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07 Jan 2007

SDA's BCS Championship Preview

by Vinny Gauri and Russell Levine

Russell: Well it comes down to this, Vin. The longest bowl season in history is finally at its conclusion. I don't know about this playing the title game on January 8. The lull since the Sugar Bowl has killed some of the excitement for me. But what a Sugar Bowl that was!

Vinny: Ah yes, good ol' schadenfreude. Come on, Russ -- you're better than that!

Russell: Clearly, I'm not. I don't pretend that it's healthy, but I might have taken more pleasure from Notre Dame's loss than I did disappointment from Michigan's. As Orson Swindle of Every Day Should Be Saturday told me, "the Sugar Bowl is definitely the foie gras for you." Speaking of Orson, be sure to check out this week's podcast as the Florida blogger and I discuss the title game, Nick Saban, the bowl season, and whether or not God cares about the point spread. Really.

Vinny: Well, I'm not sure if it hurts any less to be crushed by superior talent (as ND was by LSU) as opposed to being badly out-coached (as Michigan was by USC). Of course, Charlie Weis can never be out-coached, can he?

Russell: No, he makes his adjustments on the fly. Obviously the first game in Glendale, Monday's Fiesta Bowl, was the game of the bowl season thus far. What an unbelievable performance by Boise State, rallying from a crushing pick-six thrown by Jared Zabransky with three trick plays to beat Oklahoma in overtime. But does that game mean we need a playoff, or would a playoff ruin the story if Boise just went on to lose the following week? I think people may be overlooking the former.

Vinny: The Fiesta was the best finish to a college game in recent memory. It's not often I agree with Lou Holtz, but the Broncos were the best-prepared bowl team I have ever seen (making the Michigan staff's cluelessness in the second half of the Rose all the more painful). How much money did Chris Petersen make for himself last week? Whether it's next week or years from now, he can plunk down that game tape on any athletic director's desk and inspire Pavlov-like drooling.

Tostitos BCS National Championship (at Glendale, Ariz.)
#1 Ohio State (12-0) (-7.5) vs. #2 Florida (12-1), Monday, 8 p.m. ET, FOX

Russell: We're going to try to do this in a somewhat orderly fashion, breaking down the matchups and then getting to our picks. Let's get to it.

Ohio State Offense vs. Florida Defense

Russell: This is the strength-on-strength matchup in this game. Can Florida contain the Buckeyes and Troy Smith, particularly when they go five-wide and spread the field as they did to great success against Michigan? That could be the key to the game.

Vinny: The secondary was a clear weakness for the Wolverines, whereas Florida is solid with Utah transfer Ryan Smith (eight picks) and the rest of its secondary. Florida's defense doesn't appear to have a real weakness (fifth in pass-efficiency defense, sixth in rushing defense). Defensive end Derrick Harvey and linebacker Brandon Siler have been all over the field. But Arkansas did have some success spreading the field and using misdirection out of their Wildcat formation against the Gators.

Russell: Looking back to the Ohio State-Michigan game one more time, the biggest concern for the Gators has to be that Ohio State neutralized a great Michigan pass rush not necessarily by stifling it with the offensive line, but by using a variety of three-step drops and relying on Smith to make the right read, which he did nearly every single time.

Vinny: Jim Tressel will try to mix in expert fundraisers Antonio Pittman and Chris "Beanie" Wells, hoping to hit a few big gains. Only Auburn was able to run the ball with effectiveness against Florida this year, and star defensive tackle Marcus Thomas played well in that loss. Florida hasn't missed a beat since Thomas was kicked off the team in early November.

Russell: You can argue that Florida's defense is faster than Michigan's, particularly at linebacker and safety (hello, Reggie Nelson!), and should have better success containing the spread. But if Smith is on his game as he always seems to be in big spots, I'm not sure how much Florida's speed matters. I don't expect Ohio State to score 42 points, but they'll have plenty of success and hit some big plays against the blitz to Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez.

Vinny: I think the Buckeyes' depth at wide receiver will again prove huge in this game. The Gators will be hard pressed to match up their nickel and dime packages against Brian Robiskie and Roy Hall in addition to the Buckeyes' headliners.

Florida Offense vs. Ohio State Defense

Russell: If Florida is going to win the national title, I think it will have to be because its offense outplays the Ohio State defense. I don't see this as a low-scoring game, so Chris Leak & Co. must produce points and take care of the football. Chris, please, no shovel passes intercepted and returned for TDs, OK?

