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National Championship Questions

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Not lost on regular followers of The Cup is that fact that the Southeastern Conference is likely to house the national champion for the third year in a row after Florida plays Oklahoma tonight in Miami or the fact that Southeastern Conference teams are undefeated in the BCS National Championship Game. Often lost in the luster of the SEC's brilliance on the biggest stage of all is the Big 12's record in this game - though our readers can likely recall it as easy as I can. Underdogs Oklahoma and Texas claimed victories in 2000 and 2005, favorite Oklahoma failed against LSU in 2003, and heavy underdogs Nebraska and Oklahoma fell even short of low expectations in 2001 and 2004. Claiming five appearances in the first ten games, the Big 12 has avoided the reputation of being a group of title game disappointments exclusively because of the superpower of Vince Young and the futility of Ohio State.

While the past is prologue, though, this game takes place in shiny, new 2009. Lingering questions about these particular editions of these particular teams exist.

Is Chris Brown enough to keep this offense two-dimensional?
Demarco Murray, Oklahoma's All-Big 12 running back, is out of the game, leaving the Sooners to rely on Murray's backup, Chris Brown. Of course, Brown, the 210-pound junior, pulled down 1110 yards this season running behind the kind of girth one might expect from Oklahoma's offensive line. But, in the Sooners' biggest game against the Texas Longhorns, Brown touched the ball 7 times. Brown does not have credibility in the high-pressure situations. Nevertheless, with three Conference First Teamers rumbling in front of him, Oklahoma will force Florida to respect the ground.

Is SEC speed going to folks' heads?
If someone writes a paragraph about the National Championship Game, the speed of the Southeastern Conference might be referenced more than any other person or concept associated with this contest. Can Oklahoma match Florida's speed? The Gators are, no doubt, fast with, reportedly, five players on the team clocking sub-4.2 times in the forty. Maddeningly fragile Percy Harvin is one of them and will be about 90% healthy tonight. And besides, Florida has outstanding speed in the secondary that promises to frustrate Sam Bradford's oft-hailed accuracy. But, it might not even be the most important statistic. Doesn't anyone care about, oh I don't know, margin of victory? The Gators beat opponents by an average of 34.2 points, while Oklahoma won by an average margin of 29.5 points. But Florida's speed might be a game-changer against Oklahoma's moribund special teams.

Why isn't anyone talking about Oklahoma's most famous athlete alumnus, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin?
Because wrestling is "sports entertainment, not sports.

Wait, doesn't Florida have an offense, too?
Oh, yeah, they do! Damndest thing, huh? Florida scored over 40 points against top-50 defenses LSU (36), Kentucky (37), Georgia (28), Vanderbilt (29), South Carolina (11), and Florida State (13). Oklahoma has faced two top 50 defenses, against which they scored less than 40 points. Those statistics need to be controlled for the fact that the SEC teams listed above only faced one offense (Florida, themselves) that would turn any heads.

Would Ole Miss beat Oklahoma by more than five touchdowns?
Certainly.

Does this game definitively answer the conference dominance question for 2008?
Absolutely. If Oklahoma wins, the Big 12 will finish with a 5-3 record in the bowl season, two BCS winners, and the National Champion. But, if the Gators win, the Southeastern Conference will finish 6-2 in bowls with two wins over Big 12 teams. The Pac-10 can flaunt its gaudy 5-0 bowl record until it is blue in the face, but that does not redeem the putrid record of its five teams with losing seasons. The discussion is clearly between the Big 12 and the SEC. Tonight's game settles that discussion, as well.