While writing this column throughout the season, it became quite clear how unbalanced the Big Ten schedule turned out to be, even with the inclusion of a ninth conference game. A sloppy transition from the Leaders and Legends fiasco to the current structure has made many West division foes an uncommon sight for Michigan.
That makes this Saturday’s Peach Bowl matchup feel a little uncomfortable, as the Wolverines face the Florida Gators for the third time in four seasons. Jim Harbaugh will have faced the Gators more times as Michigan’s head coach than he has almost every team on the other side of the conference. While non-conference games between big-name programs are supposed to be fun, this one has become a little stale.
Saturday will be the fifth meeting between the schools, with the Maize and Blue winning all four prior matchups. An Outback Bowl win in 2003 and a Citrus Bowl win in 2008 precede the current regime, but Harbaugh has been able to carry on the winning tradition against Florida, despite always facing the Gators in the south.
Michigan has never been to a Peach Bowl before, and this will be its second appearance in the New Years Six; the Wolverines lost a close 33-32 contest to Florida State in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2016 season. Following this year’s bowl, Michigan will have played in every major bowl game (read: the current New Years Six) except for the Cotton Bowl.
2016: Michigan 41, Florida 7 (Orlando, FL)
The Harbaugh era started with a 10-win campaign in 2015, capped off by a dominant showing in the Citrus Bowl. After trading touchdowns in the first quarter, the rest of the game was all Wolverines, as a 17-7 halftime lead turned into 34 unanswered points. Transfer quarterback Jake Rudock put on a show, throwing for 278 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover in his final collegiate game.
Almost everyone contributed on offense. De’Veon Smith rushed for 109 yards, while Drake Johnson and Sione Houma each found the end zone on the ground. Jehu Chesson had a solid day with five catches for 118 yards and a score, while Grant Perry and Johnson notched touchdowns as well. Not to be left out of the fun, both Channing Stribling and Jarrod Wilson both recorded an interception.
2017: Michigan 33, Florida 17 (Arlington, TX)
The 2017 season began with a big matchup in AT&T Stadium that started as a nervy affair. Wilton Speight was under center for the second year in a row, but looked quite shaky with a pair of pick-sixes to give Florida a four-point halftime lead. Fortunately, the Gators would not score again, as Michigan’s defense was too dominant, holding them to 192 total yards.
Meanwhile, Speight had just 181 total yards on the day. His one touchdown went to Tarik Black, who still has not topped his 83-yard performance in his injury-riddled career. Ty Isaac did the most damage on the ground, notching 114 yards, but it was Karan Higdon who scored the touchdown. Noah Furbush fell on a loose ball in the end zone to seal the game, while Quinn Nordin logged four field goals to keep the score out of reach.