OSU Has Plenty Of Respect For Gators

Much like Ohio State, Florida enters the upcoming Gator Bowl with a 6-6 record, but the Buckeyes see plenty of reasons why the Gators are a worthy foe. While Florida didn't have the season it wanted under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, Ohio State's players see some of themselves in the Gators.

When the Ohio State football team looks at the Florida Gators in preparation for the upcoming Gator Bowl, it sounds as though the Buckeyes see it as though they're looking in a mirror.

And that shouldn't be a huge surprise. Both teams enter with identical 6-6 records after having seasons that began with such promise fall apart thanks to in-conference losing streaks, and in the eyes of the Ohio State players, both teams are still plenty talented heading into the Jan. 2 game in Jacksonville.

"I think we're a great team, and we're a 6-6 team," OSU senior linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller said. "They have the same record as us, so I think it's going to be a good game. They have some great athletes there obviously."

Both squads can look at offseason upheaval as potential reasons for the struggles. Ohio State, of course, went through the forced resignation of head coach Jim Tressel in May as well as the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor amid a myriad of offseason and in-season distractions that clouded an entire calendar year of football.

Florida's offseason wasn't quite as crazy, but there was some definite change. Urban Meyer, who was hired by Ohio State in November after a year off, chose to quit the program after recurring health issues and a desire to spend time with family, leading to the Gators hiring Texas coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp.

The transition hasn't been the smoothest, as Muschamp's team has struggled to find its identity. That's been especially true on offense, as Florida was held to 11 points or less in losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn, South Carolina and Florida State.

Still, the Gators put up above 30 points in five other games, leading Ohio State defensive lineman Johnny Simon to say he sees a lot of potential in the Gator offense.

"They're a very good team," Simon said. "I couldn't tell you (why they've struggled at times). I don't see too many slip-ups on their part. I know they have a very tough schedule themselves, but it's hard to find a weakness in their offense. We're preparing for everything right now."

Ohio State fullback Zach Boren sees similar talent in Florida's defense, skill that is reflected on the stat sheet. The Gators finished ninth in the country in total defense and 25th in scoring D, numbers that show Florida is among the best units in the nation when it comes to stopping teams from moving the ball and putting points on the board.

"Their record doesn't show how good they are," Boren said. "Their defense is real fast. Obviously they've got great athletes and they can definitely hit. They're a physical defense."

Add it all up and the Buckeye players expressed surprise that Florida finished 6-6 on the year. Part of that is attributable to the team's tough SEC schedule as the Gators were forced to play national title game participants Alabama and LSU back-to-back before facing ranked Auburn and Georgia teams next on the slate. Florida also lost at then-No. 15 South Carolina in November.

"They have good players," Ohio State left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "They're coached well. They play hard. They play in a good conference. They play against good competition all year. We're preparing for them like it's the biggest game in the world, as we should be. We're just going to keep going hard and study. We're looking forward to it."

Florida head coach Will Muschamp seems to have a similar view, as he called the matchup a "national game" when it was announced in early December.

As a result, the Buckeyes see plenty of reason for fans of both OSU and college football to tune in, even despite the fact that the team has seen its streak of six consecutive BCS bowls snapped.

"The Buckeyes are going to be playing. That's their team," Simon said. "Florida's a great team, and it's going to be a great challenge for us. It's going to be a great game. Both teams are going to come out there enthusiastic and it's going to be a battle for 60 minutes. The best team is going to win."

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