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 Florida was an up-and-coming power and Oklahoma was a declining one when Bob Stoops made his move. He left his post as Gators defensive coordinator to take his first head-coaching job with the Sooners.
Ten years later, both programs are on top, set to meet for the first time - with a national title at stake.
The BCS standings were scheduled to be released Sunday night, and the Florida-Oklahoma matchup was a virtual lock. Barring something bizarre, top Heisman contenders Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford will lead the Gators and Sooners on Jan. 8 in Miami - a game between teams with one loss each, though there is little debate they both belong.
``Oklahoma's a traditional power just like Florida is now,'' said Steve Spurrier, the former Gators coach who brought Stoops on as his defensive coordinator in 1996.
t in defense Stoops provided was a perfect complement to Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun, and the Gators won their first national title.
Fast forward to 2000: In his second year at Oklahoma, Stoops led the Sooners to their seventh national championship and their first since 1985.
But when Spurrier left Florida after the 2001 season, most Gators felt it was just a matter of getting Stoops on the first flight back home. Who wouldn't take the sun and fun of Florida over the grit and dust of Norman, right?
Stoops declined, though, saying he had everything a coach could ever ask for at Oklahoma - nice campus, good boosters, fantastic resources and, yes, even more tradition than they had at Florida.
``He'd only been there three years, he was building it up,'' Spurrier said. ``He had a wonderful situation there. No reason to get out of there.''
The Gators ended up hiring Ron Zook, then three years later, turned to Urban Meyer.
Meyer made the Gators forget about Stoops. He's trying to lead Florida to its second title in three years. Stoops has put Oklahoma in the conversation almost every year since he arrived. He is going for his first national title since that 13-2 win over Florida state to end the 2000 season.
The winner will join LSU as the second team with two BCS championships this decade and will also stake a pretty good claim on being called the best program of the 2000s.
also include a Heisman Trophy winner.
Tebow is in position to become the only player to win the award twice, following Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975. Bradford is widely considered his biggest competition. If either wins, it would mark two Heismans for his respective program this decade, as well. (Jason White won it in 2003 for the Sooners.)
This could be one of those rare years in which there is no debate over the real national champion - no small feat considering the number of viable title contenders with one loss: Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Southern California, Alabama, Texas Tech and Penn State.
The Longhorns had the best argument. They finished in a three-way tie in the nation's toughest division - the Big 12 South - but were denied a spot in the title game because of the tiebreaker, which looks to the BCS standings.
Oklahoma won the tiebreaker. Texas protested.
``But that day has come and gone,'' said BCS analyst Jerry Palm. ``The reality is that Oklahoma is the conference champion and they belong in Miami.''
But who outside Texas would argue that this is a dream matchup, with tons of entertainment potential?
Oklahoma's offense is ranked first in the nation in scoring and set the NCAA record for points in a season (702). With their 62-21 win over Missouri on Saturday, the Sooners became the first to reach 60 in five straight games since Tulsa in 1919.
win over Alabama in the SEC title game, Florida's offense has averaged more than 49 points the last nine games.
It's the kind of game that will send defensive coordinators running for cover. On the other hand, Spurrier, the former Gators quarterback, will probably love this one.
``I guess you naturally pull for your alma mater,'' he said. ``But I pull for 'Stoopsie' all the time. It'll be a little bit of both. Should be a good game.''
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