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Pollsters give diverse reasons for UF jump

Avoid a rematch. Stronger schedule. Conference champion.

Those were the main reasons cited Monday by many poll voters for jumping Florida over Michigan on their final ballots, setting up a Gators-Buckeyes matchup in the BCS national title game Jan. 8.

"If you beat a team one time, why do they get the national championship if they win the second time?" said Earle Bruce, the former Ohio State coach who votes in the Harris Interactive poll and moved Florida ahead of Michigan. "They've already played one time and lost."

The Gators (12-1), who beat Arkansas to win the SEC title Saturday, moved from fourth to second in the final BCS standings. The Wolverines (11-1), who lost to the Buckeyes on Nov. 18, remained third.

"At the end of the day, Florida won its conference championship. Michigan did not," said Harris poll voter Ray Melick of the Birmingham News.

Strength of schedule carried weight with voters, too. It was such a big deal for Jim Walden, a former Washington State coach, that he picked Florida No. 1 in the Harris poll, calling Florida's schedule "murderous."

Illinois coach Ron Zook, who used to coach Florida, was among the voters in the coaches' poll who elevated the Gators. He was also the only Big Ten coach to vote UF ahead of Michigan.

"Believe me, it's no slight to Michigan at all," Zook said. "I thought you were supposed to vote the way you feel. One vote wasn't going to make the difference. A bunch of people turned and flipped and voted Florida ahead of Michigan. For me, it was the fact that they played a 13th game."

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, who coached the Gators to the '96 national championship, moved Florida past Michigan in the coaches' poll. His reasoning?

"Heck, I'm a Gator," he said. "I went there. So I had a lot of reason to vote for them right there. It just appeared they're 12-1, the other team is 11-1, I guess that's about it."

Banged-up Bull rests

TAMPA - USF senior linebacker Pat St. Louis, who sprained his right ankle against West Virginia on Nov. 25, sat out practice Monday, the team's first since accepting the invitation to the Papajohns.com Bowl.

Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said the team will take it slowly with St. Louis but doesn't expect the injury to stop him from playing Dec. 23.

"He's going to find a way to play, that's for sure, and we plan on having him," Burnham said.

STANFORD FIRES COACH: Walt Harris was fired two days after school's worst season (1-11) in more than four decades. Harris was 6-17 in the first two years of his five-year contract.

BUCKEYE HONORED: Ohio State sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. He was chosen over Florida's Reggie Nelson, Clemson's Gaines Adams, Michigan's Leon Hall and Mississippi's Patrick Willis.

SEC AWARDS: Arkansas running back Darren McFadden won offensive player of the year and the Razorbacks' Houston Nutt the coaching honor on the Associated Press All-SEC team. Mississippi linebacker Willis was named top defensive player and Florida dual threat Percy Harvin was freshman of the year. Florida landed just two players on the first team, defensive backs Nelson and Ryan Smith.

LA. TECH: Coach Jack Bicknell was fired after going 3-10 in his eighth season.

NEBRASKA: Bill Callahan apologized to fans for his coaching performance in Saturday's Big 12 championship game, a 21-7 loss to Oklahoma, but wouldn't specify where he fell short.

Times correspondent Mike Camunas contributed to this report.

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