After months of speculation regarding whether the Ohio State football team would compete in postseason play, the Buckeyes accepted a bid to the 2012 Gator Bowl Sunday.
OSU will take on the Florida Gators Jan. 2, in Jacksonville, Fla., at EverBank Field.
Buckeyes coach Luke Fickell, who will guide OSU until after the game when newly hired coach Urban Meyer will take over as coach, officially accepted the invitation during a Sunday conference call.
“We’re ecstatic and excited, and I know that I can’t wait to tell our young men and the rest of our staff,” Fickell said.
The Buckeyes and Gators both posted overall records of 6-6 and conference records of 3-5, in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, respectively. The game will see Meyer’s new employer take on his former employer.
Meyer was introduced as the new head coach of OSU football Nov. 28, and has 10 seasons of experience as an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision coach at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida.
Meyer’s six most recent years as a coach came with the Gators where he won two national championships, including a 41-14 victory against the Buckeyes in 2006. OSU’s loss in that championship was the last meeting of the two teams.
Overall, the Ohio native has compiled a record of 104-23 and a 7-1 record in bowl games. Meyer’s bowl triumphs also include a 4-0 record in Bowl Championship Series games.
A release from the OSU athletic department sent prior to the Monday press conference said Meyer, who was first contacted about the coaching position by athletic director Gene Smith at OSU on Nov. 20, will make $4 million annually for six seasons.
During the Sunday conference call, Fickell was vague about whether Meyer would help the Buckeyes prepare for Florida, saying he would continue to focus on the coaches currently leading OSU.
“I couldn’t tell you exactly how the whole situation’s going to work,” Fickell said. “I don’t know that I would sit there and explain it to anybody other than our team and our coaches anyway. Just know that you’re going to get our best effort and these (OSU players) are going to get coached and it might be by some more people. We’ll be excited about doing it.”
First-year Florida head coach Will Muschamp said during the conference call that he wasn’t bothered by Meyer’s employment at OSU or his possible involvement with OSU leading up to the Gator Bowl.
“I don’t think it’ll be any distraction,” Muschamp said. “We’ve moved on. (Meyer) did a great job (at Florida).”
Fickell and his players will be excited for the matchup with the Gators, which will be the continuation of a burgeoning rivalry between OSU and Florida in football as well as other sports, Fickell said.
“That’s the beauty of college football — you play a team in a bowl game, or you recruit against them and you play them in other sports … and you kind of develop some of those little rivalries,” he said. “We’ve probably got our second-largest recruiting area outside our 250-mile radius (around OSU), is from Florida. It’s great for our recruiting base.”
OSU is still awaiting a final ruling from its Aug. 12 hearing with the NCAA in Indianapolis and it was uncertain whether OSU would be banned from a postseason bowl, or if it would self-impose a bowl ban. Fickell said the bid to the Gator Bowl has provided his team with clarity.
“I don’t know that you could get any more distractions than what we had. I think our guys are just so excited to have some clarity about what’s going to happen in the future,” Fickell said.
Greg Smith, chairman of the Gator Bowl, said OSU met three key factors to earn its bid to the bowl.
“The first (key factor) is how well would that team travel. We also look at ticket sales and, finally, TV ratings,” Smith said. “Of the teams on the board, we really felt that Ohio State (and) Florida gave us the best opportunity. The Ohio State fan base is still very engaged. They travel well. Having that fresh matchup of these two fine programs really was our best opportunity.”
The 2012 Gator Bowl will kick off at 1 p.m. and be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. Ticket sales for the game begin at ohiostatebuckeyes.com at 10 a.m. Monday and cost $60.