Gators look to make statement


UF coach Will Muschamp looks to get 2012 off to a positive start with a win today.

Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE — Even though he hasn't been here, it's been Urban Meyer Week in Jacksonville.

Facts

67th Gator Bowl

Who: Florida (6-6) vs. Ohio State (6-6)
When: Today, 1 p.m.
Where: EverBank Field in Jacksonville
On TV: ESPN2 Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850

Not a day has gone by where the Gators haven't heard his name or been asked a question about their former coach.

Were you stunned that he took the Ohio State job?

What kind of coach is he? What kind of recruiter?

Are you surprised he's returning to coaching so soon?

Do you have any bitter feelings or resentment?

The Gators have been patient about all this, and very gracious in their responses.

“We wish him well. No hard feelings,” UF middle linebacker Jon Bostic said. “He's a good guy. It's a good opportunity for him.”

But it's time to move on.

That seems to be the feeling in the Gator camp.

The Gators are not upset with Meyer, they don't mind talking about him.

But he's the past — and this Gator Bowl game is the future.

That's where the Gators are ready move on to. Away from 6-6 and hopefully on to something much better in 2012.

“This is a building block right now for the future of our program,” senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. “It's going to be important to go out and get this win, not just for us as a senior class, but for our program as a whole.”

The Gators say the urgency to win has nothing to do with beating their former coach's future team.

“This is a big game for us. We have to make a statement,” sophomore defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell said. “It's definitely going to lead on to the next season.”

A victory over Ohio State would not right all (or many even any) of went wrong in 2011. But it would be a great way to start 2012.

Clearly, the Gators are ready to forget last season and start moving on to next season.

“It's real important that we move on,” Bostic said. “This is what it is, the start to a new year. It's Jan. 2. We'll be ready.”

“We want to win this and start the offseason the right way,” defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “We want to win this game, have strong workouts this winter and get ready for the (2012) season.”

Despite all the negatives this season, including an offense that bordered on inept when it came to scoring points, the Gators are optimistic as they start focusing on next season.

“I'm very excited about the future because 75 percent of our roster is freshmen and sophomores,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “Those have basically been our playmakers throughout the season. A lot of those guys are back. That part is exciting.”

Ten starters return on a defense that ranks ninth in the nation in total defense. Every starter but one returns on the offensive line. Of the 48 players on UF's two-deep Gator Bowl depth chart, 31 are freshmen and sophomores.

Interim offensive coordinator Brian White said programs usually experience a considerable bump between the first and second season under a new coaching staff, and with so many players returning next season, it could happen for the Gators.

“I would say there is always a learning curve your first year at any program,” White said. “Once you flatten that learning curve, you see exponential jumps, and certainly that's what we're hoping for.

“I've seen a lot of progress with a lot of young players. There are a lot of players who have improved dramatically (over the course of the season). Hopefully, they can put that performance on the field (today) and really use it as a springboard into 2012.

Hunter is predicting the Gators will rebound strong next season -- and it starts with today's Gator Bowl game.

“Florida is going to be back. We're going to be back,” he said. “Coach Muschamp is a great coach. It's the best hire they made.”

Ohio State is happy about it's hire, too.

But from a Florida perspective, Urban Meyer (and his decision) will not impact today's game.

At the Gator Bowl press conference on Saturday, someone attempted to ask Muschamp a question about Meyer.

“So much is being made of Urban Meyer. …”

But Muschamp cut off the question before it could be completed.

“Who?” laughed Muschamp.

Muschamp was then asked if all this Meyer stuff would have an effect on the game.

“I think absolutely none. None. Zero,” Muschamp said. “I really don't think it has any effect. He's going to be the head coach at Ohio State next year, not right now. It's about the players playing the game on Jan. 2 in the Gator Bowl.

“No, (I don't wish we were playing someone else). I look forward to playing Ohio State.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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