Florida made the most of its chance to play on a national stage in front of a captive audience Saturday night, and apparently presented a convincing case that it should be the Gators and not Michigan facing Ohio State in the National Championship Game.
After previous No. 2 Southern California lost earlier in the day, the door opened for one of them. And when the poll voters and the computers finished digesting the Gators 38-28 win over Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference title game, the Bowl Championship Series verdict gave Florida a razor-thin margin over the Wolverines.
That allowed the Gators to move into the No. 2 spot behind the Buckeyes, thus creating a matchup between two college football powers who have never before met.
No. 1 Ohio State will face No. 2 Florida for the 2006 national championship in the new University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL s Arizona Cardinals, in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale on Jan. 8.
Michigan, which dropped to No. 3 in the final BCS rankings, meets Southern California in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who earlier yesterday had taken himself out of a sticky predicament over which team he would vote second in the USA Today Poll by abstaining from the vote, said Florida had certainly strengthened its stock by winning its conference crown.
When you win the SEC, you re a great football team, Tressel said. They re a great team, and now we ve got to go to work to get ready for the Gators.
Florida coach Urban Meyer, an Ohio native and a former assistant on the Ohio State staff who landed his first head coaching job at Bowling Green State University prior to the 2001 season, said the Buckeyes are a formidable opponent.
We re facing the consensus No. 1 team in America, Meyer said. And they are deserving of that No. 1 ranking.
The Buckeyes, top-ranked in the preseason and able to maintain that ranking throughout the season, have gone to the desert to play a bowl game following three of the last four seasons, and won all three times. Ohio State s victory in the 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl won the Buckeyes the national championship for the 2002 season.
Big Ten champion Ohio State, idle since a 42-39 win over the Wolverines on Nov. 18, was just a spectator as USC went down to a stunning defeat and then Florida scored a frenetic win Saturday. What followed was about 22 hours of speculation and anxiety over just which way the BCS vote would go.
It was all a blur last night, Meyer said about the atmosphere in Gainesville, site of the University of Florida campus. The anticipation bordered on insanity down here, as far as the discussion throughout the community.?
Tressel issued a statement midday, saying he had consulted with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and decided to not participate in the vote that would ultimately determine his team s opponent. Based upon our unique position in the BCS standings, I believe it is only fair that we not participate the final poll, Tressel said.
Tressel last night explained the move further.
I think the bottom line is this: I didn t think it was appropriate for us to put a ballot out as to who we would play, Tressel said. I just didn t think it was the right thing to do.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr seemed rankled by the move. I thought that was real slick, Carr said last night.
Carr expressed excitement over the trip to the Rose Bowl, which prior to the advent of the BCS system had long been the ultimate goal for any Big Ten team.
We are delighted to accept the bid to the Rose Bowl, with the tradition of playing on New Year s Day, in a great old stadium, and a Pac-10, Big Ten matchup the greatest of traditions, Carr said. We re going to play a great USC team that I ve followed throughout the course of the season.
Michigan, which last played in Pasadena in 2005 when the Wolverines lost to Texas 38-37, is 8-11 in 19 Rose Bowl appearances. Michigan met USC in the Rose Bowl in 2004 and lost 28-14.
We d like to win one, Carr said. We ve certainly done a lot of great things to get to the Rose Bowl, and now we d like to win one.
Despite the unique circumstances surrounding the final BCS poll and the bowl bids, Carr said a trip to the Rose Bowl is never diminished in stature.
The Rose Bowl is not a consolation [prize], Carr said. The experience of playing in the Rose Bowl I ve always thought it was the greatest experience a college football player could have. The day will never come in my lifetime when there will be disappointment in playing in the Rose Bowl.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.