Vinny: You hit on the wild card for the game: which Leak will show up? Every quarterback has an off day now and then, but Leak tends to the extremes. He can look like an accomplished surgeon or like Dr. Nick Riviera. And he might be the most scrutinized and embattled -- at least within his own fan base -- quarterback since Chrix Rix or John Navarre. Yes, he's had to adjust to different philosophies and coordinators through his career, but that hasn't pacified the Florida faithful.

Russell: We also know we're going to get some trickeration out of Urban Meyer. Maybe not as impressive as Boise State in overtime, but trickeration nonetheless. Receiver passes. Leak throwing the ball to Tim Tebow. Something along those lines. Ohio State's defense is very athletic and has played beyond expectations this year, but it can be fooled. The Buckeyes have the horses to slow down Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell if Florida plays things straight-up.

Vinny: In the absence of a consistent running game, Meyer has used the razzle-dazzle maybe even more than he wanted. But for the first time in months, senior tailback DeShawn Wynn is reportedly healthy. That could take some of the pressure off of Leak. And the Buckeyes won't be able to key on the versatile Percy Harvin quite as much.

Russell: I think Florida would be wise to pass to set up the run, much as Michigan did in the second half to great success against the Buckeyes. I hate to keep going back to that game, but it's one of two Ohio State played against (ahem) elite teams this year and is a valuable comparison tool. If Leak avoids those one or two killer mistakes that always seem to plague him, and Harvin gets off for a big score or two, Florida has a chance.

Vinny: Linebacker James Laurinaitis got most of the ink (and the Nagurski Award) for the Ohio State defense. There's no question he's a great athlete, but he's much better in pursuit than coming off play-side blocks. The Buckeyes defensive front (Vernon Gholston, Quinn Pitcock, Jay Richardson) is much better than advertised, especially in the pass rush. Wynn needs to have a good day for the Gators to have a chance.

Coaching

Russell: I've been impressed with the job Meyer has done this year. It's not easy to work a freshman quarterback (Tebow) into the lineup at the expense of a senior and not fracture the team, but he's done it. It seemed like a year ago, Meyer was determined to prove his offense could work in the SEC, but this season he has made the adjustments without scrapping his philosophy. The Gators aren't explosive by any means, but they don't look like an outmanned team running a gimmick attack, either.

Vinny: It took him a while, but Meyer seems to have realized that Leak isn't comfortable with the speed option plays that Alex Smith ran so well at Utah. His best move may have been keeping on Charlie Strong as defensive coordinator after [NAME REDACTED] was shown the door.

Russell: And don't forget about co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, a name that should ring a bell for Michigan fans. Senator Tressel, of course, has nothing to prove here. He's got the national title that Meyer wants, and he's won five of six against Michigan. He's also won three Fiesta Bowls. Even though this isn't the Fiesta, and it's at a new stadium, he'll feel right at home in the desert.

Vinny: His record in big games is ridiculous. And nobody is better at tailoring a game plan to his team's strengths and his opponent's weaknesses.

Russell: Meyer coaches with a chip on his shoulder, and I think you see that in his decision-making at times. I'm thinking specifically of the fake punt deep in his own territory against Arkansas. I don't think he'd be wise to make another call like that against Ohio State. Florida is good enough to win this game without taking huge chances.

Special Teams/Intangibles

Russell: Considering the overall strength of the two teams, it's surprising that neither excels in special teams. Both excel in kick coverage and neither has explosive return games overall. Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey has attempted just 11 field goals on the year, making eight, but that's a dream season compared to Florida's Chris Hetland, who was a miserable 4-of-13 this season.

Vinny: Things will definitely get interesting if it comes down to placekicking. Florida was good enough to survive against Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State while Hetland struggled (0-for-6 combined in those games), but probably not this time.

Russell: One area where Florida needs to show some more discipline is penalties. The Gators were the second-most penalized team in America and lost 65 yards per game to yellow flags -- 22 yards more than Ohio State's average. The underdog can't afford to be undisciplined as well.

Vinny: In the return game, Ginn has remained a threat while playing through a foot injury. Freshman Brandon James has flashed big-play ability on returns for the Gators.

