NCF Nation: 2012-Gator-Bowl-preview

Gator Bowl: Ohio State vs. Florida

January, 1, 2012
Urban Meyer won't be coaching in the Gator Bowl, but his fingerprints will be all over the game. It's also a rematch of the 2007 BCS title game. Ohio State hopes for a better outcome in this one.

WHO TO WATCH: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. The precocious true freshman quarterback showed flashes of greatness this season, including his game-winning touchdown heave to beat Wisconsin. He has incredible shiftiness for a quarterback and has run for at least 91 yards five different times this season. Miller put it all together in the season-ending loss at Michigan, totaling 335 yards and three touchdowns. The Buckeyes finally took the reins off the passing game in that contest, something they'll probably have to do again against Florida's defense, which is ranked No. 9 nationally. Meyer has already gushed about Miller's potential in his system, and this will be a good gauge of how far the youngster has progressed after some extra bowl practices.

WHAT TO WATCH: Will the real Ohio State defense please stand up? The Buckeyes were uncharacteristically sloppy with their tackling and techniques down the stretch while losing their final three games. Penn State stunned the defense by running the Wildcat, while Michigan racked up 444 total yards in a 40-34 win. Key injuries and youth prevented this from being a vintage Silver Bullets squad this year. The unit should be healthier now, with players like linebacker Andrew Sweat back to full strength, and the young players have had more practice time. They have a favorable matchup against a Gators offense that struggled to find its identity and ranked 101st in the FBS in yards per game this season. Florida also has a new offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis left for Kansas. Ohio State has little excuse not to turn in a strong defensive performance here.

WHY TO WATCH: While Meyer will dominate much of the discussion, the former Florida and future Ohio State coach has said he doesn't plan to attend the game in person. Buckeyes fans are more fired up about the first spring practice under Meyer than they are watching this 6-6 team any more, but it's their last chance to see their school play in a bowl game until at least December 2013 because of next year's NCAA-imposed bowl ban. So they'd better enjoy this one now. The fact that Ohio State gets another crack at an SEC team in a bowl -- technically, the program is 0-for-9 against the SEC in the postseason since last year's Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas was officially vacated -- injects a little more spice into the matchup.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 24, Florida 23. With nothing to lose and no bowl game next year, the Buckeyes let it all hang out. Miller plays well, and Ohio State gets valuable contributions from running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey, who each had an instrumental role in the NCAA punishment. It's not exactly redemption for them or for 2007, but it sure beats losing.
Things should be pretty interesting between Florida (6-6) and Ohio State (6-6) in the Gator Bowl, aka, the Urban Meyer Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: For Florida to win this game, quarterback John Brantley has to step up. Florida's offense has been very hard to watch since Week 4 and that's mainly because of the struggles under center. First, Brantley went down with a serious ankle injury that left him hobbled for weeks. Then, his freshmen backups did little to lead the offense. It's time for Brantley to shake his regular season struggles. He has to make good decisions and he can't fold under pressure. If Brantley can get the passing game going against a pretty talented Ohio State defense, the Gators should be able to open up a running game that was inconsistent during the second half of the season.

WHAT TO WATCH: Florida's whole offensive operation struggled, but it all generated from poor line play. The offensive line has self destructed from time to time, limiting Florida's chances to make plays for most of the year. Getting consistency up front will be key against an Ohio State defense that ranks 24th nationally. Making things more difficult for Florida's thin line is the loss of starting right tackle Matt Patchan, who will miss the Gator Bowl with an upper back injury.

WHY TO WATCH: Sure, both squads went 6-6 during the regular season and had offenses that ranked in the 100s nationally, but it wasn't long ago that both were at the top of the college football heap. Both met in the 2006 national championship game and have been to six combined BCS bowls since. This is Will Muschamp's first bowl game as a head coach, and Luke Fickell's last as Ohio State's interim head coach. Neither team has anything to lose so we can only hope to see more opening up from both offenses. Plus, Meyer will be casting a pretty big shadow over Everbank Field, so that will add some extra drama.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 20, Florida, 13. Both teams really struggled on offense this season, but the Gators' defense ranks ninth nationally, while Ohio State's is 24th. Florida should be motivated to play the Buckeyes, but even with a new man calling the offensive shots, it's hard to tell if things will be much different Monday.