GAINESVILLE — One day after a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game cost Florida a shot at a second consecutive national championship, the Gators accepted an invitation to play Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 in New Orleans.
It is the eighth time the Gators will play in the Sugar Bowl and their 19th straight bowl appearance. But this time, the excitement likely is subdued.
For most of the season, the Gators were dogged by distractions, but they may now be facing their greatest challenge: overcoming a stunning loss to Alabama in a season whose success was predicated on winning it all.
"We'll get this team going," UF coach Urban Meyer said Sunday night. " … We have the winningest senior class in the history of the Southeastern Conference. Our legacy is going to be depending on how we finish the season. … The Gators will be highly motivated to play in this game."
Undefeated Cincinnati finished No. 3 in the BCS standings and would have played for the national title if No. 2 Texas hadn't converted a field goal with one second left to defeat Nebraska on Saturday. Coach Brian Kelly said he realizes the Bearcats are getting a disappointed Florida team but are excited about the challenge of playing Florida.
"I know he's disappointed, and his team is disappointed not being the champions, but they've had a great season and a great football team," Kelly said. "Over the last five years, I can't think of a program that you'd want to emulate in the way things are handled, both on and off the field. … We're excited about the matchup. For us, it's back-to-back BCS (bowls). We lost our game last year, so certainly our sights are set not only on a great football team and a great matchup, but we want to win the game."
The matchup will pit Meyer against his alma mater.
"I know Cincinnati obviously very well," Meyer said. "I've watched them practice. I watch them play every opportunity I can because I'm somewhat of a Bearcats fan being a graduate. We have great respect. When I went and watched them practice, I walked away saying that's an SEC-caliber football team, which tells you the respect I have for the players and the way they are coached."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.