The No. 14 Michigan Wolverines head into their matchup against No. 13 Alabama close to 100 percent. The same, however, cannot be said for the Crimson Tide.
While no Michigan players have said they’re sitting out the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl, at least two Alabama players won’t be suiting up, opting instead to look ahead to the NFL draft.
Several Wolverines came out publicly in the past week saying they are playing in the Citrus Bowl, a game of far less notoriety than the type of game Michigan would like to see itself playing in, but a New Year’s Day bowl game nevertheless.
Quarterback Shea Patterson, tight end Nick Eubanks, guard Ben Bredeson, linebackers Jordan Glasgow, Khaleke Hudson and Josh Uche, as well as tackle Jon Runyan Jr. were among those who said they’re playing.
Alabama, meanwhile, will be without two players on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Terrell Lewis and defensive back Trevon Diggs are both sitting out the Citrus Bowl, they announced previously. The duo rank No. 34 and No. 39 overall, respectively, in ESPN’s current draft rankings.
One of Alabama’s top draft prospects, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, announced early on he will play in the game.
The popularity of players sitting out bowl games increased with the addition of the College Football Playoff, which ultimately diminished the significance of bowl games. The bigger the name of the player and the higher the draft prospect, the more is at stake.
In 2016, Stanford star running back Christian McCaffrey sat out his team’s bowl game, as did LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Both went on to be top 10 picks in that year’s draft. The duo’s decisions prompted a lot of blow back from around the nation.
As SBNation’s Morgan Moriarty pointed out in 2018, despite the criticism, NFL teams were still willing to pay players who sat out games a lot of money. So why risk playing and getting injured? That’s probably a question former Michigan tight end Jake Butt is asking himself.
Butt was one of the nations better tight ends in 2016 and figured to be drafted relatively high until an ACL tear in the Orange Bowl against Florida State changed that. Instead, the tight end was selected in the fifth round of that year’s draft by the Denver Broncos, a slide he credits to being injured.
But for Runyan Jr., the chance to play against the level of competition a team like Alabama brings provides another chance to show what he’s capable of for NFL scouts.
“For me, there’s no doubts that I’m going to play this game,” he said. “They got a lot of really good players on their defense, so it’s just another game for me and my teammates to put some good film out there and put on the winged helmet one more time.”
Michigan isn’t unfamiliar with the concept of playing sitting out. Last year alone, linebacker Devin Bush and defensive lineman Rashan Gary sat out the Peach Bowl. Both ended up being first round picks. Running back Karan Higdon also sat out, but he went undrafted.
There will be a few Wolverines who won’t be suiting up. Defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour will be out of Wednesday’s contest due to an injury that required surgery and prevented him from traveling to Florida for the game.
Dwumfour took to Twitter Sunday to say it was a lingering injury he was finally addressing.
I have been playing through injury for a good portion of the season and decided to have surgery that would keep me from playing or traveling with my teammates to the Citrus Bowl. I will miss suiting up with my teammates but I will be cheering them on New Year’s Day.— Michael DwumFour (@HON5H0) December 29, 2019
Michigan also will be without wide receiver Tarik Black for the Citrus Bowl, and in the future, as the once highly-touted prospect opted to enter the transfer portal.
Black’s absence — although his playing time down the stretch and really for most of the season was dwindling — means the Wolverines will be counting on Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Ronnie Bell to stretch the field that much more.
Wednesday’s Citrus Bowl will kick off at 1 p.m. on ABC.