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Winning history is motivation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In Florida football history, 1979 is the benchmark for ineptitude.

That was the year the Gators had the worst record in school history: 0-10-1. It made the 0-5 mark in 1916 and the 0-9 record in 1946 seem insignificant. Nothing in UF's football history before or after 1979 has been close to being that bad.

It's not a season any UF team wants to use as a reference point. Yet, that's where Florida stands heading into the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 2. The Gators aren't close to being that bad, but they are facing the possibility of the school's first losing season since that debacle, should they not beat the Buckeyes at EverBank Field.

Florida's players have talked about how the bowl game could be a springboard for the 2012 season. It would provide a little momentum boost heading into the meat of recruiting and take a little bit of the sting off a winless October and a home loss to rival Florida State. But really, the most important thing at stake in the Gator Bowl is finishing with a non-losing record for the 32nd consecutive season.

"It would be embarrassing to be the [first] team to go down as the losing team [since 1979]," receiver Andre Debose said.

The 1979 Gators were a pathetic bunch. They averaged just 9.6 points and 250 yards per game, committed 34 turnovers and lost each game by an average of 14.5 points. The 2011 Gators are better but have somewhat similar offensive issues. They scored just one offensive touchdown in five of their final seven games against Football Bowl Subdivision schools and didn't score a touchdown in one other.

Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said that shows the Gators have the talent to be better but hurt themselves. That's what would make a losing record so hard to take: They are a better team than a 6-7 record would indicate, Floyd said. The 1979 team wasn't.

"Numbers don't lie," Floyd said. "At the end of the day, if there was a loss, we would basically be compared to that. But at the end of the day this year, and coach [Will] Muschamp said it a lot, Florida beat Florida in at least 3-4 games this year. So it's not like we just got swept by a team that was supposedly better than us, because we didn't.

"It was us killing ourselves."

Such as muffing two punts in a 17-6 loss to Auburn. Or giving up six sacks, rushing for minus-19 yards, and blowing a 17-3 lead in a 24-20 loss to Georgia. And giving up only 95 total yards but throwing three first-half interceptions in a 21-7 loss to FSU.

But that's not something anyone will remember five or 10 years from now. If the Gators lose to the Buckeyes, all people will see is 6-7 and the first time since '79 that UF hasn't won more games than they lost.

"That's something we don't want to happen," safety Josh Evans said. "We're doing everything possible we can do to avoid that."

UF coach Will Muschamp hasn't shied away from talking to the team about the significance of a victory on Monday. He's using it as a bit of motivation, although he's not sure how many players he'll reach.

"I think any little you thing you can to reach your players, and [to] some players that'll mean something," Muschamp said. "The John Brantleys of the world who have been around Florida football their whole life, certainly it will reach him, and maybe some other guys. You find in my shoes there's a key to every kid, and it's your job to find the key and your job to search and find what motivates each guy and what motivates each guy differently, and we use different motivational tools throughout game preparation for every game, and certainly that's one of them in this ballgame."

He apparently got to Debose, Floyd and Evans, too.

"Coach Muschamp threw out a stat that since [1979], Florida hasn't had a losing season or something like that," Debose said. "That opened my eyes up a lot. I definitely wouldn't want to be part of the team that had a losing season [for the first time] in like 30 years."

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.