GAINESVILLE — Forget the storyline of former Florida coach Urban Meyer's old team taking on his new team in a bowl game. According to Florida coach Will Muschamp and Ohio State acting coach Luke Fickell, the 2012 Gator Bowl is about two proud, storied programs that have fallen on hard times and desperately need this opportunity to end on a good note and move forward for next season.
Florida (6-6) will play Ohio State (6-6) in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.
"We've got the best fans in the country, and they are upset and frustrated and I don't blame them," Muschamp said. "But our guys are going to work hard to put on a good show for the fans in the bowl game."
Fickell, who will coach his final game at the Gator Bowl before Meyer takes over as head coach, said the fact that the Buckeyes were invited to a January bowl game is a reflection of the program's tradition.
"It's a great respect of the history and tradition, the great fans and the great support Ohio State has throughout the country," Fickell said. "Obviously we've had the kind of year we haven't had in a long time. But I think they've seen the growth and potential our team has. All those things added together makes for a very interesting and intriguing bowl game."
So does the added element of Meyer, who took a year off after leaving UF then was hired by the Buckeyes on Nov. 28. It took about 30 seconds on a national teleconference Sunday night before questions about Meyer began. Fickell said he's unsure if Meyer will attend, and to what degree he'll be involved in helping with preparations. He said Meyer won't be a distraction.
"I don't know that you could get any more distractions than what we've had," Fickell said. "I think our guys are just excited to play. I don't think this will be nearly as hard on them, this situation."
Muschamp said there will be no distraction for the Gators, either.
"We've moved on," he said. "Urban did a great job coaching the University of Florida, and we're very appreciative of what he did. But we've moved on."
Florida quarterback John Brantley (concussion) will play, Muschamp said, but starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley will miss the game. Muschamp said he suffered an ACL injury in a loss to FSU; surgery is scheduled Wednesday.
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org