This Year’s Matchup
The AdvoCare Classic once again kicks off the college football season with a marquee cross-sectional match up featuring two of college football’s preeminent programs. The 2017 showdown between the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators will be played on Saturday, September 2, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, and will be the first-ever regular season meeting between the two programs.
The Wolverines will make their second appearance in the series and, for the second time, will face an SEC foe. Michigan also opened the 2012 season in what was then known as the Cowboys Classic, falling to eventual national champion Alabama 41-14 before a huge crowd of 90,413, the largest crowd to ever see a college football game in AT&T Stadium. The Gators will be making their first-ever appearance in the AdvoCare Classic and will be playing their first-ever game at AT&T Stadium.
While this is the first regular season meeting between the schools, it is the fourth time they will go head-to-head on the gridiron. Traditionally the teams have battled in bowl games, with Michigan owning the upper hand. Michigan is undefeated in the series, collecting postseason wins against the Gators in the 2003 Outback Bowl (38-30), the 2008 Capital One Bowl (41-35), and the 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (41-7).
The 2017 season offers both programs a chance to take a major step forward after impressive 2016 campaigns. Michigan led the Big Ten race for much of the 2016 season under head coach Jim Harbaugh and were in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, a late-season loss to Ohio State in what may have been the game of the year derailed those hopes, as well as the Wolverines’ aspirations of another Big Ten championship.
Michigan will enter the game hungry to take the next step as a program under Harbaugh’s leadership, but will have to do so with fresh faces throughout the starting lineup. A veteran-laden team, Michigan was hit hard by graduation following the 2016 season, losing 18 senior starters from that 10-3 team. Additionally, the Wolverines lost one of the most electric players in college football in early draft entrant Jabrill Peppers. But don’t feel too sorry for the maze and blue. Harbaugh continues to stock the cupboards with talent, signing Top 10 recruiting classes in both of his first two full cycles at his alma mater.
Florida is also looking to take the next step in the Gators’ progression under third-year head coach Jim McElwain. Florida clinched its second-straight SEC Eastern Division title in 2016, winning back-to-back Eastern Division titles for the first time since 2008 and 2009. In addition, McElwain became the first coach in league history to reach the SEC Championship Game in his first two seasons as a head coach. However, Florida has yet to win the SEC title game in those two appearances, keeping the Gators from the College Football Playoff both years.
Like Michigan, Florida will have to rely on newcomers to join the fray early in the 2017 campaign. The Gators, whose defense ranked sixth in total defense nationally and was the third-best pass defense in the country in 2016, will have a rebuilding job to do on that side of the ball. The Florida defense was decimated by early NFL departures, losing four underclassmen starters to the NFL Draft. But McElwain doesn’t make youth an excuse. During the 2016 season he played 14 true freshmen and 22 newcomers, so expect him and the Gators to roll out another exceptional squad in September.
This contest marks the ninth overall game in the AdvoCare Classic series and the third SEC vs. Big Ten match up. The SEC is undefeated in such games, with Alabama defeating Michigan 41-14 in 2012 and Wisconsin 35-17 in 2015. The SEC is 5-0 overall in AdvoCare Classic games with victories in five of the past six games. In 2017, Michigan will be looking to put an end to those streaks and perhaps continue another… the winner of the AdvoCare Classic game in each of the past three years has advanced to the College Football Playoff.