Friday, August 7, 2009
Gators have bite in fact or fiction
By Mark Schlabach ESPN.com
We interrupt our college football fantasy world for this dose of reality: Even in make-believe, the Gators would win.
If the 2009 college football season were played out under our four newly relegated leagues -- the Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne, John McKay and Bud Wilkinson conferences -- Florida would be the last team standing.
And in our fantasy world, the Gators would have more than earned a national championship.
The reality of our fantasy? Championship hugs for Florida's Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow.
Florida, which will be aiming for its third BCS national championship in four seasons when the real games begin in September, still would be the best team in the Bear Bryant Conference, which is arguably the deepest among our four make-believe leagues.
Led by quarterback Tim Tebow and 11 returning starters on defense, Florida probably wouldn't finish the regular season with an unblemished record. Under our rules, the Gators would be required to play a round-robin schedule with nine other divisional opponents, plus two of its three out-of-conference games against Gordon Gekko Subdivision teams. And they'd be required to play six road games, after spending much of the past two decades in the Sunshine State.
Even with the best collection of talent and speed in the country, Florida's odds of running the table would be slim.
Along with games against current SEC foes Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, the Gators would face current ACC teams Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami. Surely, Florida would slip somewhere along the way.
But just as in reality, Florida would be more than battle-tested for the Gekko Subdivision playoffs, which would determine college football's national champion.
With the Knute Rockne Conference winner awaiting Florida in the national semifinals, the Gators would meet an SEC school's best friend: a Big Ten opponent.
Daryll Clark and Penn State would rule the 2009 Knute Rockne Conference.
Penn State, led by quarterback Daryll Clark and tailback Evan Royster, would win the rough-and-rugged Rockne Conference. The Nittany Lions wouldn't claim the division title until the final weekend of the regular season, and only after Michigan upset Ohio State -- I told you it was make-believe -- to break a first-place tie between the current Big Ten schools.
The Nittany Lions would keep it close against Florida at the half, until the Gators would pull away with their superior speed. Afterward, Penn State coach Joe Paterno would call Tebow the second-greatest player he's ever faced. Of course, Jim Thorpe was the still best.
Unlike the Rockne Conference, college football's newly designed left-coast league would feature far less competition. USC would win the John McKay Conference with three weeks left to play in the regular season. After beating Boise State to claim the conference title, Trojans coach Pete Carroll would tell reporters, "Hey, the Pac-10 was tougher. At least we had to play Stanford."
The only other suspense from the John McKay Conference: UCLA would score at BYU.
Predictably, the Bud Wilkinson Conference would end in a three-way tie and would be settled by the new Mack Brown rule. LSU, Oklahoma and Texas would be tied for first with two conference losses each. LSU would beat Oklahoma (just like Les Miles did when he coached at Oklahoma State). Texas would beat LSU. Oklahoma would beat Texas.
But because of LSU's inexplicable late-season loss at last-place Texas A&M, where it was penalized for a 12th man on the field, the Tigers would be tossed aside as the lowest-ranked team among the trio. Oklahoma would win the Bud Wilkinson Conference based on head-to-head play -- a novel idea -- and would represent the Bud in the national playoffs.
The Sooners' semifinal game against USC wouldn't be pretty; probably something like a 55-19 score.
At least the Sooners would know they'd be back to play in the Gekko Subdivision the next season. College football's top 40 teams would say goodbye to Auburn, Boston College, Texas A&M and UCLA. Those last-place teams, along with at-large underachiever Kansas, would fall to the Tom Joad Subdivision in 2010.
Five Tom Joad teams -- Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and TCU -- would replace them in the upper subdivision.
Once the dust settled, Florida and USC would meet in the national championship game at Jerry World in Arlington, Texas. Tebow would outplay Trojans starter Aaron Corp, and the Gators would be crowned national champions again.
Afterward, Gators coach Urban Meyer would announce he's leaving for Notre Dame.
I told you it was fantasy.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.