Who says you can't go home again? For many, the word home is such a relative term it might not matter.
When the Florida Gators meet the Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday, Jan. 8, the two will have a familiar feel with one another. Sure, Florida and Ohio State have never played one another in football. But when the BCS National Championship game is played on a neutral field in Glendale, Ari., more than a handful of coaches and players will be gazing across their respective sidelines and see something that strikes their emotions.
Half a dozen players - four from Florida on Ohio State's roster and a pair from Ohio on Florida's roster will find special meaning in the National Championship game. Only Florida running back DeShawn Wynn and possibly Ohio State tailback Maurice Wells are likely to see any time, however.
Recruiting has become just one aspect of the relationships between the Gators and Buckeyes. Ohio State has recruited the state of Florida with some degree of success over the past 10 years while Florida head coach Urban Meyer has begun recruiting select Ohio prospects.
"We obviously see them a lot," said OSU defensive backs coach Tim Beckman.
The connection doesn't begin or end with recruiting against one another, however.
Beckman is a case in point. Beckman coached for Meyer at Bowling Green in 2001 and 2002 during his six-year stint as an assistant for the Falcons.
"He knows me so he knows a little bit of what we do here," Beckman said with a laugh about having familiarity with Meyer's system.
Although Beckman is the only coach on Ohio State that has worked with Meyer, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel knows him rather well.
After the 1985 season, Tressel left the Buckeyes, where he coached under Earle Bruce for the head coaching position at Youngstown State. The following season, Meyer began a two-year stint as a graduate assistant for Bruce at Ohio State where he coached the tight ends and wide receivers respectively.
Tressel has followed Meyer's career as he worked his way up the coaching ladder with spots at Illinois State, Colorado State, four years at Notre Dame and then head positions at Bowling Green, Utah and now the second year at Florida. In fact, as many opposing coaches customarily do, some of the Ohio State staff visited with Florida this past spring exchanging ideas and studying some of the things Florida does.
"He's made a program that would embrace the past but yet build a creative future," Tressel said of the job Meyer has done in getting Florida to the BCS National Championship. "It's been impressive."
Likewise, Meyer knows all about Tressel and Ohio State.
Meyer is a native of Ashtabula, Ohio and graduated from the University of Cincinnati - where he played for the Bearcats as a defensive back. Meyer holds a master's degree from Ohio State, where he grew up idolizing the late former Buckeye head coach Woody Hayes.
"You can walk in my house now and there's a big scarlet and gray picture of Woody Hayes," said the Gators head coach. "A lot of what we're doing here is borrowed from the great traditions of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler."
Although Meyer says he had the priviledge of meeting the legendary former head coach on multiple occasions, it's his mentor that succeeded Hayes.
Meyer has consulted Bruce before many career moves including the Bowling Green job and immediately before accepting the Florida position.
"I call two people for career advice," he adds, "my dad and Coach Bruce."
While Meyer is now making a name for himself as a coach in the SEC, some Buckeyes are familiar with the conference from a different perspective.
For instance, Ohio State senior safety Brandon Mitchell grew up in SEC country - signing with Ohio State out of high school in Atlanta, Ga.
"From everyone I hear, even from my own ignorance, everyone thinks it's three yards and a cloud of dust," Mitchell said of his decision to leave Georgia for the Big Ten. "Even for me, people were asking, 'why would you go there? You're just going to have a hundred tackles and nobody throws the ball,' and things like that."
Because of Mitchell's Georgia roots and familiarity with the SEC, the game is also noteworthy in his own life. Many of his friends play for the Bulldogs and have shared their thoughts on Florida from their own experiences in what was formerly termed, "the world's largest cocktail party."
"I've talked to those guys about the importance of the Georgia-Florida game and some things they've picked up from being in those games and that sort of thing," he said.
On Jan. 8, North meets South.
Is there any merit to the southern speed argument? Mitchell would know about both.
"I look at it like this: people think that wherever you're from, I think you have that bias," he explained. "People in Texas talk about Texas speed and people out west talk about their speed. I think it's kind of a regional bias."
The game on Jan. 8 for all the marbles clearly takes on an important meaning for many involved. Beyond winning the National Championship, there is a personal element to the match-up for people like Mitchell, Tressel, Meyer and Beckman.
But when the game is played, everyone will set aside their emotions.
"They're all ones we want to win," Beckman said. "I think Urban takes the same stance.
"This is a pinnacle game," he added. "This is the Super Bowl of college football."
In a way, this is also a homecoming of sorts for Ohio State and many of the players. The Buckeye fifth-year seniors have been to Arizona in three out of their previous four years.
Ohio State has won the Fiesta Bowl three times with victories against Miami, Kansas State and Notre Dame in Tempe. Now they hope for some homecooking in Glendale - Ohio State's home-away-from-home.
Who says you can't go home again?
Certainly not the Buckeyes.