January 8, 2007

BCS Title Game: Ohio State vs. Florida


No. 1 Ohio State
No. 2 Florida

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Head-to-Head Breakdown | Video Preview

History will be repeated in the BCS national championship football game, it's just a matter of which team repeats it.

Ohio State (12-0) seeks to duplicate its 2003 feat when the Buckeyes came to Arizona (Tempe) and pulled off a stunning upset to win the national championship.

Meanwhile, Florida (12-1) hopes to do what the '03 Buckeyes did by winning a championship in its second season under a rising head coach.

Five years ago, second-year coach Jim Tressel guided No. 2 Ohio State to a 31-24 overtime victory over Miami, which gave the Buckeyes their first national championship in 34 years.

Florida hasn't had to wait that long, but the No. 2 Gators are hopeful that in their second season under coach Urban Meyer they can claim their first national championship in 10 years.

Tressel and Meyer, who are both Ohio natives, join former Boston College coach Tom O'Brien as the only coaches to guide their teams to bowl victories in each of the last three seasons.

BCS Championship Game: No. 1 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No. 2 Florida (12-1)
When: Jan. 8, 8 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
TV info: Fox (Thom Brenneman, Barry Alvarez, Charles Davis)
No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Conference: Big Ten
Record: (12-0, 8-0 in the Big Ten)
Coach: Jim Tressel (62-13 in six seasons at Ohio State)
Passing leader: Troy Smith (199 of 297 for 2,507 yards, 30 TDs, five INTs)
Rushing leader: Antonio Pittman (232 carries, 1,171 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 13 TDs)
Receiving leader: Ted Ginn Jr. (59 catches, 781 yards, nine TDs)
Defensive leader: LB James Laurinaitis (100 tackles, 8 for loss, four sacks, five INTs, three forced fumbles)
No. 2 Florida Gators Conference: Southeastern
Record: (11-1, 8-1 in the SEC)
Coach: Urban Meyer (21-4 in two seasons at Florida)
Passing leader: Chris Leak (207 of 329 for 2,729 yards, 22 TDs, 13 INTs)
Rushing leader: DeShawn Wynn (124 carries, 630 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, five TDs)
Receiving leader: Dallas Baker (56 catches, 897 yards, nine TDs)
Defensive leader: FS Reggie Nelson (50 tackles, six INTs, five passes broken up, two blocked kicks)
Ohio State running game vs. Florida run defense: RB Antonio Pittman might be the most overlooked player in America. Despite back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns, he's almost an afterthought because of Ohio State's explosive passing game. Pittman has good power, better speed than many think and the ability to rip off long runs. If he needs a break, the Buckeyes - who averaged 180.1 rushing yards per game - can bring in highly-touted freshman Chris Wells (567 rushing yards). Subbing Wells for Pittman is like switching from a Mercedes to a BMW (or vice versa). Ohio State rushed for more than 200 yards four times this season and exceeded 180 in five of its last six games. No opposing back managed 100 yards rushing against Florida, and only three teams did. The Gators, ranked sixth nationally in rushing defense, even held Arkansas' Darren McFadden - the Heisman Trophy runner-up - to 73 yards rushing in the SEC title game. The Gators have a dominant line led by Ray McDonald and Jarvis Moss, while LBs Earl Everett and Brandon Siler are big, fast and each have more than 70 tackles.
Edge: Florida.
Ohio State passing game vs. Florida pass defense: Heisman Trophy-winning QB Troy Smith has thrown for three TDs or more six times this season. He has thrown only six interceptions, but he has been picked off in each of the last three games. Smith plays at his best in the biggest games: 316 yards and four TDs against Michigan, 186 yards and four TDs against Iowa and 269 yards and two TDs against Texas. Fleet WR Ted Ginn Jr. is the Buckeyes' most dangerous deep threat, but Anthony Gonzalez actually has a higher average per catch (14.8 yards). Gonzalez's eight TD grabs are just one fewer than Ginn. Brian Robiskie (29 catches), the Buckeyes' third option, would be the primary target on many teams. The Buckeyes have allowed just 14 sacks all season, and that's at least partially explained by Smith's speed and mobility. However, it's also a result of having an enormous and experienced offensive line. Gators cornerback Ryan Smith has eight interceptions and Reggie Nelson has six, but at times this season Florida has had issues in pass defense. UF opponents have completed 54.1 percent of their passes. The Gators have allowed six teams to throw for more than 200 yards, but have given up just 10 touchdown passes. Derrick Harvey has posted eight of Florida's 29 sacks and Moss has 5.
Edge: Ohio State
Florida running game vs. Ohio State run defense: The Gators don't have an overpowering running game, but it's more effective than some may realize. Florida has rushed for more than 200 yards four times this season, including twice in the last three regular season games. The Gators ran for 202 yards against Arkansas in the SEC championship game. Freshman Percy Harvin Rivals.com's No. 1 recruit in 2006 - led the way with 105 yards rushing. Five different players have led the Gators in rushing this season. RB DeShawn Wynn leads the team with 630 yards, but was slowed by injury midway through the season and rushed for just 40 yards combined in the last three games. Harvin, a receiver who will be moved in and out of the backfield, has emerged as the primary rushing threat. Backup QB Tim Tebow usually is looking to run when he comes in for starter Chris Leak. In August run defense appeared an area in which Ohio State would be vulnerable, and that seemed to be reinforced when Northern Illinois and Texas rushed for more than 150 yards against the Buckeyes. However, since then only one opponent Bowling Green? has run for more than 150 against Ohio State. The Buckeyes held seven foes to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Michigan's Mike Hart did rush for 142 in the regular season finale. All-American DT Quinn Pitcock and DT David Patterson are effective at clogging run lanes inside, and MLB James Laurinaitis won the Nagurski Award in his first season as a starter.
