ORLANDO, Fla. -- Just like Florida, Michigan State had reason to believe it could have ended up at a better place than the Citrus Bowl this season.
Unlike the Gators, the Spartans don't have to work too hard to appear happy with what they got.
No. 10 Florida's version of Siberia is No. 9 Michigan State's version of paradise. If attitude is the difference when the teams meet Saturday, it seems the Spartans (9-2) would have the advantage.
"This is almost like a fairy tale," said tailback Lloyd Clemons. "Coming back here 9-2, playing Florida, it really doesn't get any better than this."
Replacing Nick Saban, who left for LSU, former running backs coach Bobby Williams makes his head-coaching debut as the Spartans return to a New Year's Day bowl game for the first time in 11 seasons.
Michigan State is trying to hit the 10-win plateau for just the second time in school history. The Spartans beat Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan this season, but they refuse to dwell on getting passed over by the Orange Bowl for the Wolverines.
"We have no control over that," Williams said. "We're excited about coming to the Citrus Bowl, and they're excited about having us. Hopefully, we can maintain the level of success we've achieved this year. Then, maybe next year, we can get a little more notoriety."
Attracting the spotlight has never been a problem for Florida (9-3), although most of this season the attention has been negative.
There was the ever-present quarterback controversy, and coach Steve Spurrier's constant criticism of his team. The criticism got so bad that, after a 34-7 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game, Spurrier came out with a stunning public apology for being too harsh.
Lately, Spurrier has insisted that things aren't as bad as they seem. He might be right.
With a victory, Florida would record its seventh consecutive 10-win season and finish in the top 10 for the ninth straight year. The Gators had never won 10 games, and had finished in the top 10 only three times before Spurrier signed on at Florida, exactly 10 years ago Friday.
"It's not like our program has fallen completely apart," he said. "We realize our last game was bad, and all people talk about is your last game. Hopefully, we'll play well tomorrow, we'll play like we used to play at Florida. If we do that, it will cure a lot of ills."
It also would prevent the program's first three-game losing streak since 1988 and an off-season of discontent among the Florida faithful.
Already, some chinks are starting to show.
Possibly taking a cue from Spurrier -- who made fun of the Citrus Bowl when Tennessee was going every year -- the Gators had sold only 7,500 tickets to a game in their own backyard as of midweek. Michigan State had sold in the neighborhood of 16,000 tickets.
"It does hurt," said Florida tackle Kenyatta Walker. "At one time, I thought our fans were the best. But that was when we were always winning. I think there are still some true Gator fans out there. But the ones that jump off -- they can stay off. That's how I feel."
Those sentiments aside, most Florida players are trying to put a good spin on their trip to the Citrus, the highest-paying ($3.8 million) game of those that aren't part of the Bowl Championship Series.
Like Michigan State, they had their goals set higher this year. But now that they're here, they have to make the best of it.
"We just want to get back out there and crack heads again," said tailback Bo Carroll. "We came off a tough loss, so maybe we're looking for some redemption. We want to prove that we actually are a good team."
© 2017. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us