For the first time since the Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer era, Florida will have a chance to win major bowls in consecutive years. The No. 9 Gators will take on Virginia in the Orange Bowl on Monday night.
Florida comes in with a record of 10-2 with the only two losses coming to the SEC Championship participants in LSU and Georgia. At 9-4, 24th-ranked Virginia is coming off its first ACC Coastal division title. The Cavaliers fell to Clemson for the ACC Championship last time out and will try to notch their first 10-win season since 1989 under George Welsh.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask provided a much-needed shot in the arm for the Gators this season. Regarded largely as a game manager, Trask knows how to get the ball to his playmakers as four different pass-catchers have at least 484 yards. Tight end Kyle Pitts leads the team with 51 catches for 610 yards while Freddie Swain owns a team-high seven touchdown catches. In the backfield, running backs Lamical Perine, Dameon Pierce and quarterback Emory Jones all have four rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, Virginia gave up nearly 360 yards and 26.5 points per game. Linebackers Jordan Mack and Noah Taylor combined for 14.5 sacks this season for a Virginia team that ranked seventh nationally with 45 total sacks. Fellow linebacker Zane Zandier leads the team with 95 total tackles this season. Joey Blount grabbed a team-high three interceptions.
Senior quarterback Bryce Perkins comes in with nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and 29 total touchdowns. Perkins is the leading passer and rusher for the Cavaliers. Wayne Taulapapa ranked fourth in the ACC with 12 rushing touchdowns. At receiver, Hasis Dubois is just 21 yards from a 1,000-yard season. Joe Reed caught a team-high six touchdowns. Virginia averaged better than 32 points per game this season and 35 per game in wins this year.
Although they’ll be without star cornerback C.J. Henderson, who is preparing for the NFL Draft, the Gators come in ranking in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and sacks. Jonathan Greenard, an edge player and Louisville transfer, leads Florida with 8.5 sacks. Linebacker David Reese is a tackling machine with 88 total stops. Safety Donovan Stiner has a team-high four interceptions for a defense that ranks 11th nationally in that category. Both teams have very good specialists.
The contest between the Gators and Cavaliers will be just the second meeting between the schools and the first since 1959 in Gainesville. It will be Virginia’s first trip to the Orange Bowl and Florida’s first Orange Bowl appearance since topping Maryland to close the 2001 season, 56-23.
Monday’s contest begins at 8 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN.
Prediction: Florida 34, Virginia 20
Sun Bowl: Florida State (6-6) vs. Arizona State (7-5)
Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. ET (CBS)
Florida State will need to top Arizona State to avoid its second straight losing season after 41 straight winning campaigns. Two 1,000-yard backs and one 1,000-yard receiver will sit out the contest. Arizona State hasn’t won eight games since 2014.
Prediction: Arizona State 34, Florida State 24
Miami Dolphins (4-11) at New England Patriots (12-3)
Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores returns to Foxborough to take on his former team. The Dolphins have not won at New England since 2008. The Patriots beat Miami 43-0 earlier this season and need a win to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Prediction: New England 38, Miami 10
Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)
Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
The Atlanta Falcons will try to avoid being swept by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and to close the season on a four-game winning streak. The Buccaneers need to win to avoid a third straight losing season. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston needs 92 yards passing to become the eighth player in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a season.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 32, Atlanta 30
Indianapolis Colts (7-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (6-9)
Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars have both been eliminated from playoff contention, but the outcome could have a bearing on the AFC playoff picture. The Jaguars have just two home victories this season.
Prediction: Indianapolis 23, Jacksonville 20
Mike Ferguson is a contributor for The Grueling Truth, covering Florida sports and sports history. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. To keep up with all of his work, like his Facebook page.