Florida, Ohio State set for Gator Bowl

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer hasn't been Florida's coach in nearly a year, but he's still having an impact on the football program he led to a pair of national championships.

Ohio State's hiring of Meyer early last week gave officials for the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl a potential matchup they couldn't resist: Pitting Meyer's old team against his new one.

That made it an easy decision on Sunday afternoon to bypass several Big Ten teams to match Florida (6-6) and Ohio State (6-6) at 1 p.m., on Jan. 2 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Urban Meyer being hired is just another element to create more attention [for the bowl game]," said Gator Bowl chairman Greg Smith. "I think it creates more interest in the game so I think that's going to help us on ticket sales and overall national media attention."

It won't, however, be a problem for the Florida players, UF coach Will Muschamp said, even though most of the current roster were recruited by and played for Meyer.

"I don't think it'll be any distraction," Muschamp said. "We've moved on. Urban did a great job in his time at the University of Florida. Very appreciative of what he did, but again, we've moved on and we're looking forward to playing in the game."

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said playing Florida won't be a distraction for his players, either. That's nothing compared to everything they've dealt with this season: the resignation of coach Jim Tressel because of his involvement in covering up a tattoo-and-cash-for-memorabilia scandal and the subsequent suspension of six players for at least one game by the NCAA because of that scandal and for accepting money for work they did not perform in summer jobs.

"I don't know that you can get any more distractions than what we've had," Fickell said. "I think our guys are just so excited to have some clarity about what's going to happen in the future so they can put those things behind them. I don't think this will be nearly as hard on them with the situation. The toughest thing is they feel for some of the coaches that might not be here so they've got a great bond with them. That's where I think the difficulty comes, that you're playing Florida and all the other stuff with Coach Meyer and that's where he's come from to me won't be an effect on our guys."

The bowl game will be just the second meeting between the schools. The first came in the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., following the 2006 season. The Gators won easily 41-14 to give Meyer his first national championship.

Two years later, Meyer led the Gators to another national title with a 24-14 victory over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami.

Meyer compiled a 65-15 record in six seasons in Gainesville, but resigned after the 2010 season, citing health reasons and the desire to spend more time with his family. The Gators went 7-5 that season, the worst record of Meyer's tenure and worst since they also went 7-5 in 2004, which was the season before Meyer took over.

Little more than a month after resigning, he accepted a job with ESPN as a college football analyst. He told numerous media outlets he was enjoying his new job and was glad he had put coaching behind him.

However, he admitted last Monday during his introductory press conference at Ohio State that he told his wife he missed coaching and wanted to return. When Ohio State contacted Meyer on Nov. 20 to see if he would be interested in becoming the Buckeyes' head coach, he discussed the offer with his family and eventually accepted the job on Nov. 28.

But only after he agreed to a health contract written by his family.

The move to Ohio State caused some hard feelings among fans and a few current and former players. Many took to Twitter to voice their opinion, including Gators offensive tackle Chaz Green, who tweeted: "Really wanna play Ohio State … in a bowl game."

Green got his wish, although it may not bring him the kind of closure he and some Florida fans would like. Meyer will not coach in the game. Fickell, who was named the interim head coach when Tressel resigned on May 31, will coach the Buckeyes through the Gator Bowl and remain on Meyer's staff.

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