Russell: Ohio State is better in both converting third downs and in preventing third-down conversions. If that holds, it means added snaps for the Ohio State offense. Florida is going to have to come up with a turnover or two to stay in the game -- much as Michigan's plus-three turnover margin in the second half allowed it to fight back in a game in which it was being dominated.

Vinny: Dominated? I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that.

Russell: Consider it a make-good for the Sugar Bowl remark.

The Picks

Russell: I've backed off my anger-driven "Ohio State is going to destroy Florida" pick of December 3, but I still don't see where much in this game favors Florida. Nothing that has happened in the bowl season thus far tells me that Ohio State's results vs. a Big Ten schedule mean less than Florida's vs. the SEC. The Big Ten's best teams are just as good as the SEC's.

Vinny: No argument on that front. Some are making comparisons between Florida and Tressel's 2002 squad that was counted out against defending champ Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. But this Florida team has even more talent (and fewer psychopaths) on offense.

Russell: Florida may be more battle-tested, but I don't think it matters. Ohio State played in plenty of big games in calendar 2006 -- including last year's Fiesta Bowl -- and always gave a good account of itself. This will be a game for a half, but Ohio State will capitalize on turnovers in the second half to win it going away. I like the Buckeyes to cover.

Vinny: I've come around to thinking Florida will make this a game. This is the best defense Troy Smith will have ever faced. As great (and robotic) as he is, the Gators secondary can pose some problems. I think Wynn is the key -- the Buckeye defense can be had if they're kept off-balance. I'll take the Gators and the points.

Bonus SDA Podcast

Thanks to Orson Swindle of Every Day Should Be Saturday for joining Russell for this week's podcast.

You can listen online by clicking the play button below, or download the podcast for later by clicking the MP3 icon beneath the player. Past episodes can be found by clicking the "Posts" button. To automatically receive future episodes through iTunes, click the "Subscribe Free" link.


Subscribe Free for future posts  Add this player to my Page

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The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Picks of other BCS games included for reference
Favorite Spread Underdog Vinny Says Russell Says
Rose Bowl (Pasadena), Monday, January 2
USC -1 Michigan Michigan Michigan
 
Fiesta Bowl (Glendale), Monday, January 1
Oklahoma -7 Boise State Boise State Oklahoma
 
Orange Bowl (Miami), Tuesday, January 2
Louisville -10 Wake Forest Louisville* Louisville*
 
Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Wednesday, January 3
LSU -9 Notre Dame LSU LSU
BCS National Championship (Glendale)
Monday, January 8, 8 p.m. ET FOX
Ohio State -7.5 Florida Florida Ohio State
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
NOTE: "Last Week" refers to the Non-BCS bowls picks column.
  Last Week* Season Total
Vinny 6-9-0 (0-1-0) 72-66-1 (10-6-0)
Russell 6-9-0 (0-1-0) 78-60-1 (9-7-0)

Posted by: on 07 Jan 2007

312 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2007, 12:57pm by SGT Ben

Comments

301
by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 5:48pm

298: I don't know how much of it is Meyer "having" to protect Leak, as "being able" to. His team was up 20 at the half and had only given up one offensive TD, so I'm sure he felt confident about holding the lead. Anyway, I'm not saying Leak can become a star, I definitely don't see the physical tools for that, but I think he could become a Brad Johnson.

As for the receiver thing... I don't know, I probably shouldn't blame the man unless I know his assignment (maybe it was a flat zone? You might have to stay home against a crazy offense, I guess). The receiver did execute a good cut, and I too was puzzled by the decision by the corner to close in on the line for a pass deflection rather than trying to run with the WR and likely fail anyway.

302
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 7:37pm

Wow, there's are a lot of angry people on here, and a lot of nitpicking as well. Chris Leak had the best game of his career, and someone wants to talk about how he was only so-so b/c he never made a throw into traffic. WHAT? HUH? Isn't his job to guide the offense down the field and put points on the board? Didn't he do that on the first 3 possessions against the supposed vaunted defense of Ohio St? He got chastized his whole career for making 2-3 stupid decisions per game. Finally, on the biggest stage, he doesn't do that...and you still bash? I guess some people see the dark side of everything.

