Outback Bowl 2011 features the Florida Gators and Penn State Nittany Lions, two teams that have not lived up to lofty expectations this season.
The Gators started the season ranked No. 4 in the country and won their first four games on the schedule; however, as the opponents got better, the losses piled up. Struggling offensively, they have scored less than 13 points a game in their five losses this season.
In their last eight games, Florida has just three wins. The Gators have particularly struggled against ranked opponents with zero wins and four losses against teams in the top 25.
Florida needs to win the 2011 Outback Bowl in order to build some momentum and salvage what has been a disappointing 2010 season.
Here are 10 things to know about the Florida Gators before the 2011 Outback Bowl.
John Brantley has not been the quarterback many expected him to be this season taking over for Tim Tebow. While no one expected Brantley to do what Tebow did for Florida, his nine touchdowns and nine interceptions are nowhere close the the expectations on any starting Gator quarterback.
Part of Brantley's struggles can be attributed to his lack of fit with Urban Meyer's spread offense. Meyer's efforts to give Jordan Reed more snaps as a dual threat quarterback hasn't seemed to help either with Florida losing two of its last three and scoring just 21 points in those two losses.
Penn State's defense is not as stout as some other SEC defenses Florida has played, but its pass defense is most definitely above average. Brantley will likely struggle and Florida will have to be especially creative with their offensive schemes, something offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has failed to do this season.
Urban Meyer has repeatedly said that he expects Steve Addazio to return as offensive coordinator next season, but he has also consistently added a hint of insecurity.
Meyer's most recent comments reflected uncertainty:
"I'll have further updates as we get closer to the bowl game. Everybody's out recruiting and doing their business. At this time, I can't make any statements because there's so much going on with the profession right now."
That doesn't sound too reassuring for Addazio, whose playcalling was absolutely dreadful this season. Since Dan Mullen left, Florida just doesn't have the same innovative offensive style. Even Tim Tebow's senior year demonstrated that Mullen was a big piece of the Florida offensive puzzle.
Addazio should be fired, or at least return to his duties as offensive line coach. In any case, it is possible that the 2011 Outback Bowl is his last game calling plays for the Gators.
Urban Meyer is hoping that speedster Jeff Demps will be able to play against Penn State. Especially considering the Nittany Lions' ability to shut down the passing game, the Gators will be relying on the running game and the quick pass.
Demps' abilities are crucial to Florida's success in this area. As evidenced in prior years, many Big Ten teams have not had answers for the speed of Florida and other SEC schools.
Demps has been hampered by a stress reaction in his foot and is still in a walking boot. Meyer has to be praying that the track star Demps will deliver him some breakout runs against Penn State on New Year's Day.
While the Florida defense has not been the same dominant force as in years past, it certainly has still been good at times this season.
The Gators had the 31st ranked defense in points allowed this season, giving up just 21.1 points per game. The Penn State offense, on the other hand, has been weak. The Nittany Lions have scored just 24.6 points per game, good for 80th in college football.
Florida's defense should be able to hold Penn State to under 20 points, a necessary factory considering the limited ability of the Florida offense to score this year.
As a freshman, Burton has done a little bit of everything from passing, running the ball and lining up at wide receiver.
There has been a noticeable correlation between Burton's touches and the success of the Gators offense. In games in which Burton has found the end zone, Florida has not scored less than 29 points.
Burton's ability to be a playmaker all over the field could give Florida a definitive advantage over Penn State come January. With enough touches, Burton has the athleticism to torch the Nittany Lion defense in a similar fashion as his game against Kentucky earlier this season.
Black and Henry were two of only three Gators players to gain all-SEC status this season. As seniors, the Outback Bowl will be their last game for Florida.
Both players played significant or at least some kind of role in Florida's championship season two years ago. Their contributions in both this season and in years past should be recognized by Florida fans, especially considering they have to go out in the Outback Bowl rather than the Sugar Bowl, or at least the Capital One Bowl.
Chas Henry was terrific this season (he was needed a lot), and Black provided some kind of consistency and playmaking ability in the secondary, which looked lost at times. Both players will be sorely missed.
Over the past few seasons, debate has raged back and forth over who is the best conference. SEC fans point out the last four BCS National Championships. Big Ten fans often respond that the SEC rarely ventures away from the southeast to play difficult road games as a team like Miami did this season.
Often, debaters will point to conference record in bowl games as a signal of superiority of a conference. Especially considering that this is a Big Ten-SEC matchup, the stakes will be particularly high. Florida had its last loss in a bowl game to Michigan and will want to avenge that against another Big Ten opponent.
Technically, the game will be played at a neutral site; however, Tampa Bay could hardly be considered the geographic middle between the two schools.
While Florida and Penn State will receive the same amount of tickets, it will clearly be easier for Florida fans to come out in droves.
Even if the fans are even between the two schools, Florida will definitely feel more comfortable being so close to home. It may be a small advantage, but Florida will take anything to get an edge, especially considering that the Gators were 5-3 at home and just 2-2 on the road.
No matter how it's framed, the 2011 Outback Bowl is a disappointment to this Florida Gators team. Beginning the season at No. 4 in the polls, Florida expected to compete for a National Championship or at least the SEC East.
Instead, the Gators did not win the SEC East for the second time in five years. More importantly, Florida was decimated by a Florida State team that had not beaten the Gators since George W. Bush was in his first term as President.
The fans in Gainesville had high expectations this season after being spoiled with four years of Tebow. After playing in three BCS bowls and a Capital One Bowl over the last four years, the Outback Bowl just has to disappoint the fans.
While the Outback Bowl may be a disappointment, its the start of a new beginning for the Florida Gators. Urban Meyer knows he has a lot of rebuilding to do with this team and Penn State provides the opportunity to start.
John Brantley will have a chance to show that he should have at least a shot to compete for a starting job next season and Chris Rainey could use a great bowl game performance to make people forget about his troubles with the law.
Winning the Outback Bowl won't create any all-time memories in the Florida history book, but it could provide some measure of redemption for a season that has been forgettable. At least a win could give Florida a one-game winning streak to start the 2011 season, right?