Gators arrive in New Orleans

The disappointment of missing the national championship game doesn't look like it will change the way No. 3 Florida plays against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. There's still plenty on the line, and Florida head coach Will Muschamp and his players made that evident when the team arrived in New Orleans on Thursday. The team wants to send the seniors out right and secure a 12-win season.

"On behalf of the University of Florida, Dr. Bernie Machen, Jeremy Foley and our football program, we are really honored to be back in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said on Thursday afternoon. "New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl are great memories for the University of Florida - the 1996 national championship game and a lot of other great games."

The city and bowl game also provide more memories for Muschamp. He was the defensive coordinator at LSU in 2003 when the Tigers won the national championship in the Superdome.

The Florida program returns to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since a 51-24 win over Cincinnati to cap off the 2009 season.

"We've had good preparation in Gainesville with our team primarily getting most of the game plan in," Muschamp said. "We've just got to refine some things as we move through the week. We'll have our normal game week starting with practice today so we're looking forward to that."

The goal is to end the season the right way. The Gators turned a 7-6 season in 2011 into an 11-1 regular season record in 2012, but now they want to finish the season with a win and become the sixth team in program history to reach the 12-win plateau. With plenty of senior and draft-eligible juniors on the roster that could be looking at the NFL draft, the Florida players don't expect it to be an issue.

The players take pride in the season they've had and bringing the Gators back to the elite in college football. Closing that off with a 12-1 record and a win in the Sugar Bowl would be the perfect way to make that happen.

"It means a ton," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "It goes back to the offseason. We didn't have a season that Florida expects year in and year out, so we kind of took that to heart in the offseason. We trained hard, we practiced hard and we really came together. It's kind of cool to see all the hard work in the offseason pay off during the season."

The seniors are starting to sense that this is the end of their careers at Florida. The four-year players ended their first regular season in the Sugar Bowl during 2009, and it's where their careers will end on Wednesday.

"You never want this to be your last game but playing in the Sugar Bowl is a great way to end a career," senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. "It would be great to go out on a good note. A lot of people say ‘I want to hurry up and get out of here, and move on to what's next,' but at the same time, it's great being on the field and in the locker room with the guys I grew up with."

There's a long list of reasons to play hard and prepare well for Wednesday's game. Securing a 12-win season, sending out the players leaving for the NFL with a win and the postseason rankings are just the beginning. It's a sign of how far the program has come in just one year.

Last season, the Gators were in a hotel in Jacksonville preparing for their postseason game in the Gator Bowl. It's not the caliber of bowl Florida expects to be in. They used that as motivation throughout the offseason and earned a bid to a BCS game this year.

"These things are important to our program as we continue to move forward," Muschamp said. "This is a one-game season. We haven't played in a long time, "but there's a lot of motivation to play well in this game since it's a BCS game. We have a special team, and they deserve a special night. We want to send them out the right way and that can only be done with a win."

INJURY UPDATE: Jelani Jenkins (foot) and offensive lineman Ian Silberman (shoulder) had surgery back in Gainesville and will be held out of the game.

STRONG ACADEMIC SEMESTER: The Gators closed out the fall semester academically in December, and there was plenty of be happy about. Muschamp said it was "probably our best semester academically since I've been at Florida." There were 39 players on the roster with over a 3.0 GPA.

Five freshmen – Raphael Andrades, Jonathan Bullard, Dante Fowler, Antonio Morrison and Kent Taylor – played on the field and had over a 3.0 GPA. Five more freshmen – Austin Hardin, Alex McCallister, Skyler Mornhinweg, Colin Thompson and Quinteze Williams – had over a 3.0 GPA while redshirting.

Senior linebacker Jon Bostic, senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond and redshirt junior defensive back Tim Clark all had a 4.0 GPA.

"I'm really proud of our accomplishments off the field, in the classroom," Muschamp said.


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