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The Gators went back to work on Thursday night at the Superdome in preparation for the Sugar Bowl.

Thursday December 27, 2012Gators Arrive in New Orleans, Quickly Resume Preparation for Sugar Bowl

The Gators went back to work on Thursday night at the Superdome in preparation for the Sugar Bowl.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- It didn't take long for the Gators to realize that the volume is turned to a higher level on their bowl trip this year compared to the past couple of seasons.

As soon as they landed Thursday and the door on their charter flight from Gainesville opened, the Third Line Brass Band welcomed the Gators to the Big Easy with an earful of jazz.

The band continued to play during Florida coach Will Muschamp's press conference at Louis Armstrong International Airport, a reminder of the festive atmosphere that is always open for business in New Orleans.

The No. 3-ranked Gators (11-1) insist they aren't here to simply enjoy one of the most prized bowl trips in college football. They say they aren't satisfied after a five-game regular-season improvement, the biggest one-year leap for the program since 1980.

They want to board the plane back to Gainesville carrying the Sugar Bowl trophy.

"We want to make sure we go out the right way,'' senior linebacker Jon Bostic said.

About four hours after they landed, the Gators stepped onto the field for a two-hour practice at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

They had Louisville on their mind. The No. 21-ranked Cardinals (10-2) face the Gators on Jan. 2.

Muschamp told the team afterward that he was pleased with the way they performed in Florida's first practice in six days after the Christmas break. He said it's important that the Gators cap off their comeback season -- the Gators were only 15-11 the past two seasons -- and not suffer a letdown with an opportunity to make a final statement.

"We have a special team and they deserve a special night,'' Muschamp said of finishing the season strong. "You're talking about being the sixth team in [UF] history -- which has a pretty good tradition -- of 12 wins, which is huge.

"It's an opportunity to be ranked in the top five or three in the country. We understand those things are very important to our program as we continue to move forward."

The Gators also want send out their senior class with a perfect record in bowl games. Florida has won a school-record four consecutive bowl games.

Those seniors such as Bostic and others helped Muschamp quickly turn around a program that finished 7-6 in his first season. They did it on the field and in the locker room, providing the kind of leadership that had faded prior to Muschamp's arrival.

"We need to send them out the right way and you can only do that with a win,'' Muschamp said. "These seniors deserve that.''

The Gators last played in the Sugar Bowl after the 2009 season. In Tim Tebow's final game, he passed for a Sugar Bowl-record 482 yards to lead the Gators to a 51-24 win over Cincinnati.

On the opposite sideline this time will be Charlie Strong, Louisville's head coach in his third season. He was Florida's defensive coordinator in the victory over Cincinnati and headed to Louisville after the game to become a head coach for the first time.

Once practice ended Thursday night, the Gators returned to their hotel for a Sugar Bowl welcome dinner, one of several team functions on the schedule until the game.

They will also have some free time to explore New Orleans and its numerous attractions.

Muschamp was asked how the Gators have avoided off-the-field issues and his concerns about any distractions that might surface here.

"Ideally it's a continuing education every day of your players and your team, making good choices and decisions,'' Muschamp said. "The more mature teams generally have more success in bowl games. Because they understand when to focus and they understand when to have fun, and that's what you've got to be able to do when you are in a place like New Orleans.

"Mature teams and mature players handle that very well, and I expect our team to as well."

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel didn't play in Florida's Gator Bowl win over Ohio State last season. Still, he experienced the different dynamics that come with spending several days out of town and with some free time for the players to hang out.

He doesn't expect the Gators to have any trouble of looking past the reason why they are here.

"The game means a ton,'' Driskel said. "It goes back to the offseason. We didn't have a season [last year] that Florida expects year in and year out. We took that to heart in the offseason.

"You won't see our names in the headlines down here."


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