OU football: Five things to know about Florida Gators, Sooners' Cotton Bowl opponent
Oklahoma will face Florida in the Cotton Bowl at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Here are five things to know about the Sooners’ bowl opponent:
1. Trask emerges as a star
Gators quarterback Kyle Trask has been one of the biggest revelations in the sport this season.
The senior leads the nation in passing yards with 4,125 and passing touchdowns with 43, 11 more than any other FBS quarterback.
He’s got a good chance to be the first Florida player in the top three of Heisman Trophy voting since Tim Tebow finished third in 2008 — the year OU’s Sam Bradford won the award.
But Trask’s path to where he is is especially noteworthy.
Before moving into the starting lineup last September, he hadn’t started a game at quarterback since his freshman year in high school.
A big part of the reason?
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At Manvel (Texas) High, Trask was in the same class as D’Eriq King. While King started, Trask got plenty of work with the first team, and eventually earned a scholarship offer from Florida, despite his backup status.
It didn’t take long for Trask to commit, and he stuck with the Gators after other Power Five programs came calling following his commitment.
At Florida, Trask signed in the same class as Feleipe Franks, who quickly became a starter and once again Trask was blocked. Injuries kept Trask for making a serious run at overtaking Franks until last season, after Franks’ season-ending injury opened the door to Trask.
The Gators were 8-2 with Trask as the starter last year, and Trask became a star this season, completing more than 70% of his passes in each of the first three games.
2. The shoe throw heard ’round the world
The Gators had a chance to make the College Football Playoff for the first time before a stunning 37-34 loss to LSU on Dec. 12.
The Tigers were just 3-5 going into that game, but hung with the Gators late in the game.
The game was tied late when the Gators came up with a major third-down stop at the LSU 25. But Marco Wilson picked up LSU tight end Kola Taylor’s shoe and chucked it down the field, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct flag and keeping the Tigers’ drive alive.
LSU quickly moved the ball into Florida territory and Cade York kicked a 57-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to put the Tigers ahead.
Trask completed three quick passes on the ensuing drive by the Gators’ 51-yard field goal try missed wide left, giving LSU the victory.
3. No Pitts
While Trask has been fantastic, the Gators best offensive player this season is probably tight end Kyle Pitts.
Pitts is the favorite for the John Mackey Award for the nation’s best tight end and could’ve been a solid candidate to become the first tight end to win the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s best receiver if not for the incredible season put together by Alabama’s Devonta Smith.
Pitts had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, including seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama.
The 6-foot-6 Pitts is a matchup nightmare for defenses — and likely would’ve been for the Sooners, especially judging by Charlie Kolar’s performance against OU this season.
But OU doesn’t have to worry about Pitts, after the junior announced Sunday morning that he’d not only skip his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, but would immediately start preparing for the draft instead of playing in the bowl game.
4. Tie to the past
The only time the Sooners and Gators have played, current Gators head coach Dan Mullen had a significant role.
Mullen had already been hired as Mississippi State’s coach when OU faced Florida in the 2009 BCS Championship, but the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach stayed with the Gators, helping them win the title by beating the Sooners 24-14.
Mullen isn’t the only Gators coach who was on Urban Meyer’s staff that championship season.
John Hevesy, the Gators’ co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, was the tight ends coach and assistant offensive line coach for that team before following Mullen to Starkville.
5. Strangers to the Cotton
While the Gators have been to plenty of major bowls, mainly in the Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and now Dan Mullen eras, Florida will be making its first appearance in the Cotton Bowl.
With this appearance, Florida will have played in every New Year’s Six bowl outside of the Rose Bowl.
While Florida’s football team hasn’t played at AT&T Stadium, its basketball team has on two occasions.
The Gators made the 2014 Final Four in the stadium, losing to UConn in a semifinal game.
The year before, Florida won the South Regional at the stadium, knocking off Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16 before falling to Michigan in the Elite Eight.
Ryan Aber, Staff writer