Florida to face Big Ten team
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Last year, a trip to the Outback Bowl was something to tolerate for Florida. This season, it's a reason to celebrate.
"I'm happy to hear that we will be getting another chance to play in front of our Gator fans in the state of Florida," coach Ron Zook said.
Although the quote was typical of the feel-good pablum coaches put out when bowl season rolls around, Zook's musings really can be construed as genuine.
The Gators were 3-3 in mid-October, coming off tough home losses to Tennessee and Ole Miss. Back then, some thought they wouldn't even make a bowl game. And as recently as Saturday, after their 38-34 loss to Florida State, they looked pegged for the Peach Bowl, which is a notch down from the Outback ($2.65 million payout compared to $2.1 million).
But Outback Bowl officials, so happy with the turnout at last year's game -- Florida's 38-30 loss to Michigan -- were happy to have the Gators back. And the Gators were happy to accept.
The Gators hadn't been to a game ranked below the Capital One Bowl, formerly known as the Citrus, since the current system gave that bowl the first choice of SEC teams not in the BCS.
Former coach Steve Spurrier used to joke that you couldn't spell Citrus without "UT" -- a dig at Florida's rival, Tennessee.
Once again, Tennessee could be the butt of the joke. The seventh-ranked Vols (10-2) finished ranked higher than Florida, have one more win than Florida and beat the Gators head-to-head, but they may be getting the worst end of the deal.
Although they're still being considered for a BCS game, if they're passed on, and the Capital One Bowl takes the loser of the SEC title game, Tennessee could wind up back in the Peach Bowl, where it lost 30-3 to Maryland last season.
This will mark Florida's 11th straight bowl game on or after Jan. 1.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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