Martin Fennelly Columns
On the whole, Gators, Bearcats might rather be elsewhere
NEW ORLEANS - Does anybody want to be here? I know it's the Sugar Bowl and New Orleans and all, but something tells me Florida and Cincinnati want to be somewhere else. Maybe it's the way the coaching staffs don't know whether they're coming or going. Wait a second, we know -- they're going.Urban Meyer heads for the rest home after this one. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, who guided the Bearcats to a 12-0 record, isn't even here. He's already at Notre Dame. Florida has an interim head coach, Steve Addazio. So does Cincinnati in Jeff Quinn, who is interim head coach for the second time for Kelly, having done it at Central Michigan, too. Only Quinn also is leaving, to be head coach at Buffalo. Most of the Cincinnati staff is leaving, too. Did we mention Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is coaching this Sugar Bowl on his way out of town to Louisville? By the way, Bobby Bowden phoned Florida and said he could be there by game time New Year's night if the Gators are in a pickle ... Tommy, Terry and Jeff will get there by halftime at the latest. It's the Distraction Bowl. The Interim Bowl. The Bizarre-o Bowl. "It's definitely been a little wild," Florida defensive back Joe Haden said. We haven't even talked about the players. What energetic, inquisitive young man wouldn't want a crack at New Orleans and Bourbon Street? But you know both these teams, deep down, want to be somewhere else, namely Pasadena, the Rose Bowl, the national championship game. Florida came within a win of getting its shot at a repeat but got waxed by Alabama. It all came crashing down. I'm not exactly sure when Tim Tebow stopped crying after that one, but now he's here, and, well, we'll see how here he is for this one come Friday night. Meanwhile, Cincinnati players must bite their lips when they hear Florida was within a win of the BCS title game. The Bearcats? They were within a second. One second. One tick of the clock. That's right -- if Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's brain had cramped for just a second longer at the end of the Big 12 championship game, if he had thrown that pass out of bounds ONE second later, it would be Cincinnati playing Alabama for the national championship. Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard was eating wings and watching the Texas game with a bunch of other Bearcats receivers. They all went crazy when they thought Texas had lost. "When the last second went off, I threw my wings in the air," Gilyard said. Then the clock review, then ... "... But by the time my wings hit the ground, it was done," Gilyard said. So here they are at the Sugar Bowl. Here are the Gators, with all those guys with one eye on the NFL, maybe both eyes on the NFL. And the rest of us? I'm still trying to picture Steve Addazio's first home visit to a recruit. What comes first, laying the latest EKGs out on the coffee table or simply handing the recruit his phone and saying, "Coach Meyer wants to talk to you." Crazy, nutty stuff. Still, Cincinnati technically has more to play for in this one. Yes, it's Tebow's final game and Meyer's final game until who knows when. But the Gators lost seemingly everything in that SEC title game. The perfect season. Consecutive national championships, Pasadena, and on and on. How do they rebound from that? Cincinnati? Well, they've never been on a stage like this. The Orange Bowl last year was nothing compared to playing Florida and Tebow in New Orleans. Then there's the respect thing -- they're cut out of the national title game, they're No. 3, ranked higher than Florida, but all the Bearcats have heard about since hitting New Orleans is Meyer's health. "We're the only undefeated team in this game," Cincinnati defensive back Brad Jones said. Then throw in the whole state of Ohio and second banana to Ohio State thing, and, well, it's clear that Cincinnati has more motivation to win this game than Florida. But we'll see. Meyer's heart is now an issue. Will it be one for the rest of the Gators, too? This one is about heart, and pride. That's all that's left for Florida. We'll see if it's enough.
Forecast: Dry, muggy conditions for Tampa Bay before severe storms, possible tornadoes arrive ahead of cold front