Bacon: Peach Bowl actually a sweet spot for Michigan
Last Sunday, the Peach Bowl in Atlanta invited the Michigan Wolverines to play Florida. But is that good news for Michigan fans, or bad?
The No. 7 Wolverines qualified for one of the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls. But the Peach Bowl is played on Dec. 29 and doesn’t have the same cache as the other New Year’s Six bowls.
The Lions Club of Atlanta started the Peach Bowl in 1968 as a fundraiser. For years it was a second-tier game. The Peach Bowl has invited only seven teams from the Big Ten, all average, and five of them lost. “The Peach Bowl: Where Indiana loses its last game.”
But the Peach Bowl gradually rose until it was elevated to New Year’s Six status in 2014. So that’s mostly good news.
Michigan will face Florida for the third time in four years – which is exactly how many times Michigan has played league rival Wisconsin over the same span. Michigan beat Florida in 2015 and 2017, but that’s actually bad news, because fans are tired of beating the Gators.
But Florida won’t be a pushover. The Gators’ first-year coach, Dan Mullen, is a rising star. A win over a marquee team like Michigan would prove he’s got the Gators going in the right direction.
Before the bowl invitation, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary announced he’s skipping his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, where he’s expected to be one of the top 10 picks. That means big money – really big money.
For that reason, Gary also decided to skip the Peach Bowl to prepare for the draft, and avoid any career-threatening injuries – the kind that teammate Jake Butt suffered in his last game two years ago, which cost him millions. Players at other schools have been skipping bowl games for years, but this is the first time it’s happened at Michigan, so many fans on social media blasted Gary, calling him a traitor and worse. But is it really that bad?
Gary’s teammates would love it if he played one more game, but they defend him. Grant Newsome, whose career-ending leg injury two years ago turned him into a graduate assistant coach, felt compelled to tweet about fans who criticize athletes for protecting their future fortunes, “as if they wouldn’t so.” Newsome can tell you just how quickly it can all be taken away.
What most fans don’t know, but Gary’s teammates do, is that other schools offered Gary big money under the table, but he turned it down because his mom thought Michigan would be the best place to get his degree. She was right. Gary has made the Academic All-Big Ten team twice, and his degree is within reach. If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is.
Michigan will replace Gary with up-and-coming stars Kwity Paye and Josh Uche. That can only help Michigan get ready for a promising 2019 season, when they’ll have a lot of returning players and a better schedule.
The Peach Bowl might not be what Michigan fans wanted, but it comes with lots of silver linings. A victory over the nation’s No. 10 team from the all-powerful Southeastern Conference would cap a very successful campaign, and give the Wolverines 11 wins for only the third time this century.
And that would provide a perfect launch pad for the 2019 season – when fans can start complaining about the bowl system all over again.
Best-selling author John U. Bacon is a former Detroit News sports reporter. His website is JohnUBacon.com.