with actions, not words.

There’s still room for one more notch on Tim Tebow’s gun handle.