Buckeyes to face Florida

Published 12:49 am Monday, December 5, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Urban Meyer’s former and future teams will play in the Gator Bowl.

Florida (6-6) and Ohio State (6-6) were chosen Sunday to meet in the Jan. 2 game in Jacksonville, a marquee matchup between once-proud programs that slipped significantly this season. The teams last played in the 2006 national championship game, which Florida won 41-14.

Meyer’s hiring earlier in the week in Columbus makes the rematch even more intriguing.

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But both sides insist it won’t be a distraction, even though Meyer already has lured highly regarded strength coach Mickey Marotti away from Florida.

“I don’t know that this is going to make it any more difficult for me,” Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell said on a conference call Sunday evening. “I don’t know that it could get more difficult. It might be a unique situation for the other people involved. But for our coaches and our players, I don’t know that they’ll know much of a difference. … (We’re) trying to do the best job we can to end the season on a good note with all the ups and downs we’ve had.”

Meyer won two national titles in six years with the Gators. He left Gainesville after last season, citing health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family, and became a college football analyst for ESPN. He walked away from the network last weekend and was officially introduced Monday.

Fickell, who took over when Jim Tressel was forced out for breaking NCAA rules, will lead the Buckeyes through the bowl. Meyer has retained Fickell as an assistant.

Will Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator at Texas, replaced Meyer last December and has struggled to pick up the pieces. The Gators lost six of their last eight games, and had to rally to beat lower-division Furman last month.

“Based on what I know, Urban won’t coach the game,” Muschamp said. “I don’t think it would be any distraction. We’ve moved on. Urban did a great job during his time at the University of Florida. I’m very appreciative of what he did, but we’ve moved on and we’re looking forward to playing the game.”

Muschamp called his team “soft” following a 21-7 loss to rival Florida State last weekend, but added that fans shouldn’t blame “who was here before.”

That would be Meyer, who has come under fire for seemingly leaving behind a team that lacks talent and depth.

Muschamp has insisted repeatedly that the Gators are close to getting back to an elite level, basically where Meyer had them in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Meyer won national championships in 2006 and 2008 at Florida. He stepped away to take care of his health and spend more time with his family, including two daughters who play college volleyball.

But he was the obvious choice at Ohio State, even though his return has angered many Florida fans.

Meyer takes over a program that is likely facing NCAA sanctions and was crippled by the forced resignation of Tressel. The Buckeyes completed their only season under Fickell with a 40-34 loss to Michigan last weekend that snapped a seven-game winning streak against their rivals.

Ohio State lost its final three games.

“I don’t know that you could get any more distractions than what we’ve had,” Fickell said. “I think our guys are just so excited to have some clarity about what’s going to happen in the future so they can put those things behind them. I don’t think this will be nearly as hard on them. … That you’re playing Florida, all the other stuff with coach Meyer and that’s where he came from, to me, won’t have an effect on our guys.”


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