With the NFL season coming to an end, the Capital Orange Bowl will fill the Monday Night Football void, giving as a game between the no. 9 Florida Gators of the SEC and the no. 24 Virginia Cavaliers of the ACC. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 EST on Monday, December 30 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
After Florida opened as a 13-point favorite, the Gators are now favored by 15 points inside their home state. The over/under for the game is set at 54 points. Click here to check out the entire bowl schedule and betting odds for every game.
This was a banner year for Virginia football under Bronco Mendenhall. He took the Cavaliers to the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history and will now lead them into a New Year’s Six bowl game for the first time in program history. Virginia knocked off traditional heavyweights like Florida State and Virginia Tech on their way to being 9-4.
Despite a lopsided loss to Clemson in the ACC title game, Virginia has a chance to win 10 games for the first time since 1989 if they can beat Florida in the Orange Bowl. If nothing else, the Cavs are bowling for the third straight year, including last year’s 28-0 Belk Bowl win over South Carolina.
Of course, the Gators aren’t complaining about their season either. Competitive losses to LSU and Georgia took Florida out of the running for an SEC championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, the Gators have already secured a second straight 10-win season under Dan Mullen. A win in the Orange Bowl will also ensure a top-10 ranking for the second straight season.
After missing out on a bowl game two seasons ago, Mullen has now taken the Gators to a major bowl game in each of his first two seasons. Last year, Florida blew out Michigan 41-15 in the Peach Bowl. Dating back to the start of the Urban Meyer era in 2005 when Mullen was on the coaching staff, the Gators have won nine of their last 12 bowl games. Also, Mullen is 6-2 in bowl games as a head coach.
If it matters, this is just the second all-time meeting between Florida and Virginia. The first game was a 55-10 Florida win in 1959, which came during a stretch when the Cavs went two full seasons without a win.
There’s something about this line that doesn’t sit well with me. Virginia is no pushover and Florida could be tempted to take them lightly, which would be a mistake. However, if the Gators give their best effort, they should win by a comfortable margin and cover. After the way they handled Michigan in last year’s Peach Bowl, I’ll trust the Gators to show and take care of business.
At times, Virginia’s offense can be too much of a one-man show with quarterback Bryce Perkins. To be fair, he’s an incredible athlete who is capable of carrying a team for stretches. However, he didn’t get the support he needed against Clemson in the ACC title game. Facing Florida in the Orange Bowl won’t be much easier.
Keep in mind that Perkins is Virginia’s leading rusher by nearly 300 yards. As a team, the Cavaliers are a subpar rushing team, gaining less than four yards per carry on the season. I don’t see that changing against Florida’s stout front-7. The Gators also have an outstanding pass rush, which will have a chance to wreak havoc against a UVA offense that will have to throw the ball to have success.
Perkins, to his credit, has had a decent year throwing the ball. He also has the athleticism and speed to run away from pressure. But he’s not going to be able to do it all night. I’m expecting the Florida defense to eventually overwhelm him and stop the Virginia offense in its tracks.
On the other side of the ball, I think the Virginia defense will put up more resistance than most people expect. The numbers don’t necessarily show it, especially late in the season, but the Cavs have plenty of talent on defense. Remember that the Florida rushing attack isn’t that potent. The Gators were actually toward the bottom nationally in rushing and don’t have much depth behind Lamical Perine, who was solid but unspectacular for most of the year.
However, I’m a huge fan of Kyle Trask, who is capable of carrying the Florida offense. Trask completed close to 68% of his passes while averaging better than eight yards per pass attempt. He’s been able to carry the Gators for most of the season without much help from the running game. I’m not too worried about him putting together another good performance. After all, he threw 24 touchdown passes in less than 10 games this year.
Ultimately, I think the Virginia offense is a little too limited to keep up with Florida. The Gators have the kind of passing attack that will enable them to create explosive plays and strike quickly. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will be reliant on Perkins to carry them against one of the best defenses they’ve seen all year. I like Florida to pull away in the second half and cover the 15-point spread.