While the No. 7 Florida Gators are still reeling from a heart-breaking 52-46 loss against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game over the weekend, their sights will now turn to the Cotton Bowl to face off against the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners, the team's first appearance in such bowl game, and the second time in school history the two program's will face off.
The last meeting between the two programs was a special moment for the Florida program, winning the BCS National Championship. It would also be a special moment for current Gators head coach Dan Mullen, who was the team's offensive coordinator at the time. Shortly before coaching the game, Mullen had accepted the position as head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
"I do know this, I don't know if I've been more exhausted. Maybe this year is more exhausting with everything we've been through this year," said Mullen who is coming off the heels of an 8-game stretch of conference opponents this season.
The game was jam-packed with talent, especially at the quarterback position. For Florida, Tim Tebow, Oklahoma, Sam Bradford.
"You have two Heisman Trophy winners playing each other at quarterback. I think guys that are still scattered around the NFL, all over the NFL with great players," Mullen recalled. "I think they'd averaged 60 points a game but it came into at the very end the ability to play defense and the Florida defense came up pretty big."
The Gators would go on to win the championship game 24-14, marking a historical moment in the program's history.
Mullen would speak about the game's key players such as Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin, who was only able to play through three quarters of the contest due to an injury. On the day, Harvin would accumulate nine receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown, just another day in the life of one of the program's most-explosive players of all time.
"For me, it was a special moment," Mullen recalled. "I got to run down the field, hold the trophy for about 30 seconds, get a picture with my wife with the trophy and get on the plane and head to Starkville, Mississippi."
Now, the program has come nearly full circle, this time with Mullen as the team's leader and head coach. Going up against the now-Lincoln Riley led Sooners will be another moment in Mullen's career. While the team hoped to compete for the national title, they will not have the pleasure of doing that. But, the program will be able to compete for yet another New Years Six bowl, an accomplishment in its own right.
"You know, I think it's a great honor to be playing in the Cotton Bowl Classic," said Mullen. "It's a historic bowl. Be my first opportunity to go, if I'm not mistaken. Might even be Florida's, one of their first opportunities, if not the first opportunity for Florida, to go play in this game. So, we're excited.
"Obviously, any time you have a top ten matchup of two teams, it's going to be a lot of fun. I know people that's why guys go to Florida and Oklahoma to play in big-time games."