But, a funny thing happened on the way to center stage.
The Ohio State University band nicely dotted the "I". Once the whistle blew, it was mighty Florida who dotted the eyes, busted teeth, and turned an undefeated dream season into a horrifying nightmare.
For the past month, we were inundated with the sound bites. The Buckeyes are the complete team. Ohio State is destined for greatness. Another title for Tressel. Does Florida belong in this game? Can the Gators keep from getting blown out?
Talk about Ohio State centered around what they were going to accomplish. Any talk about Florida ended with a question mark.
It's eerily reminiscent of 2002- when big bad Miami was the favorite and Ohio State was questioned. The disrespected Buckeyes beat the Hurricanes 31-24 and won the national championship.
This time Ohio State bought the media hype.
The Ohio State players repeatedly talked about their abilities, while praising the Gators for their skills. If only they had actually believed that Florida had an improving offensive line, a defensive front that is as good as any in the land, and superior speed. If only they had believed.
"Like I said, we all just felt like we were disrespected," Crum said. "They were big bad Ohio State and we were the little Florida Gators. They were faster than us, they were bigger than us, and they were going to kill the little Gators. It was like we hadn't played anybody all year long. Look at who we played? We played a tough schedule and we beat very good teams. The game is won out there on the field and we came out here to show everybody that we belonged and we were here to win a championship."
Ginn Jr. ignited the crowd with a spectacular 93 yard return and amassed more yardage than the entire Ohio State offense did on 37 plays. In some games stats don't tell the whole story. In this one- it did. Florida took a right to the chin, smiled, and like a champion prize fighter unloaded- again and again.
Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith wanted no part of a fiery Gators defensive front that schooled Ohio State tackles Alex Boone and Kirk Barton. Derrick Harvey (three sacks) and Jarvis Moss (two sacks) averaged 5.0 sacks per game to a team that had given only 13 total on the season.
In fact, Smith more closely resembled a Jeff Bowden pupil- dazed and confused.
Early in the game as I watched from just beyond the Florida end zone, Smith pointed and nodded at Florida free safety Reggie Nelson. "The Eraser" nodded back while saying something that seemingly challenged Smith.
Nelson made only one tackle on the evening, because the Buckeyes avoided him like the plague. Despite trailing in double digits, Smith never threw the ball near Nelson. He seemed to be the one player that was respected.
Smith's longest pass went for just 13 yards.
I was fortunate enough to have some wonderful discussions on the game with several writers from Ohio. A few had honest assessments about the game and felt that both teams were equal in talent, etc. Some others simply did not. They felt as though this was an Ohio State mismatch. That's fine.
However, the most bizarre statement came from a writer who told me days before the game that "Florida hasn't seen the speed they'll see in Ohio State". Say what? Please step away from the crack pipe, sir.
Perhaps he beamed down to inhabit this stadium that looks like "The Mothership"?
"They were a step slow," the senior linebacker said. "They might have been three or four steps slow on some plays. But, that's how we play football in the SEC- speed. It's all speed. It's great to be big and strong and all that, it really is, but speed is the name of the game where we come from."
"They really struggled with our speed," defensive end Jarvis Moss said. "It was frustrating them and they knew there was nothing they could do about it. You could see it in their eyes. We saw some things on tape that motivated us and the coaches really brought it all together. We play fast. That's SEC football."
Chew on these stats...
- 1 for 9 on third down
- 82 yards of total offense- some 318 yards below average
- Five sacks for 53 yards
- Only 19:12 possession, some 21 minutes ewer than Florida
- Five of 13 possessions resulted in three and outs. Yet another fumbled on second down.
- 35 yards passing
- Billy Latsko (2-17) had a better day receiving than any OSU receiver. Had they thrown to Latsko once more he would have best their combined team total.
- OSU shut out in the second half of play
- Quarterback Chris Leak now has an SEC East title, SEC Championship title, and National Championship title.
- The return of Chris Hetland. Two for two that were right on target.
- Jemalle Cornelius with 5 for 50 yards.
- Harvin and Ingram both had tremendous evenings. Both should be first team All-SEC at SEC Media Days.
- Tim Tebow will be talked about plenty as well. Another superb evening for a freshman on the big stage.
- Florida defense limiting OSU run game to 2.0 yards per carry
- A Florida team that dominated for ALL FOUR QUARTERS at just the right time.
Avery Atkins- He found himself in a place where most 18 year olds are unprepared for. Meyer and company tried to put a plan for Atkins and his family together. Unfortunately, the volatile situation was allowed to continue and he left school. However, realizing that his best bet will be found in a family environment, he's back and hopes to get his path in order.
Injuries to key personnel- When your interior offensive line (Jim Tartt, Drew Miller, and Steve Rissler) are injured with reserves who are not ready for action it's a huge accomplishment. And what can be said about the determination of Ray McDonald. He has battled torn ACL's and the ulnar ligament for his love of the game. High ankle sprains were as common as a trip to endzone against Ohio State.
The Marcus Thomas fiasco- Meyer gave the defensive tackle an opportunity to get his life in order through structured goals and Thomas failed to comply. This wasn't just about football. This was life. I would imagine that his decision cost him millions of dollars.
The passing of Mary Lakes- Any of us who have lost a parent knows what about emotional struggle. Reggie Nelson's mother passed just days before the biggest game of his life. Meyer, the staff, and leaders of this team surrounded Nelson with love and companionship- providing exactly what he needed during this trying time. How many coaches would go that far?
I'm not saying that other coaches don't put out fires too. But, Meyer put his out and save a couple, his players never lost their confidence in him. That continued confidence led the Gators through the toughest schedule in college football to their second national championship.
Meyer improved Bowling Green in their second year. He ran Utah undefeated in their second year. And now, he won a national championship in year two at Florida with an offense that nobody, but Florida believed in and a program where emotional bonds are so tight- that other have criticized.
While so many of those fans who took shots wonder who their next coach or assistant coaches may be- We'll keep Urban Meyer.