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Ohio State v Florida

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/16/2006

We will soon be moving forward into the college football bowl season, but this is a good time to look backward. Backward at the shifts that take place each year from preseason prognostications and what actually transpires. Sports handicapping is about predicting what should happen and making adjustments along the way.

For instance, a year ago USC was the consensus No. 1 all season, but as the year unfolded the Trojans remained unbeaten despite a soft run defense at times. That run defense was then gouged in the national title game by Texas.

Here's a look back at my top two college football teams from an article I wrote in August, then we'll examine what cropped up during the season that was consistent and what was surprising. From August 2006 I wrote:

“2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will be in the running for the national title again. Remember that they finished 10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS last season, losing only to one-loss Penn State and unbeaten eventual national champion Texas (a 25-22 loss at home). The 2006 offense is loaded with 8 starters back. Senior QB Troy Smith ran for 611 yards and passed for 2,282 yards, with 16 TDs, 4 INTs. This offense averaged 32 points, 197 yards rushing and 227 passing.

Junior RB Antonio Pittman (1,331 yards, 5.5 ypc) provides balance, while speedy WR Ted Ginn is explosive. This is an offense that put up over 400 yards on Michigan and 617 against Notre Dame. The defense loses some of its best players, though, including linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter. September 9th is the rematch at Texas, and road games at Iowa and Michigan State are the only tough Big 10 road games.

1. Florida: While the Gators were expected to be strong offensively under first-year coach Urban Meyer, the defense was outstanding in 2005 while the offense suffered a ton of key injuries. Still, this team went 9-3 while learning the triple-option attack. The defense has six starters back to a group that allowed just 94 rush yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry. They return DE Joe Cohen, DT Marcus Thomas, DT Steven Harris and junior LB Brandon Slier.

The offense returns 6 starters, looks for better health and is going to be fascinating to watch. Senior QB Chris Leak (20 TDs, 6 INTs) has been starting as a freshman. He’s not an ideal triple-option QB, but is a fine all around quarterback. There is a lot of speed and depth at wideout with senior WR Dallas Baker, senior WR Jemalle Cornelius and senior WR Andre Caldwell. Senior RB DeShawn Wynn led the Gators in rushing and also caught 12 passes for 161 yards. Meyer has yet to lose in the Swamp (8-0) and this is the 100th year of Florida football. Road games at Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State will be their biggest challenges.â€쳌

First off, I'm not suggesting that Florida will beat Ohio State next month. That was written back in August. But let's examine some of the changes that have happened since then. With respects to Ohio State, it was obvious that Ohio State was loaded on offense with eight talented starters back, including eventual Heisman winning QB Troy Smith.

What was surprising is how good this young defense played, holding Texas to 7 points and allowing 10 ppg all season. Road games at Iowa and Michigan State turned out to be Buckeye blowouts as injuries and dissension ravaged those teams. Again, there was no way to predict those things back in August.

As for Florida, what struck me back in August about the Gators was not the triple-option offense but about how talented their defense had been in 2005 despite a ton of injuries. And with six starters back, the defense appeared to me to be the backbone of a potential title run in 2006. The 2006 Gators allow just 194 pass yards and 13.5 points per contest, which is why they are 16-8 under the total under Urban Meyer.

The offense was also loaded with speed and returning talent. As for those tough road games I mentioned, Florida won at Tennessee (21-20), won at Florida State (21-14) and lost at Auburn (27-17). As you can see, the Gators didn't dominate in those games, winning two close ones and losing one. And that's another aspect of football success: Getting the breaks when you need it! Both these teams had some help from Lady Luck, which you can't predict, and why they'll be playing for the whole ball of wax next month.

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