The Florida Gators knew heading into the final major weekend of the 2018 college football season that they were likely to play in a marquee New Year’s Six bowl.
What they got on Sunday was a return trip to Atlanta — for their first Peach Bowl game in 14 years, and their first appearance in a game in the sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium — to play Michigan, a familiar foe over the last few years.
The Gators, ranked No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, and Wolverines, ranked No. 7 in the same, will meet in the first New Year’s Six bowl of the year. The Chick-fil-A-sponsored contest will serve as the undercard to the College Football Playoff’s two semifinals on Saturday, December 29, kicking off at noon before the Cotton and Orange Bowls are played in the late afternoon and evening.
Florida and Michigan have met twice in the past 24 months already, as well, with Michigan winning the 2016 Citrus Bowl by a 41-7 count and dispatching the Gators in the 2017 Cowboys Classic, 33-17.
Of course, those games came with Florida being coached by Jim McElwain, whose firing last fall paved the way for the Gators to hire Dan Mullen and for Mullen to lead McElwain’s players to Florida’s first New Year’s Six bowl appearance in the College Football Playoff era — and for McElwain to join Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan as a wide receivers coach.
But McElwain is leaving Michigan to become the head coach at Central Michigan, and that departure makes it unlikely that he will be on the sidelines for the Wolverines in Atlanta. But given the acrimonious parting between McElwain and Florida, it seems equally unlikely that he will not do as much as possible to help engineer one last Florida loss.
This will be the fourth bowl meeting between Florida and Michigan. Michigan has won the three previous games, with victories in the 2002 Outback Bowl and 2008 Capital One Bowl preceding that 2017 Citrus Bowl win.
Florida has appeared in the Peach Bowl twice before, compiling an 0-2 record over a 1981 appearance against West Virginia and a 2004 meeting with Miami. Michigan has never appeared in the Peach Bowl.