ANN ARBOR, Mich. – If you told Michigan fans their team would be playing Alabama in a bowl game this season, they probably would have assumed the team made its first College Football Playoff appearance.
The Crimson Tide had never missed the four-team playoff heading into 2019 and was hoping to appear in its fifth straight national championship game. Two losses later, Alabama couldn’t even sneak into a New Year’s Six bowl.
So here sits Michigan: Squaring off against the sports greatest dynasty despite earning the Big Ten’s fourth-best bowl bid.
Will Alabama play angry? Will its players care to show up? Nobody on the Crimson Tide roster has ever played in a bowl game that wasn’t part of the playoff. Wednesday will be the first time in their careers that they take the field without a national championship on the line.
Alabama dropped a pair of close games to LSU and Auburn this season and demoralized the rest of the teams it played. Michigan had a solid season, but lost its three toughest tests against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State.
While the spread has hovered around a touchdown since the matchup was announced, Michigan feels like a much bigger underdog. Nick Saban’s team -- weak schedule or not -- figures to be hungry for a strong finish to the disappointing season.
Wednesday looks like a tall task for Michigan, but with every great challenge, there’s great opportunity.
A win would give the Wolverines their fourth 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh in five years. It would be the most signature win of the Harbaugh era and end a three-year bowl losing streak.
- Game details: 1 p.m. Wednesday at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Michigan has a tendency of beating good teams at home, crushing bad teams everywhere and losing to good teams outside of Ann Arbor. Sure, Michigan clobbered 11-win Notre Dame and stifled 10-win Iowa at home this season, but beating Alabama in a southern state would be more impressive by far.
Harbaugh’s staff probably isn’t headed for an off-season of overwhelming positivity from the fan base. Another Ohio State blowout and three total losses in a season many expected to include a conference title has miffed even the staunchest supporters.
But a win over Alabama would go a long way toward softening the criticism over the next eight months.
Right now, Michigan is one of those teams that always seems to be on the brink of a special season, but never gets over the hump. Regular losses in the biggest games have spawned a negative reputation for Michigan.
How can you buck that pesky trend? Beating a team with five national championships in 11 years and 12 straight double-digit win seasons would be a good start.
The Citrus Bowl doesn’t ultimately mean anything for Michigan fans desperate to see a Big Ten or national title, but it’s one last chance for the 2019 team to put a stamp on the season.