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Tuesday, January 7, 2003
Ohio State was clearly the best team
By Terry Bowden
Special to ABC Sports Online

As we end this season and get ready for another, I do want to give my final thoughts on the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. In all my years of watching college football, I have never seen a better championship game.

It just goes to show you that nothing lasts forever. And although Miami will always represent to me one of the great modern dynasties of college football, Ohio State showed us again that there is always going to be a new guy to come along ready to knock off a champion.
Ken Dorsey
Ken Dorsey lost for only the second time in his career.
I still believe Miami had the best overall athletes on the field, but football is played as a team sport, and without a doubt, Ohio State was the best team this year.

Coming into the game, I thought there were two keys that would determine the outcome of the game. First, if Miami could shut down Ohio State's running game - particularly Maurice Clarett -- the Buckeyes would have little hope of staying in the game.

Lo and behold, Miami did shut down Ohio State's running game, and Clarett was held to 47 yards on 23 carries. It was what Miami's defense had to do to win the game.

The other factor was whether or not Ohio State's defense could shut down the quick play offense of the Hurricanes. Miami has so many quick, talented players who can score quickly in so many ways it seemed impossible that the Buckeyes would be able to hold them down.

But the deciding factor in this game ended up being the Buckeyes' defense. They were clearly the best unit on the field. First of all, they had to shut down Willis McGahee. Other than a few nice runs late in the game, they did that. Then they had to keep swifty wide receiver Andre Johnson from burning them deep. He too was held to nothing more than meaningless underneath passes. Finally, they had to get after Ken Dorsey, who was the leader that made Miami offense go. First they hit him, then they sacked him, then they intercepted him (twice) and finally he fumbled. When it was all said and done, it was Ohio State's defense that proved better than Miami's offense.

With all of that being said, neither team gave up. And not until the last play of the second overtime did the Buckeyes prevail.

Although the interference call in the end zone will forever be argued, it was more the late flag and not the call that should be debated. From every angle, all we could see is that it could have gone either way. Besides that, there were many plays after that for either team to have won or lost the game.

Miami was a truly magnificent defending champion. And now a young Ohio State team must go into next year trying to be the Hurricanes' equal.

Before we close out this season, I have other great memories that I will take with me:

  • We finally picked a Heisman Trophy winner from the West Coast. After the bowl season, it was clear Carson Palmer was the best choice, and maybe we can do away with the East Coast bias that has plagued football.
  • The reemergence of old powerhouses. Of course, the first team that comes to mind is Notre Dame and the great job that Tyrone Willingham did bringing that program back around. But you also have to add Southern California, Georgia, and particularly Ohio State. College football had traditionally been a regional sport, but it's great for the game to have these national powers back in the hunt for the national championship.
  • A 2,000-yard rusher in Penn State's Larry Johnson. Alhough Auburn did a great job shutting him down in the Capital One Bowl, for any man to rush for more than 250 yards in four of his last six games is something we will never forget.
  • The dominance of the Big Ten in the bowl season. This conference has taken too much heat for supposedly not being as good as the Big 12 or the SEC. But the Big Ten showed its strength this year.
  • Finally, the end of Miami's incredible 34-game winning streak. Until we see how long it takes before we see these kind of numbers again, we will not truly appreciate what the Hurricanes did.

    So what can we expect in the 2003 season?

    A movement back toward when a strong defense and a running game are emphasized over the pass. And a young coach that nobody has ever heard of making a run at the national championship.

    And most likely Ohio State and Oklahoma as the No. 1 and 2 teams in the polls to start the season.

    I feel proud to have watched one of the greatest college football championships with all of our friends on ABCSports.com. And if you are a lot like me, I can't wait for next year.

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