Sunday, December 3

The Great Question of the next 24 hours: Florida or Michigan

Obviously, the question on the minds of every college football fan is - will Ohio State play against Michigan or Florida in the Fiesta Bowl? We'll be getting an anwswer in about 24 hours.

I believe it should be Florida, and here's why:

One of the (yes, very biased) announcers in the SEC championship game was talking about comparing schedules between UF and USC. Basically - compare the teams' loss, and then compare their wins in ranked order. USC lost so that is irrelevent, but what about UM/UF comparisons:

Michigan (11-1, Big Ten runner-up)
loss: #1 Ohio State
W1: #6 Wisconsin (11-1)
W2: #12 Notre Dame (10-2)
W3: Penn State (8-4)
W4: Minnesota (6-6)
W5: Iowa (6-6)
W6: Indiana (5-7)
W7: Central Michigan (9-4)
W8: Vanderbilt (4-8)
W9: Northwestern (4-8)
W10: Michigan State (4-8)
W11: Ball State (5-7)

Florida (12-1, SEC champion)
loss: #11 Auburn (10-2)
W1: #5 LSU (10-2)
W2: #8 Arkansas (10-3)
W3: #13 Tennessee (9-3)
W4: Georgia (8-4)
W5: Florida State (6-6)
W6: South Carolina (7-5)
W7: Kentucky (7-5)
W8: Alabama (6-6)
W9: Vanderbilt (4-8)
W10: Southern Miss (8-5)
W11: UCF (4-8)
W12: Western Carolina (joke)

Florida played one more game than Michigan, but against a non-div IA opponent. So perhaps considering them both 11-1 against div IA is more appropriate.

Obviously, Michigan's loss is a better loss than Florida's.

However, to be quite honest, going down that list you could say that each and every one of Florida's wins is more impressive.
* Wisconsin is 11-1, but they've played only one ranked opponent all season (Michigan). LSU is 10-2 despite facing 4 ranked teams.
* As Georgia Tech lost in the ACC Championship, that means they will likely fall out of the top 25 and Notre Dame will be 0-2 vs ranked opposition, while Arkansas defeated both Auburn and Tennessee.
* Penn State's a 4-loss team, 0-4 vs ranked teams by a combined 99-36. Tennessee not only has fewer losses, but they put a hurting on Cal who is currently #21 and won today.
* And then... Georgia or Minnesota? Florida State or Iowa? The disparities continue.

I think Michigan has actually gone the whole season without beating a team who has beaten a single ranked opponent, though UCLA's upset of USC may bring them into the top 25 (and thus Notre Dame would be 1-2 vs ranked). There is no question in my mind that UF deserves their first shot at beating Ohio State.

That's just the schedule argument. There's still the fact that Michigan already had a shot at Ohio State and lost. It may not be "fair" to Michigan to judge them on that, but then again it's hardly fair to Florida at all for Michigan to get two chances to beat Ohio State while they don't even get one.

The common wisdom is that while Florida played against the tougher schedule, Michigan is the better team as they have won their games more comfortably or with better "style points." But I'm not sure if that's really true. Statistically, Michigan is putting up 30.2 ppg while Florida averaged 28.9 ppg. That's very similar offensive production against what's regarded as the best defensive conference in the nation by far, as well as the best overall conference. Defensively, Florida gives up 14.6 ppg as does Michigan. So their average margins of victory - 15.6 and 14.3 - are close indeed. Then it goes back to the fact that Florida did this against more difficult opposition.

Lastly, there's also the fact that, if I want the Fiesta Bowl to be a good game, I want a team capable of beating Ohio State. On the surface, Michigan's three-point loss in Columbus makes it seem like that team is them. But let's look a little deeper at that game. Ohio State did everything Michigan could have asked for to pull the upset. They turned the ball over three times to Michigan's zero. Troy Smith's interception gave Michigan the ball on the OSU 25 which led to a Michigan field goal. Smith's first fumble gave UM the ball at the OSU 9 yard line to set up a TD, and his second killed a drive that had Ohio State in position for a field goal at least. If the teams rematch, I guarantee that Smith won't have three turnovers and that UM won't win the turnover battle by such a margin. Those turnovers gave Michigan a net of anywhere from +10 to +17 points, and they still lost. The game was all but over at halftime and Michigan caught Ohio State napping, but it wasn't enough. By the end of the third quarter it was still an 11 point game and when Michigan scored their final TD and 2-pt conversion to cut an 11 point deficit to 3, there were just over 2 minutes to go in the game. Ohio State was also penalized for more yards than Michigan. Their punter, one of the tops in the nation, had an abysmal (by his standards) 38 yard average. All this, and Michigan still lost. So I have to ask, what else could go right for the Wolverines in Tempe? I'm not sure that this Ohio State team will play a worse half than the second half they played in Columbus that Saturday, but it wasn't bad enough. And as they showed all first half and whenever they needed to in the second, Michigan's defense, good as it is overall, does not have the personnel to stop OSU's four-receiver packages. Smith shredded the defense to complete 70% of his passes, and when the defense was spread too thin each of their two RBs added a 50+ yard TD scamper.

Could Florida beat Ohio State? Truthfully I doubt they will. Ohio State is, and I really believe this, the best team in the nation. But other "best teams in the nation" have lost BCS championships. 2002 Miami lost to Ohio State. That OSU team, like UF this year, was criticized for winning too many close games. That battle-hardenedness proved useful in a double-OT game for the title, while that was basically Miami's first real test of the season. Florida is more battle-hardened team than Michigan, both in terms of the opposition they faced as well as having to pull out several close victories. Then 2005 USC lost to Texas. Despite USC having a Heisman-winning QB, Heisman-winning RB, and superior receiving corps, Texas had college football's ultimate weapon - the dual-threat QB. College defenses can't handle em. Florida has TWO dual-threat QBs - the more experienced, faster Leak and the battering ram changeup, Tebow. Henne, while a good QB, does not present the same type of defensive problem that Leak and Tebow do. Furthermore, Urban Meyer's offensive schemes are more difficult to defend against than the standard offense Michigan runs. On top of that, Florida has more big-play potential on offense and a better punting, return, and block team than Michigan. So they have the potential to simply play Ohio State close and win off a big play or two. Michigan's only chance would be to actually outplay Ohio State, as the big play potential completely favors the Buckeyes in that matchup.

If there is anything just and right about college football, and many would argue that there isn't, Florida should face Ohio State for the national championship.