Peach Bowl Pick: Florida Gators vs. Michigan Wolverines 12/29/18
Florida Gators (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Michigan Wolverines (10-2 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Date and Time: Saturday, December 29, 2018 at 12PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
Point Spread: FLA +7.5/MICH -7.5
Over/Under Total: 50.5
The Florida Gators take on the Michigan Wolverines in the Peach Bowl on December 29 in Atlanta. Both teams were successful this season, just a step away from really special seasons. Michigan was 10-2 this year, falling in their last game in a letdown 62-29 defeat at Ann Arbor to Ohio State, but still ranked 7th. The loss spoiled what would have been an appearance in the College Football Playoff, as they had won ten games in a row up to that point. Florida, meanwhile, is 9-3 and ranked tenth in the nation after a solid season. I like the Gators to get the cover in the Peach Bowl.
I think Florida is more accustomed to their predicament than Michigan. They lost their second game of the year, and after five straight wins, they dropped back-to-back games to Georgia and Missouri. In other words, they’ve known all season that the end-game was something less than the CFP. And in winning their last three games, they still have some good momentum to carry into this spot. Michigan, meanwhile, spent the bulk of their late-season anticipating a spot in the 4-team championship format. To get their butts handed to them at home by their biggest rival, fall out of the CFP, then having to play a team with no connection to them five weeks later doesn’t set up very well. And in losing their last two bowl games, it’s not like we haven’t seen this letdown-factor resonate before with this squad.
Better Florida Inertia
One loss to a really good Ohio St. team doesn’t erase the ten-game win streak Michigan had leading up to that. They lost their opener to Notre Dame, a team that is in the CFP, to open the season. The Wolverines didn’t cover in any of their last three games and sagged a bit at the end. As of press time, it’s known that at least one U of M standout has opted to sit this one out and go pro, with impactful defensive lineman Rashan Gary out for this one. Florida finished with three straight wins, covered their last two, and might be in a better headspace for this one. And along the way, they made their bones in a tough SEC, with wins over teams like LSU and Mississippi State.
The Power of the Michigan Defense
Boasting about a defense seems to ring empty when they just had 62 points scored against them. By the same token, the Wolverines “D” still allowed an average of only 17.6 points a game, even after that letdown performance. They are robust against the run, but especially the pass. While it’s possible that they have just depreciated as a unit and losing Gary will hurt, they still look to make like hard on the Gators. They can make plays, with cornerback Brandon Watson having scored two touchdowns, and S Josh Metelus also a valued playmaker. The pass-rush, with Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, and Josh Uche is very robust.
Florida, to their credit, scored an average of 34.5 points per game, with Feleipe Franks leading the way. He was efficient with 23 TDs, and just 6 picks through the air while flashing fast feet with 6 rushing TDs. Their bread and butter is a 1-2 punch at running back with Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine. Van Jefferson leads a cabaret receiver approach. But with a lack of real aerial juice, their avenues to a big point-total in this game might not seem very numerous. I just don’t expect to see a vintage Michigan “D” surfacing for this game.
Florida Defense vs. Michigan Offense
While being appropriately-laudatory to the Michigan defense, let’s not sleep on the accomplished Florida defense. Like Michigan, they feature a stout secondary. This season, Chauncey Gardner, Donovan Stiner, Brad Stewart, and CJ Henderson have been really good. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson has been much like Franks—efficient without really being explosive. Patterson had 21 touchdowns, and 6 picks while completing 65% of his throws, connecting well with Sonovan Peoples’ Jones, Nico Collins, and tight end Zach Gentry (questionable). It’s still not a group that you’d think would thrive in this spot.
We did see Florida’s defense exploited in spots against good running offenses. Michigan would qualify as one of those teams. They wield a run-game that is effective and diversely-applied. Karan Higdon led the way with 1178 yards and ten touchdowns, with help coming from Tru Wilson, Chris Evans, and even Patterson who can scoot when the opportunity arises. Florida, however, has been more-effective in plugging the run of late and maybe we see some of that resonate here. I actually see the Florida run-game looming as the bigger threat in this matchup.
Both teams have a lot in common. They are both teams whose success this season was built on a strong defense. Both sides are exceptional against the pass, while Michigan has a better run defense. On offense, they both rely on the run mostly, with efficient quarterbacks who make few mistakes and can both move well. While Michigan became more offensive as the season carried on, I think the run-game of the Gators is in better form, as Perine and Scarlett have worked well in tandem over the last month of the season, both putting up a lot of production. How they match up with this defense will play a significant role in deciding who covers the spread in this one.
Take the Points on the Gators
Stylistic similarities aside, I see a lot of differences in spirit. Playing on December 29 is not fun when you were on the cusp of the CFP. I don’t think the Michigan defense has evaporated in light of the Ohio State stomping, the long break, the departure of Gary, or the letdown-spot. I also can’t envision a close-to-vintage Michigan “D” either. With that component coming down a notch, it looks to me to be an evenly-matched game with Florida being at higher spirits. That’s all good enough for me to see them hanging in there well enough to get the cover.
Loot’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Florida Gators plus 7.5 points.