Muschamp focused on tilt with Ohio St.

Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell, left, and Florida head coach Will Muschamp pose for photos during a news conference for the Gator Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, in Jacksonville. Florida is scheduled to face Ohio State in the game on Jan. 2. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 at 12:14 a.m.

JACKSONVILLE — As the swell of attention surrounding Charlie Weis' departure finally crested, UF coach Will Muschamp stated the obvious.

“We need to play well and we need to win,” Muschamp said Thursday during his introductory Gator Bowl news conference. “It's important for us to play well in the Gator Bowl. Our guys understand that. You've got two of the best high school coaching and player talent bases in the country between Florida and Ohio, so it ought to be a great matchup.”

Florida (6-6) is one loss away from its first losing season since the 0-10-1 debacle of 1979. Some coaches might use the bowl game as preparation for next season, but Muschamp said he intends to play the best players against Ohio State, including starting quarterback John Brantley, who tossed three first-half interceptions in the regular-season finale against Florida State.

“We're coaching to win the game,” Muschamp said. “We're coaching to win the game. I don't believe in (otherwise).”

Ohio State, meanwhile, will begin formal Gator Bowl preparations on Dec. 27 after a four-day Christmas break. The Buckeyes finished 6-6 after losing their last three regular-season games to Purdue (26-23, OT), Penn State (20-14) and Michigan (40-34).

“Our expectation is not to be competitive, but to win,” Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said. “It was a long year for us. Going into the season, we had an idea we had to get off to a good start. With everything that's happened to us, I knew it was going to have a little wear and tear on the team emotionally as we came down the stretch. … I think that last game (against Michigan) we saw more of who we really are from an emotional and effort standpoint. That's where we have to continue to grow.”

Buckeye fans are encouraged by their squad's improvement on offense. OSU tallied 40 points against the rival Wolverines to end the regular season. Florida, by contrast, struggled, mustering just one touchdown during a 21-7 home loss to FSU.

“There's going to be matchups all over the place and storylines all over the place,” Fickell said. “It's going to come down to who can do the best job with preparation. It's on us to get better (in the areas) we can get better at and do a good job of focusing on our strengths. Whoever can take advantage of the matchups will be successful.”

Florida will have to deal with the distraction of losing an offensive coordinator; OSU has been hounded by the hype generated by the arrival of Urban Meyer. The former Florida coach will formally succeed Fickell as head coach after the bowl game.

“It's been that type of year where we've had a lot of different (issues) like that,” Fickell said. “There's some things our guys have had to go through (this season), but that's not how we're looking at it as. We've got a lot of fourth and fifth-year seniors who have been through a lot, a lot of highs and lows in their careers. The most important thing is we're focusing on ourselves. It's not about who's going to be there in the future.”

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