2016 was an incredible year for Michigan football, even though we did not reach the end results we had all hoped for–a victory in Columbus, a Big Ten championship, and, most importantly, a College Football Playoff bid.
But while many experts, including Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless, agree that Michigan remains one of the best 4 teams in the nation, the Wolverines failed to persuade the Playoff committee after their stunning, double-overtime defeat against Ohio State. After that loss, there was still a minor chance for Michigan to get in, but not after convincing conference title victories by both Clemson and Washington, respectively. Now, whether we like it or not, the Wolverines are set to face Florida State, who finished 3rd in the ACC Atlantic conference, less than two weeks from today in Miami.
While the majority of college football fans will have their sights set on the Playoff, there is no doubt that this game is critically important for Michigan to win for a variety of reasons. First, like Michigan, Florida State is a football powerhouse. Florida State has a winning percentage of .681, good for 11th all-time, while Michigan is 1st all-time at .731. The two teams are 1 and 1 against each other. Back in 1986, Michigan defeated Florida State 20 to 18, with Jim Harbaugh as starting quarterback. The second match went to Florida State in 1991, where the Seminoles won 51 to 31 at the Big House. In addition, both teams have each won a total of 44 bowl games as of last year, meaning a win would put Michigan back in the top 10 bowl wins rankings all-time.
Second, it is vitally important for the legacy of Jim Harbaugh to win this game against a ranked opponent. Last year, Michigan was able to win ten games, which was a five-win improvement from a disappointing 2014 season–Brady Hoke’s final season–including a 41 to 7 blowout win over number 17 Florida in the Citrus Bowl. In Harbaugh’s inaugural season, Michigan went 3-2 against ranked opponents. This year, Michigan only managed to be 1-1 against ranked opponents, considering that Colorado, Penn State, and Iowa were unranked on the day Michigan played them. With this in mind, a win against the Seminoles would make them above .500 for a second straight year against ranked opponents under Harbaugh, another testament to success and progress for Michigan’s program. After all, Harbaugh was hired not only to win, but to win big games.
Finally, Michigan needs to win for the sake of their seniors. Michigan has 43 seniors on its roster, including superstars Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis.For them, a win against FSU would be the perfect cap to a remarkable season. These seniors went through quite an ordeal, including an ugly 7-6 season in 2013 and an even more devastating 5-7 campaign in 2014. They endured a huge coaching change in 2015, which led to far better results. They were even able to finally defeat arch rival Michigan State on their home turf. So, on December 30th, Michigan need only heed the advice of one of its fellow athletes. As Mitch McGary once famously said, “win the game”.
This matchup will be a clash of a strong run game versus and strong defense. In order for Michigan to hoist the Orange Bowl trophy, they will have their hands full with superstar running back and unanimous All-American Dalvin Cook. Cook ran for over 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns this past year, and became the all-time leading rusher for FSU. However, Cook has not faced a defense as potent as Michigan’s this year. Michigan is currently ranked second in total yards (3032), yards per game (252.7) and yards per play (4.06). Cook will have a good game, but Michigan’s defense will hold the line in the end.
My prediction: Michigan 27, Florida State 14.