Photo Credit: Orange Bowl
As expected, the Michigan Wolverines will not be playing in the College Football Playoff. Instead, they are bound for Miami to take on the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. This was a matchup that was predicted by many coming out of the last week of the regular season, and when you look at the talent on the field, it has potential to be one of the most exciting New Year’s Six bowl games.
Florida State is entering their date with Michigan with a 9-3 record and 5-3 in ACC play. They were torn apart by Heisman Trophy award hopeful Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals by a score of 63-20. The other two losses suffered by the Seminoles include a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels on a last second field goal and another close loss against the Clemson Tigers. However, they had a lot to take away from the regular season. Quarterback Deondre Francois has become the future of the program. He helped lead Florida State to a win on opening weekend against the Mississippi Rebels, a game where he proved he could stay in the pocket and make throws despite being under pressure. His toughness is not questioned and his teammates are more than willing to follow the freshman into battle against the Wolverines. Francois threw for 3,128 yards with 18 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. Dalvin Cook was also very productive at the running back position. He ran for 1,620 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. His power run style against the tough rush defense of Michigan will be a matchup worth watching.
As for Michigan, they come into the game against Florida State with a 10-2 record and 7-2 in Big Ten Conference play. A last second field goal against the Iowa Hawkeyes and a debated 4th and 1 conversion in Columbus against the Ohio State Buckeyes kept them out of the Big Ten Championship game and College Football playoff. There is no doubt that the program is headed in the right direction, but it is hard not to call this season a disappointment. Michigan beat both teams who took part in the Big Ten Championship, the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions and the Wisconsin Badgers, as well as the Colorado Buffaloes, who were ranked in the top 10 team going into the Pac-12 Conference championship game and remain there. The quarterback debate was heated in the spring, but ultimately junior Wilton Speight took control of the Michigan offense. He had a solid season, passing for 2,375 yards and 17 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions. The core of the Michigan team this year has been the defense. It’s up there with the Alabama Crimson Tide for the best in the nation and the stats speak for themselves. They are ranked 2nd in total defense in the FBS behind only Alabama and 1st on defensive 3rd down conversion rate in the country. With players like All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers, and freshman Rashan Gary, their lineup is packed with stars and they played lights out in 2016. They held their opponents to under 20 points in a majority of their games this season. Only Colorado, Ohio State, and the Michigan State Spartans scored over 20 points on Michigan this season. Jabrill Peppers has been the face of the Michigan program over the last 2 seasons. With the NFL Draft calling, it surprises nobody that the Orange Bowl will likely be Peppers’ final game at Michigan despite having another year of eligibility left. Peppers produced in every which way this season. He had 66 total tackles with 3 sacks and an interception. He also produced in the scoring department with 1 punt return for a touchdown and 167 rushing yards with 3 rushing touchdowns, and if not for Lamar Jackson’s video game-like season, Jabrill could’ve found himself in New York for the Heisman Trophy award ceremony.
Keys to the game for Florida State:
- If Cook can get things going on the ground to get into 3rd & manageable situations, the Seminoles will have a chance. If Florida State can convert and keep the Michigan defense on the field, then we could have a close game.
- Kick the ball away from Jabrill Peppers.
- On defense, take shots at Speight. He has a lingering collarbone injury and making him feel the heat will only do them good. Also, shutting down the running game will help make Michigan force the ball down the field.
Keys to the game for Michigan:
- Let Jabrill do his thing on offense, defense and special teams; let him take the game over.
- Ground and pound with multiple running backs and create long drive to keep your star players fresh.
- On defense, bring heat on early downs to make Francois uncomfortable and shake him up a bit. Slow down Dalvin Cook and force the Seminoles to pass the ball to win.
Michigan’s defense is very skilled, and I think it will be the difference in a close game.
Final score prediction: 17-10 Michigan