Florida Gators to face Michigan in Peach Bowl

This will be Florida's first appearance in a top-tier bowl since the 2012 season.
The Florida Gators' last bowl game against Michigan came at the Citrus Bowl after the 2015 season. [ TIMES FILE ]
The Florida Gators' last bowl game against Michigan came at the Citrus Bowl after the 2015 season. [ TIMES FILE ]
Published December 2 2018
Updated December 2 2018

Florida's college football fans didn't get the bowl game they wanted. There will be no UCF-Gators meeting in a New Year's Six bowl.

And the matchup No. 10 Florida did get (Michigan in the Dec. 29 Peach Bowl in Atlanta) isn't as juicy with the absence of former Gators coach Jim McElwain.

Still, Sunday's bowl announcement is a significant sign of progress to end coach Dan Mullen's first season. The Gators (9-3) hadn't been in a top-tier bowl since a Sugar Bowl loss to Charlie Strong's Louisville team ended the 2012 season, and Michigan (10-2) provides an opportunity for UF to earn its second top-10 win of the year.

"I'm proud of our team of how they have embraced everything this year and finished strong, and now they get the reward of playing in a high-profile bowl game for the opportunity to win 10 games," Mullen said in a statement Sunday. "We will have some more time off to focus on academics and get our bodies right before we get back to work, prepare for the game and enjoy our time in Atlanta, which is a special city for us and our fans."

Just not as special as it could have been.

Undefeated UCF would have represented a battle for Sunshine State supremacy in a nearby city. It didn't happen because Michigan finished No. 7 in the College Football Playoff selection committee's final rankings. That was the highest position of any team vying for an at-large spot in a major bowl, so the committee sent the Wolverines to their closest option, Atlanta.

Because UCF (eighth in the committee's rankings) played in the Peach Bowl last year, the committee sent the Knights to the Fiesta Bowl.

"Then it just made sense to put Florida in the Peach and LSU out to the Fiesta," committee chair Rob Mullens said during ESPN's selection show.

That means another UF-Michigan showdown — their fifth in the last 16 years and the third of the Jim Harbaugh era. The Gators have never beaten the Wolverines, and their last two meetings weren't even close; Michigan destroyed UF by 34 in the Citrus Bowl after the 2015 season and crushed the Gators by 16 in the 2017 season opener in Arlington, Texas.

McElwain led UF in both losses. He spent this season as Michigan's receivers coach but accepted the head coaching job at Central Michigan on Sunday and won't be sticking around to coach his former team in the ESPN-televised matchup.

"Really excited for him," Harbaugh said. "I think it's a great fit."

Michigan boasts one of the top defenses in the country but will be without standout defensive tackle Rashan Gary, who is skipping the game to prepare for the NFL draft. The Wolverines' offense is led by quarterback Shea Patterson, an Ole Miss transfer who played against Mullen in the 2016 Egg Bowl.

Despite a 25-game winning streak, UCF again finds itself out of the playoff and settling for a big bowl against an SEC West team (Auburn last season, No. 11 LSU this time on Jan. 1). The Knights last played in the Fiesta Bowl to close the 2013 season with a win over Baylor.

"Obviously we spent some time talking about UCF," Mullens said. "Again, another great year, a great opportunity to play an LSU team in the Fiesta Bowl, but in the committee's eyes, the strength of schedule just didn't hold up when you look at that peer group of 7 and 8."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.