Florida 51, Cincinnati 24. So sure, Cincinnati belonged here -- the Bearcats were the undefeated champions of a respectable conference with an automatic bid. They went on the road to beat an eventual top-25 team (Oregon State). And December was basically one long excuse for a flat performance, after Cincy was denied for a shot at the BCS title; lost its miracle-working head coach amid internal anger at his departure; appointed an interim coach whose attention was quickly divided by his next job; named a new coach who couldn't immediately join the team; and finally watched Florida morph from a potentially deflated, vulnerable giant that had lost its purpose into a revived bunch of avengers out to honor their own outgoing coach in the span of a few hours. There were plenty of explanations for the Bearcats to play like a bad team that don't necessarily require them to actually be a bad team.
Still, BCS honchos had to be letting out huge sighs of relief in the second quarter -- probably around the time the Gators scored their fourth touchdown in five possessions on an 80-yard bomb from Tim Tebow to Riley Cooper to go up 30-3 at the half -- that the controversial final second in the Big 12 Championship game allowed Texas to advance to the BCS title game instead of Cincinnati, which finished No. 3 in the Series standings the following morning. Brian Kelly may have stayed on in Cincy to take the 'Cats to play Alabama for the championship if fate had broken in their favor, but he couldn't singlehandedly overcome the glaring faults on display in the Superdome.
It's not like it's some staggering surprise when a defense that allowed at least 36 points to some pretty middling attacks in three of its last four games is gashed by a more talented opponent. (Especially when they come out clad in the very special White Helmets of Surrender.)
But I don't think anyone could really see this coming from Florida. There may have been some generic buzz featuring such clichéd classics as "intensity" and "motivation" after Meyer announced his leave of absence to send off the two faces of the program on the right note, but the fact is the vaunted Gator offense spent most of the season looking relatively timid, conservative and content to keep the fireworks under wraps as long as the fearsome defense had things under control, especially after Tim Tebow's concussion at Kentucky in September. The numbers in SEC games plummeted under new coordinator Steve Addazio. The Genghis Khan routine that had made whimpering subjects out of almost everything and everyone in the Gators' path en route to the BCS title in 2008 began settling for kinder, gentler victories that celebrated notions like efficiency. And when the defense came under a real assault in the SEC Championship game, the offense's answer to Alabama's laser-like focus down the stretch was lethargy.
The final margin and array of shattered records -- Tebow obliterated his own career highs by completing 31-of-36 for 484 yards and reduced Vince Young's mark for total yards in a BCS game to a speck in the rearview mirror -- are ultimately less the story of the night than the bloody return of the college football's most relentless killer instinct. Here were the unstoppable Gators envisioned by the unanimous No. 1 votes and breathless summer profiles. The shame is that it took an eye-opening loss in the biggest game of the year and an abbreviated farewell tour by the head coach to get that blood boiling again.