Orange Bowl: Preview, Predictions for Michigan vs. Florida State
After serving as one of the semifinal games a year ago, the 2016 Orange Bowl pits the No. 6 Michigan Wolverines against the No. 11 Florida State Seminoles.
For Jim Harbaugh and Co., a berth into a New Year's Six bowl game is the first big step in resurrecting one of college football's most storied programs.
As for the Seminoles, they finished third in a stacked ACC Atlantic Division that also included Clemson and Louisville. That ultimately killed Florida State's playoff hopes, but an Orange Bowl bid gives those in Tallahassee an opportunity to go into the offseason on a high note.
This very well could be the best non-playoff bowl game of the season, and it's certainly the most high-profile.
Date: Friday, December 30
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Tale of the Tape
Courtesy of the B/R Insights department, check out how the Wolverines and Seminoles stack up against one another on paper.
One of the biggest notes is that both teams feature a top-25 total defense, with Michigan's ranking second.
Keys to Victory for Michigan
Keep FSU's Offense One-Dimensional
The Seminoles are most dangerous when quarterback Deondre Francois is complementing the always-dangerous Dalvin Cook in the backfield. For the Wolverines, they'll want to stack the box and force Francois to make plays without Cook to rely on. That means the Michigan secondary has to win its one-on-one matchups downfield.
Win the Turnover Battle
With 14 interceptions, the Florida State secondary has a penchant for turning the tide of games quickly. Quarterback Wilton Speight's pick-six against Ohio State got the Buckeyes going in a game that ultimately cost Michigan a playoff berth. The Wolverines can't ignite the Seminoles sideline with mistakes.
Keys to Victory for Florida State
Get Athletes the Ball in Open Space
Michigan has the second-ranked total defense in the nation, meaning every yard gained is an accomplishment. Jimbo Fisher's play-calling will have to spread the field. The Seminoles will need to effectively execute quick screens and crossing patterns to keep the ball moving.
Offensive Line Play
While spreading the ball around offensively will keep Michigan's defense off-balance, Cook ultimately needs holes and Francois needs time in the pocket to create opportunities. That's a tall task for the Seminoles, but they can't let the Wolverines overpower them in the trenches.
Players to Watch for Michigan
An unquestioned Heisman Trophy candidate and perhaps the most electrifying defender in college football, Jabrill Peppers is likely appearing in his last game in a Michigan uniform as he's a projected first-round NFL draft pick. Expect Harbaugh to pull out all the stops to get Peppers involved in all facets of the game.
A staple of the Michigan program through its resurgence under Harbaugh, Jake Butt is also appearing in his last game with the Wolverines. The senior is projected as one of the top tight ends in the upcoming NFL draft. This season he's hauled in 43 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns.
The position of fullback is a dying breed in football these days, but Hill epitomizes what efficiency in the position looks like. Hill has 10 touchdowns on just 25 carries this season. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Hill is a force in the backfield that always has to be accounted for in short-yardage situations.
Players to Watch for Florida State
This one's easy. Cook has a case for being the best running back in FSU history, having surpassed Warrick Dunn's career rushing mark at the school this season. Cook has been nearly unstoppable out of the backfield with 1,620 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He's also rushed for 100 yards or more in eight of his last nine games.
The junior wideout has been Francois' favorite target this year, hauling in 53 grabs for 807 yards and seven scores. Rudolph provides speed on the edge to keep Michigan from loading up the box and could be a tough matchup for one of the nation's best defensive units.
The nation's leader in interceptions with eight, the sophomore defensive back will need to come up big against Michigan to give the Seminoles offense some leeway. McFadden's ball-hawking can quickly turn the tide in games, and that's what Florida State needs against the Wolverines.
What They're Saying
Florida State Athletic Director Stan Wilcox, per FSU press release:
"We have tremendous respect for the University of Michigan as an institution, as well as its nationally-recognized athletic programs. Matching up with a program that possesses a similar rich and successful football pedigree will certainly add to the national appeal of the game."
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, per FSU:
"We are very happy to be returning to the Orange Bowl. To be one of only two teams to go to a New Year’s Six/BCS game the last five years is great and it keeps that streak going which speaks to the culture of success we have built with this program. The Orange Bowl is as prestigious as any bowl, and we are honored to continue to be a part of their legacy."
ESPN gives the Wolverines a 62 percent likelihood of bring home the Orange Bowl trophy over Florida State, and B/R won't argue otherwise.
Florida State has come up short against Clemson and Louisville, its two biggest games of the season. There's no reason to believe the narrative will change come December 30.
The Wolverines are hungry after being left out of the playoff thanks to an overtime loss in The Game. Harbaugh has quickly revitalized the Michigan program and is looking for a statement victory in the postseason.
Prediction: Michigan 21, Florida State 10