Featuring two of the country’s best defensive units, the No. 14 Michigan Wolverines (9-3) and No. 19 Florida Gators (10-3) clash in the New Year’s Day’s Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida after nearly taking down their respective conferences this season.
In head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season at the helm, the Wolverines returned to bowl contention after a one-year hiatus and last year’s disappointing 5-7 run. Michigan is also seeking its first bowl victory since 2011’s Sugar Bowl, when it took down Virginia Tech in overtime.
After several years at the NFL level, Harbaugh was expected to bring his alma mater back to prominence but not this quickly and certainly not within the Big Ten. But the Wolverines pulled off some impressive non and in-conference wins, including over ranked BYU and Northwestern, and nearly spoiled in-state rival Michigan State’s national title hopes before a botched punt in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.
And despite losing 42-13 to Ohio State in the regular season closer, the Wolverines send out the country’s 11th-ranked defense allowing 17.2 points and just 122.6 rushing yards per game with senior defensive tackle and team sack leader Willie Henry and defensive ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley up front.
The Gators too broke in a new head coach, Jim McElwain, who was brought in after three years with Colorado State and seeks the second bowl victory of his career.
McElwain was able to make it through the always treacherous SEC waters with a huge victorie over then-No. 3 Ole Miss, and despite losses to ranked LSU and Florida State the Gators still made the East Division and battled Alabama for the conference crown.
Florida would fall 29-15 while allowing 437 total yards to the Crimson Tide, but still ranks at No. 8 in the nation with 16.5 points allowed per contest. The Gators have struck an lethal balance with both its pass rush and secondary, finishing second in the SEC with 40.0 team sacks and tied for third with 14 interceptions thanks to sophomore defensive back Jalen Tabor and junior Vernon Hargreaves each pulling down four picks apiece.
Despite each program’s resounding success, they paths have rarely crossed. They’ve met just twice before, with Michigan taking both contests and the last in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, 41-35.
Betting Odds: Michigan -4
Over/Under: 39 points
Kickoff: Friday, 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Live Stream: Watch ESPN