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December 17, 2008

Florida, Oklahoma hope for limited losses

Florida and Oklahoma already boast nine football national championships between them, and that total will increase in January.

But when victory celebrations end and hangovers fade, Sooners and Gators faithful must face the reality they'd probably rather not think about: Big victories often lead to big losses.

Every team loses key seniors, but underclassmen leave early for the NFL draft, too. Players who have been out of high school three years are eligible to enter the draft.

Players from championships teams, and even those on teams that contended for them, often feel they've accomplished all they can in college and try to take a step up to the next level. That may result in the college team taking a step back.

For example, Texas might have made a run at back-to-back national championships, but Vince Young opted to enter the '06 draft. Without Young, the Longhorns lost three games the next season.

Nothing but the national championship game matters to Florida and Oklahoma. But in the week after the game, both teams could be hit hard by early entries.

Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are Oklahoma players who could enter the draft. Though OU always has high-level talent ready to step in, losing those players - especially Bradford - would be hard to overcome.

Bradford, as expected, hasn't made a decision yet.

"Right now, we'll try to gather as much information as possible to see where I might possibly be drafted," Bradford said. "Right now, I'm not thinking about it."

But what if the information accumulated indicates he would be a top-five pick?

"That's something I'll have to sit down with my family and talk about," he said. "I haven't put enough effort into [making] that decision to say."

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow also is delaying a decision. But if he, receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes leave early, the Gators likely won't be as strong in '09.

After Florida won the 2006 national championship, defensive end Jarvis Moss, safety Reggie Nelson, linebacker Brandon Siler and cornerback Ryan Smith left early. Last season, the Gators had defensive issues and lost four times one for every early entry into the draft.

But that's life in college football these days. No team has won back-to-back national championships in the BCS era. Early departures to the NFL is at least one reason.

Here's a look at teams that could be hurt most by early entries to the NFL draft.

Oklahoma: The Sooners stand to lose the Heisman recipient in Bradford, the nation's most dangerous tight end in Gresham and one of the best tackles in McCoy.

Florida: If Tebow and Harvin enter the draft, the Gators would lose two key offensive players. Spikes is their best defensive player. And defensive end Jermaine Cunningham is another player who could leave early.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are expected to lose running back Knowshon Moreno, but at least they have Caleb King to take his place. But if they lose Moreno and quarterback Matthew Stafford, it could be tough equaling this season's nine victories.

Missouri: The Tigers will be hit hard as it is, with a number of key seniors leaving - including quarterback Chase Daniel and tight end Chase Coffman. If Jeremy Maclin leaves early, they will lose their best receiver and return specialist. And if linebacker Sean Weatherspoon bolts, an already shaky defense will be weakened significantly.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are strongest in the trenches and could lose two of their best players there. Offensive tackle Andre Smith projects as a top-five pick in the NFL draft. Nose tackle Terrence Cody literally was a big reason for the Tide's defensive improvement. Replacing those two wouldn't be easy.

Random thoughts and observations

Let's get this straight: Auburn gets rid of coach Tommy Tuberville because he only won five games this season and hires Gene Chizik, who only won five games in two seasons at Iowa State. Meanwhile, Buffalo's Turner Gill, who led the Bulls to the MAC championship, is well, he's still in Buffalo. That's a perfect example of why the Black Coaches Association is up in arms. There have been 15 head-coaching jobs filled and one New Mexico went to a black coach. No one should be given a job based on race, but should we really believe that none of the best candidates for those jobs were black?

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables visited Saturday with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, apparently to discuss strategy to stop Florida's offense. Pelini previously was defensive coordinator at LSU, and the Tigers were 2-1 against Florida in those three seasons. Florida never scored more than 24 points against Pelini's defenses. Pelini was defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2004.

Not a bad consolation prize for Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell. Although he wasn't invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, Harrell and coach Mike Leach did get a private tour of the White House on Saturday. The tour was set up by a White House staff member who is a Texas Tech grad. Harrell had a 20-minute meeting with President Bush.

Olin Buchanan is a Heisman voter and a senior college football writer for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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