PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Which team is going to win the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game? Ivan Maisel offers 20 reasons Florida will chomp its way to the Gators' first national championship since 1996.
20. The power of the underdog lies with Florida. In three of the last four years, No. 2 has upset No. 1 in the BCS Championship Game, as all Buckeyes fans know. Ohio State started it here in the Valley of the Sun four years ago by beating Miami. In a recent poll of 50 writers across the country by the Mobile Register, 41 picked the Buckeyes to win by an average of 10 points, just as an overwhelming majority picked USC last year to beat Texas. And we all remember how that one turned out.
19. You have to be healthy to be good, and the Gators have stayed out of the training room this season. The five offensive line starters missed a combined total of one start. That's one more than the secondary missed. Linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler, Florida's leading tacklers, and defensive end Jarvis Moss missed only the game against I-AA Western Carolina. QB Chris Leak started every game.
18. Ahem, Troy Smith: The Florida defense has come up big against the best offensive players the Gators have played. Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden rushed for only 73 yards on 21 carries. The Gators limited LSU's JaMarcus Russell to a quarterback rating of 98.66 (24-41-3, 228 yards, one touchdown), the lowest mark in his otherwise stellar season. And they stuffed Tennessee for minus-11 rushing yards, the worst total of Phillip Fulmer's 177 games as the Vols' head coach.
17. The Florida playbook is a thick, mysterious volume, filled with so many plays that Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said it's like preparing for every offense the Buckeyes have seen this year. Under Urban Meyer, the Gators have become masters of offensive timing, springing end runs, quarterbacks draws, direct snaps and all manner of misdirection at defenses. The effect is clear -- once fooled, twice shy. Leak has thrown 22 touchdowns, Tim Tebow has thrown four and WR Andre Caldwell has thrown one.
16. Ohio State has scored touchdowns on 77 percent of its visits to the red zone. That's very good. But look closer. Florida has scored touchdowns on 88 percent of its visits to the red zone.
15. Ohio State has mowed down 12 opponents, with only two of them coming within seven points. The Buckeyes have beaten two No. 2 teams and could be the first No. 1 to beat three No. 2s. But take a closer look. Florida has been tested more. The record of Buckeyes opponents against other teams is 76-63 (.547). The record of the Gators' 12 I-A opponents against other teams is 94-50 (.660). The Gators know how to win close games.
14. That's the number of combined interceptions made by safety Reggie Nelson and corner Ryan Smith, who transferred from Utah, where he had played for Meyer, after he graduated in order to play for Meyer again. Nelson is a superior athlete who roams the secondary. Smith is a technically proficient corner who's always where he is supposed to be.
13. Ohio State has O-H-I-O!, a good cheer, and "Carmen Ohio," an alma mater that shares a name with Carmen Miranda, a postwar film star best known for dancing with a fruit basket on her head. The Gators combine spelling and a rollicking song that sounds more like something you might hear at an English soccer game, complete with fans arm in arm. "We Are The Boys From Old Florida, F-L-O-R-I-D-A." That's a keeper.
12. If Florida beats Ohio State, the same school will hold the national football and men's basketball championship simultaneously. That would make history, and if that's not a reason the Gators will win, nothing is.
11. Steve Spurrier proved his greatness at Florida as a player and a coach. He revolutionized the sport, introducing the pass to Gainesville and the entire SEC. He won six SEC titles in 12 seasons, and pulled off the trick of remaining beloved at Florida while coaching another SEC East school. When the Gators blocked a South Carolina field-goal attempt on the final play of the game to win 17-16, Spurrier came off and the field and said, "This could be the Year of the Gator." Smart man, Spurrier.
10. Yes, yes, Florida kicker Chris Hetland has been a drag on the Gators' offense this season. Nonetheless, don't automatically award the special teams matchup to Ohio State. Florida has blocked eight kicks -- five punts, two field goals (including the game-ending block of a South Carolina attempt by defensive end Jarvis Moss to save a 17-16 victory) and one extra point. That was the margin of victory against the Gamecocks. Ohio State has blocked two kicks.
9. The rest of the receivers -- senior Dallas Baker, senior Jemalle Cornelius and junior Andre Caldwell -- have been every bit the game-breakers that Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Brian Robiskie have been. Their numbers are remarkably similar. Baker/Cornelius/Caldwell: 140 catches, 1,941 yards, 17 touchdowns. Ginn/Gonzalez/Robiskie: 137 catches, 1,887 yards, 22 touchdowns. Add Harvin, and the Gators have an unmistakable edge at wideout.
8. Back home in Virginia Beach, they compare Florida freshman Percy Harvin to the great players who have come out of Virginia's Tidewater area, guys like Ronald Curry and Mike Vick. Harvin, who gained an average of 12.7 yards per touch, likes to compare himself to another former Tidewater QB, a guy who could tie a tackler in knots before running around him untouched, or pull up and throw the ball downfield. This guy never played college football. Last anyone heard, he had been seen in Denver. His name is Allen Iverson.
7. No. 7 at Florida will always be Danny Wuerffel, the four-year starter who led the Gators to four SEC championships, two national championship games and one title. Wuerffel won one Heisman, one Draddy (known as the Academic Heisman) and two O'Brien Awards. In his four seasons, Florida went 45-6-1. There have been few quarterbacks at any school like him.
6. One hundred years ago, Florida began playing football. Forty years ago, Florida coach Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy. Ten years ago, the Spurrier-coached Gators, led by Wuerffel, won the national championship. I'm not a big fan of numerology, but the evidence is what it is: if the season ends in a 6, watch out for the Gators.
5. That brings to mind the Gators' status as a season-long object of skepticism. They didn't have the experience. Their schedule would prove to be too difficult. They didn't have an effective running game. They lost Marcus Thomas, their best defensive lineman, at midseason. Blah, blah and blah. The Gators hurdled enough obstacles to finish 12-1 and get here. They won five games by seven points or less. They haven't flinched.
4. If you're looking for qualities in a mascot that promote an aggressive football team, a Gator should be a 30-point favorite over a nut.
3. That's three, as in Urban Meyer is 3-0 in bowl games at Utah and Florida. He is 6-0 at Florida in rivalry games (Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State) and was 2-0 at Utah against BYU. The man can coach big games.
2. Two quarterbacks. Old school: if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any. New school: Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen have created a two-headed offense. Senior Chris Leak is the starter. Freshman Tim Tebow has a package of plays designed for his battering-ram running skills. Ohio State may know what's coming when Tebow trots into the huddle but the combination requires the Gators' opponents to prepare for two distinct offenses. That's a stress on any defense.
1. Reggie Nelson. The All-American safety is not just a good football player, Meyer said Friday. Nelson is, "one of the best football players I have ever been around." Nelson plays the best center field east of Jim Edmonds. He knows how to deliver a blow. And he knows how to take one, too. Just last month, Nelson lost his mother to breast cancer. He has not appeared before the media this week, but he is "doing great," Meyer said, and will continue to be an integral part of the Gators' defense Monday night.