A long three years

The Florida program has come full circle since the end of the 2009 season. The Gators finished that year with a berth in the Sugar Bowl where they pounded Cincinnati to send a successful senior class out with a 27-point win. The last two seasons have been inconsistent, but the Gators are back in New Orleans to cap off this season with another berth in the Sugar Bowl, rejoining the national elite.

It's tough to blame the program for the production on the field. There was uncertainty on the sideline through it all. Former Florida head coach Urban Meyer stepped down before the team came to New Orleans to prepare for the 2009 game before changing his mind and returning to his post at the head of the program.

That only lasted for one year, and the 2010 season ended with an 8-5 record before Meyer left the program for good. It didn't look like it could get worse.

In 2011, it did. The Gators finished the season with a 7-6 record under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, needing a win in the Gator Bowl over Ohio State to avoid a sub-.500 season. The struggles from last season have fueled the Gators to earn a berth in this year's Sugar Bowl.

"When you've hit the bottom of the barrel at a place like the University of Florida, it makes you appreciate things a lot more," Muschamp said. "You've got to stay grounded in your approach as a player or a coach to understand you can't throw a hat out there and win games. It takes work, it takes recruiting, it takes development, it takes strength program—it takes all of those things to be the type of program you want to have at Florida.

"I understand that getting out of bed every day. That's what I think these players understand a little more."

There were plenty of low points during both seasons. The Gators went 1-3 during October in 2010, squeaking out an overtime win over Georgia in the final opportunity. The 2011 season brought an 0-4 record in October. It's a month that haunted the Gators during their down years.

"The month of October wasn't a whole lot of fun," Muschamp said. "When you come to Florida, you expect to play for championships and compete for the SEC."

The key to making that happen has been the senior class. They came in during the 2009 season and saw the expectation level at Florida, when a berth in the Sugar Bowl felt like a disappointment. The 15-11 combined record during the 2010 and 2011 season made the class feel like there was one more chance to change that.

It started in the offseason. The seniors led the charge through the offseason workout plan and pushed teammates to buy into the coaching staff and strength and conditioning staff. The Gators became tougher, and it showed throughout the 2012 season.

"I can't speak enough of Jon Bostic, Frankie Hammond, Xavier Nixon, Josh Evans and Caleb Sturgis – the guys that have done some really positive things for this program," Muschamp said.

TWO LATE ARRIVALS: Sophomore punter Kyle Christy and redshirt junior offensive lineman Kyle Koehne were both late arrivals in New Orleans after being stuck at home up north because of snow. Christy is from Brownsburg, Ind., and Koehne is from Indianapolis, Ind.

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