Back to the Outback

Florida will return to Tampa for the second consecutive year -- this time, with hopes of a different result....

When Florida faced off against Michigan in last season's Outback Bowl, it'd almost seemed as if the Gators underachieved.

You can forget the disappointment this time around. There's no reason for anyone to think No. 16 Florida has been slighted.

In a scenario unexpected until late Tuesday evening, the Gators (8-4) accepted its second consecutive invitation to the Jan. 1 game in Tampa on Wednesday. They likely will play either Purdue or Iowa, a decision which will be made by the weekend.

"I said we were going to be a better football team [than last season]," Coach Ron Zook said. "I didn't know whether our record would show that or not, and obviously it's the same record. But I still think we're a better football team."

Seemingly penciled in for a trip to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Florida's loyal fan base may have been enough to snag a step up from the Southeastern Conference's fourth-best payout.

"I think the fact that we can stay in the state, it's great for our fans," Zook said. "We had a great time down there last year -- everything except the ending. And we need to get back there and change that."

The Gators collapsed in last year's bowl game, losing 38-30 to the Wolverines after a bizarre final play cost them the game.

But as Zook pointed out Wednesday, fans were certainly paying close attention despite the loss. Unfortunately, it may have been at the wrong time.

"That bowl game last year was probably the lowest I've been in coaching," Zook said. "But many of the people said last year that it was the best game on television."

This time around, the matchup could wind up drawing even more envy. Florida has once again grabbed the nation's attention after one of the most substantial turnarounds in the program's history.

At midseason, Florida couldn't confidently say whether it would be bowl bound at all. At 3-3, though, the team produced one of the program's biggest turnarounds. Still, the latest loss to the Seminoles caused speculation of a Peach Bowl bid.

Even more ironic, though, could end up being the fate of Tennessee. Because the Gators snagged the Outback Bowl – and the Capital One Bowl will likely take the loser of the Georgia-LSU SEC Championship game – the Volunteers could potential drop below Florida in bowl pride.

The theory is, Tennessee will be picked up for the final BCS Bowl, sending two conference teams to the top four games. But should they miss out, the Volunteers, who defeated the Gators earlier in the season, could end up in the Peach Bowl below Florida.

For now, though, the Gators are simply pleased with their own fate. After all, a win at the Outback Bowl could certainly prove Zook isn't the coach he used to be.

"It's important we win this game," Zook said. "I could tell in their eyes [Wednesday] they just want to play. They just want to line up and play."


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