The day is finally upon us. Weeks have turned into days and days have turned now into hours. We watched the bowls leading up to this one, seeing the amazing and the occasional dud. Now, the nation's attention will turn to the championship game. Buckeye fans have probably been waiting for this day since the seconds ticked off of the clock in Austin, meanwhile, Gator fans had to hope and pray for the opportunity to play in the championship game.
The early CW was that the Buckeyes were just too powerful for the Gators, a team that mirrored the 2002 Buckeyes in that it took several close victories for the Gators to earn their shot. Victories by Wisconsin and Penn State over comparable SEC foes took the collective confidence of Buckeye Nation to another level, but USC's shellacking of a highly regarded Michigan squad helped to keep that confidence in check.
Our level of confidence has taken a similar ride. When the matchup was first announced, we here at 11W thought we could have the makings of an easy win in the desert. Shortly thereafter, we started to have our doubts. Florida oozes talent on both sides of the ball. They have an excellent young coach, and yes, impressive team speed.
Finally, we thought back to what had gotten the Buckeyes this far: superior coaching, preparedness and talent. As good as the Gators are, and they're good, we just can't see a team coached by Jim Tressel with Troy Smith at quarterback losing this game. The Buckeye offense will do what it has done all season and score early to put pressure on the Gator's playbook. Normally, this would force a team out of their running game, but the Gators have no real running game to speak of, so the early scoring by the Buckeyes will force quarterback Chris Leak into mistakes. He's been somewhat prone to forcing things and has been rattled at times this season and we see an early Buckeye lead having the same effect tonight. The early lead will also help neutralize the effectiveness of quarterback Tim Tebow running the ball, although don't be surprised if Urban Meyer has some razzle-dazzle up his sleeve. Tebow offers Meyer several tantalizing options in the trick play arena.
Florida has an incredibly talented defensive line, very able linebackers and we're being told, the best safety in the nation. Saying that, the Florida secondary is opportunistic, but not imposing. Four and five wide receiver sets will the norm for the Buckeyes in the early stages of the game. Troy should have no problem recognizing matchup problems and the coaching staff will have some wrinkles of their own in store. We expect Ohio State will have no problem running the ball in the second half as they turn to clock-burn mode.
The Buckeye defense matches up favorably with the Gators offense and will employ the same bend-but-don't-break strategy the team has ridden all season. We would probably be a lot more worried about the Buckeyes' chances if the Gators had an elite running back or a solid running game, but they don't. Florida does have some excellent perimeter athletes and they are capable of making plays, but the early lead should force some predictability to the Gators' attack.
If, by some chance, the game comes down to a late kick. You have to like Ohio State's odds there as well. Florida kicker Chris Hetland's struggles this season have been well documented and if there's one thing The Vest does exceptionally well, it's special teams. After a sub-par return season for Ted Ginn, don't be surprised if he breaks a kick return in his last collegiate game.
This game will be another blow to the Southern speed myth and the man that coached Craig Freakin' Krenzel to a national title will soon be collecting another. Troy Smith and the rest of the upperclassman will cement their legacies as some of the finest Buckeyes to have ever played.
Ohio State Buckeyes 31, Florida Gators 20