WHO: Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
WHAT: The 86th Capital One Orange Bowl
WHEN: December 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FL
BUY TICKETS: Click here
THE SKINNY: The last time Florida won the Orange Bowl, Steve Spurrier was the head coach and the Gators were in the thick of the national title conversation all season long (2001). Florida may be getting closer to entering the national title conversation, and a victory in the Orange Bowl could see some momentum continue to build for the Gators in 2020.
Dan Mullen’s pass-heavy focus on offense has seen Kyle Trask come in and keep things moving with a talented group of receivers to throw to in every part of the field. Virginia’s defense was just eaten alive by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and should be expected to cough up some big plays through the air once again against the Gators. The biggest target for Florida will be tight end Kyle Pitts. Arguably the best tight end in the nation despite what the Mackey Award had to say about it, Pitts is Florida’s leading receiver with 51 receptions for 610 yards and five touchdowns.
Virginia is merely in the game due to the ACC’s bowl agreement with the Orange Bowl guaranteeing a spot in the game for an ACC member. With Clemson off to the playoff, and now the national championship game, Virginia was the next best option to represent the conference in Miami. Don’t expect Bronco Mendenhall to be issuing any apologies for his team’s presence, though. Despite being over a two-touchdown underdog, this is a massive step in the right direction for a Virginia program that is continuing to improve over time with Mendenhall at the helm.
Virginia’s dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins will have a lot on his shoulders as the Gators will look to contain the impact Perkins has on the game. Florida is known to swarm quarterbacks (46.0 team sacks entering the Orange Bowl) but if Perkins can escape pressure and extend plays, Virginia will be able to move the football. How often will that happen will be the key. Over the course of a 60-minute game, it may be a little too much to ask of Perkins to give Virginia a shot to win in the end.
THE PICK: Florida 30, Virginia 16
Count Florida head coach Dan Mullen among those who would like to see the SEC switch things up with the conference schedule. If it were up to Mullen, the SEC would mix up the cross-division rotation more frequently so teams in opposite divisions could play other members of the conference more often.
The topic of conversation about the SEC schedule came up as Mullen’s Gators are getting ready to play Auburn in a cross-division matchup in two weeks (Florida plays Towson this week). It is the first time Florida has played Auburn since 2011. So, for those keeping score at home, the last time Florida played Auburn, Texas A&M and Missouri were in the Big 12. Mullen made note that Florida has played non-conference schools such as Miami and Florida State more often than they have faced Mullen’s former school, Mississippi State. Florida faces Florida State every season and has played Miami twice since 2013. To go even deeper, Florida has faced Michigan in the regular season as many times as the Gators have faced Mississippi State since 2010 (Florida has also played two bowl games against the Wolverines since 2016).
“I think it’s an injustice for the kids. We should mix those games up and you should play more teams from the West and get the opportunity to play more SEC games,” Mullen said during a press conference this week. “You come play in this league and play in those games, conference games are a lot of fun, playing other SEC teams. I think moving forward scheduling-wise, obviously conference, we don’t control that, but I think that’d be a heck of a deal and I know we’re working to play more Power 5 teams.”
The SEC has 14 members but plays just eight conference games each season. That leaves room for six games against division opponents and two more crossover games. One of the cross-division games is a locked-in protected matchup that never comes off the schedule, and the last remaining game rotates through the opposite division over the years. Florida’s protected cross-over game is against LSU.
One possible way to address the lack of games against schools in the other division would be to expand the SEC conference schedule to nine games, providing one additional game against the other division. Of course, the SEC as a whole has pushed back on the idea of moving from an eight-game schedule to a nine-game schedule. If the SEC is going to remain at eight games, then it might be worth exploring the reception to doing away with the protected cross-division games to allow more opportunities to face more teams from around the conference.
Helmet sticker to Saturday Down South.
Leave it to Steve Spurrier to make sure he won’t be topped. The hall of fame player and coach made a living letting everyone know how he felt and he would rarely back away from letting you know your best just doesn’t stack up to what the head ball coach can do. This is especially true on the golf course.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen said he called the former Gators coaching icon to let Spurrier know about a hole-in-one Mullen had shot. Naturally, so it would seem, Spurrier quickly one-upped Mullen. In fact, he five-upped the current Florida coach on the spot.
Spurrier does like to get on the golf courses, and I’m sure he has a terrific story to share about each of his hole-in-one experiences from over the years. In 2017, Spurrier discussed his favorite hole-in-one, just before his first signing day as head coach of the Florida Gators, in a story published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also drained a hole-in-one at Augusta in 2008.
So not only is Mullen looking to live up to the success Spurrier had as a head coach in Gainesville, but he’s also now trying to catch up to the head ball coach in career hole-in-one shots on the golf course.
One of the major recruiting victories for Florida head coach Dan Mullen on the early national signing day last December was successfully landing a trio of four-star prospects from one high school in Lakeland, Florida. Now, it turns out one of those touted recruits will begin his college career at a junior college instead of with the Gators in Gainesville.
Offensive lineman Deyavie Hammond announced on his Twitter account he will not be attending Florida due to not qualifying for NCAA academic standards. Hammond did not announce where specifically he will be starting his college football career but he did confirm he plans to attend a junior college for the next two seasons. The expectation is he will then look to transfer to an FBS program, although time will tell if the door to Florida is still open by the time that decision is made.
Hammond is the second four-star recruit in Florida’s Class of 2019 to start off at a JUCO program this year. Last month, linebacker Diwun Black enrolled at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College because he needed to focus on some academic setbacks before being able to enroll at Florida. Mullen voiced his support for Black with a show of support on Twitter.
Florida has also seen two additional departures from the Class of 2019 with four-star quarterback Jalon Jones accused of sexual assault and former five-star cornerback Chris Steele transferring after enrolling early for spring practice.
Mullen may have some work to do with his staff in putting together its next recruiting class after the way this Class of 2019 has unfolded.
One of the key additions to the Florida recruiting class of 2019 previously announced he will instead be heading to a JUCO program for the 2019 season. Diwun Black, a linebacker, is reportedly heading to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College after signing his letter of intent.
As reported last month, Black announced he would have to attend community college in the summer before being able to enroll at Florida. Academic issues were thought to be the concern. Fortunately for Black, Florida head coach Dan Mullen voiced his support for the Class of 2019 linebacker.
Mullen has been working to recruit Black since the Gators head coach was at Mississippi State. Perhaps this is just another speedbump on Black’s path to join Mullen in Gainesville. Plenty of players have had to enroll at a community college to get grades in shape before getting started at their FBS school. We’ll wait to see if that is the case for Black.