GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida is headed to the Peach Bowl to take on Michigan.
The College Football Playoff selection committee opted to give Gators fans a rematch of the 2017 season opener, a game that the Wolverines won 33-17 in dominant fashion. No. 10 Florida will be looking for its first-ever win against No. 7 Michigan, having lost the previous four meetings.
Florida checked in at No. 10 in the final College Football Playoff rankings, earning an at-large bid to a New Year’s Six bowl after going 9-3 in coach Dan Mullen’s first season at the helm.
Michigan went 10-2 but missed out on a chance to play in the College Football Playoff after falling to Ohio State in the season finale. The Wolverines have topped Florida three times in bowl games, the most recent in 2015 at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
College Football Playoff committee chair Rob Mullens explained that the Florida-Michigan matchup came about in part because UCF, which earned an automatic bid as the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion, had played in the Peach Bowl a year ago. That sent the Knights out west to the Fiesta Bowl, and Michigan was awarded the game closer to home (the Peach Bowl) as the highest-ranked at-large team. Mullens said that Florida “made sense” as the opponent for the Wolverines, rather than sending the Gators west to take on the Knights.
The Gators have undergone a significant turnaround after finishing 4-7 a year ago. Mullen has been no small part of that, installing an offense that has become much more functional and has made remarkable statistical progress in just about every major category.
Players, though, have credited the change in mentality as much as anything else for the program’s improved trajectory.
“We had to literally come together as a team, man,” running back Jordan Scarlett said. “This is almost the same team as last year, missing a couple dudes, new coaching staff. These guys came in here and instilled a great thing in us. They taught us how to play football well and just be a first-class team, and that’s what we did.”
The bowl appearance will also come with a bit of a bonus for Mullen after a strong season. He gets a contractual $200,000 bonus for leading Florida to a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
He wasn’t quite sure Florida would be in one after topping Florida State 41-14 in the season finale, but he liked the resume his team had put together despite hitting some bumps in the road in the middle of the season.
“We put ourselves in a tough position back a couple weeks ago, but over the last three weeks we clawed and fought our way back to put ourselves in the conversation,” Mullen said.
The Peach Bowl will kick off at noon on ESPN on Dec. 29 from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga.
Of note for Florida fans, former coach Jim McElwain is currently an assistant at Michigan, coaching receivers for Jim Harbaugh.