For the Florida Gators, it’s a chance to build momentum that Coach Urban Meyer hopes will have a carryover that is felt on National Signing Day. For the Michigan Wolverines, it’s a chance to send off retiring coach Lloyd Carr with a win in his last game on the Michigan sideline. Both the 9-3 Gators and the 8-4 Wolverines will have plenty of incentive when they face off January 1 in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Capital One Bowl Director Steve Hogan seemed ecstatic with the New Year’s Day match-up (1 p.m., ABC-TV) that will be played in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl stadium.
“I would argue that this match-up I believe is as good as any match-up in the country, maybe even the national championship game included,” said Hogan in a Sunday evening teleconference. “With these two programs — a healthy Michigan and the way Florida finished the season — I would challenge you to find a better game.”
The Gators will take a four-game winning streak into the Capital One Bowl and Meyer says that college football is all about momentum. He’s hoping the winning momentum will pay off in a number of ways including recruiting.
“We have momentum going right now with four straight wins and a win against our rival (Florida State),” said Meyer Sunday night. “We’re going to go right into recruiting following the bowl game and prior to the bowl game.”
The momentum of an Outback Bowl win after Meyer’s first season helped the Gators get ready for their 2006 national championship run and it also helped the Gators land the top recruiting class in the nation. Following Florida’s smashing 41-14 win over Ohio State in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game back in January, the Gators rode a tidal wave of momentum to a second straight number one recruiting class.
Considering how the Gators have used bowl victories to build momentum for the future, Meyer knows how important it will be for the Gators to get a win over Michigan.
“The reality is we’re an extremely young team,” said Meyer. “A handful of seniors will play their final game and have their opportunity to win their 32nd game in the last three years, back-to-back double digit wins, and three bowl games in a row. There’s a lot to play for in this game for the seniors but I think even more important than that, we’re building for the future. The future — I’m proud to say — is very strong at Florida.”
Obviously, the Gators would have preferred to play in a BCS Bowl, but Meyer said the Capital One is the next most prestigious bowl available.
“I would rather play in the most prestigious bowl that’s out there and that’s the Capital One … it’s in the state of Florida,” said Meyer, who added that playing in Orlando would not present problems with travel that often accompany bowls and there are “recruiting advantages that you have in your home state.”
The Gators will start their bowl preparations in Gainesville prior to Christmas. They will get a Christmas break and if they follow the same pattern of the previous two bowl games, they will re-convene (in Orlando this time) the day after Christmas to begin their final bowl preparations.
Bowl games give teams an extra 15 practice days, which is the equivalent of a second spring practice. The extra days will be most beneficial for young players that perhaps didn’t get much chance to play or were redshirted during the regular season.
For a young team like Florida, which has only five senior starters, the bowl practices are invaluable.
“We just have to get these guys to improve,” said Meyer. “There’s a lot of young players that have to improve. We’re going to take these next three weeks and do the very best we can to get them ready to play this bowl game.”
BOWL NOTES: This will be the second bowl match-up between the Gators and the Wolverines. Florida lost to Michigan in the Outback Bowl in 2002, Ron Zook’s first season as the Florida coach … The Gator Ticket Office has begun taking orders for the Capital One Bowl. Tickets are $75 apiece and there is a $10 processing fee per order. Florida season ticket holders can order through the G.A.T.O.R.S phone system by calling 877-428-6742 (toll free) or 384-3261 in Gainesville … The Gators are 16-18 all-time in bowls … This is Florida’s 17th straight year to earn a bowl bid … Former Gator coach Ron Zook will take his Illinois team to the Rose Bowl to face Southern Cal … The Southeastern Conference put nine teams in bowl games this year. South Carolina was the only bowl-eligible team from the SEC that won’t be playing in a bowl game … The Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences all placed eight teams in bowl games … Georgia will face Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl while LSU will play Ohio State in the Allstate BCS Championship Game.