More than just one game on won-loss ledger


Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 at 11:43 p.m.

This week at the Outback Bowl has been largely without humor. The two coaches' press conferences were business-like and the limited time we have had with the players very predictable.

So I was happy to provide a little laughter at the final media opportunity of the week Tuesday. I asked Lloyd Carr what I hoped would be a question that would lead to a column, a question about the importance of this game today.

What is the difference between 10-3 and 9-4?

"One game."

The media boys chuckled. So with the punchline set up, it was Ron Zook's turn 10 minutes later. Confidently, with impeccable timing, I asked the Florida coach the difference between 8-5 and 9-4.

"One game."

Now they're rolling in the aisles. Thank you very much, I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitresses.

OK, so maybe you had to be there. Or here. Bucs City. If you have any question about the importance of this Outback Bowl, all you have to do is look at the local papers, some of the best in the state, which have designated the deep pages of their sports sections for Florida vs. Michigan.

While the Outback Bowl was fortunate enough to land a nice matchup and have an early sellout for this year's game, it's not one that is exactly making a ripple on the national scene.

But it is an important game for the two teams and their fans. It's important to:

  • The seasons: OK, all joking aside there is a huge difference between 9-4 and 8-5 for Zook. Florida hasn't lost five games since 1989. A win would give Florida 13 straight nine-win seasons. But it's more than numbers. A win would be a recruiting boost and make the summer much more enjoyable for Zook.

    That's why Zook sees this game as a continuation of the 2001 season rather than the one-game season philosophy that is Carr's mantra.

    For Michigan, today's game is a chance to get to 10 wins.

    "Double digits," Carr said. "That's significant."

    It's also something Florida can't achieve.

  • Ed Zaunbrecher: This is one more chance for the Florida offensive coordinator to use his Triplets - Rex Grossman, Taylor Jacobs and Earnest Graham.

    "The guy who scares me is Earnest Graham," Carr said.

    For Zaunbrecher, it's also an opportunity for his returning offensive players - as well as the Gator Nation - to build up some confidence in the play-calling.

  • Braylon Edwards: The Michigan wide receiver is prototypical at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds and has almost the same numbers as Jacobs. But have you ever heard of him? He has been overshadowed in his own conference and was only honorable mention All-Big 10 by the media.

    Today's game is a chance for the sophomore to make a statement for next season and to get on the "Watch" lists. Everyone knows how important the preseason predictions are to who actually wins the awards.

  • John Navarre: While we still aren't sure about Grossman, we all know Navarre is coming back. He progressed as a junior and a big bowl game would be impetus toward next season. Plus, it might get the Wolverine fans off his back for the offseason.

  • The conferences: Forget the silly award ESPN is giving out for the conference with the best winning percentage. The players and coaches don't need a cable network to tell them which league had the best postseason.

    "The reputation of a conference is predicated on how well it does in bowl games," Carr said.

    The SEC took a major hit from the Big 10 when Minnesota manhandled Arkansas. A Florida win over Michigan could heal that wound.

    "We talked about it," Zook said. "But we talk about the SEC every week."

  • Taylor Jacobs: Certainly, Jacobs will do more for his draft status at the NFL combine than anywhere else. His speed could make him a first-round pick.

    But a big bowl game would not only get the attention of the NFL, but prove once and for all that his knee is fine.

    If you need an example of what a great bowl game can do for a player, we give you Ike Hilliard.

  • Victor Hobson: Hobson is one of two team captains for Michigan, but the only one playing out of position at middle linebacker. Hobson will likely play in the middle in the NFL, so this is an opportunity to show what he can do there.

    More than that, it's an opportunity to show his teammates they made the right choice in voting for him. These Michigan folks take that captain stuff seriously.

    So there are plenty of reasons why today's game is a big deal.

    Of course, in reality, there is only one.

    They're keeping score.

    You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear Pat on the radio Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "The Pat Dooley Show" on WTMN "The Team" AM-1430.

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