Florida capped a memorable first regular season under Dan Mullen with a 41-14 rout of rival Florida State this past weekend.
As the staff hits the road recruiting this week, fans are left to speculate about where Florida will go bowling.
The good news? Florida’s victory in Tallahassee, coupled with the LSU’s epic and controversial 7-overtime loss at Texas A&M all but sealed Florida’s first invitation to a New Year’s 6 Bowl game.
The question now is simply which New Year’s Six game. With that in mind, we rank Florida’s bowl options from worst to best below.
3. Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1, Glendale, Ariz. (vs. Michigan)
The Gators’ history against the Wolverines is not encouraging.
Florida has never beaten Michigan and the most recent matchups haven’t been close, with Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines obliterating Florida in the 2015 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 41-7, and hammering the Gators 33-17 in Dallas to open the 2017 regular season.
Even Heisman winning Tim Tebow couldn’t best Michigan, losing a classic Capital One Bowl 41-35 to the Wolverines in 2007. That was Lloyd Carr’s final game as head coach in Ann Arbor, and Michigan overcame nearly 200 yards of offense from Percy Harvin behind a 373-yard passing performance from Chad Henne and 129 bruising yards from Mike Hart to send the beloved Carr out a winner.
Michigan just gave up 62 points to Ohio State, but Feleipe Franks is not Dwayne Haskins, and this isn’t a great matchup for Florida.
Making matters worse, the game is across the country in Glendale, Arizona, where Florida’s alumni base is minimal. Given Florida’s fan base is often reluctant to travel for non-championship games, crowd support could be negligible for the Gators.
There’s also the pesky annoyance of a morning kickoff in the desert.
Don’t get me wrong: Florida should be thrilled to be in a New Year’s 6 Bowl. The fans should travel and get behind the team. But this might be a trip too far and is the least appealing of Florida’s bowl options, both from a matchup and travel perspective.
2. Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, New Orleans (vs. Texas)
This is undoubtedly a long shot, but here me out.
Alabama has crushed opponents at historic rates. They are the first team to win every game by 20-plus points since Yale in 1888 and only Florida in 1996 was more dominant in SEC play in terms of margin of victory.
But what if the Tide lose the SEC Championship Game?
It’s possible the Playoff committee would ignore the “national quarterfinal” argument and simply slot the Tide in the Playoff as the No. 4-seed, setting up a national semifinal rematch with Clemson.
It’s also possible the committee would refuse to send that big of a signal that league championship games don’t matter. In that event, they could exclude Alabama from the Playoff, leaving the Tide as a New Year’s 6 team in either the Peach or Sugar Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl has long been billed as “the best game possible,” and in that event they might decide that a Florida-Texas matchup has genuine appeal. Plus, the Peach Bowl might like the idea of Alabama and Michigan at the gate.
In that one crazy scenario, Florida’s fans could ring in the New Year on Bourbon Street and get a shot at a Texas team that, like everyone in the Big 12, doesn’t offer much defensively but can light up the scoreboard on offense.
It’s not a terrible matchup for Florida, and the chance to see the two college bluebloods back on the rise would be fun television on New Year’s night.
1. Peach Bowl, Dec. 29, Atlanta (vs. UCF)
UF vs. UCF, within driving distance.
UCF has won 24 games in a row and sits justifiably in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings.
The gruesome injury to star quarterback McKenzie Milton is a tragedy, and it unfortunately would have to factor into any discussion of UCF being in the Playoff should the Knights beat Memphis and the door open due to a chaotic Championship weekend.
Nonetheless, the Knights have dealt with adversity during the 24-game winning streak and if they handle business against Memphis Saturday, they’ll be back in the New Year’s 6.
The Gators reclaimed the mantle as best of the state’s traditional “Big 3” with their annihilation of FSU this past weekend; all that’s left for Dan Mullen and Florida is to leave no doubt as to who the best overall team in the state was in 2018.
A Peach Bowl game against UCF would settle that nonsense — once and for all. It would also be television ratings gold and an easy sell at the gate in Atlanta, which has the largest University of Florida alumni base of any city not in the state of Florida. Gators would likely flood Atlanta for a chance at 10 wins and a big bowl game, and the only drawback would be the noon kickoff.
Finally, it’s a good football matchup for Florida. The injury to Milton certainly changes the complexion of what UCF is as a football team, but the matchup was already going to be difficult for UCF, which at 109th in the country in rushing defense have one of the worst run defenses in America and would likely be unable to slow Florida’s dominant power run game.
This is the game the people want, committee. Make it happen.