Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has some fond memories from past trips to the Capital One Orange Bowl in south Florida.
Harbaugh remembers seeing his first coconuts as a 12-year-old coach’s son when Michigan played Oklahoma at the old Orange Bowl in 1975. He watched from the sideline. He was back in 2010 for what turned out to be his final game as head coach at Stanford, a 40-12 win against Virginia Tech. He brought his kids along, too, including a week-old baby daughter.
"Her first trip was to the Orange Bowl, and it was good," Harbaugh said. "It was a lot of hard work in preparation, but like I just said, we look forward to that."
This time around he’ll be trying to get No. 6 Michigan its first win in a top-tier bowl game since Brady Hoke’s team beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2011 season. Standing in the way is No. 11 Florida State and star running back Dalvin Cook.
The Seminoles finished their regular season with four straight wins after a close loss to playoff contender Clemson. Like Michigan, they started the season with hopes of unseating a highly ranked divisional foe and bringing home a championship. The Wolverines’ plans for a title shot fell apart in November with losses to Iowa and Ohio State. A Florida State win on Dec. 30 would be Michigan’s third loss in four games. A win for the Wolverines would make Harbaugh 2-for-2 in bowl games since returning to Ann Arbor and provide another reminder of how far his program has come in the past 24 months.
Most intriguing matchup: No one in the country has more interceptions this season than Seminoles sophomore Tarvarus McFadden. The cornerback picked off eight passes during the regular season and broke up five more. Watching him operate against top Michigan receiver Amara Darboh should be an entertaining test for both players. Darboh leads the team with 52 catches and seven touchdowns, including a fourth-down grab in the back of the end zone that pushed the Wolverines' game with Ohio State to a second overtime.
Darboh is the 12th best wide receiver prospect in the upcoming NFL draft, according to ESPN’s rankings. That’s two spots behind Florida State wideout Travis Rudolph, who also gets a fun matchup in bowl season against Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
Michigan player who could have a big game: Taco Charlton set a goal to get 10 sacks in the regular season this year, and he came up 1.5 short. There is a pretty good chance he can get to double digits at the Orange Bowl. Florida State’s offensive line gave up 34 sacks during the regular season, which ties the Seminoles with Rutgers as the nation’s 109th-best team at protecting the quarterback. Charlton had his best game of the season against Ohio State, and he’s got a great chance to keep that momentum rolling forward with a sack-heavy send-off in his final college game.
Key to victory: Finish in the fourth quarter. Michigan had chance to salt away victories in its two losses this season. The offense gained only five total yards in the fourth quarter of an eventual loss to Ohio State. Florida State is likely to give the Wolverines another close game, and they can pick up momentum and show some growth if the offense finds a way to help put away a win.
The Seminoles won’t make that easy. They have held six opponents this season to under 100 rushing yards, including the past three. A good showing from senior running back De'Veon Smith in wearing down Florida State’s defense could end up being what gets Michigan to an 11-win season