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Local angles? Not many to speak of in the BCS title game
BCS title games never have had much of a Chicago touch
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Columnist

Stadium workers paint the Florida end zone, at left, and the Oklahoma end zone Wednesday at Dolphin Stadium in preparation for tonight's BCS Championship.


Associated Press Photos

Stadium workers spray paint the Oklahoma Sooners end zone at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 in preparation for the BCS Championship NCAA college football game between Oklahoma and Florida that will be played Thursday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


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Published: 1/8/2009 12:01 AM

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It's weird to try to inject a local angle into today's Bowl Championship Series title game thanks to, well, the sheer lack of local angles during the BCS era.

Remember the first BCS title game way back on Jan. 4, 1999?

Tennessee cornerback Dwayne Goodrich, a graduate of South suburban Richards High School, earned the Fiesta Bowl's Defensive MVP award thanks to his first-half interception return for a score.

Goodrich, now in prison for a hit-and-run accident that killed two people, can claim to be solitary for another reason: He became the first, and only, Illinois prep to start in a BCS title game.

Extensive research suggests only four other Illinois-bred players have even taken a snap in a championship game:

• Wheaton North's Akim Millington, as a redshirt freshman offensive tackle for Oklahoma, played at the end of the Sooners' 36-point loss to USC in 2005.

• Joliet's Eric Parker appeared but did not catch a pass as a freshman receiver for Tennessee in 1999.

• Carlyle's Brad Kunz blocked on extra points and field goals for the Miami Hurricanes in 2003.

• And, in the biggest local role outside of Goodrich's, Arlington Heights' Jarrett Payton had 8 carries for 17 yards and caught 1 pass for 7 yards in Miami's double-overtime loss to Ohio State in 2003.

Payton stepped in with the game on the line after Willis McGahee blew out his knee early in the fourth quarter.

Injuries or no, don't look for Illinois natives on the field tonight at Dolphin Stadium in Miami.

The only one on either roster is Florida freshman offensive lineman David Young, an Edwardsville resident who chose the Gators over Illinois on signing day.

Young played in Florida's opening-day win over Hawaii but not since.

Since nobody from the Land of Obama will decide tonight's tussle between Florida and Oklahoma, let's look for other factors that will determine our national champ:

How will Sooners handle adversity?

During their awe-inspiring offensive explosion over the last half of the season, Oklahoma trailed Oklahoma State 10-7 early in the second quarter. That's it.

When the Sooners lost to Texas on Oct. 11, OU led most of the way but couldn't answer the Longhorns' fourth-quarter rally.

With so little experience playing from behind, what happens if Florida punches out to an early lead?

Who wins the turnover battle? It's trite to cite turnover margin as an important factor, seeing as how it's always important, but here's why it's especially relevant here:

Oklahoma (plus-23) and Florida (plus-22) rank 1-2 nationally in turnover margin, so they're both accustomed to having their way in this regard.

In particular, look at the interceptions.

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford threw 6 picks all year, but Florida's defense had 24 interceptions. Last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow, tossed 2 interceptions all year, but the Sooners nabbed 17.

Percy Harvin's health. The Florida junior rushed 61 times and caught 35 passes in his 11 games this year - and averaged 1 touchdown every six touches.

If his high-ankle sprain is healthy enough to get him six touches today, do the math. That could make the difference.

Prediction. Everyone thinks No. 2 Florida will win, but I'm a contrarian here. I believe in Bradford.

Oklahoma 31, Florida 27.