Florida Gators vs. Virginia Cavaliers (ESPN, 8:00 p.m. ET)
Florida (10-2 straight up, 8-4 against the spread) secured a second straight double-digit win total during the regular season, and now the Gators face ACC runner-up Virginia in tonight’s Orange Bowl with hopes of winning an 11th game for the first time since 2012.
Back on Dec. 8, most books opened UF as a 13.5-point favorite. Four days later, most spots had adjusted the Gators to 14-point ‘chalk.’ The number inched up to 14.5 at most shops by Dec. 17. Over the last 12 days, UF hit -15 at some books but by Sunday night, most shops had UF at -14.5.
After the total opened at 53.5 or 54 at various books, it moved to 54.5 and hasn’t budged from that number at most spots. UVA is +450 on the money line. For first-half wagers, the Gators are 7.5-point favorites.
Florida is 5-0 ATS as a double-digit favorite this season and 8-1 ATS in nine such spots since Dan Mullen took over in 2018. Mullen is 20-5 SU and 17-8 ATS since returning to the school where he was offensive coordinator from 2005-08, when the Gators won a pair of national championships.
Florida is 3-0 in three previous Orange Bowl appearances, winning by 15 points or more in each game. As a quarterback in 1966, Steve Spurrier led the Gators to a 27-12 win over Georgia Tech. In the 1999 Orange Bowl, Doug Johnson and Travis Taylor led Spurrier’s team to a 31-10 win over Syracuse and Donovan McNabb as a seven-point favorite. In Spurrier’s last game as head coach at Florida, the Gators blasted Maryland 56-23 and racked up an Orange Bowl record with 659 yards of total offense.
UF closed the regular season with a 40-17 win over FSU as a 17-point home favorite. The 57 combined points slipped ‘over’ the 55-point total. The Gators dominated with healthy advantages in total offense (467-250) and first downs (26-13).
Trask replaced Feleipe Franks as UF’s starting QB when Franks went down with a season-ending injury at Kentucky in Week 3. Trailing 21-10 early in the fourth quarter, Trask directed three TD drives in a 29-21 comeback victory. Trask’s four-yard TD run with 4:11 left put UF in front for good.
In Week 4 at home vs. Tennessee, Trask got his first collegiate start and his first start of any sort since his freshman year of high school. Trask served as Houston star QB D’Eriq King’s back up at the prep level. He threw at least two TD passes in each of his first nine starts.
For the season, Trask has completed 213-of-315 passes (67.6%) for 2,636 yards with a 24/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also has three rushing scores. The fourth-year junior out of Manvel, Texas, finished third in the SEC (behind only LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa) in TD passes, completion percentage and QB Rating (159.24). Trask was fourth in the league in passing yards.
Mullen uses Jones quite a bit, especially in short-yardage and red-zone situations. The redshirt freshman has completed 25-of-38 passes (65.8%) for 267 yards and three TDs without an interception. He’s also rushed for 224 yards and four TDs, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
UF sophomore TE Kyle Pitts was a first-team All-SEC selection by the AP and Coaches. He had a team-best 51 receptions for 610 yads and five TDs. Pitts, who will be one of the favorites to win the Mackey Award in 2020, is a matchup nightmare for opponents.
UF’s group of WRs is deep and talented, although senior Freddie Swain is ‘questionable’ after injuring his knee in the win over the Seminoles. Swain has 35 receptions for 496 yards and a team-best seven TDs.
Senior Van Jefferson has 43 catches for 528 yards and six TDs, while Trevon Grimes has 32 grabs for 484 yards and three TDs. Josh Hammond has caught 27 balls for 346 yards and two TDs, in addition to rushing for 101 yards and one TD on six carries. Tyrie Cleveland has 22 receptions for 300 yards and one TD, and Jacob Copeland has 20 catches for 266 yards and two TDs.
Florida’s weakness is its ground attack, which ranks No. 122 in the country out of 130 FBS teams. Senior RB Lamical Perine has 539 rushing yards and four TDs, averaging 4.6 YPC. He also has 35 receptions for 219 yards and four TDs. Sophomore Dameon Pierce has 271 rushing yards and four TDs with a 5.6 YPC average.
Florida is ranked No. 8 in the nation in scoring defense, limiting opponents to 14.4 points per game. The Gators are 10th in total defense, 18th against the pass and 15th versus the run. They threw three shutouts against UT-Martin, Towson and Vanderbilt. Furthermore, UF had its most sacks (46) since 1997.
Florida junior cornerback C.J. Henderson is ‘out’ of the Orange Bowl after declaring for the NFL Draft. He won’t play vs. UVA in order to stay healthy since he’s a projected first-round pick. Henderson is a three-time All-SEC selection, garnering first-team honors this year after being named to the second team in 2017 and ’18.
Junior DE Jonathan Greenard has elected to turn pro early, but he will play vs. UVA in hopes of bolstering his NFL Draft stock. After transferring from Louisville, Greenard made this most of his only season with the Gators, earning first-team All-SEC honors. Greenard led the league in sacks (nine) despite missing the South Carolina game and most of the loss at LSU.
Greenard produced 26 solo tackles, 25 assists, six tackles for loss, eight QB hurries, three passes broken up, two forced fumbles, one interception and one 80-yard fumble return for a TD. Senior LB David Reese was a second-team All-SEC choice for the second time in his career (’17 being the other), recording 89 tackles, three TFL’s and a pair of sacks.
