Unlike Gator fans, OSU backers see good times ahead

Published: Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2012 at 12:04 a.m.

JACKSONVILLE — It's an interesting dynamic by the St. Johns River.

Florida fans and Ohio State fans have this phantom rivalry but they share more than just the memories of nights together in Glendale and Atlanta when Florida won football and basketball championships.

There is a common bond between the two fan bases and it will be demonstrated by the empty seats at EverBank Field today.

They both went 6-6 when they thought the days of worrying about bowl eligibility were in the rear-view.

They both had losing conference records when they thought that wasn't possible.

They both want to avoid the ignominy of a losing record.

They both have brands so powerful that they end up playing a notch above where they would be slotted.

But there is a difference between these fan bases.

Ohio State fans see good things ahead.

Florida fans aren't so sure.

It was around this time a year ago that the Gator Nation was abuzz with the news that Charlie Weis would be the offensive coordinator. Visions of championships danced in their heads. Weis' offensive genius plus the defensive intensity of Will Muschamp and the recruits left behind by Urban Meyer.

What's not to like?

A year later, Weis is gone, many of the recruits have either been flops or left the program and the Gator Nation isn't sure what it has with Muschamp. They fear a rerun of Ron Zook but Zook never had a losing record.

Meanwhile, the Buckeye Nation is ready to put its long, nationally-televised nightmare behind it. No bowl in 2012? Speed bump. Ohio State has a coach with two national championship rings eager to work. He may be damaged goods, a Mercedes with a broken tail-light, but The Ohio State University believes it is in good hands.

At a place where they count the days until the Michigan game, they're counting the days until the spring game.

These two fan bases will tailgate today and trudge into a stadium knowing one will come out with a surreal feeling. The last time Florida had a losing season Sony had just introduced cutting edge technology — the Walkman. The last time Ohio State had a losing season Disney had just introduced to cutting edge animation — “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

During the week, the players and coaches on both teams have made it clear that they understand how important it is to avoid the stigma of a losing season. And with a month between games, they have had plenty of chances to stew about their respecive seasons.

That's why this isn't the Urban Meyer Bowl.

It's the Release Bowl.

These two groups of players want to release the frustrations that this season has brought.

“Somewhat,” said Florida defensive tackle Jaye Howard. “It's also a building block for the future of our program. It's an important game.”

It's also the last game for seniors on both sides.

Let's see — final game of a frustrating season. Any reason to hold back?

“It's my last game ever wearing a Buckeye uniform,” said linebacker Andrew Sweat. “There is a sense of wanting to leave it all on the line.”

We always hear during the bowl season that a game will come down to who wants to be there more. The truth is, neither team wanted to be here when the season started. But as long as they are here, well, let’s go.

Maybe today we’ll see a dynamic game that we remember forever. Maybe the players have brushed off 2011 because the calendar has changed. Or maybe we’ll see more of the reasons why these two teams went 6-6.

Either way, it’s over after today.

Next year starts for both teams as soon as they get on the buses this evening.

And —whether you’re a Buckeye or a Gator — it can’t come soon enough.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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