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.
No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Florida match 12-1 records when they take the field at Dolphin Stadium for the BCS National Championship game. After an unprecedented week of pregame bluster, the issues of Big 12 Conference vs. Southeastern Conference and offense vs. defense will be resolved.
The Sooners are weary of hearing that their record-setting offense (five consecutive games scoring 60 or more, 702 points, 562 yards per game) has been made possible by inferior Big 12 defenses. And OU defenders are sick of hearing how their effort his season has been substandard.
"Numbers are for you guys," Oklahoma safety Nic Harris when asked about the Sooners' defensive rankings. "When we come out and score more points than Florida, you won't worry about those numbers anymore. I'm pretty sure we're coming out with the win. All the critics will be silenced. All the stats will go down the drain."
Florida's players have been chippy as well. The Gators believe their superior speed will leave the Sooners in the starting blocks.
"I really feel like they haven't faced a defense like ours, and Big 12 defenses are a joke," said linebacker Brandon Spikes, the playmaker on Florida's defense. "It's always like a bunch of basketball scores when I watch SportsCenter."
Florida coach Urban Meyer, who put together a 10-foot wall of press clippings to inspire his players before they trounced top-ranked Ohio State in the 2007 BCS title game, made it clear that he thinks quarterback Tim Tebow — aka The Nation's Fourth-Best Quarterback — was robbed of a second Heisman Trophy — which, conveniently for Meyer's purposes, went to Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.
Heisman winners haven't fared well in bowl games. Two years ago, the Gators' defense undressed Ohio State and Heisman quarterback Troy Smith. Last year, Tebow struggled in Florida's Outback Bowl loss to Michigan. The pressure to win is on Bradford while Tebow can play with the fire of someone who has been shortchanged.
The Sooners are unlikely to extend their streak of scoring 60 or more to six games. But OU would be happy with a 6-3 triumph. (That sound you hear is Florida and SEC fans laughing about the possibility of a 6-3 score in a Big 12 game being anything but a first-quarter update.)
SEC fans are convinced the Xbox offensive numbers posted by Big 12 teams are a result of passive defense. SEC supporters claim that real defense is played in their conference. Big 12 backers can flip the argument and say that SEC defenses have better statistics because the offenses in the SEC are fundamentally challenged by the concept of the completed pass.
Here are two nuggets regarding the Big 12-SEC and offense-defense argument:
* During the regular season Big 12 defenses (377.2) allowed 76 more yards per game than the SEC (301.2) and Big 12 offenses (493) averaged 131.7 more yards per game than the SEC (361.3).
Bottom line: The differential is about 60 yards per game in each conference. There's just more offensive yardage in the Big 12.
* So far during bowl season, SEC teams have allowed 45.1 more yards per game than the SEC defensive average while Big 12 bowl teams have allowed 22 yards per game more per game than the Big 12 defensive average.
Bottom line: SEC teams haven't been throwing shutouts during bowl season.
"People can sit and debate about who’s better defensively, who’s better offensively," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "It comes down to execution, it comes down to tackling, it comes down to getting off the field or converting on third down. We’re concerned more than anything else about how we match up and how we play against Florida.”
Scores, statistics, numbers, comparisons ... the bottom line for Oklahoma vs. Florida is that it's the Sooners against the Gators. Factors like turnovers, special teams mistakes, an ill-timed penalty will have a bigger impact than the Big 12 vs. the SEC. It's not a conference all-star game.
"It's a national championship game between Oklahoma and Florida," Oklahoma wide receiver Manuel Johnson said. "We just happen to be from the Big 12 and Florida is from the SEC. It's No. 1 vs. No. 2. That's all it is."