In a matchup of two 6-6 teams hoping to finish the season with a winning record, the Gator Bowl has announced that on Jan. 2, the Ohio State Buckeyes will play the Florida Gators.
The Gator Bowl chose these teams for obvious reasons. As a non-marquee bowl, the Gator Bowl missed out on the top teams from the past season in the Big Ten and SEC, but instead targeted two traditional football powerhouses who are coming off very disappointing seasons.
The name itself indicates the bowl’s proximity to the University of Florida (Gainesville and Jacksonville are separated by only 61 miles), so bringing in the Gators is certainly a huge draw for the bowl. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have one of the largest fanbases in the nation, so they are always a popular choice for any bowl that has a chance to draw them to its game.
This bowl game will certainly generate considerable buzz, for there is no shortage of story lines. As already mentioned, both teams need a win to avoid a losing season – Ohio State has not finished the season with a losing record since 1988, while the Florida Gators have not had a losing record since 1979. Additionally, this is the first time these two teams will meet since the 2006 BCS National Championship Game, which the Gators won, 41-14, over the favored Buckeyes.
However, one storyline will trump all the others. The Gators’ head coach in that game was Urban Meyer, who won two national championships during his time at Florida. Meyer resigned as head coach of the Gators on Dec. 8, 2010, citing health concerns and the need to spend more time with his family. Less than a year later, on Nov. 28, Meyer announced that he will be returning to the sidelines as the head coach of the Buckeyes. Now, less than a week later, the postseason matchup between the Gators and Buckeyes has been announced.
For the Gators, many of their players previously played under Meyer, so they will likely be looking forward to the opportunity to go for a win against his new team. That said, Meyer will not be on the sidelines for this game, except possibly as an observer on the OSU sideline.
Two first-year head coaches, Will Muschamp for the Gators and Luke Fickell for the Buckeyes, will lead their teams for the Gator Bowl. Muschamp is around for the long term in Gainesville, but for Fickell, this will be his final game in his role as head coach for Ohio State before Meyer takes over permanently. Fickell’s contributions over the course of a very difficult season should be appreciated in this game, and because Meyer will not be coaching for either team, he should not be the focus.
While both of these teams have certainly had disappointing seasons, there is a great deal of pride on the line for both programs, as each squad of players will not want to end its school’s streak of seasons completed without a losing record. The focus should be on those players and coaches participating in the game, not a single coach whose time coaching at one school has passed, and has yet to begin at the other school.
So while this bowl will be called the Urban Bowl by many, remember that on the Ohio State sideline, there are many senior players as well as outgoing coaches who will be in their last game as Buckeyes, as well as many senior players on the Florida sideline participating as a Gator for their final game. The Urban era has begun in Columbus, but the men involved in this Gator Bowl deserve one final moment to close their era, as the Buckeyes will certainly try to send Fickell off with a victory.