And then some posts claim the dominance of the Florida D had NOTHING to do with their talent and desire, but rather everything to do with Ohio St's lack of adjustments and poor execution. Yea, okay, it had nothing to do with Florida's D...nothing at all. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggggggghhhhtttt. I give you that that was not the same Ohio St offense that we saw in the Fall. However, there was not a team in the country that could have blocked Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey on Monday night. If they played again on another night...who knows what happens, but on Monday night, there was not a team in the country that would've beaten Florida. They played perfectly on both offense and defense. Does this mean they are the best team in the country? No. I think there are 4-5 teams that could, on any given night, be the best team in the country. But Florida was the best team in the country on Monday night, and under the system we have, they have earned the right to be called Nat'l Champions. Give some credit where credit is due.

303
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/10/2007 - 11:41pm

Didn’t he do that on the first 3 possessions against the supposed vaunted defense of Ohio St?

Craig Krenzel ripped up Miami in 2002. That doesn't mean he was a good pro quarterback. Leak played very well - for a college QB playing against a defense going through a mental breakdown.

Ohio State's defense wasn't "vaunted" on Monday night. For some moronic reason, Tressel was constantly playing a soft zone, and continually giving up slants, hitches, and outs. Why? Got me.

They played perfectly on both offense and defense.

They played extremely well on offense and defense. They looked perfect because Tressel is a complete moron.

Look, it's not insulting to Florida to say that a huge part of the reason that Florida looked so much better than Ohio State is because Ohio State's gameplan was wretched beyond belief. It's still super-amazing that they were able to execute it as well as they were.

The biggest disappointment about that game is that we didn't actually get to see two really good teams against each other. Ohio State didn't have a chance. (For an NFL comparison, see Philadelphia vs Indianapolis this year. The game plan by Philly was utterly wretched.)

304
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 2:49am

Pat -- read my post again. I said absolutely nothing about Leak being a pro QB. But if you'd like to argue apples & oranges, that's cool.

Give it up...quit defending Ohio St and give credit where credit is due. They got CRUSHED. Florida played well. Ohio St didn't. Part of that reason is b/c Florida couldn't do anything wrong. Part of that reason is b/c Ohio St couldn't do anything right and part of that reason is b/c Florida couldn't do anything wrong. Are you following me?

But that's football. some days aren't your best, and it just so happened that Ohio St s--t the bed in the biggest game of the year, and a HUGE part of that was Florida's game plan & execution.

Can anyone not from the South give Florida some credit here...or is that just not possible?

305
by Solomon (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 3:22am

301 -- That is a bit harsh to call Tressel a "complete moron". He was won three Big Ten titles and one national title in his six years at OSU. He is 5-1 against the school up north, 4-2 in bowl games, and 4-2 against your beloved Nittany Lions. In addition, he one four 1-AA national titles at Youngstown State. Maybe you are basing your comment on Monday's game alone (or not?). Tressel has displayed excellent coaching ability in the past, and one disaster does not make him an idiot. That said, OSU looked lost on Monday.

306
by peachy (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 8:18am

When a team coached by Lloyd Carr - just to take a name at complete random (ahem) - looks entirely lost in a big game, then it might be reasonable to assume that his team just melted down under the pressure (again). But Tressel has a well-earned reputation as a coach who succeeds in the biggest games. When one of his teams gets undressed, the logical conclusion to draw is that it ran into an opponent who was simply better. And I'll reiterate a point I made earlier; it doesn't matter how brilliant or wretched your offensive gameplan if your line can't block.

307
by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 12:18pm

302/304: Obviously coaching isn't everything, but it's a very big thing, and it can easily snowball into affecting the rest of the game (such as a player being "unblockable"). I agree with Pat that the OSU coaching staff did not give their team a chance to win. They made it very easy for the Florida offense to execute, and a combination of poor coaching decisions and collapses by offensive players (most notably Troy Smith) allowed the Florida defense to dominate.

Florida played very well, and Ohio State (as a unit, which includes coaching) did not, just as GatorGriff says. Not sure who he thinks has given Florida no credit, however... usually you save the "no respect" stuff for BEFORE the game, as motivation, not as post-game straw-manning of those who do not fall to their knees praising the great Meyer.

308
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 12:44pm

#303: Beh. If you want, you can consider that I said that Tressel was a temporary moron, then. But I'm not a big fan of "Tressel as a game day coach" - he's a great recruiter, and so his teams typically have more talent than the opposition. His gameplans have always seemed overly simple.

and 4-2 against your beloved Nittany Lions.

