Florida to the Gator Bowl: Guide to the Matchup vs. Ohio State

John PattonContributor IDecember 5, 2011

Florida to the Gator Bowl: Guide to the Matchup vs. Ohio State

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    Even with the Florida Gators playing in this year's Gator Bowl, the biggest talk surrounding the game will be about someone who will have absolutely no bearing on the outcome.

    That's because Florida will be playing Ohio State, the school that just hired Urban Meyer, a coach who spent six seasons in Gainesville and delivered two BCS national championships.

    Meyer won't be coaching the Buckeyes here. Interim head coach Luke Fickell will finish his one-season run before joining Meyer's staff as a defensive assistant in 2012.

    At this point, Meyer hasn't said whether or not he will be at the game.

    Oh yeah, the game...

Tax-Slayer.com Gator Bowl

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    Date: Monday, Jan. 2, 2012

    Time: 1 p.m.

    Location: EverBank Field in Jacksonville

    For Tickets: http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/220046E8FD9158AE?artistid=834296&majorcatid=10004&minorcatid=8

    Payout: $5.45-million

    Television: ESPN2

    What to do in Jacksonville: The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

Gators' Biggest Strength

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    Florida's biggest strength probably has to be its defensive line, which led the way in holding rival Florida State to 95 yards of total offense.

    There the Gators boast at least four future NFL players in senior tackle Jaye Howard, sophomore tackle Sharrif Floyd, sophomore tackle/end Dominique Easley and sophomore buck Ronald Powell.

    Between the four of them, they have 29 tackles-for-loss this year.

    And don't count out space-eating junior nose guard Omar Hunter as another who could suit up on Sundays.

Buckeyes' Biggest Strength

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    Florida's biggest strength (its defensive line) will go heads up against Ohio State's biggest strength, its offensive line.

    In the 2012 NFL draft ratings put together at www.cbssports.com/nfldraft, Buckeyes' senior offensive tackle Mike Adams (6'6", 320 lbs) ranks No. 1 at his position, while center Michael Brewster (6'4", 305 lbs) is third at his. Another senior, tackle J.B. Shugarts (6'6", 305 lbs), is also considered a draftable prospect.

    Third-year sophomore Jack Mewhort (6'6", 305 lbs) ranks 10th among class of 2014 guard prospects. Tackle Andrew Norwell (6'5", 308) is 14th.

    The game could be decided up front.

Gators' Biggest Weakness

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    Make no mistake, senior quarterback John Brantley is not Florida's weakest link.

    But he has been a part of it.

    There have been times this season when, tight end Jordan Reed aside, the Gators' downfield passing game has been invisible.

    For the most part, the throwing game has been predicated on short and intermediate routes to Reed and dumpoffs to tailback Chris Rainey. And that becomes even more pronounced when true freshmen backups Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are on the field.

    The funny thing is Florida has had some success when attempting to go deep, as was evidenced when Andre Debose caught a 65-yard touchdown pass very early in the Gators' 38-10 loss to Alabama.

Buckeyes' Biggest Weakness

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    There is little doubt that athletic freshman quarterback Braxton Miller is going to be a good one (particularly as the main cog in Urban Meyer's spread).

    The biggest question now is whether he was ready to take over the Buckeyes this year.

    Playing in 11 of 12 games so far this season, Miller has completed 67 of 134 passes (50 percent) for 997 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has carried 144 times for 695 yards (4.8 ypc) with seven touchdowns.

    Not bad at all.

    However, OSU ranks just 116th nationally with an average of 124.1 passing yards per game, an area that must be improved upon if the Buckeyes are going to have a balanced offense.

How Florida Got Here

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    The Gators opened the season 4-0, recording blowout victories against Florida Atlantic, Alabama-Birmingham, Tennessee and Kentucky. That was enough to get them up to 12th in the Associated Press poll.

    However, that fast start was negated by a difficult November which saw Florida lose to Alabama, at LSU, at Auburn and in Jacksonville against Georgia.

    The Gators finished the regular season going win (Vanderbilt), loss (at South Carolina), win (Furman), loss (Florida State).

How Ohio State Got Here

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    The Buckeyes opened 2-0 following a 42-0 blowout of Akron and a far too difficult 27-22 victory against Toledo.

    Ohio State's first road trip was a dud, as the Buckeyes were handled 24-6 at Miami (Fla.).

    A victory against Colorado was then followed up by a pair of tough losses—by three to Michigan State and by seven at Nebraska.

    OSU followed that up with its best run of the season, winning three straight, including handing then-No. 16 Illinois its first loss and topping then-No. 15 Wisconsin before beating Indiana by two touchdowns.

    However, the regular season didn't end well, and Ohio State enters the Gator Bowl following losses to Purdue (in overtime), then-No. 21 Penn State and then-No. 15 Michigan.

    Take out the Miami loss and no one beat the Buckeyes by more than seven points in a game all season.

Florida's Key Player

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    Senior running back Chris Rainey leads the Gators in rushes (155) and rushing yards (790), and is tied for tops in receptions with 28 (tied with tight end Jordan Reed).

    Rainey is second on the team in receiving yardage with 350 and has a combined four rushing and receiving touchdowns.

    One of the fastest players in college football, Rainey is also a weapon on special teams as a dangerous return man as well as a potential punt blocker.

Ohio State's Key Player

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    Suspended for the Buckeyes' first six games this season, Dan Herron has made an immediate difference while in Ohio State's lineup.

    In his first game back—a 17-7 win at Illinois—the 5'10", 205-lbs senior ran 23 times for 114 yards with a touchdown. He followed that up with 160 yards on 33 carries in a victory against Wisconsin. And a week later, in a defeat of Indiana, Herron carried 14 times for 141 yards and a touchdown.

    However, he and the Buckeyes have faltered late in the season.

    Herron has run for no more than 76 yards in Ohio State's last three games, all losses.


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    Really? A prediction?

    This is Ohio State and Florida. Big Ten and SEC.

    Same story, different year.

    Prediction: Florida 24, Ohio State 12