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During the Peach Bowl press conference on Friday afternoon, Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Organization CEO, Gary Stokan extended the official invitation to University of Florida AD Scott Stricklin. With the formalities out of the way, the Gators will officially begin bowl preparations.

The Gators will be making their first appearance in the Peach Bowl since 2004 and their third appearance in program history. The annual New Year’s Six game is the most charitable bowl organization in the nation, providing $31.8 million in charitable donations and scholarships since 2002.

As part of the bowl week activities, the Gators will be treated with luxury accommodations, competitive activities for a special behind the scenes trophy, cultural and historical learning experiences, as well as an opportunity to give back to the community by visiting a local children’s hospital.

The Gators have already announced a few open practice dates where the fans and media will be able to get a good look at the team as they prepare for Michigan. The open practices will be December 14th through the 16th and Dan Mullen expounded on the design for those particular practices.

“We’ll practice next Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And those’ll be somewhat developmental practices. That’s why… uh, very much like spring practice that we’re using. A lot of fundementals. A lot of technique, some team work, a lot of guys getting reps. That’s why we open those up to the public, for all the Gator fans that wanna come out and watch the team and see the team practice.”

In the midst of bowl prep, the staff is also working feverishly to close out strong in recruiting ahead of the December 19th early signing date. With the successes of this season, the impact on the recruiting trail is really paying off.

Perhaps the most beneficial to that recruiting effort, is the availability of the players during this final stretch. The NCAA imposes a mandatory two week break from all team activities immediately following the season’s end. Were the Gators not playing in a bowl this year, that break would be taking place right now and the players wouldn’t be available to host recruits during their official visits.

The added time could pay dividends for Florida as they are hosting a veritable who’s who over this weekend and next.

Following a disastrous 4-7 season a year ago, many held low expectations for this year’s team as they broke in a new system under a new head coach. When asked about the internal perception, whether they were surprised by the early success or not, Dan Mullen deferred to Gators Athletic Director, Scott Stricklin.

“You know, Dan did a phenomenal job. And his staff did a phenomenal job in year one. And I was remiss in earlier comments in not congratulating Dan and the team for putting us in this position.”

Stricklin said, “So I don’t… when you make a change, especially coming off a 4-7 season I don’t think it’s realistic to say this was the expectation. I think at the University of Florida, you get accustomed to the level of success that all of our sports have. You expect the football team to be in this position regularly. But to turn it around in year one is a huge credit to Dan and his ability to come in and connect and do all the great things that he and his staff were able to do this year. Great credit to our players to accept new leadership and hold themselves accountable and then to go out and compete and put themselves in position to win 9 ball games and Go 5-3 in the SEC, go undefeated in non-conference, and all of those things. So, it’s really rewarding. I said this after the FSU game, the momentum and enthusiasm from Gator Nation, from all those fans out there wearing the orange and blue, that is really rewarding and that is fun to see.”

Many conspiracy theorists and tin-foil hat enthusiasts have suggested that Scott Stricklin and the Florida Gators met with the CFP committee in some top secret volcano lair to ensure that they would not be matched up with UCF in the bowl season. Gary Stokan and Scott Stricklin laid those claims to rest by explaining the selection process and its integrity.

Stricklin later went on to say, “People don’t know. They give me a lot of credit, I have more power than I realize, according to them. People are going to say things when they don’t know what they’re talking about, and that’s what happening there.”

The narrative has been that Florida is scared to play UCF and that to do so is a no win situation for the Gators. If they win, they were supposed to and did so while UCF was without star quarterback, McKenzie Milton. If they lose, they’ve been bested by a lowly group of 5 team and are the laughing stock of the power 5.

“If you win the game, it counts one win,” Stricklin said. “If you lose the game, it counts one loss. When I was at Mississippi State, they said, ‘Don’t play Southern Miss.’ We played Southern Miss. They had the same argument.”

Stricklin went on to say that in the right circumstance, he would love to schedule the Knights. Even suggesting a 2 for 1 deal where the Gators would give UCF a home game.

Florida will take on 7th ranked Michigan on Dec. 29 in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. The game is set for a noon kickoff and the Gators will be looking for their first win over the Wolverines in the series.

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