Gators, Buckeyes simply playing for pride
JACKSONVILLE - If ever two teams were eager to get a bowl game over with, this is probably it. Florida and Ohio State have done their best to hide the disappointment of 2011 seasons that resulted in a 6-6 record for each of the teams that met five years ago for the national title, a 41-14 Florida win. But even the fan bases have shown reluctance to see one more game – both sold well below their ticket allotment for today Gator Bowl, which kicks off at 1 p.m. at Everbank Field. "It's two programs that aren't used to being in this spot,'' Buckeyes center Michael Brewster said. "It's really just for pride at this point.''Both teams are eager for Tuesday to arrive. That's when UF coaches can get back to recruiting while the team starts preparing for next fall and Ohio State can welcome the start of the Urban Meyer Era, the new Buckeyes head coach who led Florida to 2006 and 2008 national titles. "Next year,'' said Gators linebacker Jon Bostic, "we've got to try and get this back right.'' Florida is trying to avoid another negative accomplishment. The last Gators team that failed to finish .500 was in 1979 – when Florida was 0-10-1 in coach Charley Pell's first season. "That's something we don't want to happen,'' junior defensive back Josh Evans said. "So we're trying to better ourselves and make sure it don't lead that way. And we're doing everything possible we can do to avoid that. "The coaches brought it up, and the players also talked about it, too, as well. So we're trying to finish on a good note, which would be a win.'' In Pell's second season, Florida went 8-4. Steve Spurrier went 10-2 in his second season as Gators head coach while Meyer won the national championship in his second season in '06. The Gators are hoping for more of the same in Muschamp's second season. Players and coaches agree an adjustment is necessary in a coach's first season. "It's not something we want to have happen,'' Muschamp said, of being the first losing team since 1979. "I certainly know that these players and myself and us as a staff don't want to be saddled with that. Is that a motivating factor? It certainly should be. "But again, playing well and putting that uniform on – whether you're a senior for the last time or as we move forward with our young players in our program – playing well and winning the game, that ought to be the motivation too, regardless of the external circumstances.'' As part of his preparation for 2012, Muschamp put more emphasis on tougher practices in December. Players called it more like preseason training camp. Charlie Weis exited to take the head coaching position at Kansas and Brian White is the interim trying to win the offensive coordinator job. Defensively, Florida has played well and returns a host of players. Ohio State's Braxton Miller is a mobile quarterback who has fans excited about the future. And there's the Meyer factor, causing Buckeyes everywhere to raise hopes for the future. So, both schools have their fingers crossed about what's down the road. But for today, Jacksonville is not where either team thought it would be in January. Ohio State has its own bitter taste of 2011 to get rid off against the Gators with key player suspensions, the departure of head coach Jim Tressel and the uncertainty of the future. But the Buckeyes, who last had a losing season in John Cooper's first year as head coach in 1988 (4-6-1), also realize once the Gator Bowl ends, a new beginning starts with Meyer. "I can assure you we're still having fun out there every day and we're looking forward to the challenge coming up,'' defensive end John Simon said. A Florida loss would linger beyond just this season. "It would be embarrassing,'' receiver Andre Debose said, "to go down as the losing team.''