Assessing the mythical National Championship
Today: Game time. Hoo!
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Believe, believe in me, believe
In the resolute urgency of now
And if you believe there's not a chance tonight
Tonight, so bright
We'll crucify the insincere tonight
We'll make things right, we'll feel it all tonight
We'll find a way to offer up the night tonight
The indescribable moments of your life tonight
The impossible is possible tonight
SMQ waits again, surely in vain, for producers to select this perfect and not-horrible piece of popular mid-nineties rock as a crescendoing intro to championship contests, if only so he can immediately sneer at their bougeosie besmirching of the Smashing Pumpkins' righteous and pretentious name.
But oh, the kickoff draws near; the fans, they're excited.
On the Ohio State end, Buckeye Sports has your Ohio State Newsstand and Buckeye Commentary busts out color-appropriate charts (mmm...charts). Buckeye Gamewatch maps viewing locations for community-minded, preferably mildly-tempered OSU fans virtually anywhere in America. Buckeye Banter interviews Jim Tressel. Eleven Warriors rehashes the mental championship roller coaster and offers a prediction. Seattle OSU fan Death Cab for Woody revels in foolish bulletin board material from Florida `backer Brandon Siler and rages against notions of the Gators' superior "team speed" (the kind SMQ has heard referenced only as fodder for debunking). Men of Scarlet and Gray counts down the endless, nearly two month wait with an open thread. Registration required, but Bucknuts has posted what it claims is a 9,769-word edition of "The Buckeye Grove."
From the Florida perspective, Every Day Should Be Saturday apparently crashed beneath the raging flood tides of mythical championship hysteria before recovering to say absurdly nice things. Also: podcast and aesthetically-pleasing position breakdowns. Swamp Ball recaps the Gators' top five plays of the season; We Are the Boys calls the Big Ten "inferior." Orange and Blue Hue bypasses the vitriol and boils it down to the basics. Ryan Ferguson at AOL's Fanhouse declares "team of destiny," "Laurinitis annoying". Fire Ron Zook too classy to revel or anything, but still supports the "recent" hire of Urban Meyer. Prescience.
He'll always have the good times.
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• If it doesn't turn the ball over. Ohio State has survived turnovers all season (10 points allowed all year after the offense has given the ball away, all against Michigan) but Florida cannot.
• If Good Leak overcomes the incorrigible Bad Leak. See more on Leak below. And not only "Good Leak," but quite possibly "Great Leak" of the rarely (well, never) seen variety who lives up to outsized blue chip hype out of high school, rather than the guy who throws for 245 and a touchdown and just doesn't make a huge mistake. Corollary is some kind of steady ground success outside of Tebow Smash, be it DeShawn Wynn, Percy Harvin, double sprint option reverse insanity or whatever.
You must summon the good inside you...the good that's always existed...remember it! Dammit, remember!
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• If Tebow Smash! Again, the more first downs the Gators make, the fewer plays Troy Smith gets to run. Tebow is the blunt clock-control instrument and the key to avoiding potentially fatal red zone stagnation.
• If Troy Smith gets planted. This is possible - Texas sacked Smith three times and Michigan got close all afternoon - though note as a corollary that Antonio Pittman will probably also have to be planted to actually accomplish this.
• If a block, fake, return or other huge special teams momentum-changer works in its favor. The Gators take more risks in this area than Ohio State and are therefore more likely to reap some rewards. This is not so much trick play stuff as it is good old-fashioned punt-rushing and super-fast return guys.
Ohio State Wins...
• If Troy Smith is Troy Smith. By which SMQ means "Unflappable Michigan-killing Troy Smith" and not "Handcuffed vs. Illinois Troy Smith."
• If it finishes drives. The Buckeyes are going to move the ball. Whether that movement is converted into three points or six - or none - more often could be the difference in postgame crystal-hoistin'.
• If Chris Leak gets planted. See above and below. Quinn Pitcock and Vernon Gholston are very excited to pressure Chris Leak into some patented Chris Leak errors.
• If it doesn't hand over momentum. This may be a herd-thinking fallacy, but OSU has a much better chance to line up and just run what it runs successfully without a lot of super surprising frills than Florida does. If they block and tackle and Smith makes the right reads without gifting a fumble or other costly big play, the Buckeyes win.
SMQ's examined these teams, pulled and prodded at the numbers, hashed out the trends, hypothetically matched up the talent, fact-checked alignments and perceptions on YouTube, meticulously bred and then crossbred baby gator sperm with nascent buckeye seeds, and he's arrived at one significant conclusion: Troy Smith is better than Chris Leak.
In every other instance, prospective matchups either yield no distinct advantage or perceived advantages cancel out: both teams have freaky fast receiver/multi-purpose types (OSU:Ginn Jr.l UF: Harvin) representing a deep corps of polished vets and reliable young talent (OUS: Gonzalez, Hall, Robiskie; UF: Baker, Caldwell, Cornelius), Ohio State may be slightly better on the offensive line and slightly stronger on the defensive line, but Florida's D-line is moderately quicker and backed by a better overall set of linebackers and, most importantly, Reggie F-in' Nelson bustin' heads in a fit of grievous rage. Ohio State brings the more consistent running game, but Florida might be more likely to bust a misdirection for big yards and is eerily consistent on third and short via the Tebow Effect (and you are a fool if you deny unprecedented deception involving the lefty manchild isn't in the works, and being considered with care by the Buckeyes. SMQ called for Leak and Tebow in the same backfield in October and tonight is the night to empty the bag). Athletically, per the rule at this level, it's a wash.
That leaves Smith and Leak, both talented, experienced seniors in their final game. But consider Leak, a four-year starter who established a career-high in interceptions in his penultimate season, who was sacked nine times and intercepted six more times against Florida's five most grueling SEC opponents, who fumbled away a shot at an undefeated season at Auburn and who threw a dreadfl interception that put his team behind in the third quarter of the SEC Championship. Chris Leak, who seems like an outstanding person but who, frankly, has needed bailing out at various times, who will look momentarily brilliant but whose own fans concede the inevitability of at least one astonishing gaffe, and merely hope the defense is good enough to allow him an opportunity to overcome it, who has never transcended his role in the toughest situations. Tonight could change every bit of that.
Then consider Smith, who braved an onslaught of Michigan rushers largely with only his front five, allowing OSU to spread the field with its skill talent because of its quarterback's ability to escape pressure with nimble feet and mind, zip quick throws when necessary and other times buy precious seconds to find open receivers on the run, but always remaining a composed, big play threat - his senior season, by far, was his best, and never moreso than against Ohio State's toughest opposition: Texas and Michigan were ruthlessly carved for 585 yards and six touchdowns, to one interception.
One game, one bet: who's it gonna be?
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Now: Smith is extremely mortal, and Leak will come up with positive results. Perhaps a lot of them. Florida has too much skill and too many good things going for its defense to come out flat and not be in the game, and that's true for its quarterback, who's not 12-1 as a starter by being Drew Weatherford. But only one of these quarterbacks has been a true benefactor, put the team on his arm and confidence against the best and carried it to its biggest wins via a series of near-flawless perfomances, while the other has been along seemingly as just another, hopefully not too-injurious contributor asked to do his fair share on the ride. If Leak delivers a career performance tonight - and he may have to - its ultimate success will still depend on his opponent's exhibition, and that doesn't cut the other way.
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Ohio State 30, Florida 21
All hail groomed blandness.
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