Peach Win Has Big Consequences For UF

When the Florida Gators square off with the Miami Hurricanes, New Year's Eve, in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, there is much more at stake than just the championship of a mid-tier bowl game. Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons by their own high standards and a win in this game would do wonders for catapulting the mindset of fans, players and coaches alike toward the 2005 season when both Miami and Florida are expected to have the talent to make a national championship run.

When Coach Ron Zook signed one of the top three recruiting classes in the nation in 2003, all signs pointed to the 2005 season as the year the class would make a big run toward the top. That run could begin three hours before the clock strikes 12 a.m., December 31. There is no under-estimating the importance of the game for the Gators.

A win for the Gators would move the Florida's Cup from its present home in Coral Gables to a new residence in Gainesville. The Florida Cup, sanctioned by the Florida Sports Foundation, is a brass and pewter trophy that encases a sculpture of the state and it represents the state championship. The three spires atop which a gold-plated football rests represent the state's big three: Florida, Florida State, and Miami. Florida and Miami have both beaten Florida State, so the winner of this game becomes the state champ.

"I don't care if you played for Florida 10 years ago, or you play at Florida 100 years from now, if it's Miami, you want to beat them," said Florida linebacker Channing Crowder. "I think we've only beaten Miami and Florida State in the same year a couple of times."

The Gators haven't been state champs since the mid-80's and snapping a two-year bowl losing streak with a win over the in-state Hurricanes would mean bragging rights, high spirits and most importantly, a shot in the recruiting arm. A nationally televised victory over Miami can't hurt when recruits like Jerome Hayes, Avery Atkins and O.J. Murdock hang in the balance.

"It helps that we're playing a rival in this bowl game," said Gator offensive tackle Randy Hand. "Everyone knows we've got a chance to beat both Florida State and Miami, and we're not going to get that opportunity very often. We've got to take advantage of it."

Miami enters the game a little banged up. The offensive line is hurting, and former Gulliver Prep. QB Buck Ortega could enter the game at starting tight end for the Canes. Running back Tyrone Moss is also doubtful for the game.

Yet another reason the game oozes with importance will be the state of the Gators team in 2005. Florida will have seven returning starters on offense, minus Ciatrick Fason, O.J. Small, Jon Colon and Mo Mitchell. Chad Jackson is set to explode next year on opposing defenses, while the emergence of Drew Miller and Steve Rissler could offset the offensive line losses.

The Gators return eight on defense, nine if Crowder unexpectedly decides to forego the NFL for one more year of college football. Gone will be Travis Harris and Rey Hill. A win over the Hurricanes would help a lot, but a win in which the defense plays very well would signal that the Gators are indeed a team on the rise.

The SEC could be ripe for the Gators picking next year, too, with stars such as Georgia's David Greene and David Pollack departing via graduation and Coach Nick Saban of LSU moving on to the NFL. Also graduating will be Tennessee stars Mike Munoz, Jason Respert, Cedric Houston and Kevin Burnett.

Couple 15 returning starters with a Peach Bowl victory and a favorable home schedule (Tennessee and FSU at home), and then throw in two-time National Coach of the Year Urban Meyer to the fold and it's not a reach to see the Florida Gators contending for national honors in 2005. A pleasant 2005 could get its beginning on the last day of 2004 if the Gators can beat Miami and win the state championship.

Fightin Gators Top Stories