Several different words have been used to describe the mood among the Buckeyes as they prepare with the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the program all but lifted. Words like excited, fired up, enthusiastic and fun.
"I think we're having our best practices of the year so far," junior defensive lineman John Simon said. "There's a lot of excitement and a lot of passion, some great competition out there between the offense and the defense. We're getting after it pretty good."
That has to be welcome news for Ohio State fans. The 2011 calendar year has been a difficult one for the Buckeyes and their backers. The tattoos/money for memorabilia scandal that broke last December resulted in the resignation of longtime head coach Jim Tressel, suspensions to several key players, the early departure of starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor for the NFL and ultimately a disappointing 6-6 season.
Fortunately for Ohio State, then came the hiring of Urban Meyer as the team's next coach. It helped Ohio State put the difficult times in the past.
"I think it was a little bit of an unspoken thing that guys always had that in the back of their heads. What's going to happen?," sophomore left guard Jack Mewhort said. "I know our guys really love the staff that's here right now. We feel for them, but everything's over. We're cutting loose and just having fun like we should be."
Junior fullback Zach Boren said bowl practices have been "really good" so far.
"I feel like all of the days we've been out here we've really been pushing it," Boren said. "The offense and defense, we've been going hard against one another and making each other better.
"To tell the truth, it's one of the better bowl practices I've been a part of."
The Buckeyes are not going to a BCS bowl this year, and ticket sales for the Gator Bowl have been sluggish. Even so, Ohio State wants to finish on a high note.
"We need to finish the season out strong," Boren said. "Having a 7-6 record is a lot better than 6-7. I think our seniors are behind us a lot, saying that they want to go out winners. They want to be able to take their jerseys off for the last time with a win instead of going out with four losses in a row."
Boren said the team benefitted from time away after the loss to Michigan. It allowed the Buckeyes a chance to clear their minds.
It's fun being out there again," Boren said. "I think the last three games, a lot of guys on the team weren't having fun. When you're losing games it's not fun. So I think finally we're having fun again, running around and competing."
Simon echoed Boren and said the Buckeyes have been insulated from all of the outside influences as they prep for the Gators.
"I think it's just focusing on this bowl game and this bowl appearance," Simon said. "You can tell everyone on the team is very excited for it. Practice has been very enthusiastic. There's a different passion around. This is our last chance and we're going to make it count."
Making it count is something Simon and other Buckeye leaders have stressed. After losing three straight games to end the season, Simon said there has been a push to make sure Ohio State avoids its first four-game losing streak since 1943.
"My thought process is, ‘Let's make this one count,' " Simon said. "You can tell that in the locker room. Everyone's putting their full effort into this and trying to make this last game count."