Meyer's Shadow Looms Over Gator Bowl

The matchup was rumored for weeks before being announced. It made too much sense for the Gator Bowl. Even before Urban Meyer took the job as the head coach of the Buckeyes, the Florida-Ohio State rivalry grew stronger in football and basketball during 2006 and 2007. Meyer returning to college football as the head coach of the Buckeyes only strengthened the matchup on paper.

No one is sure whether Urban Meyer will be at the Gator Bowl or not. Whether he does or not, his presence will be felt at the game, potentially even overshadowing what happens on the field.

Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell wouldn't say whether or not he believes Meyer likes the matchup, but he did think it would be uncomfortable for Meyer to think about.

"For coach, I'd imagine it would be a little harder," Fickell said. "I'm sure there will be a ton of people there from Florida that he loves and respects. That might be a little more anxiety there than for the rest of us."

The distractions won't be much new for Ohio State after everything it has been through this season. Jim Tressel resigned in late May after news broke that Ohio State reportedly had been involved in a tattoos-for-memorabilia trades that had been happening since 2002. Fickell was named interim head coach, but players and coaches went through the season with uncertainty.

The future of the program was up in the air, not knowing who the coach would be. If anything, Fickell thinks Meyer being named the head coach will bring certainty to a program that has desperately needed it.

"I don't know that you can get any more distractions than what we've had," Fickell said. "I think our guys are just excited to get 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 as them."

Florida head coach Will Muschamp wasn't worried about the distractions. Florida players were active on Twitter when Meyer accepted the job at Ohio State, but Muschamp has emphasized that the Florida program has already moved forward under its new regime.

"Based on what I know, Urban won't coach the game," Muschamp said. "I don't think it will be a distraction. We've moved on. Urban did a great job in his time at the University of Florida, and we're very pleased with what he did, but again, we've moved on."

The outcome of the January 2 game could come from the team that best blocks out its distractions. Neither team is happy with the way its season went. Florida is 6-6 and trying to avoid the program's first losing season since 1979 when it went 0-10. Ohio State also went 6-6 while mirroring Florida's 3-5 record in conference.

The rivalry between the two schools has grown in recent years. Florida beat Ohio State 41-14 to win the 2006 national championship in football. The Gators then beat Ohio State 84-75 three months later to win the national championship in college basketball.

"I think it is (a rivalry)," Fickell said. "That's the beauty of college football. Whether you play a team in a bowl game, recruit against them or play them in another sport, you develop some of those rivalries."

With Meyer spending most of his time recruiting, Fickell said wasn't sure of how much input he would have as the Buckeyes prepare for Florida. Meyer recruited most of the players on the Florida roster to Gainesville, so he could provide an interesting angle as Ohio State prepares.

"I don't know that it's a huge part of what we do," Fickell said. "You can have some ideas of guys, but you can get that from coaches that play other guys or coaches that were on somebody's staff the year before. That might be a little part of something, but it still comes down to what you've seen them do.

"It's a completely new staff there at Florida. It'll be a unique situation with how much Coach Meyer offers up his ideas about the personnel at Florida."


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