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Florida Gators, Oklahoma Sooners have to manage long layoff before BCS championship game

Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, left, would rather have played the BCS championship game right after the SEC title game. “Our offense was clicking. The defense was playing great. Waiting is hard,” he says.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR | Times

Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, left, would rather have played the BCS championship game right after the SEC title game. “Our offense was clicking. The defense was playing great. Waiting is hard,” he says.

GAINESVILLE — If Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez had his way, the Gators would already have played Oklahoma for the BCS national championship and would be home this Christmas celebrating their second title in three seasons.

"I wish we could have played right after the SEC Championship Game, to be honest with you," Hernandez said. "We had a lot of momentum. Our offense was clicking. The defense was playing great. Waiting is hard."

Hernandez is not alone. Many Florida and Oklahoma players have expressed concern over the long layoff before their BCS showdown.

There are 33 days between the Dec. 6 Big 12 and SEC championship games and Jan. 8, when the Sooners and Gators take the field for the national title game.

"That's a long time," Oklahoma offensive lineman Duke Robinson said. "We'll play the game whenever, and we'll be ready. But it would be nice to play it a little sooner."

Aside from X's and O's, the greatest challenge for Florida coach Urban Meyer and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops may be finding a way to make the layoff more beneficial than harmful.

"I think that's one of the challenges of preparing for a bowl game," Meyer said. "You always have too much time on your hands, especially when it gets closer to Christmas."

If history is any indication, the layoff may not be such a bad thing for the Gators. Meyer is 26-3 when having more than one week to prepare for a game, including a 41-14 win over Ohio State in the 2006 BCS national championship game.

Florida took the week off after defeating Alabama in the SEC title game, then spent five days practicing last week as players took final exams. They're also taking five days off this week for the Christmas holiday.

Meyer and Stoops have used the time to focus on the basics. In many ways, it's like going back to preseason practices in August.

"I think when you sit back and watch bowl teams play, you can see a lot of times ball security fails, a lot of penalties, very poor tackling," Meyer said. "We've spent the first week and a half on just nothing but fundamentals and base stuff before we get knee-deep in game planning."

The time off does have advantages. It has given the Gators time to get star receiver and running back Percy Harvin back on the field after he suffered a high ankle sprain in the Nov. 29 Florida State game. Harvin did not play in the SEC Championship Game but is expected to play against Oklahoma.

Also, running back Chris Rainey is getting a chance to rest his injured hamstring. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has lost two key players to injuries, starting running back DeMarco Murray and backup defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, who played in 11 games this season.

Deciding how many practices to have, and how physical they should be, is another issue. Before Florida's 2006 national championship game, Meyer instituted a system similar to what he's doing now: 1½ weeks of fundamentals, then turning attention to the Sooners, and potentially adding a few plays.

"The way we spread it out, it keeps you focused and you're still learning," receiver David Nelson said.

Oklahoma has lost its past four BCS games, and Stoops acknowledges he's still searching for the best way to handle the layoff.

"There's no magic to it," he said. "Just because you change some things doesn't mean you are going to play better. In the end, how you execute, how you play, how you are prepared to play, that's what gets it done for you."

Stoops, who led the Sooners to a national title in 2000, said the trick is finding what works best with each team. Most important, he said, don't deviate too much from what got you here.

"I think there's a fine line between how much you do," he said. "You have a lot of time; you don't want to do too much. You don't want to get away from what's been good for you. Everybody has a few wrinkles, but you want to manage them and make sure it's not too many."

Florida Gators, Oklahoma Sooners have to manage long layoff before BCS championship game 12/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 29, 2008 11:50am]
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