Preview: Buckeyes vs. Gators

The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes meet the University of Florida Gators on Monday. Debbie Elliott gets a preview of the Bowl Championship Series from Bruce Feldman of the magazine ESPN.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

For college football fans, the wait is almost over. The title game of the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, is tomorrow in Phoenix. The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes meet the University of Florida Gators. Here to sort out how the teams match up is Bruce Feldman, senior writer for ESPN the magazine.

Hello, Bruce.

Mr. BRUCE FELDMAN (ESPN Magazine): Thanks for having me on.

ELLIOTT: Let's start with Ohio State. How often does a team start the season ranked number one and make it to this point, still ranked number one and playing for the national championship, trying to go wire to wire?

Mr. FELDMAN: You know, last year it happened, you know, when you had USC was, you know, such a powerhouse, but it really doesn't happen where you have a lot of wire to wire teams even going to the title game. But I think you had a marquee guy in Troy Smith, their quarterback. And the big question was their defense and, you know, they haven't, you know, it's been a bend but don't break defense and they've handled everything. And you know, here they are with a chance to close the deal.

ELLIOTT: We should make note that USC didn't win the title. They didn't quite wire to wire.

Mr. FELDMAN: No. They went wire to almost wire and, you know, you pretty much have to go back to Florida State, you know, about 10 years ago to find a school that really had this kind of run. But Jim Tressel, the head coach, has a great record in bowl games but, you know, bowl games are so different because they're almost like another season. Austin hasn't played a game in over 50 days and so let's see what happens once the live bullets and there's a lot of, you know, a lot of hitting going on and it's not a simulated game.

ELLIOTT: It seems we've heard so much about Ohio State, not just in the ramp up to this ball game, but throughout the year. The big game with Michigan, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith; it's almost as if the University of Florida has been relegated to the other team status.

Mr. FELDMAN: Yeah, I think there's something to that. I mean, you have to keep in mind that Ohio State played in two games that were billed as game of the century kind of games this season. Early in the year they played the defending national champs, Texas, and that was a huge, you know, Saturday night prime time game, and then there was this game against Michigan which, you know, my company ESPN was doing a countdown clock for about a month on it. And it was such a hyped game.

Whereas Florida, you know, they were winning ugly and they, you know, people didn't think they deserved to be there. And then everybody thought, well, it's got to be USC will be there. And then USC stumbles. And you know, Florida, it's a team without a huge identity, I think, right now. You have a coach who's only been there two years. You have a quarterback, Chris Leak, who everyone says doesn't fit the system. There's no great running back. I mean, it's really, it's hard to pin something on them. And that doesn't mean that they won't win.

ELLIOTT: So Florida fans must be pretty excited, having won the basketball national championship last season. To have this opportunity to bring home a football championship this year would be pretty big.

Mr. FELDMAN: Huge. It's never happened before. I mean, I think the closest gap there's ever been for an athletic department to win both was eight years. I mean, and to do it in the same year, you know, you're talking about pretty heady stuff for Florida.

ELLIOTT: So are you making any predications here, Bruce?

Mr. FELDMAN: Yeah, I'm staying with Ohio State. I think that, you know, Troy Smith, their quarterback, who's the Heisman guy, he is to me the best big game quarterback. He's geared toward this environment and I think that's going to be the difference there.

ELLIOTT: Now, before I let you go today, Bruce, there's another big story in college football this week that I have to talk to you about. My alma mater, the University of Alabama, spent a lot of money to hire Nick Saban away from the Miami Dolphins as our new head coach. It was an eight-year deal worth an estimated $32 million. I hope you're going to tell me that he's worth it.

Mr. FELDMAN: Who's worth that kind of money? I mean, nobody's worth that kind of money, but if you get Nick Saban back in college, he won a title at LSU - they had to throw out a ridiculous number and that got everybody's attention. I can tell you, you know, I was at a high school all-star game down here in Texas, kids are listening and they think Nick Saban's a great coach. These players, they want to play for him. Alabama's going to assemble a big money staff. And you're talking about, you now, a great history of a program that really hasn't been very great at all for a long time. And this is their answer. We're going to throw a record amount of money at a coach and let's see how he responds to it.

ELLIOTT: I hope it works. ESPN...

Mr. FELDMAN: I know you do.

ELLIOTT: ESPN senior writer Bruce Feldman, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Mr. FELDMAN: Thank you, Debbie.

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