It was the end of one of the greatest regular seasons in Florida history. And perhaps the beginning of one of the most intense arguments in college football history.
The Gators won their first Southeastern Conference championship in six years Saturday night against Arkansas and, before the confetti had hit the ground, they were wondering whether they would get a shot at playing No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS title game.
"We should be talking about going home tonight and packing," UF president Dr. Bernie Machen said. "Instead we're talking about style points and polls.
The Gators, ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings going in, will surely move past USC. The question is whether they move past an idle Michigan team that lost 41-38 to Ohio State two weeks ago.
Here is one way to look at it:
When USC beat Notre Dame last week and Michigan was idle, the Trojans passed the Wolverines with a .0319 swing in the BCS.
The Gators are .0319 behind Michigan.
"I have great confidence the University of Florida is going to get that opportunity," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "I really do."
They are a flawed bunch, and that's the polite version.
A 34-yard field goal Saturday night was Florida's longest of the season. Chris Leak's two interceptions put him atop the SEC charts.
The Gators make too many penalties, their pass defense is shaky and the running game could use an actual running back.
But those are details. They do not tell the story of who these Gators are. They do not explain what makes this team among the most special in school history.
In nearly every dire moment this season, the Gators were the tougher, the cooler, the more impressive players on the field.
"I'm not too concerned about style points," Meyer said. "I'm concerned about 21 seniors who went and played their hearts out and won 12 games."
In a sport where lopsided scores are the norm, Florida won five games by seven or fewer. That doesn't even include Saturday's game, which was in doubt until the final three minutes.
They are not the most talented team in the nation, but that should not be a consideration. What matters is the Gators have won 12 of 13. What matters is they have won an SEC title for the first time since 2000.
What matters is they have earned the right to vie for the title.
"You've got to let us play," tight end Cornelius Ingram said. "We play in the best league in the country. They've got to let us in."
You could point out Florida went 3-1 against teams currently in the BCS Top 25 while Michigan went 2-1. You could add that Florida was 2-0 against teams in the Top 10 while Michigan was 2-1.
You could argue any number of ways. But the point is that arguments are for lawyers and spouses, not college football games.
It is a joke and it is a sham.
You ask players to risk their bodies and dreams on a weekly basis, but you deny them the opportunity for a shot at the national championship because of a bunch of computer programs?
Tell me, what are the most corrupt sports out there? Boxing? Figure skating? Gymnastics?
How is college football any different?
It is a sport that does not get decided until a bunch of people you've never heard of, working in secrecy, tell you who has a chance to be the ultimate champion.
This is not a rant in favor of Florida. This is for Michigan, too. And Louisville. And Wisconsin. And Boise State. This is a rant for college football.
I asked SEC commissioner and BCS coordinator Michael Slive what he would say to the fans who will be disappointed at being left out of the championship picture.
He began talking about college basketball fans being disappointed when their teams are left out of the NCAA Tournament field.
I said those teams are not a whisker away from the title.
So he began talking about SEC teams who are disappointed they didn't reach the championship game in the Georgia Dome.
I said those teams lost on the field, not in some boardroom poll.
"I'm not going to debate you on this," he said tersely.
Meanwhile, near midfield, players enjoyed a celebration unlike any they have ever known. One by one, receiver Dallas Baker called out the names. A dozen teammates sang the response.
Tenn-e-ssee? Gat-or Bait!
L-S-U? Gat-or Bait!
Ark-an-sas? Gat-or Bait!
As for Ohio State, someone else will have to make that call.
John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.