By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
Let the lobbying begin.
After finishing his first season with a 41-14 win at rival Florida State and a 9-3 record, Florida coach Dan Mullen was asked Saturday if he knows what bowl game the Gators are going to.
“I have no idea. There’s a guy in the back,” Mullen said, pointing his finger. “Oh, he runs out the door. He’s on the committee. ‘Oh, they’re talking about us with the bowl game.’ So he has to leave the room. He has to recuse himself.”
Mullen was joking, of course, about UF athletics director Scott Stricklin. He’s a member of the College Football Playoff committee and will have to leave the room next week when they discuss whether No. 11 Florida deserves a spot in one of the New Year’s Six Bowl games.
Mullen thinks the Gators have put themselves in the mix.
“That’s hard for me to say because only 12 teams get to go to those games,” he said. “I think we’ve certainly put ourselves in the conversation as one of those teams that’s right there. I think we deserve to be in the conversation for it. But you know what, there’s a lot of teams out there in the country.
“There’s a lot of games still to be played and championship games that have automatic bids that could affect it. We’ll see how it plays out. We put ourselves in a tough position back a couple weeks ago, but over the last three weeks we clawed and fought our way back to put ourselves in the conversation.”
Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson wasn’t so subtle with his comments. He said the Gators should “absolutely” be one of those dozen teams and the thought of going to a New Year’s Six Bowl is constantly on his mind.
“I think about it all week,” Gardner-Johnson said, “because everybody expects us to be one of these top-tier teams. (Saturday) showed that we can play four quarters, 60 minutes, and when things go wrong we’re not going to panic. We’re going to keep fighting, and that’s what we did. … You look at it, we fought. We’ve been fighting all year.
“The Georgia game, that was a close game all the way to the fourth quarter. The Missouri game, we were still emotionally down, but we responded with South Carolina. We were down, what? 17 points? We came back and fought. Idaho, we were clicking on all cylinders. … We brought the same intensity to this game and made everybody play better.”
Bowl projections for the Gators have them pegged for the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 or the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2019. They could be matched up against No. 9 Central Florida if the undefeated Knights can beat Memphis in the American Championship Game on Saturday.
“UCF? I would love to play them,” UF linebacker David Reese II said when asked about the possibility. “Just to own the state, you know. It’s a opportunity we don’t get every year. But since that opportunity might be ahead of us, we’re excited for it.
“Any where in the New Year’s Six, man. I’m excited to find out where we end up. I’m just happy to be there. … We got finals coming up, and then we’re gonna practice hard. … And we’re looking forward to a win and trying to get a great head start for next year.”
Florida will open the 2019 season in Orlando against Miami, the first game between the rivals since 2013. A matchup with UCF would give Mullen a unique three-game stretch against the other in-state powers.
But if UF doesn’t face the Knights, or even make it to a New Year’s Six Bowl, Mullen wants to make sure his players enjoy postseason play and take advantage of the extra practices.
“I’ll make sure our players enjoy the bowl game. I think that’s always huge,” Mullen said. “I love the bowl system. I think it’s a reward of the guys working hard for a great season, you know what I mean? …
“I have no idea where we’ll go. They’ll get to experience something they haven’t experienced before, go to a new location, enjoy it. We have a pretty good schedule for them. Celebrate it. The focus No. 1, though, is winning the game. Make sure we do what we need to do to win.”