The appetizer to the College Football Playoff kicks off on Saturday at noon in Atlanta when No. 7 Michigan squares off with No. 10 Florida in the Peach Bowl. The Wolverines were in the CFP hunt until the final weekend of the regular season, when they lost 62-39 to arch-rival Ohio State. The Gators lost two games in a row prior to reeling off three straight victories to cap off coach Dan Mullen's first year back in Gainesville, Florida, with a 9-3 record.
Will the Wolverines push their all-time record vs. the Gators to 5-0, or will Mullen's crew polish off the 2018 season with win No. 10 -- the first time Florida would accomplish that feat since 2012? One advantage UF does have for itself in the game is personnel. UM will be without some of its top players, who have declared early for the NFL Draft and chosen not to play in the game. There will be plenty of Gators turning pro as well, but only one has declared at this time (Chauncey Gardner-Johnson), and he made it clear he will be suiting up and giving it his all on Saturday.
Let's break down and pick the first New Year's Six matchup of this year's bowl slate.
Event: Peach Bowl
Date: Saturday, Dec. 29 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium -- Atlanta, Georgia
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN
Michigan: The most notable thing that happened during the break between the end of the regular season and the bowl has been the news that defensive lineman Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush and running back Karan Higdon will all skip the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. With Higdon out, pressure will be on Chris Evans to shoulder the load alongside quarterback Shea Patterson. Evans had 403 yards and four touchdowns on the season, but hasn't had more than 18 carries in a game this season. The defense sans Gary and Bush will be a question. Coordinator Don Brown's crew was torched by the Buckeyes, and will count on superstar end Chase Winovich and linebacker Josh Ross to pick up the slack.
Florida: Quarterback Feleipe Franks' 23 touchdown passes and 2,284 passing yards are the most from a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2009, yet the Gators still finished eighth in the SEC in passing offense. Running backs Lamical Perine (750 yards) and Jordan Scarlett (717 yards) have provided nice balance to the offense, and the Gators offensive line has allowed just 49 tackles for loss -- tied for first in the SEC. The defensive front has been stellar thanks to Jachai Polite (11 sacks) and Jabari Zuniga (6.5). Their work up front has forced quarterbacks into mistakes, which is a big reason why the Gators are tied for third in the SEC with 12 interceptions on the season.
Game prediction, picks
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's offense works well inside its comfort zone. But when teams force the Wolverines to play catchup or go point-for-point, they struggle. Luckily for Harbaugh, Florida's offense won't be able to force Patterson to win with his arm. The Gators will get a heavy dose of Evans, Patterson will work off play-action and the Wolverines defense will make it hard for Franks to get anything going. Pick: Michigan -7.5
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