Friday, December 30, 2011

GATOR BOWL: THOUGHT OF MEYER MAY POWER BUCKEYES TO WIN

Braxton Miller
TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
JACKSONVILLE — Boy, how the mighty have fallen.

Just five years ago Jim Tressel and the Ohio State Buckeyes faced off against Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators in the BCS Championship game in Glendale, Arizona. Each were sitting atop the college football mountain. Both powerhouse programs with head coaches to match.

Now each are relegated to playing in Monday's TaxSlayer.Com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. Not exactly the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but certainly not a national title game either.

Here's where each school began their free fall ...

Tressel was dismissed in May for withholding player violations from the NCAA. They also lost their three-year starting quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, who bolted to the NFL after being suspended five games for committing the violations that eventually caused Tressel's ousting.

This forced the Buckeyes to go with Luke Fickell — a man who never headed up a program in his life — as the interim head coach, and a true freshman quarterback in Braxton Miller to lead the suspension-riddled offense.

The Buckeyes naturally struggled, finishing the season at 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten — the first non-winning regular season and first conference losing campaign since 1999. They also lost to their archrival Michigan in November for the first time since 2003.

Florida also lost its head coach prior to the season. Meyer, who coached in Gainesville for six season, resigned at the end of last season to spend time with family. The two-time national championship winning coach's absence certainly affected the program greatly, as the Gators finished the year 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the Southeastern Conference — the worst season in Gainesville since 1987.

Meyer was hired last month to be the Buckeyes' new head football coach. However, he will not coach in Monday's game against the Gators.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Quarterback.

Ohio State will be led by the freshman Miller, while the Gators will be guided by a senior in John Brantley.

Each are about as different of players as they come. Miller is a multi-talented player whose legs are as dangerous as there is in the country. Brantley is a pure pocket-passer, using only his arm to dismantle an opposing defense.

Miller has improved greatly since the season has progressed, especially in the Buckeyes regular season finale at Michigan, where he threw for 235 yards and two touchdown passes, as well as adding 100 yards on the ground and another score. The Buckeyes lost 40-34, but Miller's 335 yards and three touchdowns certainly wasn't the reason for their demise in Ann Arbor.

Brantley has had his ups and downs during his final season in Gainesville, throwing for just 1912 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year. His last outing was an embarrassment, passing for just 104 yards and three interceptions in the Gators' 21-7 loss at home to Florida State.

Whichever player has the better performance, most likely will be hoisting the Gator head, or the Gator boots or the picture of Paul Hogan or whatever they give the winners of the game.

BOTTOM LINE

Each team has been quite similar this season. Struggling with the losses of their coaches, while dealing with first-time collegiate bosses who looked lost at times this season.

Saying that each program has underachieved this year would be like saying it's cold in Dutch Harbor during crab season. C'mon, each program has a proud tradition. Going 6-6 is an absolute travesty.

The biggest edge I can find in this game would have to go to Ohio State ... and it has nothing to do with player personnel or X's and O's. It's the hiring of Meyer that gives the Buckeyes the advantage.

Sure, he's not going to be on the sideline Monday, but just the thought of him heading up the program in the future provides that ray of sunshine that neither team has seen this season. The Buckeyes will be playing more loose, the coaching staff doesn't have to worry about whether they have a job next season or not. It's all been decided.

I definitely look for the Buckeyes to have their best game of the season.

Prediction: OSU 37-24