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January 7, 2007

Buckeyes not taking underdog Gators lightly

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona Learning from your mistakes is smart. However, the Ohio State Buckeyes say they're smart enough to have learned from the Miami Hurricanes' mistake.

Errors, as much as anything else, often determine the outcome of championship football games. And while interceptions, fumbles and penalties cannot be predicted, the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes citing a lesson learned four years ago vow they won't make the mistake of underestimating No. 2 Florida in Monday night's BCS national championship game.

They know if you're not careful underdogs can bite like pit bulls.

"I know in that (Florida) locker room they feel they are the best team in the country," Ohio State All-American defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock said. "When you see them on film you know they deserve to be here."

The Miami Hurricanes didn't share that opinion when they faced underdog Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl for the 2002 national championship. In fact, Miami officials had even released flyers alerting their fans of a planned victory parade the day before the game was played.

Pitcock and other fifth-year seniors on the Buckeyes' roster were redshirt freshmen then. They remember how undefeated Miami seemed to be taking the game for granted.

"I remember all week leading up to the game their guys were saying we can't play and we weren't in Miami's league," Ohio State defensive end Jay Richardson said. "We kept hearing they were so dominant and we didn't have a chance. That added fuel to the fire.

"We were saying, 'I can't believe there isn't anyone who thinks we have a chance to win.' We were undefeated, too, and we were Big Ten champions. Then one of our coaches heard through the grapevine that Miami was already planning a parade. I remember that was the last straw."

The disrespected Buckeyes got the last laugh with a 31-24 double overtime victory.

"We went into that game saying we have nothing to lose," Pitcock said. "No one believed we had a chance. You definitely have some attitude when the media and everybody else say you have no chance to win."

No one is saying Southeastern Conference champion Florida cannot defeat Ohio State, but the (12-1) Gators are considered a touchdown underdog.

While Ohio State largely cruised through its schedule with a 42-39 victory over then-second ranked Michigan, Florida's road was much tougher.

Not only did the Gators lose to Auburn, but eked by Tennessee 21-20 and Vanderbilt 25-19. Florida needed Jarvis Moss to block a field goal to defeat South Carolina, 17-16.

The Gators also benefited from big turnovers to defeat LSU, Georgia and Arkansas. There was some thought that Michigan, rather than Florida, should be playing Ohio State for the national championship.

"We've been underdogs all year," Florida cornerback Ryan Smith said. "We haven't won in the right fashion, I guess, or we didn't have pretty wins or whatever it was. We have been kind of behind the scenes all year. That's nothing new to us."

In fact, the Gators say they relish their role as underdogs.

"I don't really remember too many games where we were picked to win, so it has kind of driven us all year," linebacker Brandon Siler said. "We kind of use it as a little motivation to win each game. We are out to prove something every game.

"We really don't want credit. We don't want to be put up front. We don't want anyone to think any different. We appreciate being underdogs."

The Buckeyes can respect that. And they do respect Florida.

"A lot of people say this year the roles are reversed (from 2002)," Buckeyes cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "We know not to take them for granted. Not for a second do we think Florida is not going to bring it's "A" game and give it their best shot, so we've been studying and doing everything we can to get ready."

For more coverage of the BCS Championship Game, check out GatorBait.net and BuckeyeGrove.com.

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