Michigan vs. Florida Prediction, Citrus Bowl Game Preview

    Michigan (9-3) is on its way to becoming a really big deal again thanks to Jim Harbaugh, who has the program back in a great bowl and with next-level recruits starting to sign on. Florida (10-3) is on its way to becoming a really big deal again thanks to Jim McElwain, who got the program to the SEC title game and playing at a high level, at least defensively. Check out the Michigan vs. Florida prediction and Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl game preview.

    December 19, 2015

    Michigan (9-3) is on its way to becoming a really big deal again thanks to Jim Harbaugh, who has the program back in a great bowl and with next-level recruits starting to sign on. Florida (10-3) is on its way to becoming a really big deal again thanks to Jim McElwain, who got the program to the SEC title game and playing at a high level, at least defensively. Check out the Michigan vs. Florida prediction and Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl game preview.


    Michigan vs. Florida Game Preview

    Broadcast

    Date: Friday, January 1

    Game Time: 12:00 pm ET
    Network: ESPN
    Venue: Orlando Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL
    Follow and/or Contact @PeteFiutak  

    Why You Need To Care

    Just how good was this Florida team? The offense was better last season under Will Muschamp. The run defense was better, too. But this year’s team found the spark when it needed it against Tennessee, the defense dominated against Ole Miss and Georgia, and it helped in a huge way that SEC East was mediocre.

    The difference under Jim McElwain was how tight the team was when it came to all the key parts of the puzzle from turnover margin, to special teams – outside of the placekicking woes – being tougher and nastier on defense than just about everyone else.

    The offense was never going to be able to keep up in wild shootouts, but as long as the Gators could grind out games and keep them close, almost everything was going to turn out fine. Losing to LSU, Florida State, and Alabama? In McElwain’s first year? Before the season, every Florida fan would’ve taken 10-3 with a shot at the SEC championship without blinking.

    As good as this season might have been, McElwain has to keep up the recent trend of Florida’s bowl success, winning five of the last six games and seven of the last nine. One of those losses was to Michigan in the 2008 Capital One – the Wolverines have only gone to four bowl games since then, winning just one.

    Much like Florida’s situation with its new coaching staff, Michigan didn’t have to start from scratch under Jim Harbaugh. The Gators already had a great defense in place and terrific pieces for a strong ground game. The Wolverines also had a special defense returning after an outstanding 2014, but they needed to do something, anything, to get the offense moving, and it was good enough.

    They were one bad punt play against Michigan State from the Ohio State game being for the Big Ten East, but as close as Michigan was to having a truly special year, it was just as close to being merely average, surviving Indiana in double overtime and holding tough on the goal line against Minnesota.

    This was just the beginning under Harbaugh, and even though the hope was to shock the world and be in a stronger bowl, at the very least he showed that better times are ahead. This is the right coach at the right program no matter what happens against the Gators. A win, though, might step up the expectations even more for 2016.

    Why Florida Will Win

    The defense really is that good with the speed, athleticism, and talent on the front seven to hold up against the run, and with an NFL-caliber secondary that allowed 175 yards per game.

    Michigan’s passing game isn’t going to work.

    Alabama was able to run for 233 yards, but it had to earn it with Derrick Henry finally able to take over as the game went on. LSU was able to rumble with Leonard Fournette able to take off for 180 yards. Michigan doesn’t have a Derrick Henry or a Leonard Fournette, and even with Jake Rudock back after getting banged up against Ohio State, the passing attack is going to struggle. This is going to be a down and dirty defensive battle, and as good as Michigan’s defense is, it doesn’t have the athletes up front that Florida has.

    So this is probably going to come down to the big mistakes – Florida is great in terms of turnover margin; Michigan isn’t. The Wolverines are -6 on the year losing the turnover margin seven times and only finishing in the positive three times. Florida was +10 and only lost the turnover battle once in the win over Vanderbilt.

    Why Michigan Will Win

    Florida over the second half of the season is a little like a more successful 2014 Michigan – the offensive drop-off is a killer. Part of the reason was the schedule, but the Gators failed to come up with more than 262 yards in four of their last five games. Struggling against Alabama, Florida State, and even Vanderbilt’s defense is one thing, but 252 yards against Florida Atlantic – poor weather conditions and all – was inexcusable.

    Teams easily figured out that Treon Harris just couldn’t really throw. He was great when thrown to the wolves against LSU, and he put up 256 yards against South Carolina, but he wasn’t consistent and was wasn’t hitting the passes that were there and makeable. Now he gets to deal with Michigan’s secondary that’s allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 48% of their passes on the year with seven touchdowns. Harris isn’t all of a sudden going to start looking like Aaron Rodgers against this D.

    The bigger problem in what should be a tight game is a placekicking issue that’s become next-level bad, trying to find anyone from the student body who can consistently make field goal. Austin Hardin has hit just 5-of-14 field goals with freshman Jorge Powell out for the season. 0-for-his-last-5, Florida has to press a little more in the red zone – the O is 123rd in the nation in red zone scoring.

    Players Who Matter

    Give it three years, and the collection of defensive backs in this game might form a serious NFL starting secondary. Neither of these teams can throw all that well, and the respective secondary talent is going to make it that much worse.

    Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis announced he’s coming back for his senior year after a stellar all-star season with 49 tackles and 19 broken up passes, but it’s super-soph Jabrill Peppers who’s the real star. With the versatility to play any position in the defensive backfield, the 6-1, 205-pound do-it-all athlete returns kicks, runs for scores, catches passes, and found time to make 45 tackles with ten broken up passes.

    Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves is a first round lock if he comes out early, with the quickness, toughness, and ball-hawking skills to erase just about any college receiver. He’s the superstar defensive back in the game, but nickel Brian Poole and SS Marcus Maye have been every bit as effective. Neither one is as close to Hargreaves, Lewis or Peppers in terms of pro potential, but they’ve both been terrific for one of the nation’s best secondary. Maye’s a safety-sized hitter on the outside making 73 tackles with four forced fumbles and six broken up passes, while Poole came up with 36 tackles and ten broken up passes.

    What’s Going To Happen?

    Whichever team scores first wins? The Florida offense won’t be as putrid as it was late in the year, but it’s only going to have a few effective drives to get into scoring range. Unfortunately for the Gators, they’ll come up empty with the kicking game woes turning out to be a disaster. After being run over by Ohio State, there’s no way Michigan allowed Harris to pull a J.T. Barrett – the Wolverine defense is about to show up and make a huge statement.

    Michigan vs. Florida Prediction

    Final Score: Michigan 23, Florida 14, Line: Michigan -4.5, o/u: 40.5
    Must See Rating: 5: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – 1: Property Brothers at Home on the Ranch … 4

    MORE: BOWLNANZA: 40 video previews for 40 bowl games

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