The Florida Gators will cap Year 1 under Dan Mullen with a trip to the Peach Bowl. Florida’s opponent will be the Michigan Wolverines out of the Big Ten.
Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are a familiar opponent for Gators fans and players alike, as this meeting will mark the third since the 2015 season. Michigan won the prior two contests handily, crushing Jim McElwain’s SEC East winning 2015 team 41-7 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016 and then dominating the Gators 33-17 in Dallas to open the 2017 regular season. Overall, the Wolverines are 4-0 against the Gators.
Dan Mullen is 5-2 in bowl games as a head coach, all with Mississippi State, a mark that includes a 52-14 win over Michigan in the 2010 Gator Bowl. That loss was the worst bowl loss in Michigan’s illustrious football history and resulted in the dismissal of head coach Rich Rodriguez following the game.
Here are five things to know about Michigan.
1. How the Wolverines got to the Peach Bowl
Michigan finished the regular season 10-2, with a 10-game winning streak sandwich between a loss at Notre Dame to open the season and a blowout defeat at Ohio State to end it.
The Ohio State loss was, of course, especially crushing for Michigan. Ranked No. 4 entering the game, all Michigan needed to play for the B1G championship and potentially make the College Football Playoff was Harbaugh’s first victory over Ohio State. Yes, the game was in Columbus, but Michigan was by almost all accounts the better team over the course of the regular season. The Buckeyes were reeling, a mushroom cloud of questions surrounding their embattled head coach and program, and the Wolverines were cruising, having won all but one of their prior 10 games by at least 11 points.
And then Michigan imploded.
Meyer, Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes blitzed Michigan’s elite defense with crossing routes, run-pass options and later, a vertical passing game en route to one of the most comprehensive whippings in the history of “The Game.”
The loss sent to the Wolverines home for championship weekend and they’ve landed in the Peach Bowl and New Year’s 6.
2. Best win
A 42-7 shellacking of then-No. 14 Penn State was an exercise in dominance in all three phases. The Wolverines led 42-0 before Penn State scored late, and Don Brown’s defense smothered Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lions’ offense all day, holding Penn State to just 11 first downs and 186 total yards.
3. Michigan’s best offensive player is: Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR
Certainly, Karan Higdon, a lightly-recruited player out of Sarasota who has blossomed into a 1,000-plus yard B1G running back deserves a shout here, as does Nico Collins, who leads the Wolverines with a 16.7 yards-per-reception total.
And SEC fans obviously know about quarterback Shea Patterson, who left embattled Ole Miss to become the Wolverines’ starter. Patterson has thrown for 2,364 yards with 21 TDs and 5 INTs this season.
But ask scouts and opposing coaches who stands out most on film and it is Peoples-Jones, the 5-star recruit who selected Michigan following a protracted recruiting battle with Florida and Florida State.
Peoples-Jones has outstanding explosiveness that makes him hard to defend with press coverage, is an elite athlete and leaper and has become a more polished route runner since arriving in Ann Arbor.
The sophomore has played his best football in November, with 17 catches for over 200 yards receiving, and his seven touchdowns on the season lead all Wolverines receivers.
His matchup against C.J. Henderson will be an NFL scout’s dream.
4. Michigan’s best defensive player is: Devin Bush, LB
We could go with Rashan Gary, who arrived in Ann Arbor as the most coveted recruit in the country. Gary has been the rare player who has lived up to the hype.
He missed three games due to injury in 2018 but still accumulated 3.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and an excellent 15 quarterback pressures.
That said, Gary announced last week he’ll skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, where he is a consensus lock to be a first round draft pick. Will he even play in the bowl game?
As a result, we’re going with Florida native Devin Bush.
The junior linebacker is also likely to head for the NFL after the Peach Bowl, as like Gary he is projected by many analysts, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, to be a first round draft pick.
On paper, Bush was a more productive player as a junior anyway. He collected 67 tackles on the season, adding 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Bush’s presence as a sideline to sideline linebacker is a key reason Michigan ranks 1st nationally in total defense and 5th nationally in S&P+ defense. He was named the B1G Conference Defensive Player of the Year this season and is a finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding linebacker.
5. Michigan’s history vs. The SEC
The Wolverines are one of the few national programs that has a strong record against the SEC.
Overall, Michigan is 14-8 against the SEC, a mark that includes an 8-6 record in bowl games. The Wolverines are 5-5 against the SEC since the league began its unprecedented run of national dominance in the 2000s, meaning these numbers are fairly durable.
Michigan has never lost to Florida, going 4-0, including three wins since 2007. The Wolverines have won their four games against the Gators by an average of 16 points.