Edge: Ohio State.
Florida passing game vs. Ohio State pass defense: Dallas Baker (56 catches for 897 yards) and Andre Caldwell (55 catches for 571 yards) form one of the country's best receiving tandems, but the Gators' receiving threats don't stop there. Jemalle Cornelius, TE Cornelius Ingram and Harvin all have at least 25 catches, too. QB Chris Leak has completed 62.9 percent of his attempts this season and has thrown 22 TDs, but has also been intercepted 13 times. Still, he's cool under pressure and led the Gators to come-from-behind victories over Tennessee and Alabama. Florida QBs have gotten solid protection all season behind a line that has allowed 22 sacks in 13 games. Ohio State has recorded 37 sacks in 12 games with Pitcock and DE Vernon Gholston combining for 15. Opponents have completed 57.1 percent of their passes against the Buckeyes, but have managed only eight TDs. However, the Buckeyes allowed more than 200 yards passing in three of their last five games Laurinaitis leads with five interceptions, but CB Malcolm Jenkins has four and the Buckeyes have 21 overall.
Edge: Florida.
Ohio State coaches vs. Florida coaches: Florida's Urban Meyer and Ohio State's Jim Tressel are both in their sixth years as Division I-A head coaches, and both have reached 60 victories. Meyer is 60-12 and 3-0 in bowl games. Prior to arriving in Gainesville, he led Utah to an undefeated season and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh. Under Meyer, Florida is 8-3 against ranked opponents. Tressel, who is 197-70-2 in his career which also includes 15 seasons at Youngstown State, is 25-7 against ranked teams and is 4-1 in bowl games at Ohio State. Of course, that includes the 2003 Fiesta Bowl in which the Buckeyes defeated Miami for the national championship. Tressel's Ohio State teams have won three Big Ten championships and three teams have finished in the top five.
Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State will win if: Florida has the best secondary Ohio State has faced this season, so RB Antonio Pittman could emerge as a key figure for the Buckeyes. If Pittman rushes for significant yardage, Florida safeties Reggie Nelson and Tony Joiner may be forced to come up to the line of scrimmage in run support. If that happens, Heisman-winning QB Troy Smith will find receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez in one-on-one matchups, and they usually win those. The Buckeyes defense need to get a consistent rush on Florida QB Chris Leak. The Buckeyes must also avoid big turnovers. A game of field position favors Ohio State, which has a superior kicking game.
Florida will win if: Preventing Smith from finishing off his outstanding season will likely require creativity from the Gators defense, which will likely disguise and change coverages in an attempt to confuse him. The Gators also need to mount a strong pass rush with their front four, so that they won't have to blitz to pressure Smith. They must also try to keep Smith, who is capable of running for big yardage, in the pocket. Leak has an advantage with receivers Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell against the Ohio State secondary, but he'll need time to throw in order to capitalize on that advantage. The Gators' running game won't scare Ohio State, so don't be surprised if Florida tries a trick play or two.
Injury situation: Ohio State CB Antonio Smith (shoulder) will play. Florida DL Ray McDonald (elbow) and SS Tony Joiner (ankle sprain) will play.
Worth noting: Ohio State is seeking its second national championship under coach Jim Tressel. It also won in 2002 when it defeated Miami in Tempe, Ariz. QB Troy Smith is 25-2 as a starter and is 10-1 against nationally ranked teams. He set a school record with 30 TD passes this season. His 54 TD passes are just three shy of the school record. Pittman is the first Buckeye to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Eddie George (1994-95), and joins George, Archie Griffin, Tim Spencer and Keith Byars as the only Buckeyes to accomplish that feat. All but six of Gonzalez's 49 receptions have resulted in first downs or touchdowns. Ohio State boasts a 19-game winning streak, which is the nation's longest. Florida, which played the nation's most difficult schedule, is 4-1 against ranked opponents this season. Twice this season Florida has come back from 10-point deficits to win, having rallied to beat Tennessee and Alabama. The Gators' big play offense has produced 74 plays that have gained 20 yards or more CB Ryan Smith and FS Reggie Nelson have combined for 14 interceptions, which is the most of any duo in the nation. Leak has set a Florida record with 11,000 career passing yards.
Line: Ohio State by 7.5
Buchanan's pick: Ohio State 31, Florida 21
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Ohio State 28, Florida 20.
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Ohio State 38, Florida 28.
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Ohio State 21, Florida 17
Check the results of your picks on Rivals.com Bowl Pick 'Em.

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