Legendary sportswriter Wendell Barnhouse recently left the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and is now a correspondent for Big 12 Sports.com. With 30 years experience of observing the college scene, his expertise is unmatched. He will be contributing to the Wiz this week as we prepare for Thursday's BCS title game at Dolphin Stadium.
Sunday provided another reason why Penn State's Joe Paterno kept his Rose Bowl locker room closed, why Ohio State's Jim Tressel prevented Terrelle Pryor from attending the Fiesta Bowl media day and why Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree was AWOI (Absent Without Interviews) after the Cotton Bowl.
College football players, especially the younger ones, can say the darndest things.
Oklahoma sophomore defensive back Dominique Franks, above, was one of six Sooners who spent 45 minutes answering questions Sunday during the ramp up for Thursday's BCS National Championship game. When he left the hotel meeting room, you could almost hear the copy machines whirring as Florida was manufacturing what's best known as "bulletin board material."
After a few minutes fielding questions about Florida's speed, the importance of sure tackling, the emergence of freshman linebacker Travis Lewis, Franks was asked about the Sooners' defensive ranking (63rd in total defense, 98th in pass defense).
"We've got the three best quarterbacks, the three best wide receivers, the three best tight ends in the country," he said, referring to finalists for the O'Brien, Biletnikoff and Mackey awards. "A lot of people don't understand that other conferences don't have to face what we face. To hear people say that we don't play defense ... if you look at the stats, you'd say we don't play defense."
Franks continued to edge away from the tree trunk and onto a limb.
So, the three best quarterbacks in the country play in the Big 12. A writer from a Florida newspaper, sensing a juicy front page story, asked if that makes Florida quarterback Tim Tebow the fourth-best QB in the country.
"Yep," Franks said, firmly grasping the chain saw.
"With us being in Florida and playing against Florida, everybody's going to think Tebow should have won the Heisman," Franks said. "But the right person [Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford] won the Heisman, and we're going to go out there and show everybody the reason why he won it."
(Insert revving chain saw sound effects as needed.)
Franks, who had four interceptions, also made note of a comment that is becoming an urban legend. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner supposedly made an off-camera remark to ESPN announcers that he was anxious to go up against a Big 12 defense. Tebow has denied making the remark.
"No, he said he wanted to face a Big 12 defense," Franks said. "It's been great listening to all the comments they've been making. On January 8, we're going to see. Everybody is saying our defense is suspect in the back end. Hopefully, he'll throw me the ball a couple of times, and I can get my hands on it."
That's probably an apt description of what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops would like to do to Franks' neck.
The Gators, as Franks alluded, haven't exactly been vanilla.
Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes after watching Oklahoma's offense on film: "They are a step slower. It will be different for them when they see the speed of our defense."
More Spikes: "I know they [Big 12 offenses] have been tearing it up out there, but this is going to be a defensive game. Defense wins championships."
Florida defensive back Joe Haden: "They haven't played against us. Nobody puts 60 points up on us."
Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables, sitting at the same raised platform that Franks had occupied, turned into an amateur firefighter Sunday morning.
"I don't know, maybe it's just a young guy who doesn't know any better," Venables said with a wry smile. "He doesn't watch enough tape. I really mean that. But I think he's going to bat for a lot of guys who he has a lot of respect for."
"Obviously, any time anybody doubts you if you have any competitive fire or competitive nature, you get fired up and excited for that. It gets you to perk up and sit up a little bit straighter in your chair. But still, being mad doesn't make you play better."
After his team suffered its first loss, Alabama coach Nick Saban said his team was the only one to go 12-0 that "plays in a real BCS conference." Did that infuriate Utah enough to produce Utes 31, Crimson Tide 17?
Like trying to determine a national champion with votes and hard drives, there's no definitive answer. After the fact, though, it's a reasonable assumption. Late Thursday night or early Friday morning in Dolphin Stadium, either Oklahoma or Florida team gets the final word.