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No. 10 Florida to face No. 7 Michigan in Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

December 2, 2018
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The Florida Gators (9-3) will face the Michigan Wolverines (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on December 29.

The announcement comes via the College Football Playoff Committee after the latest rankings release. Those rankings have the Gators ranked No. 10 and the Wolverines at No. 7. The latter was bounced out of possible playoff contention after falling 62-39 last week to No. 6 Ohio State.

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The Gators had been the highest ranked 3-loss team for the last couple of weeks but the Washington Huskies (9-3) slid ahead to No. 9 after winning the Pac-12 Championship. They are the third highest ranked SEC team, with SEC Champ Alabama heading to their 5th straight Playoff appearance and SEC runner-up Georgia taking the leagues spot in the Sugar Bowl as the highest ranked team not in the playoff. That left the Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl as possible New Years six destinations for the Gators and No. 11 LSU as SEC at-large teams.

Some projections had the Gators facing in-state school UCF (University of Central Florida), the undefeated Group of 5 team out of Orlando. The match-up against the undefeated Knights was especially intriguing for Florida fans considering it would have been sandwiched between a regular season finale against Florida State and a 2019 opener against Miami, allowing the Gators to play three straight games for the state of Florida.

However the Knights played in the Peach Bowl last season, defeating Auburn, and the committee typically tries to avoid placing a team in the same bowl game two years in a row unless unavoidable. That meant sending UCF to the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale and the committee—which evaluates geography and likelihood of fans traveling—was reportedly hesitant to send two Florida teams to Arizona.

This Florida-Michigan match-up is still rife with storylines though; it will be the third time in four seasons the Gators will face the Wolverines. Back in the 2015 season, UF fell to Michigan 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. The Gators then opened the 2017 season with a 33-17 loss to Jim Harbaugh and crew in the Advocare Classic. The latter was also the first game—and start—for then redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, a game which saw him go 5-of-9 for 75 yards, 0-0 TD-INT and was sacked once before being benched by Jim McElwain for Malik Zaire.

McElwain is a storyline in this game as well. After being replaced with Dan Mullen in Gainesville, Mac took the wide receiver position coach job in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines receiving corps has accounted for 1,547 yards and 17 touchdowns on 113 receptions. For comparison, the Gators corps currently has 1,893 yards and 21 touchdowns on 142 receptions through the same number of games.

However reports surfaced just before the selection show began that McElwain would be accepting the head-coaching job at Central Michigan. It is unclear as of now if McElwain will remain on the UM staff through the bowl game, although as a position coach it is unlikely.

The Gators spot in a New Years six bowl comes just one season removed from a 4-7 season under McElwain and interim head coach Randy Shannon (who ironically the Gators won’t face now; he is the defensive coordinator at UCF). Under new head coach Dan Mullen, the Gators have drastically improved in every major offensive category and defeated two Top 20 teams (No. 11 LSU and No. 18 Mississippi State). All of the Gators three losses come to teams currently in the Top 25.

Despite the three losses, which included a homecoming shellacking at the hands of Missouri, the Florida players have been adamant that they deserve a spot in one of the prestigious games.

“You look at it, we fought,” explained nickel Chauncey Gardner-Johnson following the Gators regular season finale, a 41-14 win over FSU.

Gardner-Johnson, a junior, has declared for the NFL Draft but said he will play in the bowl game.

“We’ve been fighting all year. The Georgia game, that was a close game all the way to the third or fourth quarter. Really fourth quarter. The Missouri game, we were still emotionally down, but we responded with South Carolina. We were down what? 21 points? 17? We came back and fought. [Idaho], we were clicking on all cylinders. A year ago, we wouldn’t have been clicking against—Idaho. We would have been out there just going through the motions. But we kept the same intensity on Idaho that we brought to South Carolina, brought the same intensity to [the FSU] game and made everybody play better.”

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