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Coaching Change No Matter, Florida Gators Ready for Bowl Game

Greg Knox and his Florida Gators are excited for the opportunity to earn a bowl bid, even as UF prepares to hire its next head coach.

Photo: Greg Knox: Credit: Alex Shepherd

It took until the 24-21 victory in their regular-season finale against Florida State hit the record books before the Florida Gators earned bowl eligibility for their 2021 season.

Despite the fact that the program is in the midst of its hunt for a new head coach, as its former leader Dan Mullen was fired last Sunday, and that it is wrapping up an underwhelming campaign, don't be fooled: The Gators are ready and anxious for an opportunity to play in a bowl.

"A great win in a rivalry game. What a big, big showing today," interim head coach Greg Knox summarized the contest. "Was it our best? No. But it was a win, and it was a great win. And I’m excited for this senior class, the great send-off for the senior class. 

"And we get one more game. We always talk about we’re guaranteed 12, and anything after that, we’ve got to go to work for. We get one more game. We’re headed to a bowl game ... I’m committed to these players and I’m committed to going to a bowl game."

Knox shared that, although defending The Swamp and defeating an archrival in the Seminoles was objective No. 1 this week, the idea of paving a path to a bowl game was important to the players and became a motivational tactic as the team prepared to take on FSU. It gives UF a chance to send its seniors out on a high note.

“They’re excited. It’s what we talked about last night. Who knows where it’s gonna be or when, but I can tell you this: They are excited about that," said Knox. "They were excited about winning this game, a rivalry game, and they knew that it meant going to a bowl game. That senior class wanted it.”

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An argument could be made either way as to the logic of Florida accepting a bowl bid. Undoubtedly, the players want to play and the coaches want to coach on national television to end the season, and a free trip filled with gifts and activities is a sweet cherry on top. 

However, as mentioned previously, Florida is currently looking for a new head coach, and reportedly, the top candidate for the job is Louisiana's Billy Napier. Whether it's Napier or someone else, the next coach will be hired before Florida takes the field in a bowl game, and such an event could serve as a distraction as the new coach establishes the foundation of their program.

And, in 2020, the Washington Examiner reported that 10-20 programs lose money on bowl games annually, usually due to covering unsold tickets. In the event that Florida faithful don't travel to a lower-tier bowl, UF would be left with the check, in addition to the buyout funds it owes Mullen and his staff for their firings this year.

Those theories don't seem to bother the contributors across Florida's roster. They want to play.

"I've never heard that. All I know is they're gonna tell us where we're going and we're going," said defensive tackle Antonio Valentino. "If I got anything to say, if they leave it up to me, I'd be going. I don't care who it is, where it is, it don't matter. We're going."

Tight end Kemore Gamble followed Valentino up with the same sentiment: It wouldn't matter if Florida were 12-0 entering the College Football Playoff or, as it is right now, 6-6 entering a lower-tier championship. Bowl games are special moments for programs and the players intend on enjoying the event to cap off what has been an otherwise disappointing year.

“See, I love playing football. I could be the No. 1 draft pick and I’m still going to play, no matter what bowl game we’re playing in," Gamble said. "I’m just that type of player who don’t care if it’s one play, I just love playing football.”

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