The Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners each had recent national championships under their belt, in 2006 and 2000 respectively. The 2008 season didn’t always go smoothly for either program, and each hit a bump in the road. But they ended in Miami, playing each other for the BCS National Championship. Here’s a look back on how we arrived at the 2008 Florida-Oklahoma game, and how it unfolded.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was coming off a Heisman Trophy campaign as a sophomore in 2007. Tebow had a talented supporting cast that included future NFL players in wide receiver Percy Harvin, linebacker Brandon Spikes, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and cornerback Joe Haden, along with All-SEC linemen in Phil Trautwein on offense and Jermaine Cunningham on defense.
The Gators rolled to a 3-0 start, but then they lost as a 22-point home favorite to Ole Miss. Florida led 17-7 at the half, but turnovers by Harvin and Tebow let the Rebels get the lead, and a blocked extra point was the margin of victory in a 31-30 final. Florida fell out of the Top 10, but Tebow delivered an impassioned talk at his postgame press conference vowing how hard he, and his teammates would work.
Tebow’s talk was more than just words. Florida buried fourth-ranked LSU 51-21, and then pounded #8 Georgia 49-10. The Gators jumped all over ranked opponents in Florida State and South Carolina by a combined score of 56-6. They worked their way up to #2 in the polls, made the SEC Championship Game and had a date with undefeated and top-ranked Alabama.
This was Alabama’s first year back in the national spotlight under Nick Saban, and the public wasn’t yet buying on the Tide. Florida was a ten-point favorite, but they trailed 20-17 after three quarters. It was the Gator ground game that took over the fourth quarter and a 31-20 win sent them on to the BCS National Championship Game.
Oklahoma opened the season ranked #4 in the country, and rolled through five easy games to get to the top of the polls. The Red River Rivalry game with Texas didn’t go well—in spite of a big game from quarterback Sam Bradford and a 35-30 lead, the Longhorns took over the fourth quarter and won 45-35.
The Sooners found another gear in the same way Florida did. They beat Nebraska, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State and scored 60-plus points every single time. It was enough to swing the Heisman Trophy to Bradford.
OU, Texas and Texas Tech all finished with one loss and were in a circular three-way tie for the Big 12 South title. BCS ranking was the tiebreaker, and Texas Tech was a few spots behind the Longhorns and Sooners. The stakes on the vote were simple—a trip to the Big 12 championship game and control of the berth opposite the SEC champ in Miami. Oklahoma narrowly carried the day, demolished Missouri for the conference title and went to the BCS National Championship Game.
In spite of media forecasts of a Tebow-Bradford showdown, both teams showed they could played some defense and the Florida-Oklahoma game was scoreless through the first quarter. The quarterbacks traded touchdown passes in the second quarter, and again in the first 17 minutes of the second half.
With the score tied 14-14, Florida drove for a field goal with 10:45 left. The Gators would later work an 11-play/76-yard drive that Tebow capped off with a short touchdown pass to David Nelson. The 24-14 score stood up and Florida had another national title.
The running game was the difference—Tebow and Bradford each got their yards, and each also threw two interceptions. But Tebow ran for 109 yards, Harvin rushed for 121 more and enabled Florida to control the pace of the game. That’s what ultimately swung a second national championship in three years their way.