JACKSONVILLE — There’s no doubt that the prevalent opinion on the pair of charter flights here from Columbus on Tuesday was that Ohio State is a better team than its 6-6 record would indicate.
The same could likely be said for Florida, Ohio State’s opponent in next week’s Gator Bowl. Florida is possibly a much better team than 6-6, if the Buckeyes were polled individually on that subject.
“That’s a good Florida team — really better than they’re being given credit for,” Ohio State offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said recently as the Buckeyes prepared for their bowl meeting.
“They’ve got a lot of good athletes and good players at every position. We’ve watched the film — we know they’re good.”
The Gators got off to a 4-0 start this season under first-year head coach Will Muschamp, then lost four in a row as they limped through the rest of the year, winning only two of their final eight games on the schedule.
Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell took a look at the gauntlet the Gators marched through over the final two months of the season — Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Furman, and Florida State — and arrived at the same conclusion as Mewhort. Fickell said the coaching change and the rugged opposition made for a very difficult road.
“They play a great schedule,” Fickell said. “They’ve had some tight games, and sometimes it takes a little bit of growing with the changes.”
Ohio State All-American defensive lineman John Simon said the Gators remain dangerous, no matter what their record is or what the circumstances might be.
“They’re tough to prepare for,” Simon said about the Gators, who lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss early in the month when he took the head coaching job at Kansas. Florida running backs coach Brian White will call the plays against the Buckeyes.
“They could come out in any formation or run any play,” Simon said. “We have to prepare for everything.”
This season the Gators did not display the explosive offensive punch that was their trademark during six seasons under Urban Meyer, who resigned his post in Gainesville at the end of the 2010 season and a month ago was named as Ohio State’s head coach for 2012.
Florida averaged about 335 yards per game and scored about 25 points per game this year, but Ohio State senior linebacker Andrew Sweat saw enough big plays during his film review of the Gators to convince him the potential is always there.
“When they’re clicking, I think they’re a great offense,” Sweat said. “I think they’re explosive.”
Both teams arrived on Tuesday, with most of the Buckeyes flying in from Ohio while the Florida natives on the team and a few others made their own arrangements to Jacksonville. While here, the Buckeyes are staying at the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra Beach and will practice at the University of North Florida.
Florida is staying at the Omni Hotel in downtown Jacksonville and practicing at Jacksonville University. The Gators practiced Tuesday afternoon, while Ohio State holds its first workout on Wednesday morning.
Fickell said the Buckeyes will take part in the bowl appearances, which included a welcome dinner Tuesday night, but otherwise the focus will be on preparing for the Gators, and he expects Ohio State’s team leaders to maintain that sense of purpose.
“I think it’s going to be pretty much business,” Fickell said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for this senior class and the things that they’ve done, and their ability to finish it off the right way.
“That’s what we continue to harp on. We’re going to treat it like a game week and our expectations for them aren’t going to change, as to what we expect them to do in their preparation.”
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @MattMarkey.