By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Florida was an up-and-coming power and Oklahoma was a declining one when Bob Stoops made his move. He left his post as Gators defensive coordinator to take his first head-coaching job with the Sooners.
Ten years later, both programs are on top. On Sunday, they earned their invitations to play for the BCS national championship on Jan. 8 in Miami.
As expected, the final BCS standings had Oklahoma at No. 1 and Florida at No. 2 -- the reverse order of their rankings in the Associated Press poll -- setting up the first meeting between these storied programs.
"Nine weeks ago our team got together and said let's make every game count," Gators coach Urban Meyer said, speaking of Florida's rebound from its only loss, in September to Mississippi.
Tim Tebow and the Gators did just that. So did Oklahoma, which bounced back from a loss in October to Texas.
Two teams with one loss each doesn't normally make for a debate-free lead-up to the title game, but even President-elect Barack Obama -- outspokenly in favor of a playoff for college football -- might have to agree that both these teams belong.
Florida (12-1) has averaged 49 points a game in the nine games since its only lost. Oklahoma (12-1) became the first team since 1919 to score 60-plus in five straight games.
Other teams had their chances this season, and also finished with one loss: Texas, Southern California, Alabama, Texas Tech and Penn State.
Of them, Texas had the best argument for why it should've been playing for the title. The Longhorns finished in a three-way tie in the nation's toughest division -- the Big 12 South -- but were denied a spot in the title game because of the tiebreaker, which looks to the BCS standings.
Oklahoma won the tiebreaker. Texas protested.
"They went to a system we all agreed upon before the season," Stoops said. "If someone didn't like it, they should have decided to change it before the season, and I'd have played by whatever rules they wanted to play by."
Instead, Texas finished third in the BCS and AP rankings and will play Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
And who outside of Texas would argue that this title game is a dream matchup, with tons of entertainment potential?
"Oklahoma's a traditional power just like Florida is now," said Steve Spurrier, the former Gators coach who brought Stoops on as his defensive coordinator in 1996.
Stoops' arrival in Gainesville came a year after the Gators got pounded 62-24 by Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl with the national title on the line. The boost the new defensive coordinator provided was a perfect complement to Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun, and the Gators won their first national title.
Fast forward to 2000: In his second year at Oklahoma, Stoops led the Sooners to their seventh national championship and their first since 1985.
But when Spurrier left Florida after the 2001 season, most Gators felt it was just a matter of getting Stoops on the first flight back home. Who wouldn't take the sun and fun of Florida over the grit and dust of Norman, right?
Stoops declined, though, saying he had everything a coach could ever ask for at Oklahoma -- nice campus, good boosters, fantastic resources and, yes, even more tradition than they had at Florida.
"He'd only been there three years, he was building it up," Spurrier said. "He had a wonderful situation there. No reason to get out of there."
The Gators ended up hiring Ron Zook, then three years later, turned to Meyer.
Meyer made the Gators forget about Stoops. He's trying to lead Florida to its second title in three years.
Stoops, meanwhile, has put Oklahoma in the conversation almost every year since he arrived. He is going for his first national title since that 13-2 win over Florida State to end the 2000 season.
The winner will join LSU as the second team with two BCS championships this decade and will also stake a pretty good claim on being called the best program of the 2000s.
The game could also include a Heisman Trophy winner.
Tebow is in position to become the only player to win the award twice, following Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is widely considered his biggest competition. If either wins, it would mark two Heismans for his respective program this decade, as well. (Jason White won it in 2003 for the Sooners.)
Oklahoma has the top-ranked scoring offense in the country, scoring an NCAA-record 702 points this season. The Gators are ranked third.
It's the kind of game that will send defensive coordinators running for cover. On the other hand, Spurrier, the former Gators quarterback and 'ball coach,' will probably love this one.
"I guess you naturally pull for your alma mater," he said. "But I pull for 'Stoopsie' all the time. It'll be a little bit of both. Should be a good game."