As the University of Florida football team on Tuesday arrived at its Scottsdale Community College practice site, players stepped off the bus with wide smiles and confident struts. And no apologies.
The Gators, a somewhat controversial pick as Ohio State’s opponent in the Bowl Championship Series title game, believed their worthiness from the moment the BCS calculator spit them out No. 2 in the final BCS standings.
Southern California’s dismantling of Michigan — who many felt should have received a rematch with the Buckeyes — in Monday’s Rose Bowl seemed to serve as affirmation that Florida belongs, though coach Urban Meyer was diplomatic.
“USC looked awfully good,” Meyer said on Tuesday, after the Gators arrived in the Valley to prepare for Monday’s game in Glendale. “I think right now, college football has good teams, and those two (USC and Michigan) have played well, but that has no bearing on the University of Florida.”
After practice on Tuesday, Florida players spoke of preparing to play in the BCS championship game, not defending their participation in it — as they were often asked to do in the weeks after being ticketed for Glendale.
“This is a big achievement to play the No. 1 team for a title here, and we earned it,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said. “We paid attention to (the Rose Bowl), but the rankings don’t mean anything now. We have a job we have to do.”
Meyer’s mild comment on Tuesday directly contrasted his words during the lead-up to the release of the final BCS standings on Dec. 2. He said that a Michigan-OSU rematch — the Buckeyes won 42-39 in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 18 — would be unfair, adding that a playoff would be the best method of crowning a national champion.
Those quotes were labeled “inappropriate” by Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr, and Meyer was accused of campaigning for a spot in the title game.
The Gators (12-1 overall) finished with a BCS average of .944, ahead of Michigan’s .934. The schools had the same average computer rating (.940), but Florida was 38 points ahead in the Harris poll, 26 in the coaches’ rankings.
Florida finished No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, which does not factor in the BCS standings.
“Florida is an across-theboard No. 2, and I think that opinion reflects the majority of college football followers in this country,” Fiesta Bowl president John Junker said after the OSU-Florida pairing was announced.
The Wolverines (11-1 during the regular season), were relegated to a Rose Bowl matchup against USC. The Trojans won, 32-18, leaving Michigan much less of a leg to stand on to claim that it got a raw deal.
With the controversy apparently behind them, the Gators are now focusing on achieving the ultimate proof of their worthiness — a defeat of the Buckeyes in Monday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“There were claims that a lot of teams should have been here,” running back DeShawn Wynn said. “But we’re here, and we have the opportunity to play in the national championship game. We’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
University of Florida Founded: 1853 Location: Gainesville, Fla. Enrollment: 48,673 Nickname: Gators Coach: Urban Meyer (second season) Rankings: No. 2 (AP), No. 2 (USA Today coaches’), No. 2 (BCS) Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 SEC How they got here: The Gators have touted their schedule, which NCAA calculations state is the toughest in the nation based on past and cumulative opposition. Florida played 10 bowl teams. A onepoint win at Tennessee delivered an early-season statement. Winning two out of three games in a cutthroat October stretch of Louisiana State (win), Auburn (loss) and Georgia (win) put the Gators in position to win the SEC East. In the conference title game, a 38-28 triumph against Arkansas elevated Florida over Michigan into the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings.
Sept. 2 - Florida 34, Southern Miss 7
Sept. 9 - Florida 42, Cent. Florida 0
Sept. 16 - Florida 21, Tennessee 20
Sept. 23 - Florida 26, Kentucky 7
Sept. 30 - Florida 28, Alabama 13
Oct. 7 - Florida 23, LSU 10
Oct. 14 - Auburn 27, Florida 17
Oct. 28 - Florida 21, Georgia 14
Nov. 4 - Florida 25, Vanderbilt 19
Nov. 11 - Florida 17, South Carolina 16
Nov. 18 - Florida 62, W. Carolina 0
Nov. 25 - Florida 21, Florida State 14
Dec. 2 - Florida 38, Arkansas 28