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January 6, 2007
No. 1 Ohio State
No. 2 Florida
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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona ? The glamorous life of a professional football player includes wealth, privilege and adulation.
Yet, two of the envied are envious ? relatively speaking.
Baker's uncle is Wes Chandler, who played 11 seasons in the NFL as a receiver for the New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers.
Caldwell's older brother is Reche Caldwell, who is currently playing receiver for the New England Patriots.
Baker said his uncle told him to cherish this experience.
"He told me he was jealous, for one, because I am playing for a national championship and, two, because I have an opportunity to be in the passing offense," Baker said. "He was just telling us to take every day as it is because once it is over we are going to miss it. Really, the team and especially the wide receivers have been trying to. We have been spending every day together, playing video games and going to the mall. We're even making practice fun."
Reche Caldwell had a similar message for Andre.
"My brother just told me to take advantage of the opportunity and don't let it pass you by because it goes by so quick," Andre Caldwell said. "He told me to just remember all the good times and just take advantage of it because I get to do something he never got to do even though he was in a great offense. He never got to play a national championship and be on the big stage like we are going to be on Monday.
"I will always have one up on him."
Soaking it up
Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy and is 25-2 in his career as a starter.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said he sensed at least some of that success was predictable from the first time he met Smith.
"I have always enjoyed Troy's passion to be successful," Tressel said. "From the day I met him you could tell he had a fire burning inside that he had some ideas of what he wanted to be, and he has gone on and he has worked hard at that.
"I really appreciate that. He has always been willing to listen and he is like a sponge for knowledge. I know that's often used, but he really is that."
Florida's All-American junior free safety Reggie Nelson missed all press conferences this week as he continues to grieve for his mother, Mary Lakes, who passed away on Dec. 21 after a long battle with breast cancer.
"The emotional support and respect for my family over the past few weeks has been tremendous. At this time, I would like to continue to keep my feelings personal," Nelson said in a prepared statement.
"He is struggling like we all would, but he is around people who care about him, which is the best place he can be," Meyer said.
A worthy opponent
Although Ohio State is favored by a touchdown over Florida, the Buckeyes say they have tremendous respect for the Gators and aren't taking anything for granted.
"I know Florida has a lot of confidence in themselves," Ohio State defensive end Jay Richardson said. "We know what they can do."
Now, it seems ridiculous that there was originally some controversy surrounding the matchup.
Some felt Michigan, which lost 42-39 to Ohio State on Nov. 18, should be given a rematch in the championship game. Wolverines running back Mike Hart said he thought there would be a different result if the teams played again.
But the argument that Michigan deserved to play for the national championship rather than Florida lost some luster when the Wolverines were beaten by USC in the Rose Bowl.
"Michigan shouldn't be here," Richardson said. "Florida should have a chip on their shoulders, especially after what Mike Hart said."
At least to some degree, Florida can thank the NCAA for reaching the championship game.
A new NCAA rule allows players with remaining eligibility to transfer for graduate school without sitting out a season.
Cornerback Ryan Smith, who played for Gators coach Urban Meyer at Utah, took advantage of that rule and immediately stepped into the Florida starting lineup when Avery Atkins was dismissed from the team.
Smith's presence allowed Reggie Nelson to move to free safety. Together, Smith and Nelson have 14 interceptions.
"I was in the middle of summer school this past year and I was planning to transfer (to Florida) but they didn't know I was a graduate," Smith recalled. "Then I found out about the rule if you are a graduate you can transfer without losing the year. My dad found out about the rule and he called the SEC. I got my degree after the summer was over, and I was here for camp in August."
All-SEC linebacker Brandon Siler acknowledged that Smith has been a major factor in the Gators' success.
"It was huge for us," Siler said. "We lose what we thought was one of our best cornerbacks and then (Smith) shows up out of nowhere. I don't know where we would be without him. He's special to the team."
Another way to look at it
The biggest question facing Ohio State entering the season was how the Buckeyes would replace nine defensive starters, including six that were taken in the first four rounds of the NFL draft.
Three were taken in the first round, including linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter and safety Donte Whitner.
Yet, Ohio State actually ranked higher in several defensive categories this season than last.
Defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, who was one of the returning starters, said this defense plays better as a unit.
"Last year everybody talked about so many top draft picks and NFL guys, you still need 11 guys working together," he said. "I think they sometimes got in trouble trying to make a big play to impress people for the NFL.
"We've got guys who are just trying to make the starting lineup. The team effort, us working together, is really what has become a better team."
Well, that's certainly one theory.
Another is that maybe the Buckeyes haven't played offenses that were as good as they were in 2005. After all, this year the Buckeyes faced Texas without Vince Young.
In fact, every team that Ohio State played again this season had fewer yards of total offense than it did in 2005. Four teams ? Texas, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota ? averaged 100 fewer yards per game this season when compared to last year.
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