The Gator Bowl as a Springboard
It's easy to have mixed emotions where the Gator Bowl is concerned. On the one hand, it's one of the oldest bowl games and is played on New Year's Day. On the other hand, it's always been at best a second-tier bowl. Perhaps it's greatest value is how it sets a team up for the coming year.
Bo's Gator Bowl
Bo Pelini's best season at Nebraska was probably 2009. His team lost a slugfest against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg by a point. Then avenged two years of ugly defeats to Missouri with a fourth-quarter explosion to win 27-12. That was followed by a flat outing against Texas Tech and a turnover-fest loss to Iowa State. From there, the team finally got rolling. The big win came over visiting Oklahoma after an embarrasment in Norman the prior year. He had #3 Texas on the ropes in the Big 12 championship game, before an extra second allowed the Longhorns to escape with a long field goal to win by a point. The 33-0 trouncing of Arizona (led by Nick Foles) put Nebraska at 14th in the nation. That season came on the heels of a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson after the 2008 season.
Recent Gator History
When you say "Ohio State" and "Gator Bowl" most people recall Woody Hayes' meltdown where he punched a Clemson player. More recently though, the Buckeyes played there after the 2011 season. What followed was a 12-0 year under coach Urban Meyer. The prior year Michigan appeared in the game and what followed was a BCS bowl in Brady Hoke's first season. The year before saw Florida State in the Gator Bowl which led to a division crown the next season. Two years prior to that West Virginia appeared in the game and followed it up with an 11-2 season.
That's not to say a Gator Bowl appearance guarantees a great season. Look no further than this year's Northwestern team. Still, there are numerous examples of teams that used the game as a springboard to better things. Let's hope that's the case for Nebraska in 2014.