Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Ohio State take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: The Buckeyes are used to playing in bigger postseason games, and they certainly aren't used to finishing 6-6. But this bowl brings excitement because it begins an eagerly awaited future.
New head coach Urban Meyer will merely serve as interested observer in this one, as Luke Fickell finishes up his one-year apprenticeship as head coach. Yet Meyer's shadow looms large, both because Ohio State is facing his former team and because the Buckeyes' underclassmen are eager to audition for their next leading man.
The extra bowl practices should prove invaluable for a young team, particularly quarterback Braxton Miller. The Big Ten freshman of the year showed great promise while starting the final eight games, including his 335-yard, three-touchdown performance in the season-ending loss at Michigan. Miller used his shake-and-bake skills to lead Ohio State in rushing this year and figures to flourish under Meyer's creative offensive schemes.
The immediate concern for the Buckeyes is finding ways to score against a Gators defense that finished ninth in the nation in total defense. Ohio State got off to slow starts offensively while losing its final three games and had the worst passing attack in the Big Ten.
Whatever happens, Buckeyes fans will love saying goodbye to a controversy-plagued 2011 and focusing on the potential of 2012 and beyond.
Florida take from SEC blogger Chris Low: Will Muschamp’s debut season at Florida has been anything but smooth sailing, and the Gators are hoping to change that in just a short drive away in Jacksonville. They’ll face former coach Urban Meyer’s new team, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
After starting 4-0, Florida lost six of its next eight games and didn’t beat anybody that finished the regular season with a winning record. The 6-6 record marks Florida’s worst regular-season finish since 1987.
For the second straight season, the Gators were a disaster on offense, and it all started with senior quarterback John Brantley suffering a high-ankle sprain in the Alabama game. He missed the next two games against LSU and Auburn, both Florida losses, and returned against Georgia even though he wasn’t close to 100 percent.
The Gators lost that game as well as the South Carolina and Florida State games. In six of their last seven games against FBS foes, the Gators were held to 13 or fewer points on offense and enter the bowl ranked 101st nationally in total offense.
It was a different story on defense, where Florida held its own for most of the season and deserved better on that side of the ball. The Gators are ranked 10th nationally in total defense.