Clash of the Titans: Florida, Oklahoma Fight for No. 1

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Standing next to the crystal football, Bob Stoops was the picture of Mr. Agreeable.

Any pose the photographers wanted, the Oklahoma coach gave them. Looking to the right, gazing to the left, smiling straight ahead.

That is, until a shutterbug told Stoops to hold up one finger — a "we're No. 1" shot. No chance, pal.

"Too soon," Stoops said.

On Thursday night, his hurry-up Sooners and speedy Florida meet for the BCS championship and the right to hoist that glistening prize. It's a matchup that includes a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, an SEC vs. Big 12 debate and more than its share of trash talk.

Besides, there was no need for Stoops to stake his claim Wednesday inside a hotel ballroom. Enough teams already have done that.

Southern California, Utah and Texas were vocal in the past week, hoping their bowl wins impressed enough voters in The Associated Press poll, which will be released in the wee hours Friday.

Heck, how about New Hampshire? The Wildcats beat Army, which beat Louisiana Tech, which beat Mississippi State, which beat Vanderbilt, which beat Mississippi, which handed the No. 1 Gators their only loss.

No wonder college fans from President-elect Barack Obama on down want to see a playoff system.

"I think at some point in time it might happen," Florida coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday. "I didn't believe that a few years ago, but I feel now the discussion is out of control. I can't imagine any guy that enjoys football not discussing that wherever he's at. So I imagine at some point that might happen now."

As to whether it should be a tournament for four, eight or 16 teams, that's someone else's department.

"It's not my job to figure that out," Meyer said. "I think it would be hard. I don't know how you do it."

Echoed Stoops: "That's not for me to do. They're all good football teams; everyone realizes that. So again, that's for you guys to choose."

There's plenty of time to think about it. The BCS' latest TV deal with ESPN ensures there won't be a playoff until at least 2014.

Meanwhile, there's a pretty attractive game brewing at Dolphin Stadium between 12-1 teams.

The winner takes home the crystal, and that could come in handy for the Gators — they won the trophy two years ago, but a recruit accidentally bumped into it in April, shattering the $30,000 football. Fortunately for them, it was insured.

Tim Tebow was a freshman backing up Chris Leak when Florida stomped Ohio State for the title. Tebow won the Heisman last season and now will try to add a second title.

The Rambo-style quarterback will soon explore his NFL options, deciding whether to enter the draft or return for his senior season. Tebow is not exactly elegant with his left-handed tosses, and some scouts project he'll wind up as a tight end in the pros.

"I'll hear something about Tim's throwing motion or the NFL is looking for — I sometimes get confused," Meyer said. "Do they want a guy that's going to lead a team to win games? I don't know if there's any better than Tim."

Tebow drew the most first-place votes in the Heisman balloting last month, but finished third overall. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford took home the trophy — he said his parents now have it somewhere in their house.

Bradford, a sophomore, also has submitted paperwork to the NFL's advisory board to see how highly he could get picked in the draft. Tebow and Bradford expect to make their decisions a few days after the big game.

While Florida boasts great speed, the second-ranked Sooners operate at a blink-of-the-eye pace. They set a modern record for points this season, averaging 54 a game.

With their linemen, receivers and backs rushing downfield, their no-huddle offense often leaves opponents gasping and disorganized. Teams are allowed 40 seconds to run a play; Oklahoma tries to snap the ball in half that time.

Given more than a month to prepare, Meyer said it's still hard to simulate what the Sooners do.

"You don't understand you have substitution limitations because of tempo, you have the fatigue factor and you have the chaos factor where you like to line up," he said.

Oklahoma has lost four straight BCS games, including two for the national title. Down here in Gator country, both teams got in early shots this week.

Sooners cornerback Dominique Franks went first, saying Tebow would be nothing more than the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12. The next day, Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes called Big 12 defenses "a joke."

Usually, teams try to avoid giving their opponents something to tack up on the bulletin board. This time, Meyer seemed more than fine with the barbs. His team was a four-point favorite, and he wanted to avoid any chance of complacency.

"If I had my druthers, I'd rather coach a very mean, angry, nasty, upset team," he said. "I have to get to that point."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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