After a hectic trip to the Sugar Bowl three years ago, things are a bit calmer for the Florida Gators this time around. NEW ORLEANS — Just three seasons ago, the Florida Gators were in a similar position to where they currently sit: preparing for the Sugar Bowl.
However, circumstances are much different this time around.
A whirlwind of questions and far less answers circled the Gators as they prepared for Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. It was the last game for senior quarterback Tim Tebow, but that was far from the only story.
On Dec. 26, 2009, Urban Meyer announced his resignation effective following the Sugar Bowl. But the next day, Meyer danced around the issue and created a level of confusion by saying he was instead taking an extended leave of absence and would return in the spring.
Charlie Strong, the defensive coordinator at the time, was not simply taking a leave of absence. Strong was hired by Louisville and was set to begin duties with the Cardinals following the game, possibly taking with him a number of coaches on the Florida staff.
There was little certainty other than the fact there would be key departures happening quickly for the Gators. Still, Florida cruised in the game. Tebow capped his stellar career with an equally impressive performance as the Gators rolled past Cincinnati 51-24.
Things aren’t so hectic this time around, something pleasing for the Gators.
“There was a lot going on my freshman year with rumors that coach Meyer was leaving and Tebow was leaving,” senior tailback Mike Gillislee said. “This year, we’ve been a lot more focused. This game will be emotional, but we just want out senior season to end the right way.”
Gillislee and fellow senior James Wilson are two of about a dozen holdovers from Florida’s last trip to the Sugar Bowl. Wilson, in agreement with Gillislee, said this trip has been easier to prepare for without as many distractions hovering around the team.
“There’s less hype,” Wilson said. “People are here to watch the Gators, not just here to watch one player.”
That philosophy has fueled the Gators this entire season. Unlike past seasons that ended with trips to BCS bowls, this team has talented across the board but lacks any one player who truly steals the spotlight.
Replacing Florida’s previous Sugar Bowl star, Tebow, is sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel. Then a junior in high school, Driskel remembers watching the game closely to see how his future school would do.
Though things are more relaxed now, Driskel hopes it is simply a calm before the storm.
“That [2010 Sugar Bowl] was a big time game,” Driskel said. “The whole offense was really clicking. Hopefully we can repeat that performance. Tebow had a huge game, and he went out with a bang for sure so hopefully, like I said, we can put on a show like that.”