Wait, you're trying to say Tressel's a good coach because he beat Penn State from 2001-2004? Everyone beat Penn State from 2001-2004 (Okay, except 2002, but he had a National Championship quality team, and Penn State had Larry Johnson, and that's it).

In the past two Penn State games, Tressel's 1-1, and the last game they won in spite of him, not because of him (How do you let Penn State's offense nearly put up more total offense than you?!).

And I’ll reiterate a point I made earlier; it doesn’t matter how brilliant or wretched your offensive gameplan if your line can’t block.

You can mitigate an offensive line being unable to pass protect. There are these great inventions called "max protect", "bootlegs", "hot reads", "misdirection plays", or my personal favorite, "running plays" (Check out post #285. The gameplan was awful) - none of which you saw in the OSU game. The fact that I saw a 5-receiver set in the 4th quarter just cements the "moron!" tag.

Judging someone's gameday ability by whether or not their team wins is nuts. Tressel's very, very frequently had the better team. It's not that hard to win when you're the better team.

309
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 12:45pm

I said absolutely nothing about Leak being a pro QB.

You're right. But I did. And that's where the "Leak never had to throw into traffic" comment came from that you were responding to.

310
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 5:47pm

#305: Not sure who he thinks has given Florida no credit, however… usually you save the “no respect� stuff for BEFORE the game, as motivation, not as post-game straw-manning of those who do not fall to their knees praising the great Meyer.

Yeah, no kidding. I think the funniest thing about this is that I was rooting for Florida (and that night was fantastic fun watching the game), and I came away from that game thinking Meyer should be an NFL coach in a year or two.

The only "disrespect" I might be giving is that I don't think the Florida team was leaps and bounds above Ohio State in terms of quality of the players (note that I'm not saying they're not above them). I've seen Ohio State play this year. I've seen Florida play this year. Talent-wise, they're both excellent teams. All things being equal, there's no way that should've been a blowout (I won't say who would've won, though). But things weren't equal at all. Meyer had an attacking, creative, aggressive gameplan, and Tressel's was one you could find in a high school coach's desk.

I really don't see how anyone could possibly think anything else about that game (I also don't see how it's disrespectful to Florida to say that their coach was a freaking genius that day).

311
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 01/12/2007 - 12:35pm

Like many others, I'm teeing off late. Being a Buckeye's fan, I'm bledding Scarlet and grey after that miserable blowout. 51 days off...and that's the best our guys could produce. The loss of Ted Ginn hurt, but I thought that Tressel would be able to overcome that. Maybe Troy wasn't able to. Not sure.

We were outcoached and outplayed. Plain and simple. Much props to Florida players/coach. They certainly deserve to be #1.

It was a sad day in Minnesota for me.

312
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 01/12/2007 - 12:57pm

After reading more of this, I realized that there should probably be more insight as to why we were outcoached. (Since, you can't do much about being outplayed, it falls on the coaching staff to compensate.)

Mind you, I don't know that this would have given OSU a win (doubtful) but should have at least made a game out of it.

Offense - Draws and Screens would have helped big time. The DE's seemed to be pulling a Colts Freeney/Mathis thing where they would charge up field. A draw play would have helped with that. An occasional screen might (MIGHT) have kept them from blitzing as much. Pittman is a workhorse and was underused!

Slants, ins, and flats. Florida was playing a more aggresive version of OSU's defense. They were more athletic/charged up front than our offense could handle...but the middle of the field looked open an awful lot. Troy's tendency to roll out when there's the first sign of trouble allowed the defense to push their rush to contain...he should have stepped up and had a WR/TE or two to hit in the middle of the field. 5 WRs and half the field to look at...and they're all running various forms of flat/out/deep patters? Rediculous.

Defensively, I know Tressel plays zone. But he really needed to mix up his zone coverages. Zone blitz some. Deep zone mixed with the occasional shorter zones. We played too deep and gave up everything underneath.

Again, props to the Florida players for their nearly flawless execution. I don't know that these changes would have given us the win (very doubtful at that, because Florida seemed to want it more) but it could have at least made a game out of it. Then, we would at least be able to have a sensible debate (like with OSU's defeat of Miami for the most exciting NC several years ago)

All-in-all we were outcoached first...and outplayed second.