Florida senior DE Jabari Zuniga suffered a severe ankle sprain in Week 3 at Kentucky. He tried to return at LSU and vs. Georgia, only to aggravate the injury. Zuniga hasn’t played since the loss to UGA on Nov. 2, but he’s been practicing and is expected to start vs. the Cavaliers. In only five games, he had 13 tackles, four TFL’s, three sacks and one QB hurry.
Florida took its only losses at LSU (42-28) and vs. Georgia (24-17) in Jacksonville. UF led the Tigers 28-21 in the third quarter, but it came up empty on a pair of fourth-down attempts inside the red zone in the fourth quarter.
The Gators won five of seven games against bowl-bound opponents. In addition to the wins vs. FSU and at Kentucky, they posted victories vs. Miami (24-20 in Orlando), vs. Tennessee (34-3) and vs. Auburn (24-13).
Virginia (9-4 SU, 6-6-1 ATS) won the ACC Coastal Division for the first time in program history by winning four games in a row to close the regular season, including a 39-30 comeback win over Virginia Tech as a 1.5-point home underdog.
Bronco Mendenhall’s team was no match for Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, dropping a 62-17 decision as a 29-point underdog. Senior QB Bryce Perkins completed 27-of-43 passes for 266 yards and two TDs, but he was also intercepted twice in the losing effort. He had 58 rushing yards on 17 attempts.
Senior WR Hasise Dubois had 10 catches for 130 yards and one TD against the Tigers, while Billy Kemp had nine receptions for 66 yards. Terrell Jana caught six balls for 62 yards and one TD.
Perkins, a second-team All-ACC selection, was the catalyst against the Hokies. He had 164 rushing yards and two TDs on 19 carries. Perkins completed 20-of-33 throws for 311 yards and one TD with one interception vs. Virginia Tech.
Only one UVA player earned first-team All-ACC honors. It was Joe Reed, who was a dual first-team choice as an all-purpose back and a kick returner. Most injury reports show Reed as ‘questionable’ vs. Florida, but he declared himself good to go when speaking with the media on Dec. 28. He missed the loss to Clemson with a hip pointer.
Reed finished fifth in the ACC in all-purpose yards with 1,419. He has 70 receptions for 627 yards and six TDs. Reed returned a pair of kickoffs for TDs and averaged 34.7 yards per return.
Perkins has connected on 64.0 percent of his passes for 3,215 yards with an 18/11 TD-INT ratio. He also has 745 rushing yards and 11 TDs, averaging 3.5 YPC. UVA sophomore RB Wayne Taulapapa missed two of his team’s 13 games, but he still had 459 rushing yards and 12 TDs with a 4.1 YPC average.
Dubois is Perkins’s favorite target, hauling in 65 catches for 979 yards and four TDs. Jana has 67 receptions for 760 yards and two TDs, while Kemp has 34 grabs for 287 yards and one TD.
UVA senior LB Jordan Mack is ‘out’ vs. UF with a foot injury. This is a huge loss for the Cavs, as Mack was a third-team All-ACC selection who has a team-high 7.5 sacks. He’s also contributed 69 tackles, 10 QB hurries, two forced fumbles and one TFL.
Before Mack’s injury, Virginia had already lost four starters to season-ending injuries. Junior CB Darius Bratton went down with a knee injury in August, while CB Bryce Hall sustained an ankle injury in a 17-9 loss at Miami on Oct. 11. Hall was a second-team All-American in 2018 when he produced 62 tackles, 22 PBU, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 1.5 TFL’s. In six games this year, Hall registered 20 tackles (13 solo), four PBU, two TFL’s and one sack.
Junior safety Brenton Nelson went down with a lower-body injury in early November. In eight games, Nelson had 19 tackles, two PBU, one TFL and one interception. Junior LB Robert Snyder was lost for the year in early October. Snyder, who had 53 tackles in 2018, played in only five games this season. He had 13 tackles, one QB hurry and 0.5 TFL’s.
Virginia is ranked No. 41 in the nation in total defense, No. 30 against the run and No. 59 in scoring ‘D’ (26.5 PPG).
Junior safety Joey Blount garnered third-team All-ACC honors. He produced 90 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three TFL’s, three interceptions for 66 return yards, two PBU and one QB hurry.
Mendenhall’s bunch has been an underdog four times this year, going 1-3 both SU and ATS. After starting the season 4-0, Virginia lost 35-20 at Notre Dame as a 10.5-point road ‘dog. In addition to the loss at UM against the Hurricanes, the Cavs lost a 28-21 decision at Louisville as 4.5-point road ‘chalk.’
UVA defeated five bowl-bound teams. Those victories came at Pitt (30-14), vs. FSU (31-24), at North Carolina (38-31), vs. Liberty (55-27) and vs. Virginia Tech.
Since going 2-10 in the first season of Mendenhall’s tenure in 2016, UVA is bowling for a third straight season. The Cavs lost 49-7 to Navy as 1.5-point ‘dogs in the 2017 Military Bowl. Then in last season’s Belk Bowl, they destroyed South Carolina by a 28-0 count.
The ‘over’ has hit in five straight games for the Cavs to improve to 9-4 overall. Meanwhile, the Gators have seen the ‘under’ go 7-5 overall.