Monday, January 2nd, 1:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: In what could be one of the more intriguing matchups of this bowl slate, the Florida Gators take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2012 Gator Bowl from EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida.
The intrigue of course surrounds the recent hire by Ohio State of former Florida head coach Urban Meyer. In 10 years as a head coach, Meyer owns an impressive record of 104-23, and his .814 winning percentage is the 10th- best in the history of major college football. Meyer, of course, led Florida to a pair of national titles during his six years in Gainesville.
Meyer has said he won't attend the game, but having recruited the majority of Florida's current roster, and knowing that he has probably had some input in Ohio State's game plan, it will be hard not to see the impact he has on both teams.
Additional drama for Ohio State comes in the form of the recent announcement from the NCAA that the Buckeyes are banned from bowl consideration next year, meaning Meyer's first foray with his new team into the postseason won't occur until at least 2013.
Florida is currently coached by Meyer's successor, Will Muschamp, and he guided the Gators to a 6-6 mark this season, which included a disappointing 3-5 finish in the SEC. UF opened the season at 4-0, but a winless October (0-4), had the team at .500 coming down the stretch. The Gators alternated wins and losses during a four-week stretch in November, with the finale being a 21-7 setback at home to non-conference rival Florida State.
Florida is appearing in its 21st straight bowl game, and its 39th overall. The Gators are 19-19 in the postseason, and this is their ninth trip to the Gator Bowl, where they are 6-2 all-time. Their last appearance in this particular bowl game took place on December 31, 1992, and resulted in a 27-10 victory over NC State.
"We are so excited to play in front of all the Gator fans there in Jacksonville and in the state of Florida," Muschamp said recently. "I don't think [the Meyer factor] will be any distraction. We've moved on. Urban did a great job in his time at the University of Florida. I'm very appreciative of what he did, but again, we've moved on and we're looking forward to playing the game."
Ohio State came into the 2011 campaign trying to put the negative feelings of an off-season steeped in controversy behind it, but the Buckeyes simply never found their rhythm. Interim head coach Luke Fickell, who has been retained by Meyer to work on the defensive side of the ball in 2012, did his best to lead an undermanned team to a 6-6 mark, and a 3-5 ledger in the Big Ten Conference. OSU lost its final three games of the regular season, the last being a 40-34 defeat at bitter rival Michigan.
Ohio State is making its first appearance in the Gator Bowl since 1978 when it lost to Clemson in a 17-15 final. Overall, the Buckeyes are appearing in their 11th consecutive bowl game, and they own an all-time record of 19-22 in bowl games dating back to their very first Rose Bowl appearance in 1921. This is OSU's first bowl game in the state of Florida since the 2002 Outback Bowl.
"The guys are extremely excited about playing Florida in the Gator Bowl on January 2," Fickell said upon receiving the invite. "We are hoping to end the season on a good note."
The Gators and Buckeyes have faced each other only one other time, that coming in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game. Florida whipped Ohio State that night, 41-14, to win the first of Meyer's two national titles.
This year's Florida team was a far cry from the productive unit Meyer oversaw, but there is still some very talented players wearing the orange and blue, notably the RB tandem of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. The two combined for 1,329 yards and eight TDs this season, and both averaged better than five yards per carry. The aerial attack will likely benefit from the improved health of QB John Brantley, and while his numbers this year (132-of-244, 1,912 yards, 10 TDs, six INTs) don't elicit a whole lot of excitement, the fifth- year senior is clearly UF's best option. The Gators' top two pass catchers had just 28 receptions apiece, as Rainey and Jordan Reed combined for 657 receiving yards and four scores.
Overall, Florida averages 25.6 ppg on a typical output of 334.2 total ypg. Despite running the fewest offensive plays in the country (735), the Gators average 5.5 yards per attempt. Third downs have killed the team all season, as it converts just 31 percent of the time. The Gators have a near two-to-one deficit in turnover margin, coming up with just 12 takeaways while giving the opposition the ball on 23 occasions.
With generating turnovers being such a problem, the Florida defense was on the field for nearly 32 minutes per game during the regular season, but despite that fact, the Gators yield just 299.6 total ypg. They have been particularly tough against the pass, permitting just 167.2 ypg with an average of roughly one passing score allowed per outing. Conversely, they have surrendered 16 rushing scores, and an average of 20.6 ppg as a result.
Linebacker Jonathan Bostic has been Florida's most active defender this season, logging 86 tackles, of which 53 have been unassisted. The team as whole is credited with nearly seven TFL per tilt, but fewer than two sacks per game.
With the off-season turmoil zeroing in on the offense more so than the defense, coach Fickell knew the unit was going to experience considerable growing pains this year. The Buckeyes didn't get much out of the QB position to start, as Joe Bauserman earned the starting nod at the outset, only to lose the job midway through to freshman Braxton Miller. Miller wasn't all that productive with his arm (90.6 ypg), but he did toss 11 TDs against only four INTs, thus showing signs of progression. Miller's true worth however, came in the run game, as he led the team with 695 yards and seven TDs. RB Dan Herron (123 carries, 596 yards, three TDs) missed the first several games due to suspension, but came on late to give the Buckeyes some balance out of the backfield. Carlos Hyde is another option as he averaged better than five yards per tote and reached the end zone six times. Jake Stoneburner had seven scoring catches, despite only having 14 grabs on the season.
As a team, OSU is averaging just 319.8 total ypg. Despite that lackluster figure, the Buckeyes put up 25.1 ppg and they are moving the chains on 40 percent of their third-down opportunities. One of the stats that jumps out at you when looking at the Ohio State offense is the fact that foes have gotten to the QB a whopping 40 times this season.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were on top of their game for much of the regular season, and in the end opponents averaged just 20.8 points and 328.6 yards of total offense per outing. They allow just 3.9 yards per rush attempt, and they have come up with 17 turnovers, 12 of which have been INTs. C.J. Barnett sits atop the team's tackles list with 69, while John Simon has had a solid year as well, recording 15 TFL, including seven sacks. Bradley Roby and Orhian Johnson have three picks apiece.
Regardless of whether Meyer is in attendance or not, both teams are going to want to put on a show for him, and the nation. If Brantley can get it going early, the Gators could be in line for the win. But as it is, expect the Buckeyes to reward Fickle for being the good soldier he is with a hard-fought victory in his final game at the helm,
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 23, Florida 20
12/30 16:17:21 ET