In less than two weeks, the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines will square off in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to fight for a Top-10 finish.
It seems the two teams are just destined to match up with each other in recent years, and so far that destiny has not worked in Florida’s favor.
December 29 will be the third meeting in four seasons between the Gators and Wolverines. Michigan had no trouble in either of the first two games, as it defeated Florida 41-7 in the 2016 Citrus Bowl and dominated again 33-17 in last year’s season opener in Dallas.
Now, Florida’s 9-3 record speaks for itself. This team might be filled with many of the same players as 2017, but it is not the same team that went 4-7 and got embarrassed by Michigan a year ago.
“We’ve played a whole season already, so I think that’s kinda shown a little bit from where we’ve grown from last year,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks. “I mean, being able to play this extra game, it’ll be an opportunity for us to keep on just showcasing on what we’ve improved on from last year to this year. And especially playing a team that we played last year that pretty much dominated the game, it’s another opportunity for us to go out there and show on certain points where we got better.”
Josh Hammond described the difference between that team and this team as “night and day”. Freddie Swain said the difference has been a scheme that actually fits the skillset of the players. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said the difference is players caring more about the good of the team rather than their personal stats.
There is one common denominator in all of those things, and that is Dan Mullen.
“It was hard for us last year, but Coach Mullen came in and changed the culture of the team,” Gardner-Johnson said. “Everybody dialed in. It took us some time, because we didn’t know what to expect, but he did a great job. We’re back at the top and we’re looking next year to keep going and keep fighting to be No. 1.”
While there is no doubt the Gators have taken steps in the right direction, there is still the wrinkle that Michigan is better, too.
If not for the ugly loss to Ohio State late in the season, the Wolverines would likely be preparing for a semi-final game in the College Football Playoff right now.
Michigan played really good football in 2018. The as always outstanding defense paired with an improved offensive attack led by Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson are a combination that won’t be easy to beat.
“I think they’re one of the best defensive teams, if not the best defensive team in the country,” Mullen said. “They have depth, they have guys that play hard, they roll them through. They’re very, very aggressive in their defensive scheme … You’ve seen them change offensively and grow into themselves on the other side of the ball with a quarterback that is not as traditional with what they’ve done in the past, has a good skill set and can improvise and do a lot of things. I think they’ve expanded around him.”
A win in the bowl game will not make or break anything for Florida, but it is a great opportunity to prove how far this team has come in such a short time.
The Gators know the history with Michigan and what there is to gain from this game.
“There’s a hunger out there,” said senior offensive lineman Martez Ivey. “We want to go out and win. We want to go out and give our best. We want to live up to that Gator standard. That’s how we practice and that’s how we’re going to play.”