Florida gets rewarded for another 10-win season and top-10 ranking with it’s second consecutive New Year’s Six game – this time in the Orange Bowl to play the Virginia Cavaliers.
This is great for the program for many reasons. First is the ability to practice and be seen in the fertile South Florida recruiting region, with scUM currently a dumpster fire. It also shows future recruits around the country that Dan Mullen has the program headed in a winning direction again. Finally, it’s a great reward for the guys that either stayed with or came into the the program to turn things around and reinvigorate the Florida brand nationally.
Virginia is led by head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and the team reflects his personality – fundamentally sound and tough. Their offense is led by senior QB Bryce Perkins, a true dual-threat QB with almost 200 carries this year. He is the focus of the Cavaliers’ attack, and the key to whether the Gator defense can slow or shut down Virginia and make it a long night for them. Perkins isn’t terribly accurate as a thrower, but can hit some big plays on scrambles or if a play breaks down and he improvises. His main target is WR Joe Reed – Reed is a 1st-Team ACC player, and also a dangerous kick returner with 2 kickoff returns for scores. The Gators will have one of their better CBs on him all night, and occasionally roll a safety over the top to keep him on check. The only other ballcarrier with significant snaps is RB Wayne Taulapapa who averages only 10 carries a game, but has 12 rushing TDs. The Gator defense seems to match up well against Virginia’s attack. If the front seven does it’s usual good job of controlling the LOS, the DEs are going to make things very tough on Perkins. It appears that both Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga will play – a huge boost in contrast to many star players sitting out bowl games. Unfortunately, CB CJ Henderson will be one of those, so freshman Kaiir Elam gets a chance to start and make a name for himself.
Florida’s offense should have success as long as they come motivated to play and keep Kyle Trask upright. Virginia’s defensive strength is in their LB corps, which plays sound football and tackles well. However, there is no one outstanding talent that can’t be handled, and the Gator WRs could have another big game. Indications are that everyone available will play, so Trask has his entire compliment of weapons. Here’s hoping that the rest and extra practice has the O-line playing one of it’s best games and allowing RB Lamical Perine to go out a winner with some good running and pass-catching.
Head Coach Dan Mullen wants this win in order to keep the positive momentum going for the program, get more top-level recruits interested in Florida, and continue to widen the distance between Florida and it’s in-state rivals F$U and scUM. He and the staff have shown the ability to keep their players motivated and playing hard, and that will be challenged by a lackluster opponent and a Monday night game after the CFP games have already been played.
Bowl games can be tricky to handicap – some players sit out to avoid injury before leaving for the NFL, some players play but ‘protect’ themselves from injury before the NFL draft, and some are dealing with baby mommas/agents/runners for agents/other distractions that take away from their usual focus. Finally, Virginia comes in with the motivation to rehabilitate their image after getting completely embarrassed by Clemson in the ACCCG, and I believe they will be fired up for this game. Florida needs to be ready from the start to match the Cavaliers’ intensity. The Gators are similar to Clemson in team speed, and ultimately I think they pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Florida 34 Virginia 20