Orange Bowl preview: Michigan meets Florida State in postseason for first time
Two heavyweight program square off in one of the best bowl matchups of the season. Each had playoff dreams when the season began but came up short. Michigan was hurt by losing two of its last three games. Florida State finished strong after a shaky start, getting crushed by 43 points in a Week 3 trip to Louisville, and then dropping home games to North Carolina and Clemson. But Florida State knocked off N.C. State, Boston College, Syracuse and Florida to win nine games.
Michigan and Florida State never have met in the postseason, but they have played twice, both in Ann Arbor. Michigan won the first meeting in 1986, topping Florida State, 20-18. No. 1 Florida State took the most recent clash in 1991, blasting Michigan, 51-31, the Wolverines only loss of the regular season that year.
The Wolverines last played in the Orange Bowl in 1999, knocking off Alabama, 35-34, behind Tom Brady. Michigan’s only other Orange Bowl appearance came in 1975, when it lost to Oklahoma, 14-6. The Wolverines beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl last year but are 4-8 in their last 12 bowls.
The Seminoles have played in nine Orange Bowls, going 4-5 with wins over Nebraska (1992 and 1993), Notre Dame (1995) and Northern Illinois (2012), and losses to Oklahoma (1979, 1980 and 200), Miami (2003) and Penn State (2005). Florida State has lost its last two bowl games since winning the national championship in 2013. The Seminoles fell to Oregon in the playoffs in 2014 and lost to Houston in last year’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida State (9-3): 8 p.m. ET, Dec. 30, Miami Gardens, Florida
Player on the spot: Michigan QB Wilton Speight. He has to play well for Michigan to win a second bowl in a row. He has been a revelation in his first season as a starter, hitting 62 percent of his passes for 2,375 yards with 17 TD passes and just six picks. Michigan must contain feared defensive ends DeMarcus Walker and Brian Burns so Speight can find TE Jake Butt and WRs Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh.
Best individual matchup: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook vs. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers. Cook has rushed for 1,620 yards and 18 touchdowns on 268 carries this season. He ranks sixth in the country in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. In three games against top-10 rushing defenses (Boston College, Louisville and N.C. State) this season, Cook carried 52 times for 227 yards and two touchdowns. In his last three games, Cook has run for 486 yards and six touchdowns on 72 carries. Peppers is college football’s Swiss army knife, one of the most dynamic players in the nation who is a Heisman Trophy finalist. Michigan is boffo vs. the run, ranking sixth in the nation, as it allows just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt.
Best unit matchup: Michigan defensive line vs. Florida State offensive line. Strength on strength. The Wolverine front is led by Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow. They will battle FSU studs Roderick Johnson (T) and Kareem Are (G). Johnson is the best o-lineman in the ACC. If the Seminoles can get Dalvin Cook established, it will be a long game for the Wolverines, who also must try to contain star Seminole QB Deondre Francois, a freshman sensation. He has thrown for 18 touchdowns with only six interceptions, completes over 60 percent of his passes for 3,128 yards and also has ran for 189 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan allows just 12.5 points and 253 yards per game — both No. 2 in the nation for DC Don Brown, who is known as Dr. Blitz.
Number: 44, sacks for Michigan, which ranks fourth in the nation. FSU leads America with 47 sacks.
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