Peach Bowl 2018 : As recently as November, the Michigan Wolverines were in the discussion to qualify for the College Football Playoff.
Fast forward to Saturday’s Peach Bowl, and the Wolverines are a depleted squad, reeling from a loss to their biggest rival.
Jim Harbaugh’s team will be without a few key players for its clash with Florida at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as they all focus on future aspirations.
The Gators enter Atlanta on three straight wins, which allowed them to sneak into an at-large position for the New Year’s Six bowls.
In Dan Mullen’s first season as head coach, Florida went 2-1 against ranked opponents and set the foundation for more success in the future, and another stepping stone can be laid with a victory over a quality Big Ten opponent.
Peach Bowl 2018
Date: Saturday, December 29
Time: Noon ET
Live Stream: Watch ESPN or ESPN app
Odds (via OddsShark): Michigan -6; Over/Under: 50.5
Michigan will be far from full strength Saturday, as it will be without its top player at three positions.
Leading rusher Karan Higdon, pass-rusher Rashan Gary and linebacker Devin Bush all opted to skip the Peach Bowl with an eye on April’s NFL draft.
Replacing those players will be difficult, but it’s not an impossible task for the Wolverines.
At running back, Chris Evans slides into the starting role in place of Higdon, and he received some valuable advice from Higdon in preparation for the clash with Florida, per Aaron McMann of MLive.com.
“One thing he told me, you have to start taking the [ball] more vertical,” Evans said. “Try to do what I can with it. Because I’m thinking about the big picture, he said, ‘If there’s only three in there, get three. Don’t be trying to look for something else.’”
Evans should earn the bulk of the carries, while Tru Wilson is expected to chip in as well. Don’t be surprised if quarterback Shea Patterson also contributes on the ground.
Even without Bush and Gary, Michigan’s defense possesses a few impact players, including linebacker Chase Winovich, who is putting off surgery for an undisclosed injury to play one final collegiate game, per Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press.
Defensive backs Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus are the other defensive players to watch alongside Winovich, and if they make an impact, the Wolverines can still topple the Gators.
Kinnel and Metellus are part of a Michigan passing defense that ranks second in the FBS by conceding 145.9 yards per game.
The Wolverines have been stingy defending the pass, as they have let up 13 touchdowns and picked off 11 passes.
With so many talented players in the Michigan secondary, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks needs to be cautious at first in order to avoid a few turnovers.
Franks comes into Atlanta with a good amount of confidence after he threw for three touchdowns against Idaho and Florida State to close out the regular season.
In order to keep Franks away from constant pressure and develop an offensive rhythm, the Gators need to establish their running game through Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett.
Perine, who is Florida’s leading rusher, ran for triple digits in two of his past three games, while Scarlett ran for 88 yards on 20 carries in the regular-season finale against Florida State.
If Florida’s offense is able to get on the board early, it can create momentum for its defense to bank on when chasing down Patterson.
Defensive end Jachai Polite is the player to watch on the Florida defense, as he leads the team with 11 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Polite is a part of a defensive unit that concedes 20.4 points per game and ranks 24th in the FBS in total defense, so it’s safe to say the Peach Bowl won’t be a shootout.
Peach Bowl 2018 Prediction
Michigan 20, Florida 17
Given how well both defenses played throughout the regular season, it’s hard to see both teams scoring on a consistent basis Saturday.
The impressive defensive play makes the under the easiest bet for the Peach Bowl, but the decision will be more difficult when it comes to betting against the spread.
Michigan is a six-point favorite, which seems like too much given all of its absences, and it will prove to be too large of a gap to cover.
Patterson will be the difference-maker in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines won’t pull away enough to cover.