MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Step aside, Ohio State. You're no longer the college football team nobody wants at their party.
The Oklahoma Sooners now are saddled with that dubious distinction, courtesy of the Florida Gators, who beat OU 24-14 Thursday night in a fair and square national-championship game at Dolphin Stadium.
The Sooners' bowl slump? Alive and well; five straight defeats in BCS games, three in crystal-trophy games.
The controversy with Texas? Resurrected. Maybe the Longhorns would have given the Gators a better game. Though OU played tough, it wilted in the end, just as it did that day in Dallas, when the Longhorns won the fourth quarter.
And the Sooners and their fans are stuck with a long winter, spring and summer — and heck, maybe the fall too and who knows how many autumns to come — of being the Atlanta Braves, a franchise that won one World Series and can't seem to win another.
“We didn't end up finishing like we talked about all week,” said OU defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who played magnificently. “We said that we had to finish, and we just didn't finish.”
This was a 14-14 game with 12 minutes left. In those final 12 minutes, OU had one first down, 21 total yards and zero points. The Gators had eight first downs, 183 yards and 10 points.
“It came down to who can win it in the fourth,” said Sooner linebacker Mike Balogun, who was OU's fourth option this year in the middle but actually played pretty well against Florida. “They made more plays than us and that's basically what it boils down to.”
Maybe Texas would have better represented the Big 12, though probably not, because this bowl season, capped by Florida's second-half surge in its downstate paradise, did nothing if not expose the Big 12 as a so-so league in 2008, despite its bevy of outrageous scoring and star quarterbacks.
The quarterback star Thursday night was Florida's Tim Tebow, not Slingin' Sammy Bradford. Tebow's arm wasn't all that much, which is why Bradford will make, by far, the better pro. But on the college gridiron, Tebow's unique blend of running prowess and grit is a tough out.
Play after play, Tebow carried the Gators. Dump passes after scrambles. Quarterback draws. Turn-it-up-inside options.
Give Tebow credit. He clearly won this duel of Heisman Trophy winners.
Bradford played OK but nothing special, if for no other reason than that glaring 14 points on the scoreboard. OU was mathematically eliminated early from extending its stunning five-game streak of at least 60 points.
Bradford's poor decision in the final 10 seconds of the first half let the Gators get to halftime tied 7-7 and set them up for second-half momentum.