[Updated 8 p.m. 12-8-19 with more Mullen quotes, UVA coach] For the Florida Gators, there should have been no doubt, no drama, no sense of nervousness watching the College Football Playoff selection show Sunday. After LSU beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday night, the Gators knew exactly where they were headed — the Dec. 30 Orange Bowl to play Virgina.
That matchup became official Sunday afternoon when the New Year’s Six bowls were announced.
Ranked No. 9 in the CFP standings, right where they were heading into championship Saturday, the 10-2 Gators will play No. 24 Virginia on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
“We’re looking forward to our trip to Miami to play in the Orange Bowl and a second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl game,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Our players and staff have done a great job all year focusing on how we could get better every day, along with developing our mental and physical toughness throughout the year. We finished strong and put ourselves in a position to win 11 games.
“Our staff has been busy recruiting, and the team is preparing for final exams this week.”
While the Gators were spectators for Saturday’s games, the Cavaliers (9-4) were getting crushed 62-17 by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
It’s a second consecutive appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game under Mullen. UF routed Michigan 41-14 in last year’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
“We are honored to accept a bid to play in the Orange Bowl,” UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “South Florida is an important region for our program, and home for many Gators. It is rewarding to see all of the work by Coach Mullen, the staff and players pay off with a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl, and it will be a great week in Miami for our players, staff and fans.”
The Gators will be playing without standout junior cornerback CJ Henderson, who declared for the NFL draft Friday and said he would not be playing in the bowl game.
Mullen said Sunday night he’s talked to some other draft-eligible players and at this time does not anticipate any others skipping the bowl game.
“As guys make decisions about their future, the most important thing is to be either all in or all out,” Mullen said. “The majority of guys I’ve met with, I haven’t met with anybody else that I think is even pondering it. We’ll see moving forward, you never know how things shake out..
“Everybody else was at practice Saturday and I think everyone else plans on playing in the game. The most important thing is that guys are all in, all out on their decision, they have no regrets in what they do.
“Hopefully, the guys really want to finish the season the right way and enjoy playing in a big-time game.”
Whoever shows up, or doesn’t show up for the Gators, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall is expecting a stern challenge from UF.
“I see their record and I see their ranking, so I expect a great test from Florida,” Mendenhall said.
The Orange Bowl has been good to the Gators. They are looking to run their record to 4-0 in the prestigious bowl game. UF beat Georgia Tech 27-12 in 1967, defeated Syracuse 31-10 in 1999 and crushed Maryland 56-23 in 2002. The Gators also won the 2009 BCS National Championship Game over Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl site.
This will be only the second time the Gators and Cavaliers will meet on the football field. The only other meeting took place in 19059, with UF routing Virginia 55-10 in Gainesville.
The Gators have had two consecutive double-digit-win seasons under Mullen. UF has not done that back-to-back seasons since 2008-09. Mullen is the first head coach in school history two win 10 games in each of his first two seasons.