Ohio State's disappointing season (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) has landed it in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl for an ironic matchup against the Florida Gators.
The Buckeyes may not have had this in their preseason plans, but at least they'll be participating in postseason festivities this season. The recent NCAA ruling included a postseason ban for the 2012 season, meaning Jan. 2 will be the final bowl appearance for all seniors and juniors on the roster.
Now the Gator Bowl becomes so much more than a collision between two underachieving teams. The sanctions give the upperclassmen incentive to make the experience a memorable one.
“When I heard it, I was kind of mad because I knew we’d have a pretty good team next year,” said junior running back Jordan Hall. “I’m just trying to take full advantage of this bowl game and not think about it.”
This isn't the first time the Buckeyes had faced adversity this season. After the initial allegations took place, forcing the departures of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor and leaving seniors Dan Herron and DeVier Posey (among others) with suspensions, interim coach Luke Fickell made it clear the 2011 campaign would be a day-by-day process and that focus would be with the task at hand.
His players understand that.
“Obviously, the future is something we’re going to deal with later,” junior tight end Reid Fragel said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “Right now, we’re focused on finishing this season on a winning note. Obviously, we’d like to go out with a winning record.”
Ohio State is currently on a three-game losing streak. It has not had a losing record since 1988, during John Cooper's first year as head coach.
“This game is huge because we’re 6-6,” said junior fullback Zach Boren. “We need to send these seniors out right. We need to have a winning season ... we need to get this win to make us 7-6 and get some momentum going into next year.
“This is a huge game,” he continued. “We’re playing Florida. Everyone talks about Ohio State and Florida—two of the biggest programs in the country—going head-to-head. We’re excited.”
The Buckeyes last faced Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship, where Urban Meyer led his Gators to a 41-14 rout for his first of two national titles.
Now he's on the other side.
Although Meyer isn't not coaching yet—Fickell is in charge of the bowl game—he's hoping for the same result, in favor of Ohio State.