It is time for an Orange Bowl which lacks national juice. It is hard to squeeze a lot of nationwide interest out of a game in which one team is favored by two touchdowns, and the underdog has four losses, including a loss to the Miami Hurricanes. (Yep, that bad.)
Yet, the Florida Gators and Virginia Cavaliers will play on Monday Night Football, the collegiate version. It is the biggest football game played all season in the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium. Florida will try to forge its first 11-win season under Dan Mullen and win a second straight New Year’s Six bowl.
Given what is happening with Manny Diaz at Miami, and given what has happened at Florida State the past few years, life in Florida isn’t that bad. Yes, the Gators are coming in second to Kirby Smart and Georgia, which needs to be fixed. Yes, the recruiting of Dan Mullen’s staff needs to improve. That also needs to be addressed. Yet, on balance, life could be so much worse in Gainesville.
Florida could have gotten Chip Kelly.
So, onward we go, into the Orange Bowl. Virginia has absolutely nothing to lose, which makes this game dangerous for Florida despite the two-touchdown spread in Las Vegas. There is certainly a scenario in which the Gators could lose this game and enter the offseason immersed in misery. That scenario obviously involves Virginia playing with supreme passion and confidence, while Florida – reminiscent of Georgia in last season’s Sugar Bowl against four-loss Texas – drifts through the motions and doesn’t give a darn.
If one had to pick a single game key out of a large basket of possible answers, what would it be?
The offensive line stands out.
First of all, Virginia is led by a defense-first coach, Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers do have Bryce Perkins, a very dangerous quarterback. Make no mistake: Perkins is a central reason the Cavaliers have gotten this far and won an ACC Coastal Division title for the first time in school history. Yet, in this matchup, Virginia is counting on the ability of its defensive line to outplay Florida’s offensive line.
It’s not hard to grasp: The offensive line is Florida’s weakest position group. The Gators haven’t been able to reliably run the ball all season It’s amazing Florida has won 10 games with such a limited running game.
If Florida comes into the Orange Bowl with less motivation than Virginia, the offensive line is the obvious exception. If any unit on the Gator roster ought to enter this game with a lot to prove, it’s the offensive line. If the UF offensive line sets a tone in this game, the rest of the team will follow. It is the surest, most dependable way to fire up the team and make sure the Gators don’t drift through a game in which Virginia is playing with house money.
If the offensive line keeps Kyle Trask clean and can be modestly effective in run blocking, Florida should be able to handle a Virginia defense which lost its best player, cornerback Bryce Hall, to an ankle injury in October. Hall is projected to be a first-round draft pick in April of 2020. Virginia’s defense wasn’t the same without him, which magnifies the Hoos’ achievement of winning the ACC Coastal.
Nevertheless, if Florida’s offensive line can handle Virginia’s defensive front, the rest of this game should fall into place for the Gators, who have been able to get healthy on defense after all the key injuries they suffered this season on that side of the ball.
Florida, as a full roster, might not be that excited for the Orange Bowl. We don’t really know what the Gators are thinking or feeling, but if they’re not jacked up for this game, it wouldn’t be the first time an SEC team in a non-playoff bowl game feels a little depressed.
The antidote to the blahs? The Florida offensive line. If you want some juice in your Orange Bowl, that’s where the passion has to pour out for the Gators.
Gators announced home and home series with Cal Friday
The Florida Gators continued their philosophy of striking “home-and-home” deals with Power 5 opposition, when they announced on Friday that they will be doing so with the Cal-Berkley Bears out of the Pac-12 coming later in this decade.
The Gators made the announcement through their website and social media mid-day Friday that they will play Cal at home first and then travel to Berkeley the following year:
Coast to coast❗
🐻 at 🐊 2026
🐊 at 🐻 2027#GoGators
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) February 7, 2020
A.D. Scott Stricklin has broken up the long tradition that Florida would only play two home out of conference games in September and usually, against much lesser competition before entering SEC play. Stricklin has been very outspoken that in the age of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is emphasized and the selection committee holds schools responsible for not playing top-notch out of conference opponents, at least some of the time.
With that in mind, the Gators opened the 2019 season in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes and won a sloppy game. And, they already have other Power 5 schools laid out to play home and away.
As we previously wrote, Florida will be playing the Texas Longhorns first in Gainesville in 2030 and then. return the game the following year in Austin.
Florida had previously announced last year that they will also play the Colorado Buffaloes out of the Pac-12, again with the first game in Gainesville in 2028 and then, returning it to Boulder the following season.
It’s interesting with Friday’s announcement that Stricklin and the football program are working backwards with the schedule. And, they will now play Cal before Colorado in September of 2026, and then will be opening on the Berkeley campus the following season.
Florida and Cal have only met two times, having played first in Gainesville in 1974 as the Gators wo 21 – 17 and then, they also met in Tampa to open the 1980 season with a Florida 41-13 blowout victory.
Second National Signing Day recap for top state schools
National Signing Day 2020 has come and gone, and several in state schools were able to improve their classes heading into spring ball. The University of Florida watched rival Georgia secure the number one overall class, but the Gators were still able to land the best class in the state with the number eight class overall.
The Gators officially signed former five-star receiver Justin Shorter from Penn State, and Florida stayed in the family today as well, Xzavier Henderson officially joined the Gators. He’s the ounger brother of former DB C.J. Henderson.
Dan Mullen also able to dip into the state of Texas inking four-star DE Princely Umanmielen. It wasn’t all great news for the Gators, as they missed out on a few key guys, including losing out on arguably top state safety Avantae Williams to in state rival Miami. Overall it was a good cycle for the Gators both recruiting and in the transfer portal.
The Miami Hurricanes continued an impressive offseason on National Signing Day. The Canes made arguably the biggest move in the state by landing Williams and keeping him Florida. Williams became the highest rated Hurricane in the class and propelled the U to the number 13 spot.
Miami has the second-best class in the ACC behind Clemson. With an impressive offseason in the books, once again excitement will be in the air in Coral Gables. The question is: will they live up to it in year two for Manny Diaz?
Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have been working hard to get this class rolling last minute. After a good early National Signing Day Norvell looked to keep the momentum going. The Noles took a big hit Wednesday though, with the loss of Venice four star WR, Malachi Wideman, who flipped to Tennessee.
The Noles came back from that by landing a handful of other recruits. They got the number six Juco running back La’Damian Webb, ass well as, Robert Scott, an offensive lineman and Corey Wren, an athlete/running back.
Replacing Cam Akers will be tough for Norvell and building the offensive line is a top priority. The former Memphis coach came in late like he did, yet he finishes with a decent class sitting at 22 on 24/7.
Now the work begins turning around the former powerhouse.