Meyer Expects Team to be Ready

Gator fans are worried about a let down when the Florida Gators take on the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day. With most of their sites set on going to play for a national title, the Gators are out of that venture. Florida head coach Urban Meyer says his team will be ready to play in the BCS Bowl game and they are very excited to be there.

Urban Meyer spoke to the media Sunday night, one night after suffering a crushing loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. The Gators are now headed to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on New Year's; it is a bowl game they haven't experienced since 2000.

"We are excited to be a part of the Sugar Bowl and it is a bowl game that I have never been a part of," Meyer said. "The University of Florida has a great tradition of going to the Sugar Bowl. We will have a team meeting about it on Tuesday and go over their schedules."

Meyer is particularly excited to play Cincinnati. The Bearcats finished third in the BCS formula that determined who would be in the BCS bowls and they come into the game with a 12-0 record on the season. Meyer also is an alumnus of the school.

"One of the great things that makes this a great bowl game is you have two highly ranked opponents that had excellent seasons," Meyer said of the Bearcats and his 12-1 Gators. "I know them very well as I have watched them, practice and watched them play every opportunity I can because I am somewhat of a Bearcat fan being a graduate."

Meyer was invited to watch the Bearcats practice under current head coach Brian Kelly. This took place two summers ago, and Meyer came away very impressed.

"When I watched them practice, I walked away saying 'that is an SEC caliber football team' with respect to the players and the way they are coached," Meyer said.

"My father was not doing well and so I went to visit him at the University Hospital (in Cincinnati), about three blocks away from the stadium. I was invited down to practice. I had never met Coach Kelly."

"No disrespect to the University of Cincinnati, I couldn't believe what I saw. It was one of the top teams in America and the way their staff was coaching and the way Coach Kelly was involved. I walked away saying 'Wow'. I have made it a point to never miss a game when they are on."

"Obviously there are family ties there, my father is a graduate and it's a great school. What I took out of that experience was it was a great ball club."

Meyer has the dubious task of getting his team motivated after having a chance to play for the national championship shot down. He understands the disappointment, but the Sugar Bowl and representing the SEC and the University of Florida will have his guys ready to play in the big game.

"We are talking about the Sugar Bowl," he said. "It is one of the great bowls in college football history. The SEC is the host school for the game. We will get this team going. We have the winningest (senior class) in SEC history with 47 wins. I like to see how we finish the season."

"As soon as we get the Bearcat film, we flip it on and it is game on. There is respect when our guys talk about Cincinnati; they see them all the time. The Gators will be highly motivated to play this game."

In the last two BCS Championship appearances by the Gators, there was an extra week to practice more than other teams not in the game. That benefit is taken away with an earlier game. Meyer isn't sure how the bowl practice schedule is going to work out, but the plan will be made soon.

"We are going to finalize the plan tomorrow (Monday) and we will meet with the players on Tuesday," he said. "We will have a great plan. It's a mature team. The plan is not in place yet, but we will be ready to go."

This is also a time of year when young players may get a chance to get some practice time. Meyer agreed with that notion, but isn't ready to throw away a chance at winning a game against a very good opponent.

"The issues are going to be recruiting and then getting ready to play," Meyer said about this time between now and the new year. "We haven't finalized that. We will do the best we can. Our objective will get the underclassmen some practice experience, but with the team we are playing we better have all of our focus on who we are playing and go out and win that game."

Getting ready to play means improving on their play from the SEC title game. Florida was abused on defense allowing 490 total yards, more than double what they were allowing all season long. One issue Meyer and the defense are facing is the status of All-SEC defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap was suspended for the Alabama game for an arrest in the week leading up to the game. Against the pass happy Bearcats, he may be needed even more.

Meyer isn't sure whether Dunlap will play yet.

"We haven't made that determination yet," he said about Dunlap. "I have to talk to Jeremy Foley. We just got back and getting organized here. I will determine that later on, maybe not this week as I will be ion the road."

Meyer also recognizes the underutilization in the running game against Alabama. It is a running game that was the best in the conference all season and only totaled 88 yards on Saturday. At the heart of the issue was the fact that the running backs only got three carries in the game, despite the fact they were averaging seven yards a carry each all season.

"I don't think we can win the game without getting the running backs involved," Meyer said. "That is going to be a high priority. We have to do what we have to do because we have some great backs."

It has been a season of distractions for these Gators and the Dunlap issue isn't the only one facing this team as they move forward. Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has been mentioned prominently for the job at Louisville. Meyer understands these things happen, but he isn't sure if Strong would remain on and coach the defense if he was hired away.

"I am not sure," Meyer said about Strong's role moving forward if hired away. "Until a decision is made at the University of Louisville, we will have to sit down. We are very fortunate to have some great coordinators. Every coordinator we have ever had has gone on to be a head football coach. I don't know the answer to that, because both schools would have to be aligned if that should happen."

There is also the worry of players not finishing their eligibility goals before the game and becoming ineligible in the process. Meyer is always on guard about this issue.

"Absolutely," he said. "We may have some juniors leaving early and with all the dealings with players and agents (these days). The University of Florida spares no expense to make sure we do it the right way."

In the end, Meyer expects his group and Gators everywhere will be on the road to new Orleans and ready to take on a new venue, a new opponent, and watch this group of seniors go out in style.

"We will be ready to go and the Gator Nation will be strong in New Orleans," Meyer said.

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