The Gators already have commitments from three of Tampa's top athletes: quarterback/wide receiver Jarred Fayson of Hillsborough, tight end Trent Pupello of Jefferson and offensive tackle Jim Barrie of Berkeley Prep. The Gators are very much in the final hunt for offensive tackle Daron Rose of Jefferson and linebacker A.J. Jones of Middleton.
The Outback Bowl matchup of 8-3 Florida against 7-4 Iowa of the Big Ten Conference is a rematch of the 2003 Outback Bowl when the Gators of then-coach Ron Zook were defeated by the Hawkeyes, 37-13.
Meyer knows the importance of playing a bowl game in January as opposed to games played earlier in December. The bowl games played in December may offer top matchups and excellent venues, but the perception is that a January bowl game is better.
"I think anytime you play in a January 1st, January 2nd bowl there is prestige and the fact that players come to Florida to play in bowl games like this," he said. "I think that's critical."
Even Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz understands the value of playing in the Tampa game. The Hawkeyes have several Floridians on their roster this year and in 2002, Iowa's quarterback was Belle Glade native Brad Banks. Banks was overlooked by Florida's power teams but he thrived at Iowa.
"It really helps us," said Ferentz. "We're able to go around to different parts of the country and still maybe have a chance to be successful recruiting. We typically don't go and beat the home state on a guy. The good news is there are still some good players out there."
The Gators are in the Outback Bowl on the strength of two victories over teams that are in BCS Bowl Games --- Georgia, the SEC champ which will play in the Sugar Bowl, and Florida State, the ACC champ which will play in the Orange Bowl. Florida sealed its berth in the Outback with the win over Florida State.
The victory over FSU served a two-fold purpose --- (1) Florida finished the regular season with an 8-3 record, just a one-game edge in the record over South Carolina's 7-4 but the difference in perceptions of an 8-win team and a 7-win team are huge; and (2) it elevated the Gators to a solid position inside the top 20 polls of ESPN and the Associated Press. Combine those factors with the two wins over BCS-bound teams and the Gators were locked in to Tampa.
"Winning that game obviously had implications about which bowl we went to and this is the bowl that our players are looking forward to as well as our coaches," said Meyer.
Just as Meyer put so much importance on winning the last regular season game (FSU), there will be added importance on finishing the season with a bowl victory.
"I think any time you win a game going into the offseason you have a month between your last game of the season and a bowl game," he said. "So I put equal equal importance on this one as I did winning the last game of the season. To prepare for a bowl game if you keep reliving a game you lost it's a tough thing to do as well as losing a bowl game and having to live with that until September or late August when you open your season so I think it's critical. You have to make the game a great experience for your players and part of that great experience is preparing to win a game."
Playing in a bowl so close to Gainesville also will allow Meyer to maximize practice time. Because so many players are Floridians, the Gators won't lose so much practice time to holiday travel since only a few kids on the UF roster have anything more than a short drive home. "It's a great advantage for our players and their families," he said. "We have a lot of players from the state of Florida and quite a few players from that area [Tampa]. The fact that we're going to practice up to the 21st and then they get an opportunity to go home … the last two bowls [Utah] we've had to fly people from all over the country to the bowl site. It's a much easier trip when you're two hours away."
MATTISON VS. MATTISON: For one of Meyer's coaching staff, this game will be very special. Coach Greg Mattison, who coaches Florida's defensive line and is the co-defensive coordinator, will get a chance to coach against his son, Bryan, a sophomore who starts at defensive end for the Hawkeyes.
Meyer has tremendous respect for the Iowa staff, but he said that the fact that Mattison would allow his son to play for Ferentz says a lot.
"Greg Mattison, our co-defensive coordinator, has as much respect for Iowa as anyone because his son plays there," said Meyer. "That might be the greatest way to show respect for a staff is to let your son go play for him."
Coach Mattison got to see Bryan play in person twice during the season on Saturdays when the Gator had a by-week, prompting Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz to quip, "We have to turn Florida in to the NCAA … you're not allowed to scout anymore and rumor has it that one of their coaches has seen two of our games this year."
Ferentz said that Bryan, in addition to being a fine football player is a tremendous asset to the Iowa team.
"He's a tremendous young man as you would expect if you know Greg and Ann," he said.
EXPECTING IT TO BE PHYSICAL: When Iowa beat the Gators in 2003, the Hawkeyes did it by outmuscling the Gators on the line of scrimmage. Meyer said that playing physical is pretty much what should be expected of any team from the Big Ten.
"You don't play in the Big Ten unless you're physical," he said. "You look at the defenses in our conference, the SEC, and it's a very physical league as well. I think for many years it's been a challenging matchup [SEC vs. Big 10]. Some say it's the speed in the south against the physical teams from up north. I'd like to think that the University of Florida can hang in there with Iowa."