June 26, 2016

Florida Gators
INSIDE SLANT

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  For reaching 10 wins and winning the SEC East division title for the first time since 2009, Florida was rewarded with a New Year's Day bowl appearance.

The Gators (10-3) will face Michigan (9-3) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.

It's a matchup of two first-year coaches who have had big impacts on their respective schools. Florida coach Jim McElwain has led the Gators to a three-win improvement after UF's 7-5 campaign last season. Michigan made a splashier hire this past offseason when it lured former Wolverines QB Jim Harbaugh from the San Francisco 49ers. Under Harbaugh, Michigan has improved by four wins compared to a season ago.

"It's a great honor for our team and how far we've come this season, and a bunch of guys who are playing their tails off," McElwain said.

McElwain said he doesn't have much familiarity with Michigan, but picked up some concepts from Harbaugh-coached teams when Harbaugh coached at Stanford.

"I've seen from afar the job he's done and obviously the fantastic job he's done at his alma mater," McElwain said. "I know for our guys, having the opportunity to play against such a storied program with great tradition and in this case, two great programs with great tradition, it should be a lot of fun."

Both teams come into the matchups off losses. Michigan fell to rival Ohio State 42-13 in its regular season finale. Florida, meanwhile, is coming off a 29-15 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game that exposed its recent struggles on offense. The Gators have averaged just 14 points over their last five games, going 3-2 in that span.

"There's some things we obviously need to take a look at, both structurally and personnel wise," McElwain said. "At the same time, I look at this, with the bowl practices, as a chance for your team to get better, not only this fall but obviously for falls in the future. It gives a lot of the young guys a lot of quality practices."

The bowl game will serve as a de-facto home game for the Gators, considering Orlando is just 120 miles from UF's campus and there's a strong alumni base in the Central Florida region.

"What a great chance for all the Gator fans out there to see the Gators play in a really good bowl game," McElwain said