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Originally published Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Gators now champions in football and basketball

Suddenly, it's Florida's world, and we're all just dumbfounded by it. The audacious Gators torched vaunted Ohio State for 34 first-half...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Suddenly, it's Florida's world, and we're all just fighting for second.

The audacious Gators torched vaunted Ohio State for 34 first-half points Monday night in the BCS national-title game and savaged the listless Buckeyes, 41-14, nine months and a few days after Florida had won the other crown jewel of college athletics in men's basketball.

Like that one, this wasn't even vaguely close. It began with Ohio State's Ted Ginn returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown 16 seconds in, and everything that mattered after that was Florida cunning, Florida precision, Florida cool.

Remember that debate over whether Michigan should play Ohio State in the postseason? Judging by the Wolverines against USC and the Buckeyes here, maybe they should have. In the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Amid the Arizona Republic insta-headlines in the Gators locker room that trumpeted the national title, there was a buzz that mocked Ohio State.

"LSU is better than them," said defensive end Derrick Harvey, who had three sacks of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. "Tennessee, Auburn ... " He snickered. "Kentucky."

Really, all you needed to see was one play, a single snap. With the brassy, underdog Gators leading 24-14 and 3:50 remaining in the first half, Ohio State faced a fourth-and-one play at its 29-yard line.

Convention and good sense suggested Ohio State punt the ball away. But Jim Tressel, the heretofore unassailable Buckeyes coach (3-0 in BCS bowls, including the 2002 national title) blinked. Or maybe he knew something.

He went for it. Buckeyes freshman Chris Wells probed the right side of the line and was chased down from the back side by end Ray McDonald for no gain, and Florida owned the night.

Right then, you thought you saw Tressel's impeccable scarlet sweater vest turn pink.

"We didn't deserve to be the champion," he would say later.

Florida was openly affronted at the notion it didn't belong, that Ohio State was clearly superior.

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"We were just sitting back, waiting to play the game," said Harvey. "All that talking stopped when we snapped the ball."

The Buckeyes acted as though their reputation would put them up 21-0. They played zone defense, persistently, and Florida took what was given. It came in tiny bites, but collectively, they were lethal.

For Ohio State, the assumption seemed to be that its offense — the one that averaged 38 points in Big Ten games — would bail the water its defense was taking on.

That proved faulty, for at least two reasons: The Buckeyes lost the superlative Ginn in the first quarter with an ankle sprain, and the Gators made Troy Smith look more like Anna Nicole Smith.

Smith completed 4 of 14 passes for 35 yards against a quick and well-drilled Florida defense spearheaded by Harvey. In so doing, Smith fell victim to the Heisman hex, where the guy with the famous hardware goes splat in the BCS finale — see Chris Weinke, Florida State, 2000; Eric Crouch, Nebraska, 2001; and Jason White, Oklahoma, 2003.

Smith threw wildly. He didn't sense the rush. Let's just say he cost himself some money from the Sunday scouts.

"He got rattled," said Harvey. "He had happy feet."

The Buckeyes hardly issued a whimper after trailing at halftime, 34-14. The Gators defense begrudged them 82 total yards. Ohio State didn't have the ball 20 minutes. It ran 37 plays. Under Woody Hayes, it used to have drives almost that long.

Coaches being copycats, this is what they need to do in 2007 to replicate Urban Meyer's Florida: Go to Virginia to recruit the next-big-thing receiver (Percy Harvin); line up your regular quarterback (Chris Leak) behind center, put him in motion and snap the ball to the freshman backup (Tim Tebow).

Throw the quick screen left to the devilishly quick Harvin and then on the next play, throw the right screen to him. Run the option right, and instead, flick it to a receiver running a reverse.

Not that it was any big-play orgy. Leak flipped, and Florida chipped. Harvin's touches, running and receiving, got him these gains successively through three quarters: 5, 3, 4, 6, 6, 7, 17, 6, 3, 6, 6. Nothing crazy, but it kept the chains moving. For the Buckeyes, it was death by fly swatter.

So, the Gators take a national-championship trophy back to Gainesville, just as they did last April when Billy Donovan's team beat UCLA for the NCAA hoops crystal.

Is the town big enough for Donovan and Meyer? We're about to find out.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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