Buckeyes Face Familiar Foe Under Unusual Circumstances
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes will get another shot at the Florida Gators, who derailed their otherwise perfect 2006 season, but this time Urban Meyer will be on their side.
The last time these two teams met on the gridiron—which was also the first time they ever met—they were playing for a BCS national championship. Meyer was in his second season at Florida after two years at Bowling Green and two more at Utah.
He had never won a national championship, but his Gators dismantled Jim Tressel and Ohio State in the title game that Buckeye fans will always remember as one of their worst nightmares.
It was the first of two championship for Meyer during his six years in Gainesville, but now Ohio State fans have had their dreams come true—at least in light of everything they have been through over the past year.
Meyer will be on the sidelines wearing Scarlet and Gray next fall, but both his current team and former insist that won’t be a distraction when the Buckeyes and Gators meet on Jan. 2 in the Gator Bowl.
“I don’t know that you could get any more distractions than what we’ve had,” Ohio State’s interim head coach Fickell said during his teleconference Sunday evening.
“I think our guys are just so excited to have some clarity about what’s going to happen in the future so they can put those things behind them. I don’t think this will be nearly as hard on them. ... That you’re playing Florida, all the other stuff with coach Meyer and that’s where he came from, to me, won’t have an effect on our guys.”
Meyer has already begun recruiting for Ohio State since being announced as the 24th head coach in school history this past Monday, but he won’t be the one leading the 6-6 Buckeyes into battle against many of the players he helped to recruit at Florida.
In fact, the Gators will take the field in Jacksonville with all but two starters who where originally signed by, or least recruited by, Meyer when he was the head coach at Florida. Meyer was replaced by former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
He isn’t worried about the players being distracted by unique circumstances of the matchup.
“Based on what I know, Urban won’t coach the game,” Muschamp said Sunday on the teleconference.
“I don’t think it would be any distraction. We’ve moved on. Urban did a great job during his time at the University of Florida. I’m very appreciative of what he did, but we’ve moved on and we’re looking forward to playing the game.”
Like Ohio State under Fickell, Florida was a 6-6 football team in their first season under the new regime. The Gators won their first four games to start the season, but immediately dropped four straight games after the competition ratcheted it up a notch against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
They played without starting quarterback John Brantley much of the time down the stretch and lost to South Carolina and rival Florida State in the month of November. In many ways, it really mirrored the season Ohio State had without Tressel in 2011.
The Buckeyes lost the majority of their big games, but pulled out a season-saving victory over Wisconsin in October. It was that win, and the subsequent victory over Indiana that allowed Ohio State remain bowl eligible after dropping the last three games of the season.
Two days after a season-ending 40-34 loss to archrival Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ohio State held a press conference to announce Meyer as the new head coach. Urban and his wife Shelley met with Luke and Amy Fickell and decided to keep Fickell on as assistant coach with a major role on Meyer’s staff.
He first has to finish out his current role as interim head coach through the bowl game.
“I don’t know that this is going to make it any more difficult for me,” Fickell said of the focus on Meyer’s new team facing his old one.
“I don’t know that it could get more difficult. It might be a unique situation for the other people involved. But for our coaches and our players, I don’t know that they’ll know much of a difference. ... (We’re) trying to do the best job we can to end the season on a good note with all the ups and downs we’ve had.”
Ohio State has also had some ups and downs when it comes to playing bowl games in the state of Florida. They won two of their first three, but are just 2-6 overall in bowl games in the Sunshine State after dropping their last five.
The one everyone in Columbus will remember was 1978. That Ohio State’s second bowl trip to the state of Florida, and their first and only trip to the Gator Bowl prior to this season.
Maybe they were never invited back because then-head coach Woody Hayes got himself fired for striking defender Charlie Baum near the end of Ohio State’s 17-15 loss to Clemson.
“We’d like to put a completely different spin on Ohio State’s Gator Bowl history,” Fickell said Sunday.
They can also put a different spin on the momentum in Columbus, which had been rapidly twisting out of control before Meyer took the helm.
A Look at Ohio State’s Florida Bowl Games:
- 1977 Orange Bowl – Ohio State 27, Colorado 10
- 1978 Gator Bowl – Clemson 17, Ohio State 15
- 1986 Citrus Bowl – Ohio State 10, BYU 7
- 1993 Citrus Bowl – Georgia 21, Ohio State 14
- 1995 Citrus Bowl – Alabama 24, Ohio State 17
- 1996 Citrus Bowl – Tennessee 20, Ohio State 14
- 2001 Outback Bowl – South Carolina 24, Ohio State 7
- 2002 Outback Bowl – South Carolina 31, Ohio State 28
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