Who's No. 1?

OK, not No. 1 in the BCS, but who is really the best college football team in the country? As we prepare for tonight's FedEx ( FDX) BCS National Championship Game between "No. 1" Oklahoma (12-1) and "No. 2" Florida (12-1), will the winner really be the best team in the country?

A couple of weeks ago, many people would answer in the affirmative. But then USC (12-1) and Utah (13-0) made some statements. The Trojans took care of business against a solid Penn State team. Penn State was competitive, but in order to win, the Lions needed to play error-free. They didn't. They also probably didn't think USC quarterback Mark Sanchez would light them up for 400-plus yards.

And how about Utah coming out of nowhere? (if it's possible for a 13-0 team to come out of nowhere), shutting down the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, which is basically SEC turf.

So those two clubs are hoping that they have a chance to finish No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll.Texas (12-1) also feels it belongs in there, too, but that argument is less persuasive after the Longhorns' last-minute victory over Ohio State (10-3).

Speaking of the Buckeyes, they looked physically dominant for a good part of this game. But would that be enough to quash the canard that the Big Ten is weak? Probably not, to Texas' detriment. Let's face it, either team could have won that game, and what a game it was.

Now for some arguments. The Sooners and Gators will say, "Hey, we're the winners of the two best conferences in the country this season (the Big 12 and SEC, respectively). So the winner of our game is No. 1." It's a very valid argument. Texas of the Big 12 will say, "Yeah, well we beat you, Oklahoma, on the field."

Utah can say how it dominated Alabama, a team that was No. 1 for a good chunk of the season, and beat Oregon State, the only team to beat USC this year. And USC can say, well, we're USC. We trounced Ohio State, which almost knocked off Texas. And who can really beat USC in the postseason? OK, Texas did it with Vince Young in 2006.

Now you can see the circuitousness of this exercise, until we get a playoff. As as expressed here before, eight teams are enough. These five aforementioned are really the only ones with a legitimate claim on the prize. So eight in contention is enough of a buffer.

No. 1 Oklahoma (12-1) (+4½) vs. No. 2 Florida (12-1), BCS Championship Game, Miami, Thursday, 8 p.m. EST (Fox): Which edition of Heisman Trophy recipient do you prefer? This year's contest matches the last two award winners -- Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford, who threw for more than 4,400 yards to lead Oklahoma's highly charged, 54 points-a-game scoring attack, or Gator quarterback Tim Tebow, who has run, passed and blocked his way to becoming a college football legend.

But the game also goes a long way toward answering one of this season's key debates: Which conference really was better this year, the Big 12 or SEC? Were all those offensive fireworks from the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Missouri a function of mediocre defenses that couldn't catch up to highly efficient flag-football offenses? Did the SEC still bring the nation's stingiest defenses, or were many of the league's offenses running on (close to) empty?

The Sooners' offensive output was staggering, and it's a testament to the team's firepower that even without sophomore running back DeMarco Murray, who's out with a ruptured hamstring, it still has 1,000-yard rusher Chris Brown and five good receivers to pick up the slack. The defense, which had occasional letdowns against the conference's elite passing games, is led by defensive end Gerald McCoy and linebacker Travis Lewis.

There's nothing fancy about Florida's run-oriented attack, unless you consider it fancy to have your quarterback run a dozen times a game. In fact, Tebow's numbers were below last year's levels, but the overall attack benefited from having more weapons: freshmen running backs Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps combined to rush for more than 1,200 yards. Dual-threat wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has been nursing a high-ankle sprain for the past six weeks, deemed himself "90% healthy" for the game.

But it's the improvement in Florida's defense that has the Gators in this year's title game -- its 12.8 points allowed per game rank the unit No. 4 in the country. Juniors defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and linebacker Brandon Spikes have been stellar.

The high-octane Sooner offense will test the "defense wins championships" mantra, but we'll take the Gators' ball-control strategy and home-state advantage. Corner's choice: Florida 36, Oklahoma 34.


Which is the best team in college football?

Florida-Oklahoma winner
USC
Utah
Texas

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