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Harbaugh vs. Saban facing off in Citrus Bowl feels like a big deal

This will mark the first time Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban have faced one another.

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Florida Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After nearly a month of anticipation, kickoff at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando is close.

Michigan vs. Alabama. Jim Harbaugh vs. Nick Saban.

“I feel good now that the game’s getting close to kickoff,” Harbaugh said on Tuesday. A lot of preparation has gone into this game. Our team’s been hard at it.”

No matter where you go in Orlando this week, you’re bound to run into a fan wearing Michigan or Alabama gear. There’s a buzz. From fans who flew in from afar, and from Floridians as well.

The Citrus Bowl feels like one of the biggest bowl games this season. And both teams are treating it as such.

“I think our team is a little disappointed in the way we finished the season and maybe didn’t reach some of the goals that we had initially in terms of what we wanted to accomplish and what we wanted to do as a team,” Saban said on Tuesday. “So this game against a very, very good team that has great tradition is certainly an opportunity for our players to sort of go out and play well against a good team.”

Harbaugh has noticed the enthusiasm about the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, and nationally. “There seems to be a tremendous amount of excitement for the game here in town and it’s gotten a lot of national exposure. I think it’ll be a well watched game. I would predict that,” Harbaugh said. “And so I think it’s really good. To us, the way we look at it, this is a first class bowl game against a great opponent and that’s pretty darn good. So we’re going to go out and play our best.”

Both teams want to end the season on a positive note, both are ready for to battle. The Wolverines don’t have any draft-eligible players sitting the game out, and the Tide are almost at full-strength, too. The only thing left to do is play the game, ring in the new year, and close out a season.

Two historic programs that face each other once every decade if they’re lucky are going toe to toe, it’s a coaching matchup that college football fans from coast to coast have wanted to see since Jim Harbaugh was hired as Michigan’s head coach five years ago. Saban is now 68 years of age and the opportunities for Harbaugh to face the legendary coach are dwindling by the year, but the opportunity has now presented itself in the form of the Citrus Bowl.

Both coaches understand there’s a level of magnitude regarding the matchup of the two programs and the fact Harbaugh vs. Saban is finally coming to fruition. Harbaugh and Saban were both cordial and soaking in the moment at their joint presser on Tuesday, but the ultimate competitors were surely ready to get back to the war room and plot how to beat the other.

“Feel like it’s time to play a football game,” Harbaugh said. “You have that feeling now that it’s time and have at it.”