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Know Your Foe, Gator Bowl Edition: Ohio State

Over the summer we covered Florida's rivalries and regular opponents. Previous installments: Georgia, FSU, Tennessee, LSU, Miami, Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, other Florida schools, Florida's 2011 schedule, and Texas A&M.

It's bowl time, and the 6-6 Gators are set to face the 6-6 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Gator Bowl and no one seems to be excited about it. That two teams struggling to avoid losing seasons could be invited to a New Year's Day bowl game is a testament to the historic strength of the programs and passion of the fan bases. This will be the second meeting between the two teams, with the first being a 41-14 Gators romp in the 2007 BCS Championship Game.

While Florida is facing Ohio State for only the second time, it will come in a familiar setting. Not only do the Gators play Georgia annually at Everbank Stadium, this will mark their ninth appearance in the Gator Bowl.

A land grant college, founded in 1870 under the terms of the Morill Act, The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College (as Ohio State was then known) was located near the state legislature in Columbus because (then) Governor Rutherford B. Hayes wanted it to be free of the influence of the state's agricultural interests, as well as the two existing state universities (Ohio University and Miami University). In 1878, the curriculum was expanded and the name was changed to Ohio State, and, supported by powerful backers, it grew to be the largest university in Ohio by the early 20th Century, and was elected to the Association of American Universities in 1916. It is currently ranked 55 by US News and World Report.

The 1700 acre Columbus campus is now largely urban, but was originally located in a rural suburb (to support its agricultural mission). It features four buildings, including Ohio Stadium, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Ohio State is home to the 18th largest university research library, that includes the archives of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, and astronaut and Senator John Glen, as well as the world's largest collection of cartoons.

Football at Ohio State dates back to 1890 when the Buckeyes fielded their first team. Despite a rocky start (including the on-field fatal injury of center John Segrist in 1901) the program grew to moderate success in the early 20th Century, and joined the Western Conference (which later became the BigTen) 1912. The name most associated with Ohio State football belongs to Woody Hayes, the head coach from 1951 to 1978, who coached the Buckeyes to five national championships (1954, '57, '61, '68, and '70). Despite his on-field success, Hayes' tenure was marred by several incidents of alleged physical confrontations with players, fans, and media, culminating with his firing, following a televised punch to the throat of Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Following two decades of mediocrity Ohio State again enjoyed success, including a National Championship, under Jim Tressel. (Fun Fact: Tressel and his father Lee Tressel are the only father and son to both coach college football teams to National Championships -- Jim with Youngstown State and Ohio State, Lee with Baldwin-Wallace College.)

The Gator Bowl is the sixth-oldest bowl game, and has been played continuously played since 1946. Previously played in late December, it has been a New Year's Day game since 1996. Both teams have a history with this bowl game. This will be the Gators ninth appearance, tying them with Clemson for the most appearances in the game, compiling a 6-2 record in their previous 8 appearances. While this will only be Ohio State's second appearance, the Buckeye's other appearance was memorable for the aforementioned punching incident. Memorable moments from the Gators prior Gator Bowls include an upset of national power Penn State in 1962 (where the Gators embarrassingly wore Confederate flag decals on their helmets), and a 14-13 victory over Tennessee in 1969 where Tennessee coach Doug Dickey was named the new head coach at Florida after the game. (Fun Fact: The Gator Bowl had hosted every SEC team, including Texas A&M and Missouri, except Kentucky.)

Florida and Ohio State have only played each other in football one other time, in the inaugural BCS Championship Game, but a few months later, the same schools would face off on the basketball court, again with a National Championship on the line, marking the first time the same two schools had played each other for national championships in both sports in the same academic year. The two Gator victories have provided Ohio State fans with enough animosity to stoke a rivalry, but the animosity was hardly reciprocal until the Buckeyes hired former Florida coach Urban Meyer to replace Jim Tressel, who resigned amid a flurry of controversy stemming from his cover-up of several NCAA violations.

With both teams limping into the game following disappointing 6-6 seasons, this year's Gator Bowl has lost some of it's luster. There are several storylines to watch:

  • Urban Meyer – Coach Meyer's old team faces his new team

  • Can Florida avoid its first losing season since 1979? – The last time the Gators failed to break even Jimmy Carter was President

  • Can Ohio State beat an SEC team? – The Buckeye's are 0-8 in bowl games versus the SEC, after last year's victory over Arkansas was wiped out amid the Tressel scandal

  • Can either of these teams look any worse than they did against their rivals in their regular season finales? – Let us hope for everyone's sake that this answer is no

One thing is certain: This game will mercifully end a long season for both teams. Happy New Year.