Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Florida-Oklahoma - Who Wants it More?

By JC De La Torre

The BCS National Championship game is Thursday, featuring the #1 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #2 Florida Gators. Both teams bring in high octane offenses and have been playing lights out since suffering early season losses. JC De La Torre's Tampa Bay Sports Blog takes a closer look at the 2009 BCS National Championship game and predicts a winner.

The Series
Remarkably, the Gators and Sooners have never faced each other, despite playing over hundred years of football.

Florida's Offense vs. Oklahoma's Defense
The worst thing that could have happened for Oklahoma is that Percy Harvin got healthy for the BCS Title game. The Gators come in with the #3 scoring offense in the country, 17th in total offense, 56th passing, 9th rushing against an Oklahoma defense that is 58th in scoring defense, 63rd in total defense, 107th against the pass, 15th against the rush. The Gators passing attack is ranked low, not because of poor play by Quarterback Tim Tebow, who was a finalist for his second Heisman Trophy and threw for 2,515 yds, 28 touchdowns, while only tossing 2 interceptions this season. Florida's running game, led by athlete Percy Harvin, running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, as well as Tebow has made the passing game a secondary weapon. That's not to say its not capable, as Harvin, WR Louis Murphy and tight end Aaron Hernandez all have made big time plays for the Gators offense.

Oklahoma would appear to be fairly stoudt against the run this season, but when you put the microscope on the Sooners - their solid run defense play seems to fade away. Only Oklahoma State rushed the ball better than Florida in the Big 12 and they rushed for 198yds and a touchdown against Oklahoma. In fact, the Sooners have given up some big rushing numbers to top level competition - Texas (161 yds, 3 touchdowns), Baylor (194 yds, 2 tds), and even Nebraska (204 yds, 3 touchdowns). That simply won't get it done against Florida. Oklahoma does rush the passer extremely well - they're ranked 3rd in the nation with 42 sacks. They also lead the nation in turnover margin (+23). Florida is 2nd in the nation (+22).

Oklahoma's offense vs. Florida Defense
We all know about Oklahoma's offense - the Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, 58 or more points in their last six games. Oklahoma boats the #1 scoring offense in the nation, #3 in total offense, #16 rushing, and #3 passing. Bradford threw for 4,464 yds, 48 touchdowns and completed 68 percent of his passes this season. Juanquin Iglesias led all receivers with 69 receptions, 1,092 yds and 10 touchdowns. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown split carries at running back, combining for 34 touchdowns and 2112 yds but Murray is injured and won't play. Florida meanwhile comes in with the #4 scoring defense in the nation, 7th in total defense, 14th in rushing defense, 22nd in pass defense. As mentioned previously, Florida is 2nd in the nation in turnover margin (+22) and are 2nd in the country in interceptions (24). Only three times this season has Gator opponents scored more than 20 points (Ole Miss, LSU, Alabama) and the most points the Gators gave up this season was 31 in their 1 point loss to Ole Miss in September. Since that loss to the Rebels, no team has scored more than 21 against Florida. The Gators defense has not allowed a 300 yd passer this season.

Florida's Special Teams vs. Oklahoma's Special Teams
The Gators are ranked 48th in kick return average and 7th in punt return yardage. They've returned two punts for touchdowns with the dangerous Brandon James returning. Oklahoma is 106th in kick return coverage and 17th in punt return coverage. Oklahoma has allowed 4 kick off returns for touchdowns this season. Oklahoma is 5th in kick return average led by DeMarco Murray's 27.6 yds a return - as stated previously, Murray will not play. Oklahoma is 70th in punt return average and they returned one punt for a touchdown this year. Florida is 89th in kick return coverage, 9th in punt return coverage and have not allowed a return for touchdown. Florida is 17th in punt average and 2nd in field goal percentage. Oklahoma is one of the nation's worst in punting average, ranked 116th and they're 67th in field goal percentage.

Florida's Urban Meyer is 82-17 (43-9 in 4 yrs at Florida), he's won four conference championships (including two SEC titles), and a national championship. This is the second time in three years that Meyer has guided the Gators in position for a National Championship. Bob Stoops is completing his 10th season at Oklahoma with a 109-23 record. Stoops' Sooners have won 6 Big 12 championships and 1 National Championship (2000). Oklahoma has lost their last two trips to the BCS Championship Game (2003 to LSU 21-14, 2004 to USC 55-19). This is the fourth time in 8 years Stoops has the Sooners playing for the National title.

The Spread
We always mention the spread because Urban Meyer has always been well aware of the betting line due to many boosters that partake in the short term investment market.

Florida by 3 1/2

Final Score Prediction
What a match up we have for the National Championship game - two of the top offenses in the nation face off in a winner take all match up. The big difference in this one is defense and special teams. We all know the old adage - Defense wins championships. The next time Oklahoma plays good defense will be the first time - they're terrible and even worse, one of their players talked trash about Florida Hesiman Trophy winning and 2-time finalist quarterback Tim Tebow. Cornerback Dominique Franks told reporters that Tebow would be the 4th best quarterback in the Big 12 behind Heisman Trophy Winner Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy, and Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell.

As Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes said to the Associated Press, "How could you say something like that when he won the Heisman as a sophomore? We really didn’t think too much of it. When you talk about Tim, he’s going try to come out and make you pay. It’s kind of like deja vu all over again. Last time a guy talked about him, he came out and put 50 on him.”

Ricky Jean-Francois was the defender in question for LSU. Jean-Francois said he was going to knock Tebow out of the game - only to see the Gators roll up 51 points and Tebow score 3 touchdowns. In 2007, Florida State linebacker Geno Hayes was foolish enough to say Tebow was "going down" in their annual matchup only to see Tebow account for 5 touchdowns in route to a 45-12 destruction of the Seminoles. Its not wise to trash Tim...and the rub? LSU and FSU were much better defenses.

On the other side, Florida's is by far the best defense the high flying Sooners have faced this season.

"You keep hearing they've done this and scored all these points in the last five games," Spikes said, "But I really feel like they haven't faced a defense like ours, and Big 12 defenses are a joke. It's always like a bunch of basketball scores when I watch SportsCenter. So we'll see."

I agree with him. Oklahoma has run roughshod over the Big 12 because they had the better atheletes. In the SEC, the better atheletes play on defense (as evidenced by the number of defensive players drafted in top rounds of the NFL out of the SEC). Like Ohio State before them, Oklahoma hasn't seen the speed that Florida's defense will bring to the table. While it will definitely be a challenge for the Gators as well, since this is the best offense they've faced all season, you can't outscheme or coach speed. You either have it or you don't. Oklahoma does have some great skill players that will make some plays in this game, but they won't destroy Florida's defense the way they have every one else.

Then you factor in special teams, where Oklahoma is just flat out terrible and that's two of the three phases of that favor Florida. The game will be competitive early but Florida will eventually pull away in this one.

My Prediction: Florida 51, Oklahoma 34

No comments: