Mullen, Harbaugh end season on different notes as Florida dominates Michigan

Perine punctuates Florida domination with long TD (0:30)

Lamical Perine breaks free for 53 yards on third-and-20 for a Gators touchdown that all but secures their Chick-Fil A Peach Bowl win. (0:30)

ATLANTA -- OK, just for argument's sake, let's assume that Michigan really didn't want to be playing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Saturday.

The No. 7 Wolverines were coming off an epic loss to rival Ohio State more than a month ago, which cost them a chance to play for their first Big Ten championship since 2004 and knocked them out of the College Football Playoff.

The Wolverines were playing short-handed, after four of their best players decided to skip the bowl game to either recover from nagging injuries or prepare for the NFL draft.

Besides, indifference seems to be a rather convenient excuse for SEC teams that fall short in the postseason.

But what does it really say about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and the direction of his program if he couldn't get his team motivated to play in a New Year's Six bowl game?

Michigan didn't just lose its third consecutive bowl game on Saturday. It was walloped 41-15 by No. 10 Florida, which has a first-year coach and lost by three touchdowns to Missouri at home during the regular season.

That's what $7.5 million per season gets the Wolverines? In Year 4?

Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback, has won 38 games in four seasons at his alma mater. He hasn't won a Big Ten title, hasn't beaten Ohio State and is now 1-3 in bowl games.

Before being embarrassed by the Gators, the Wolverines hadn't taken the field since a 62-39 loss at Ohio State on Nov. 24, which will easily go down as the most humiliating loss in their storied history.

A win over Florida, which finished third in the SEC East, wouldn't have wiped that defeat from Michigan's memory bank. Heck, filling up Mercedes-Benz Stadium with correction fluid couldn't have erased those painful memories.

No, the 23-point loss to the hated Buckeyes will hang over the Wolverines throughout the next few dreary months in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And then into the spring and summer, as they prepare for what might be a now-or-never season for Harbaugh.

Before another blowout loss, Michigan fans thought they had reason for hope. Urban Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida and one more at Ohio State, announced his retirement only 10 days after his team beat the Wolverines for the seventh straight time.

Meyer will coach the Buckeyes for the final time against Washington in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year's Day before Ryan Day, the team's 39-year-old offensive coordinator, takes over. Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who threw six touchdowns against Michigan and 47 this season, is expected to enter the NFL draft as a third-year sophomore.

Meyer's departure doesn't ensure that Michigan will flip the script in what has become a one-sided rivalry. Oklahoma was supposed to slip after longtime coach Bob Stoops retired and handed the keys to wunderkind Lincoln Riley. It didn't happen. If anything, the Sooners have gotten better under Riley, reaching the CFP in each of his first two seasons.

While Michigan has plenty of question marks heading into the postseason -- its offensive philosophy, for starters -- the Gators have to be excited about their future under coach Dan Mullen, who was Meyer's offensive coordinator when he won two national titles at UF in 2006 and '08.

Mullen inherited a team that went 4-7 last season and quit under former coach Jim McElwain before he was fired after seven games. The Gators went 10-3 in Mullen's debut, which is one more than Meyer and the beloved Steve Spurrier won in their first seasons at the Florida helm.

Mullen squeezed everything possible out of this team, upsetting LSU, ending a five-game losing streak to Florida State and then winning the school's first New Year's Six bowl game since 2012.

Most impressively, Mullen turned sophomore Feleipe Franks into a serviceable SEC quarterback. Franks isn't spectacular and still has a long way to go, but he was much better than he was in his first season as a starter.

Against Michigan, Franks completed 13 of 23 passes for 173 yards with one touchdown, while running 14 times for 74 yards with a score. Another offseason with Mullen, who coached Tim Tebow at Florida, might make him even better.

At least there's reason for hope at Florida.

Michigan fans have to be starting to wonder whether they can say the same.