Feature graphic courtesy of Sarah Sopher
No. 6 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 11 Florida State (9-3)
Where: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida
When: Friday, Dec. 30th at 8 p.m. on ESPN
No. 6 Michigan
How they got here:
Michigan began the season ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll. After starting the season 9-0, the Wolverines were as high as No. 2. Michigan only played one ranked opponent, then-ranked No. 8 Wisconsin, during their first nine games; the Wolverines beat the Badgers 14-7 at home.
Michigan’s chances at playing in the College Football Playoff took an unfortunate turn when they traveled to play Iowa on Nov. 12. The Wolverines fell at the hands of the Hawkeyes 14-13 for the team’s first loss.
After beating Indiana the next game, Michigan came up short against Ohio State 30-27 in double overtime, ultimately leaving them out of the College Football Playoff.
Why they can win:
One could argue that the best defensive team in the country didn’t even make the College Football Playoff — and that is Michigan. Statistically, they are the best defense in yards and points allowed.
The Wolverines are ranked first in the country allowing just 12.5 points per game. They have proved that they are one of the toughest units to go up against, conceding 10 or fewer points in seven of their 12 games. Michigan will be playing a better-than-average offense in Florida State, but nonetheless, their defense is the main reason they can win. It is no surprise that Michigan is also ranked first in yards allowed per game with 252.7. Teams don’t find any more success running the ball than passing or vice versa; the Wolverines defend the rush and pass at the same elite level.
If Michigan’s defense was not enough to deal with, their offense puts up 41 points per game, which ranks 13th in the country. Michigan has a top-30 running game, ripping off over 220 yards per game on the ground. They do not have the best passing attack, but with how good their defense is, they do not necessarily need a great one.
Player to watch: LB Jabrill Peppers
The redshirt-sophomore linebacker will be playing in his first and probably last bowl game as a Michigan Wolverine as he is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Peppers is the focal point of this top-ranked Wolverine defense. He has accumulated 62 tackles over the course of the season and had his first interception of his career in the Wolverines’ last game of the season against No. 2 Ohio State. With his time in college appearing to be coming to an end after this game, expect Peppers to step it up one last time.
No. 11 Florida State
How they got here:
Florida State was actually ranked ahead of Michigan going into the season. The Seminoles were ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll, but a tough slate of ACC games resulted in the drop from then to now. After beating AP No. 11 Ole Miss in Week 1 and a 52-8 blowout of Charleston Southern in Week 2, the Seminoles were ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll behind Alabama.
Many turned their attention away from Florida State after they were demolished by then-ranked No. 10 Louisville 63-20 in the ACC opener. Two weeks later, they lost at home against unranked North Carolina.
Following that loss, however, Florida State won six of its last seven games, including wins against No. 10 Miami and No. 15 Florida. Their only other loss of the season was a 37-34 loss to Clemson, who is in the College Football Playoff.
Why they can win:
While Michigan has only faced two ranked opponents this season, Florida State has faced five. The Seminoles are one of the most battle-tested teams against top-25 opponents. In such games, they are 3-2 this season, with all wins coming against competition ranked in the top 15. Aside from the 40-point blowout against Louisville, their only other loss to a ranked opponent was a 3-point deficit to then No. 3 Clemson.
The Seminoles can move the ball down the field, averaging 477.6 yards per game. They have a balanced offense thanks to quality players in quarterback Deondre Francois and running back Dalvin Cook. Florida State is facing the top-ranked defense in yards and points allowed, but they have the offensive weapons to put up a fight.
Michigan finds most of its offensive success on the ground rather than through the air. The Seminoles boast a top-20 rush defense, conceding just 129.4 yards per game. If Florida State can limit the Wolverines in the rushing game, Michigan will be forced to do something they are simply not that great at: passing. That could open the door for Seminole cornerback, whose eight interceptions are tied for the most in the country, to have a field day.
Player to watch: RB Dalvin Cook
The junior running back ranks eighth in the country with 1,620 rushing yards and sixth in rushing touchdowns with 18 this season. He set Florida State’s career rushing touchdown record earlier this season against Florida. Cook will play a huge role in the game since Michigan ranks 11th in the country conceding just 116.8 yards per game on the ground; Cook, himself, averages 135 rushing yards per game. He has also been very important in the passing game as well. Cook is second on the team with 426 receiving yards this season. It is pretty simple: Cook’s success is essential if the Seminoles are to win this game.
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