When predictions came in before the 2019 season, there was a steady flow of predictions stating the Michigan Wolverines and Alabama Crimson Tide would both make the College Football Playoff. Bama and Michigan may not have made the playoff, but they will be going head-to-head in the Citrus Bowl on New Years Day in what will be one of the more intriguing bowl matchups this season.
Harbaugh vs. Saban.
The best program of the decade vs. a storied program trying to ascend to the next level.
Two teams with a bad taste in their mouth after losing their last game to a rival.
Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis with something to prove against his former employer, co-workers, and pupils.
There are plenty of storylines that hold intrigue.
But what about the matchup itself? Should Michigan fear Bama?
Before each Michigan home game, right before the team storms out of the tunnel, a video plays that’s narrated by James Earl Jones... “We shy away from no challenge or opponent. We bow to no man. We bow to no program. We are Michigan.”
The tilt vs. Alabama is a huge challenge, the kind that hardly anybody will give Michigan a chance of winning. In order to have a shot to topple the Tide, they can’t bow to almighty Alabama, nor shy away from the challenge in any way, shape, or form. The Wolverines must go all-in. To bow is to have fear, and in this case the only thing the team should be fearing is fear itself. You can’t play the game of football scared.
Facing Alabama should motivate Michigan players and coaches during the month of December. They want to win. They don’t want to be embarrassed on a national stage, who would? This is their livelihood, and the team isn’t going to sleepwalk into the Citrus Bowl and show no pulse. Win or lose, Michigan’s going to be fired up about the opportunity. This will be quarterback Shea Patterson’s last game in a Michigan uniform, linebacker Khaleke Hudson’s, guard Ben Bredeson, tight end Sean McKeon’s, linebacker Josh Uche’s, and the list goes on. While there’s the potential of a Michigan player or two sitting the game out, most of the team won’t be throwing in the towel, and they’ll be finishing what they started. “‘Finish what you started’ has always kind of been the general rule, that I’ve personally thought of it as,” Jim Harbaugh said during his Citrus Bowl conference call.
The Wolverines didn’t make the playoff, but they’re getting a playoff-like match-up nonetheless. What feels like a bigger game, Penn State’s Cotton Bowl berth vs. Memphis or Michigan vs. Alabama in the Citrus Bowl? The Citrus is likely to be sold out and the buzz in the days leading up to the game won’t be stagnant. The atmosphere won’t feel like an exhibition game, it’ll feel like the big time.
After Michigan’s loss to Ohio State the last thing the team needed was a cupcake matchup in a bowl game that nobody cared about. The Citrus Bowl provides Michigan a chance to renew their focus, a shot to see light and life at the end of the tunnel. Nothing can change what’s happened already, but they can end the season on a high note and do something they can be proud of for years to come. Remember, most of these student athletes won’t be playing football ever again once they’re done playing for Michigan, and the finite amount of time they all have left as Wolverines means a great deal to the players collectively. The good news is the season isn’t over yet, and they have a great opportunity against a formidable opponent.
With great opportunity comes great risk in this instance. However, with that risk they also have a shot to re-define their season, a chance to change perception, a shot at making the loss to the Buckeyes hurt a little less than it did.
If you’re only as good as your last game, it’s in Michigan’s best interest to make the bowl game count. As Led Zeppelin says, “yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” What path will the Wolverines choose?
“We embrace the negative. We embrace the suck,” Jim Harbaugh said in July. “Let’s take into account the things we’ve done. The times we’ve lost. And what we can do to make that not happen again. Ever. That kind of team, that kind of mentality. That kind of place. I’ve found that to be who we are. That’s our identity.”
Finish the season on a high note. Win or lose, don’t go down without a fight. Embrace the suck. Embrace the challenge. In the end, it could be worth it.