Dec. 8, 2008

By Adam Caparell

Controversy, surprise and intrigue have been staples of the BCS during its 11 year run, but Sunday’s release of the final BCS standings – and subsequent bowl pairings – featured little in the way of any of the series’ usual shenanigans.

It all went according to plan, or, more accurately, to prediction. The winners of Saturday’s Big 12 and SEC championship games were widely expected to meet for the BCS title and that’s what we got. New BCS No. 1 Oklahoma will meet No. 2 Florida Jan. 8 at the Orange Bowl as both teams look to win their second BCS.

So why did the two coaches who yet again guided their offensive juggernauts to college football’s ultimate game feel the need to go on the defensive?

This being college football, criticism lurks around every corner and while coaches usually do their best to let the sniping slide, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops felt the need to speak up when they easily could have let it be.

For Meyer, it had everything to do with his vaunted spread offense. Oftentimes teams that run the spread are labeled finesse teams.  To run the offense that Meyer runs to perfection you need speed and superior athletes and teams with speed and superior athletes have a tendency to be called soft. Convention says hit them in the mouth and they’ll lie down and call it a day.

Meyer doesn’t have that kind of team.

“I hope that when people start getting ready to watch our game that (our offense) is from the spread formation, but the physical element is there,” Meyer said.

The perception that the SEC Championship game was a matchup between the brute strength, blue collar approach of Alabama and the speed-reliant, gimmicky offense of Florida clearly irked Meyer and he’s looking to win over any remaining disbelievers.

And there are many. Perceptions are hard to change and thanks in large part to Steve Spurrier’s Fun & Gun days at The Swamp, Florida hasn’t always been considered one of the tougher teams in the SEC, let alone the country. But the Gators certainly disproved that theory two years ago when grit was a big reason why Florida won its first BCS national championship. Grit just may have been the biggest reason why the Gators orchestrated their comeback victory over the Crimson Tide

“To comeback in the fourth quarter wasn’t a surprise because we take great pride in our toughness,” Meyer said. “And it certainly showed in the last 10 minutes of that fourth quarter. I had great confidence that our team was tough because that Alabama team was a very tough team.”

Beating a team that was considered to be the toughest and most physical team Florida faced all season should put any question about the Gators makeup to bed. For the first time since September, Florida had its back against the wall and they responded like champions. Led by arguably the toughest quarterback in the country in Tim Tebow, Florida won a game in which it trailed in the second half for the first time in six tries with Superman under center.

Now Stoops and the Sooners have to prepare for the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and that tougher than advertised offense in a game that many – mainly Texas fans – believe they don’t belong.

The circumstances surrounding Oklahoma’s ascension into the Big 12 Championship game is well known by now, but Stoops and the Sooners continue to have to answer questions of whether they deserved to be crowned Big 12 South champs and put in the position to win another national title.

“The bottom line is we all had a system that we all agreed upon before the season started that this would be the system,” Stoop said. “As it is, we end up beating five ranked teams, we end up beating three ranked teams in the last three games of the year and that decided it.”

Stoops won’t make any apologies for the position his team is in right now. Perception and computer rankings turned out to be the difference between Oklahoma and Texas, allowing the Sooners to jump the Longhorns even though Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field back in October. Style points clearly swayed the voters down the stretch to throw their support behind Oklahoma and no one racked them up better than the Sooners who became the highest scoring team in the NCAA history, averaging 54 points in 13 games.

The computers also loved Oklahoma, rewarding them for a schedule that saw the Sooners beat five teams ranked in the final BCS standings this season.

“Those are the facts,” Stoops said. “And head-to-head seems to matter in one case, but they don’t want it to matter the other way.”

Oklahoma may have lost by 10 points to Texas, but they did beat Texas Tech by 44 and it bothers Stoops to no end when people have selective memory.

Stoops is a defensive coach and he’s been playing great defense over the past week defending his team’s BCS worth. He’s going to need to put all the energy he’s used behind that defense toward formulating an even better one for the Gators.

Because if the Sooners don’t put up a big performance against Florida the cries of a Texas snub will be one of the lasting memories of the 2008 season that will have featured yet another BCS controversy. Sunday’s final release certainly didn’t create a big storm as nationwide predictions panned out perfectly, but chaos, confusions and frustration are never far away with the current system in place.

But as Stoops has said – for better or for worse – that’s what everyone has agreed upon and works under. Any whining will grow old very fast and, compared to years past, this year’s BCS debate is relatively tame by BCS standards.