On Sunday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes accepted a bid to play in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against the Florida Gators. These two storied programs met for the 2006 BCS Championship in January of 2007, but this year, each team finished 6-6 (3-5) in their respective divisions.
How the mighty have fallen.
Despite no trophy being on the line, storylines abound to make the Gator Bowl a compelling watch.
Will Muschamp’s first year as the head coach of the Gators fell far short of the success the team has enjoyed over the last half-decade. Florida has not finished as poorly as 6-6 since 1987, when Galen Hall was the head coach and Emmitt Smith was the starting running back.
That’s the same Emmitt Smith from the Just For Men commercials.
Muschamp is in need of a signature win. In the 2011 college football season, his biggest coaching wins are against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. That's like saying your best grade in college was a C-minus.
A bowl victory over the Buckeyes would be a sign that despite a lackluster inaugural season, Muschamp is steering Florida back to prominence.
Muschamp is not the only coach who's hungry for a big win in this game.
Luke Fickell will be coaching his last game as the interim head coach of Ohio State. Fickell faced a mountainous uphill climb in 2011. When he took the reins for the Buckeyes, the team was in an unprecedented state of disarray.
He replaced Jim Tressel, a beloved coach in Columbus. He had to prepare unproven quarterbacks after Terrelle Pryor abruptly bolted for the NFL.
Fickell coached through the suspensions of his top players, including Daniel “Boom” Herron and DeVier Posey. He kept the Buckeyes together and led them to a victory over Wisconsin amid rumors about who would inevitably replace him.
Fickell never stood a chance to be the Ohio State head coach after this season, yet he stayed focused and publicly ignored questions about anything but the Buckeyes’ play. A win over Florida in the Gator Bowl would put a bow on a trying season and give Fickell a line on his resume that may land him a head coaching job in the future.
When these two teams met in the 2006 BCS Championship, Florida trounced the Buckeyes.
Ohio State did not look like it belonged on the same field as Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and the Gators. The Buckeyes have not shaken that albatross and feel they owe Florida. Although this is not a championship game, Ohio State will take this game personally and play with a chip on its collective shoulder.
The most intriguing storyline heading into the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl is the specter of Urban Meyer. The college football world will literally watch Meyer’s past and his future collide.
Young Ohio State players like Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Devin Smith will surely enter this game as if it is an audition for their new coach. The Florida players and the Gainesville faithful will enter this game wanting to show Meyer that he should have stayed in the swamp, and that the grass is not always greener in Ohio Stadium.
The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl matchup between the Florida Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes will not end with a trophy presentation, nor will confetti rain down from the sky.
But when two historic programs are playing for pride and momentum for the 2012 season, the play is bound to be electrifying.