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Archive for Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Voters defend Gator jump

Poll result sets up Florida-Ohio State matchup in national title game

December 5, 2006

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Avoid a rematch. Stronger schedule. Conference champion.

Those were the main reasons cited Monday by many poll voters for jumping Florida over Michigan on their final ballots, setting up a Gators-Buckeyes matchup in the BCS national title game Jan. 8.

"If you beat a team one time, why do they get the national championship if they win the second time?" said Earle Bruce, the former Ohio State coach who votes in the Harris Interactive poll and moved Florida ahead of Michigan. "I mean, they've already played one time and lost."

The Gators (12-1), who beat Arkansas to win the Southeastern Conference title Saturday, moved from fourth to second in the final BCS standings Sunday. The Wolverines (11-1), who lost to the Buckeyes, 42-39, on Nov. 18, remained third, while USC dropped to fifth from second after losing to UCLA.

"At the end of the day, Florida won its conference championship. Michigan did not," said Harris poll voter Ray Melick of The Birmingham News. "Because there's not a playoff, I think a conference champion ought to carry more weight than a conference runner-up at the BCS conference level."

Strength of schedule carried weight with voters, too.

It was such a big deal for Jim Walden, a former Washington State head coach, that he picked Florida No. 1 in the Harris poll, calling Florida's schedule "murderous."

"In my heart of hearts, I believe that neither Ohio State or Michigan could get through Florida's schedule with only one loss."

Tom Luicci, a Harris voter who bumped Florida up to second, said he made his assessment based on Florida's body of work - not one game.

"Michigan has quality wins over Wisconsin, which played no one, and Notre Dame, which won the Commander's-in-Chief trophy (a reference to wins over the service academies), which I don't consider a major coup," Luicci said.

As for Florida, Luicci noted its weak nonconference schedule "but that doesn't matter when you play every good team in the SEC and have quality road wins, too."

Florida played 10 bowl teams and beat nine, including road wins against Tennessee and Florida State, neutral-site wins against Georgia and Arkansas and home victories against LSU and Alabama. The Gators' lone loss? At Auburn, 27-17.

"Michigan had its shot," said Harris voter Joe Biddle of The Tennessean. "If you replayed that game, it would be nothing more than a Big Ten championship - and I don't think you get mulligans in college football.

"If there's a viable alternative, I stay away from a rematch, and I think Florida gives them a viable alternative."

Jerry Palm, an independent BCS analyst, estimates that 40 of the 113 voters in the Harris poll and 25 of the 62 in the USA Today coaches' poll moved the Gators past the Wolverines. The teams were tied in the computer ratings, the third component of the BCS standings.

The Associated Press media poll is not used in the BCS rankings, but 25 of the 65 voters moved Florida ahead of Michigan.

Illinois coach Ron Zook, who used to coach Florida, was among the voters in the coaches' poll who elevated the Gators. He was also the only Big Ten coach to vote Florida ahead of Michigan.

"Believe me, it's no slight to Michigan at all," Zook said. "I thought you were supposed to vote the way you feel. One vote wasn't going to make the difference. A bunch of people turned and flipped and voted Florida ahead of Michigan. For me, it was the fact that they played a 13th game."

That game, for the conference title, was one that Michigan didn't have to play. And because it was played two weeks after Michigan's season-ending loss, it meant a big Gators win was more fresh in voters' minds.

AP poll voter Michael Vega of The Boston Globe said he wasn't against a rematch but found it hard to justify one this time.

"I had to reconcile a fundamental problem with giving Michigan a chance to win the national championship when it didn't even win a conference championship," he said.

AP voter Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News said a rematch was appealing, but Florida deserves a title shot based on strength of schedule.

"Beating Arkansas, a 10-win team on a neutral field in December gave Florida that extra push," said Wilner.

And then there were those who stuck with Michigan.

"I kept Michigan second even after they lost to Ohio State, and felt nothing has changed for me since that loss for Florida to jump over them," said coaches' poll voter Brian Kelly, the former Central Michigan coach who accepted Cincinnati's job Sunday.

David Glazier, Detroit Lions senior vice president who votes in the Harris poll, said he had problems with the "politicking that people in the media did, trying to steer people away from a rematch.

He also had the novel idea of voting for the better team.

"Did I want to see a rematch? No," he said. "But my job was to vote for the top 25 teams, not who should play who, and after watching as much college football as anybody, I believed Michigan was the second-best team."

The last rematch in the national title games was in 1996, when Florida beat Florida State for the national title after losing to the Seminoles in the final game of the regular season.

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, who coached the Gators to the '96 national championship, moved Florida past Michigan in the coaches' poll.

His reasoning?

"Heck, I'm a Gator," he said. "I went there. So I had a lot of reason to vote for them right there. It just appeared they're 12-1, the other team is 11-1, I guess that's about it."

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