- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

GLENDALE, Ariz. — After brief stops in Troy and Austin, perhaps college football’s capital is back where it belongs: in the heart of SEC country. Let’s face it, the folks in Dixie have long held the prize for passion. Now the nation’s premier conference holds the crystal.

Florida’s humiliation of Ohio State in Monday night’s BCS title game brings the SEC’s record in national championship games to 4-0 over the past 11 years. Even more impressively, every one of those SEC teams — Florida (1997 Sugar Bowl), Tennessee (1999 Fiesta Bowl), LSU (2004 Sugar Bowl) and Florida again (Monday) — entered the season’s defining game as an underdog.

Everyone should know better by now.

Florida’s offensive playmakers might not have been appreciably quicker than their skill-position Buckeyes brethren; Percy Harvin against Ted Ginn Jr., for instance, was a virtual athletic wash. Of course, Harvin did win the intellectual battle by default, given that Ginn crippled himself celebrating the game’s opening score.

Across the rosters, however, Florida’s speed advantage — particularly along the defensive lines — was an obvious and game-altering factor.

“That might have been the slowest defensive line we faced all season,” Harvin said. “We could get the edge at will, and that doesn’t happen in the SEC.”

And if the Gators enjoyed a slight edge in the speed category on offense, they reveled in a massive, Big Ten-mocking, advantage on defense.

Greenbelt standout Derrick Harvey (Eleanor Roosevelt High School) led a Florida defensive effort that resulted in six sacks and numerous other hurries of Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.

“They just couldn’t match our speed, and we knew that coming in,” said Harvey, a redshirt sophomore who collected the game’s defensive MVP award after recording three sacks and recovering a fumble. “Guys were running free at Smith all night.”

Smith, who finished the game a woeful 4-for-14 passing for a career-worst 35 yards and one interception, was only fulfilling his destiny by continuing the almost unbroken Heisman line of title game failures — a tradition started by Gino Torretta and carried forth in recent years by Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, Oklahoma quarterback Jason White and USC running back Reggie Bush.

To his credit, Smith turned the other cheek after a performance that secured the Buckeyes eternal ignominy as one of the most impotent offenses (82 total yards) in BCS title game history.

“I have to say it was a lack of execution on my part as a quarterback simply because I am the one guy out there who can pretty much control everything,” Smith said. “Florida did do some great things defensively but nothing that we couldn’t have handled. I have to take all the blame in the world for that.”

Smith’s sentiments, though nobly intended, lack validity. Complete slaughters are rarely solo shows.

Nope, Florida simply was better across the board than Ohio State, from the trenches to the coaches’ box.

“I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but I can’t lie. That wasn’t one of the five best teams we’ve played this season,” Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said. “Being from the SEC, we expected more. I mean, that team was just flat sorry.”

Though it’s only slight consolation, Ohio State wasn’t alone in its postseason ineptitude. The Midwest’s three highest profile programs — Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame — all suffered BCS annihilation. College football’s heartland triumvirate lost their bowl games by a total of 68 points.

What did all three losses have in common?

All three came against speed teams in Florida, USC and LSU, respectively.

“Speed kills, baby,” Florida senior Earl Everett said. “Speed kills.”

Outside the old South, only two programs (USC and Texas) seem to figured out the rather obvious formula pioneered by Jimmy Johnson and Bobby Bowden more than two decades ago. And given the upcoming recruiting classes for those two programs, as well as for Tennessee, LSU and Florida, the fleet face of college football isn’t going to change anytime soon.

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