No. 9 Florida vs. Virginia: Orange Bowl preview and picks against the spread

No. 9 Florida (10-2) vs. No. 24 Virginia (9-4)

Location: Miami | When: Dec. 30 (8 p.m.) | TV: ESPN | Line: Florida -14.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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Florida: Florida has reached 10 wins in its first two seasons under Dan Mullen. This year, the Gators started the season 6-0, including a 24-13 win over Auburn. Florida then lost two of its next three games, dropping a road game to LSU and then losing to Georgia in Jacksonville. From there, the Gators closed out the season with three straight wins, including a 40-17 blowout over Florida State. 

Virginia: After a 4-0 start, Virginia endured a rough stretch where it lost three of four games to drop to 5-3 on the year. But the Cavaliers, now in their fourth year under Bronco Mendenhall, rallied down the stretch and won their final four regular season games. The biggest was the finale against rival Virginia Tech, a 39-30 win. The victory clinched the ACC Coastal title and snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Hokies. The Cavs were then blown out by Clemson in the ACC title game. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Florida has had back-to-back very strong seasons under Dan Mullen and now has the chance to close out the year on a high note in its home state. But Virginia, despite being a two-touchdown underdog, won’t just roll over. The Cavaliers have really elevated their level of play as a program under Bronco Mendenhall and now have the opportunity to play on a big stage. Mendenhall will have his team, led by QB Bryce Perkins, motivated to play in a big bowl game. 

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask has thrown for 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 67.6 percent of his passes. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask has thrown for 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 67.6 percent of his passes. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Florida TE Kyle Pitts: Pitts has been a matchup problem for SEC defenses all season. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound redshirt sophomore, Pitts led the Gators in receiving this season, becoming one of many reliable targets for quarterback Kyle Trask, who thrived as the starter after an injury to Feleipe Franks. Eight different UF players caught 20 or more passes on the year, but Pitts led the way with 51 catches for 610 yards. He was third on the team with five TDs. 

Virginia QB Bryce Perkins: Virginia’s rise to the top of the ACC Coastal has coincided directly with the arrival of Bryce Perkins. Perkins landed at UVA last year as a junior college transfer and has been a true dual-threat for the Cavaliers. Perkins threw for 2,680 yards, rushed for 923 yards and combined for 34 touchdowns as a junior. This year as a senior, Perkins enters the bowl game with 3,215 yards and 18 TDs through the air with 745 yards and 11 scores rushing. 

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Florida EDGE Jonathan Greenard: CB CJ Henderson is skipping this game, but Pro Football Focus’ top-rated Gators defender is not. Greenard transferred in from Louisville for his final college season and elevated his play and draft stock with 52 tackles (second on the team), 15 tackles for loss, nine sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery he ran back for a TD — all despite an ankle injury against LSU that cost him parts of two games. He’s been scorching hot down the stretch and could be a handful for Virginia OTs Bobby Haskins and Dillon Reinkensmeyer. Greenard can rush, drop, set the edge and impact games in a number of ways. We think the top-60 prospect could put up a massive performance here before playing in the Senior Bowl next month.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Florida: Florida already got to 10 wins in Dan Mullen’s first season and now can get to 11 wins — something the program hasn’t done since 2012 — in his second season. A win would also be Florida’s third straight in bowl games and would give the Gators a 4-0 all-time record in the Orange Bowl. UF also won the Orange in 1966, 1998 and 2001. 

Virginia: Virginia is playing in the Orange Bowl for the first time in program history. The Cavaliers also have the chance to reach the 10-win mark for just the second time ever. The program went 10-3 back in 1989, the year UVA won one of its two ACC championships. 

Virginia beat Virginia Tech in 2019 to snap a 15-game losing streak in the Commonwealth Cup. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Virginia beat Virginia Tech in 2019 to snap a 15-game losing streak in the Commonwealth Cup. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Virginia +14.5

Sam Cooper: Florida -14.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Florida -14.5

Pete Thamel: Florida -14.5

Dan Wetzel: Florida -14.5

Sean Sullivan: Florida -14.5

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