Bowl season really heats up on Saturday with the College Football Playoff semifinals kicking off later in the day. Before we get to those two highly-anticipated contests, we have an excellent appetizer that kicks off at noon EST.
The 9-3 Florida Gators and the 10-2 Michigan Wolverines are this year’s participants in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The Gators were contenders in the SEC East, but the Georgia Bulldogs showed them that they still have much work to do.
For much of the year, Michigan was looking like the best team in the Big Ten. Then they faced off with the rival Ohio State Buckeyes in their annual meeting. Ohio State took them to the woodshed in embarrassing fashion, and we can only imagine that the loss still stings significantly.
These two national powerhouses have something to prove, and we should be treated to a compelling contest as a result. Let’s take a look at this game in detail, starting with the way the folks in the desert see things playing out.
Florida vs. Michigan, 12 PM EST, Fri. December 29, ESPN
Florida vs. Michigan pick:
Florida came out on the wrong side of what looked to be a huge upset in Week 2. Kentucky was able to snap its 31-game losing streak to the Gators. In hindsight, Kentucky’s big 2018 season suggests it wasn’t that much of an upset at all. Florida’s other two losses also came to conference rivals, as they fell to Georgia and Missouri in consecutive weeks.
Michigan came out of the gates flat and fell in the opener to Notre Dame. Questions swirled on the team’s effort for that contest, but the controversy was quickly quelled. The Wolverines ripped off 10 wins in a row and looked like one of the best teams in the nation while doing so. The final game of the season was a showdown with Ohio State, with the winner heading to the Big Ten title game. Michigan delivered its worst performance of the season as the rival Buckeyes laid the smackdown on them.
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One of Florida’s biggest highlights of 2018 came when they took down a pair of nationally ranked conference rivals in successive weeks. The Gators defeated #13 Mississippi State by a score of 13-6, and followed that up with an encore by dropping #5 LSU 27-19. The Gators looked like contenders in the SEC at that point, but Georgia crushed those dreams with a 36-17 win.
Perplexing loss to Ohio State aside, Michigan had itself a solid 2018 season. The team scored a number of blowout victories over teams such as Nebraska and Penn State, but they also demonstrated they could win the close ones with a 20-17 win over a tough Northwestern team. The stage was set for head coach Jim Harbaugh to finally get the Ohio State monkey off of his back, but the Buckeyes let him know in no uncertain terms that this would not be the year for that to happen via a dominating 62-39 victory.
These two squads bring very similar characteristics to the table: stout defense complemented by a solid offense. The offense is essentially a wash, while Michigan gets the edge on defense. However, there’s a caveat to add to both as the Wolverines will be down a number of key players for this one.
Defensive end Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush Jr., and RB Karan Higdon are all out for this game as they look ahead to the NFL draft. Miscellaneous stats are even, and any edge Michigan may have had in other categories is impacted by the absence of key players for this game.
These two programs have actually met in each of the last two years. They faced off in the 2016 Citrus Bowl, a 41-7 victory for Michigan. They also met in the 2017 season opener, another Michigan win which was a bit closer with a final score of 33-17.
Florida has the better recent bowl game history, as the Gators have gone 3-2 over their last five appearances. Last year, they squared off with Iowa in the Outback Bowl and cruised to a 30-3 win. The Citrus Bowl versus Michigan was the year before that, while 2015 would see them pull out a 28-20 victory over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
Michigan is just 1-4 over its last five bowl games, including defeats in the last two. They fell to South Carolina in last year’s Outback Bowl by a score of 26-19, while they lost a heartbreaking 33-32 loss to Florida State in the previous years’ Orange Bowl. The team’s last bowl game victory was the Citrus Bowl win over Florida.
In addition to being down several key players, Michigan also has some off the field intrigue to deal with. There are rumblings that head coach Jim Harbaugh will be heavily courted by some NFL teams in the offseason. He has already addressed the situation and contends that he’s staying, but we won’t have a concrete answer on that until the offers start coming in.
Regardless, we’re expecting the Wolverines to come in focused and ready to wipe the bad taste of how the regular season ended out of their mouths. Florida should be amped up and ready to address their own disappointment as well, so we should have a quality game to kick off a great Saturday of football.
The absence of a number of Michigan stars closes the gap, and the Gators should be able to keep it close and take it down to the wire as a result. The Wolverines may still pull out the victory, but we’ll be looking for Florida to cover.
We’ll take Florida plus the points.