The Ohio State Buckeyes and Florida Gators aren't used to playing in second tier bowl games. In fact, Ohio State and Florida only care about conference championships and BCS bowl berths.
As two of the most powerful and prolific programs in college football history, playing in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl is a cold slap of reality.
But all that aside, this is where they are and this is what they have. The only thing that could be more bothersome is actually losing the game.
The outcome of this matchup will determine what the next year holds for both programs.
Where: EverBank Field; Jacksonville, Florida
When: Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. EST
Watch: ESPN 2 / ESPN 3
Betting Line (according to ScoresandOdds.com): Florida -2
Key Storyline: Urban Meyer Bowl
The two-time national championship winning coach with the Gators is going to be on the sidelines for Ohio State next year.
The Gators are still trying to find a way to replace Meyer's offensive prowess, especially since Charlie Weis, who was hired this year as the offensive coordinator, is now the head coach at Kansas.
This game is between two storied programs, but one name will preside over the entire broadcast: Urban Meyer.
Who Might Not Play for Ohio State (according to StatFox)
Christian Bryant, CB—Probable (Undisclosed)
Who Might Not Play for Florida
John Brantley, QB—Probable (Concussion)
Jeff Demps, RB—Probable (Personal)
What It Means for Ohio State
The 6-6 Buckeyes haven't had a losing record since 1988. Obviously, they face that possibility this year. This will also be the last bowl the junior class ever plays in. Because of the Buckeyes' one-year bowl ban, Meyer's first team will not be playing postseason football a year from now.
Needless to say, this means a lot for the Buckeyes.
What It Means for Florida
The Gators have a lot less at stake but haven't had a losing season since 1979. New coach Will Muschamp would love to close out his first season with a winning record.
They also have the opportunity to potentially find a new offensive coordinator if running backs coach Brian White can help put together a win.
What They're Saying
Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun writes:
Whether it's calling plays or finding a new job, timing is important. At the moment, Brian White's timing seems pretty close to perfect.
This all appears like the ideal set up for the Florida running backs coach.
Charlie Weis leaves for Kansas, Will Muschamp needs someone to coordinate the offense for the Gator Bowl, and he happens to have an assistant on his staff who has 10 years of experience as a college offensive coordinator.
That would be Brian White.
And in what basically will be an audition for the full-time job as UF's offensive coordinator, White will be going against a team and a conference that he is very familiar with.
That would be Ohio State and the Big Ten.
Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch writes:
In Jordan Hall’s freshman year, Ohio State won the Rose Bowl.
As a sophomore, Hall played in another Bowl Championship Series game — the victorious but now-vacated Sugar Bowl against Arkansas.
This year, after a disappointing season, Ohio State is at a second-tier bowl, the Gator Bowl against Florida.
If that isn’t what the Buckeyes envisioned heading into their season, it sure beats the void they will face a year from now. The NCAA ruling last week included a postseason ban for the 2012 season. The careers of Hall and his fellow juniors will end with next year’s Michigan game.
Although a trip to the Gator Bowl wasn’t on the Buckeyes’ wish list at the start of the season, the sanctions have given Hall and his fellow juniors extra incentive to make sure their final bowl experience counts.
Player to Watch for Ohio State: Braxton Miller, QB
Urban Meyer doesn't need to go out and find a quarterback to run his offense; he already has one on his roster.
Braxton Miller started the majority of the Buckeyes games this season as a true freshman and is an ideally skilled dual-threat player to handle things from the gun in Meyer's offense.
Miller led the Buckeyes in rushing this season with 695 yards and also threw for 997. He scored 18 total touchdowns and only threw four interceptions.
At 6'3", 210 pounds he is Buckeyes' future under center and Meyer will mold him into a true weapon.
Player to Watch for Florida: Chris Rainey, RB/WR
The all-purpose Gator is a big, big part of the offense and can do everything with his track star speed.
Every time he touches the ball he's a threat to go the distance and in this game the Gators and senior quarterback John Brantley will do everything they can to get him the ball in space.
Along with running mate Jeff Demps, who also is extremely fast and a track athlete with Florida, the Gators can only hope to find the edge with their best athletes.
Key Matchup: Braxton Miller vs. Florida Defense
Will Muschamp is no stranger to quarterbacks that make plays with their legs. He's a defensive-minded coach with a vat of knowledge on how to deal with athletic quarterbacks.
His plan will be to take away the running lanes from Miller and force the freshman to make throws he's not truly comfortable making.
If the Gators defensive can stay disciplined and keep in their lanes they should be able to win this football game.
If they let Ohio State's offense dictate things then they'll be in trouble.
Prediction: Florida 24, Ohio State 17