Hail To The Gators

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NEW ORLEANS: Given yet another chance at college football's No. 1 ranking, the Florida Gators responded. And now, hours after manhandling rival Florida State 52-20 Thursday night in the Sugar Bowl, the Gators were officially declared No. 1 in the final Associated Press college football poll. Florida (12-1) received 651/2 votes and 1,6731/2 points from a national panel of 67 sports writers and broadcasters. Ohio State finished second with 11/2 first-place votes and 1,5851/2 points. The Gators also finished on top in the USA Today/CNN poll with 58 first-place votes; Ohio State was second with four firsts. Rounding out the AP top five were Florida State (11-1), Arizona State (11-1), and Brigham Young (14-1). The second five: Nebraska (11-2), Penn State (11-2), Colorado (10-2), Tennessee (10-2) and North Carolina (10-2). Alabama was 11th, followed by Louisiana State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Northwestern, Washington, Kansas State, Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan, Syracuse, Wyoming, Texas, Auburn and Army. With the rout, Florida avenged not only a 24-21 loss to the Seminoles just 33 days ago that knocked them off college football's perch, but last year's 62-24 thumping by Nebraska in the title game at the Fiesta Bowl. "They just beat us at every part of the game," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "They kept us pinned down the whole night." Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel was 18-of-34 for 306 yards, throwing three touchdown passes to Ike Hilliard and running for another as the Gators scored more points than any other team in Sugar Bowl history. And with Florida State's star runner, Warrick Dunn, hobbled by cramps, the Gator defense clamped down on the Seminole passing game in the second half; leading 24-17 at the break, the Gators never looked back. But as they wait for Friday morning's verdict, Florida has more than just Wuerffel and Hilliard to thank. Losses by Nebraska and Arizona State knocked those two contenders out of the title hunt, leaving the Gators in control of their own destiny coming into the Thursday night rematch. "God has smiled on the Gators, no question about it." Florida coach Steve Spurrier said after the game. "Texas did what they had to do and then Ohio State did it. Of course, we haven't won it yet, we have to wait until the vote tomorrow." The voters, apparently, had seen enough.