Roughly three hours after FSU formally trumpeted the commencement of the Mike Norvell era, the state’s current standard bearer to the east had reason to toot its own figurative horn.
For the second straight year, Florida has a date in a New Year’s Six bowl.
The No. 6 Gators (10-2) will face ACC runnerup Virginia (9-4) in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Dec. 30. The Sugar seemed in play for UF after Georgia’s humbling 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC title game, but the Bulldogs (fifth) still finished ahead of UF (ninth) in the final College Football Playoff standings.
Nonetheless, Florida’s strength of schedule (29th per Jeff Sagarin) ultimately paid dividends, and that 24-13 win against Auburn on Oct. 5 has arguably a brighter sparkle two months later. The Gators’ only losses were to Georgia and top-ranked LSU.
“We’re 10-2. We played a tough non-conference schedule,” said Dan Mullen, the first coach to start his UF career with consecutive double-digit winning seasons. “We went out to aggressively schedule two Power-Five teams (Miami, FSU) non-conference. I mean, there’s a lot of teams not doing that.”
Florida has appeared in three previous Orange Bowls, winning all three, but hasn’t played in the game since a 56-23 embarrassment of Maryland in Steve Spurrier’s last game as Gators coach on Jan. 2, 2002.
Additionally, the Gators won the 2008 BCS national title against Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl site (then known as Dolphin Stadium) on Jan. 8, 2009.
They haven’t faced Virginia since a 55-10 rout of the Cavaliers in 1959, when Spurrier was 14. The Cavaliers, who never have played in the Orange Bowl, are coming off a 62-17 loss to Clemson in Saturday night’s ACC title game.
Like Florida, they topped FSU in the regular season, but lost 17-9 to Miami, their only other common foe with UF. The Gators defeated the ’Canes, 24-20, in Week Zero in Orlando.
“That (ACC title game) wasn’t us,” Virginia wide receiver Hasise Dubois said. “That was us playing, but we’re a better team than we showed.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.