What: Peach Bowl
Who: No. 7 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 10 Florida (9-3)
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Vegas Line: Michigan by 6
Series Record: Michigan leads 4-0.
What’s At Stake
Michigan can become the 10th team in school history, and the first since 2011, to win at least 11 games. The Wolverines are looking to beat the Gators for the second straight season. Florida can complete a dramatic turnaround under first-year coach Dan Mullen from a 4-7 finish in 2017. The Gators are looking for their third win over a ranked team this season.
The Savage factor in play
Ask any of the Florida players the reasons for the big turnaround this season and one of the first things they’ll say is Nick Savage, the new strength and conditioning coordinator who has clearly made the Gators bigger, stronger and better conditioned. How much stronger? UF will have a better gauge of that after today’s game. Most of these same Michigan players physically dominated the Gators in last season’s 33-17 Wolverine win. UM punished UF on both lines of scrimmage. As a result the Gators had only 192 yards of offense while giving up 433. The Gators seem confident they’ll be able to hold their own today, or even win both lines of scrimmage, thanks to the Savage factor. They’ll know for sure by early this afternoon.
Gators playing, Wolverines skipping
Draft-eligible players skipping out on bowl games to prepare for the NFL has become a common occurrence in college football. But the Gators have not followed the trend. All the draft-eligible players — including a handful of high-profile juniors — are playing in today’s game. That includes the one player who has already declared for the draft, junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. It’s a different story for the Wolverines. Four of the best players on the team — defensive tackle Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush Jr., running back Karan Higdon and offensive tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty — are skipping the game to make sure they’re healthy for the NFL draft. Gary and Bush are two of the nation’s top defensive players, while Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing with 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns. Chris Evans, who has rushed for only 403 yards this season, takes over at tailback.
UF wide receivers mesh
Florida’s wide receivers have come together this season to form a solid and productive group and give the offense a balance that has been missing in recent seasons. It’s a good group. And, well, a different group made up of varied personalities. “We all have different personalities,” Ole Miss transfer and leading receiver Van Jefferson said. “I think Tyrie (Cleveland) might be the funniest out of all of us. Josh Hammond might be the quietest. Trey Grimes is the most energetic. Freddie Swain’s kind of a more laid-back guy. Jacob Copeland, he’s kind of in the middle. He’s split between. Kyle Pitts is like – he’s funny, but he’s not funny, but he’s smart. He has a lot of traits. He’ll do things that are funny, but he didn’t mean to do it.”
Florida’s offensive front vs. Michigan’s defensive front seven:
The Gators lost this match-up in a huge way last season. The offensive line got pushed around and simply could not hang with the more physical Wolverines. A year later, this is a veteran UF offensive line that has shown steady improvement over the course of the season. Now, will the Gators be able to physically hold up against a team that dominated them last season? UF’s effort could be helped by what’s missing up front for the Wolverines — All-American tackle Rashan Gary and All-Big Ten linebacker Devin Bush Jr. In last year’s game, the UM defensive front made the Gators one-dimensional, which led to sacks, negative plays and quarterback Feleipe Franks getting benched in the second half. Something similar likely will happen today if the offensive line fails to get some push in the running game.
Michigan linebackers vs. Florida running back Lamical Perine:
Michigan leads the nation in total defense, allowing only 262.5 yards per game, and ranks No. 2 against the pass. The Gators used explosive big plays, including a 74-yard scoring run by Perine, to finish with 536 yards in a 41-14 rout of Florida State to close the regular season. Florida scored 34.5 points per game as Perine and Jordan Scarlett led a balanced rushing attack.
Players to Watch
Florida: Quarterback Feleipe Franks’ 23 touchdown passes is the high mark for the Gators since Tim Tebow’s 30 in 2008. Franks had four games with at least three scoring passes. Franks threw only six interceptions while passing for 2,284 yards.
Michigan: Junior Chris Evans is in the spotlight as the most experienced running back available. Perhaps the most difficult to replace of four draft-eligible players skipping the game is top rusher Karan Higdon, who ran for 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns. Evans was second with 403 yards.
UF coach Dan Mullen said he hopes to return to Atlanta in 2019, when the Peach Bowl will be the site of a College Football Playoff semifinal. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also is home to the Southeastern Conference championship game, Florida’s best path to the playoff.
Facts & Figures
Peach Bowl will host a College Football Playoff semifinal next season, on Dec. 28, 2019. … Michigan beat Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016 and then beat the Gators in another rout, 33-17, to open the 2017 season. … Florida has wins over No. 5 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State this season. … Florida is 0-2 in the Peach Bowl, losing to West Virginia in 1981 and Miami in 2004. … Michigan is playing in its first Peach Bowl. The Big Ten is 2-5 in the bowl. … The last Big Ten team to play in the Peach Bowl was Indiana, which lost to Auburn 27-24 in 1990. … Florida coach Dan Mullen replaced Jim McElwain, who was the Wolverines receivers coach this season before recently taking the job as Central Michigan’s new coach. McElwain is not with Michigan for the bowl game. … Michigan defense is looking to atone for giving up 567 yards in a crushing 62-39 loss to Ohio State to close the regular season, ending the Wolverines’ playoff hopes. … Michigan leads the nation in total defense (262.5 yards per game) and held eight of 12 opponents to season-low in total offense. … Florida has three consecutive 500-yard offensive games and is averaging 554.7 yards per game over that span.
Today’s game questions
• Can the offensive line protect quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was benched in the second half against Michigan last season?
• Will the Gators be able to establish the run against a big, physical and attacking Michigan defensive front?
• Can the Gators contain quarterback Shea Patterson and prevent him from creating big plays with his legs?
• Will the Gators match up physically against a Michigan team that dominated them last season?
• How much, and how well, will true freshman quarterback Emory Jones play?
Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers
Michigan 27, Florida 21
(Season record: 6-6)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.