UF to Gator Bowl vs. Ohio State

Florida head coach Will Muschamp's bowl debut as a head coach will be in Jacksonville.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 7:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 7:10 p.m.

Other than the much-anticipated (and debated) SEC rematch in college football's national championship game in New Orleans, the Gator Bowl has perhaps the most intriguing story line of the bowl season.

Ohio State vs. Florida.

Coach Urban Meyer's future team against his former team in a rematch of the 2006 BCS Championship Game.

Because of the Meyer factor, this game will generate a great deal of national attention between now and the Jan. 2 game in Jacksonville.

But the coaches for both teams apparently are ready to downplay the whole Meyer effect.

“I don't think it will be any distraction. We've moved on,” UF coach Will Muschamp said after accepting the Gator Bowl's invitation Sunday night. “Urban did a great job at the University of Florida. I'm very appreciative of what he's done. We've moved on. We're looking forward to playing in the game.”

Interim Ohio State coach Luke Fickell, who will be part of Meyer's OSU staff, echoed similar sentiments.

“I don't know that you could get any more distracted than what we've had,” said Fickell of an OSU program in the midst of an NCAA investigation and coming off the firing of Jim Tressel before the start of the season. “The guys are excited to have some clarity about what is going to happen in the future.

“It's not nearly as hard on them. They feel clarity. Playing Florida and that other stuff with coach Meyer won't have an effect on our guys.”

After leading the Gators to two national championships in his six seasons at Florida, Meyer resigned (for the second time) last December, citing health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family.

Less than a year later, Meyer, an Ohio native, accepted the Buckeyes' head coaching last week. Now, his former team is playing against his future team.

Muschamp was asked Sunday night if he was surprised at how quickly Meyer has returned to coaching.

“I don't know. Urban would have to answer that for himself,” Muschamp said. “He was very helpful to me in my early days at Florida. He's an outstanding football coach. He's great for college football. I'm glad he's back.”

Meyer will not coach the Buckeyes in the bowl game and it's still uncertain whether he'll even show up in Jacksonville. But he's already added a little more intensity to the game by hiring strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti away from Florida.

Meyer hired Marotti when he took the UF job and the two are close friends.

Muschamp confirmed Sunday night that Marotti has gone to OSU.

“Mickey left to go to Ohio State,” Mushcamp said. “I'm going to take my time on that (finding a replacement). It's a critical hire. I appreciate his efforts. We need to get stronger and more mentally and physically tough. That's critical.”

Meyer also approached the two coaches from his former UF staff -- running backs coach Brian White and linebackers coach and special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin -- about making the move to Columbus, but both have decided to stay with Muschamp.

“Our coaching staff is intact,” Muschamp said. “They had other opportunities. I'm excited about the continuity of our staff and the staff that's in place.”

Fickell said he did not know what impact, if any, Meyer would have in OSU's preparation for the Gators.

“I don't know that that's a huge part of what we do,” Fickell said. “He can have some idea, but we can get that from coaches that played against those guys. It's a complete new staff there. We've got to do our work and figure out what we need to do to be successful.

“It's a unique situation, how much coach Meyer offers up. Not just his ideas about personnel, but even moving forward with the offense. It's definitely a unique situation.”

Regardless of Meyer's impact, this is a matchup between two elite college programs that have struggled through disappointing 6-6 seasons. This will be UF's first trip to the Gator Bowl since 1992.

“We're disappointed with a 6-6 season,” Muschamp said. “It's not acceptable. We're going through a little bit of a transition.”

Other than starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who is scheduled to undergo ACL surgery Wednesday, the Gators should be healthy for the bowl game, Muschamp said.

Muschamp said starting quarterback John Brantley is fine after getting knocked out of the game with a blow to the head late in the first half of the loss to Florida State.

“He's disappointed with the way he played in his last game in The Swamp,” Muschamp said. “He's fine. He's back from that game. We should be fine (other than Easley) for the game.”

Muschamp said offensive coordinator Charlie Weis also will be ready to coach in the game. He's been walking with the help of a cane. Muschamp said Weis likely will have hip surgery after the bowl game.

The bowl payout may be about the same UF received from last season's Outback Bowl when the Gators received more than $1.1 million. Gator Bowl officials said last year's game had a total payout of more than $5.4 million.

Notes: Gator Bowl tickets are $65 for stadium seats or $125 for Club seats. The Gator Ticket Office will begin taking ticket orders at 8:30 a.m. Monday. Fans can order online at www.GatorZone.com/tickets, by visiting the Gator Ticket Office starting Monday or by calling their order at 352-375-4683. Ordering deadline is 5 p.m. Friday.

Stone Mountain, Ga., running back Mike Davis tweeted Sunday he is no longer committed to Florida.

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