Ah, the familiar feel of the Sugar Bowl. Wednesday night will mark the Florida Gators ninth appearance in the New Orleans-based bowl game. Their record in it is far from spectacular, but it doesn’t make another appearance any less sweet.
During the 1990s and the rise of now legendary head coach Steve Spurrier, the Gators and the Sugar Bowl practically went hand-in-hand. From 1992 to 1997, Florida went to New Orleans four times, compiling a record of 2-2. None of those appearances was as sweet as the 1997 edition, which resulted in the Gators’ first national championship. It didn’t hurt that it came after a thrashing of the rival Florida State Seminoles.
Since that wonderfully amazing day in 1997, Florida only made two more appearances in the Sugar Bowl. The Ron Zook years and some struggling times at the end of the Urban Meyer era and the beginning of the Will Muschamp one contributed to that. In 2001, it was a loss to the Miami Hurricanes in New Orleans that put an end to the season. In 2010, it was a beat down of the Cincinnati Bearcats and the end of Tim Tebow’s Florida career. Just three seasons later, the Gators are back and surprisingly so.
The 11-1 Gators will face an unfamiliar foe–the 10-2 Louisville Cardinals–with a familiar head coach–former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Strong has done exactly what Louisville hired him to–win. After back-to-back 7-6 seasons, he led the Cardinals to the Big East title and a BCS bowl game appearance in his third year. Strong will coach the Cardinals in their first-ever Sugar Bowl appearance not long after turning down a job opportunity with the Tennessee Volunteers to stay at Louisville and continue to build on the success he is now realizing.
Muschamp has also done exactly what his employer hired him to do. After a disappointing 7-6 season in 2011 during which Muschamp was given an incomplete roster and not a lot to work with, he has risen the Gators back to prominence in the SEC and across the country. The fact that Florida is playing in the Sugar Bowl in only his second season is a testament to that. He’s led the Gators there despite a new offensive coordinator–Brent Pease–and struggles on that side of the ball. Much of the thanks can go to what is becoming an elite defense and a team with more endurance than any of its opponents.
On Wednesday, two fairly inexperienced, but quickly successful head coaches face off in one of the biggest games of the bowl season. One has a chance to win its 11th game of the season, while the other has a legitimate shot at finishing as the nation’s No. 2 team. Not surprising for one, but downright shocking for the other. We’re over most of that shock now. After all, we’ve been through 12 games with this Florida Gators’ team. We’ve seen the highs and the lows. We’ve experienced the good and the bad. With one game remaining, we hope for the glory of a Sugar Bowl victory and a 12th win.
Wednesday night marks the end to the 2012 season of the Gators. After the final second ticks away, we go into hibernation for the long haul, so cheer loud, get behind the orange and blue and, as always, Go Gators!