HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – After nearly a month of build-up, the Capital One Orange Bowl is finally here. The Florida State Seminoles, winners of four straight, will meet the Michigan Wolverines Friday night in a matchup that could put an exclamation point on either team’s 2015 season and send their programs riding into the offseason on a wave of momentum. Here are the names, numbers and notes you need to know before the Seminoles take on the Wolverines.
No. 11 Florida State (9-3) vs. No. 6 Michigan (10-2)
When/Where: Friday, 8 p.m./Hard Rock Stadium (65,326) in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV/Radio: ESPN/Seminole IMG Radio Network; FSU Broadcast Live Stream
Coach: Jim Harbaugh (20-5 in two seasons at Michigan, 78-32 overall; 44-19-1 in the NFL)
Last game: Despite leading by double digits in the second half, Michigan fell, 30-27, in double overtime at Ohio State on Nov. 26. The loss cost the Wolverines a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game, as well as a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
Last game vs. Florida State: Terrell Buckley ran back an interception for a touchdown on the second play of the game as the No. 1 Seminoles routed No. 3 Michigan, 51-31, on Sept. 28, 1991. FSU scored two defensive touchdowns and quarterback Casey Weldon threw for three more as the Seminoles scored the most points of any visitor to Michigan Stadium.
Michigan vs. Florida State all-time: The all-time series is tied, 1-1, with both games having been played at Michigan.
1986: No. 5 MICHIGAN 20, No. 20 Florida State 18
1991: No. 1 Florida State 51, No. 3 MICHIGAN 31
2016: No. 11 Florida State vs. No. 6 Michigan, Capital One Orange Bowl, Friday, 8 p.m.
One offensive and defensive player from each team who could swing the game
Michigan: Quarterback Wilton Speight suffered a shoulder injury late in the season that caused him to miss one game and limited his effectiveness in another. Speight’s inability to throw downfield against Ohio State hampered the Wolverine’s offense and allowed the Buckeyes to take more chances on defense. Speight has had more than a month to recover and says he’s fine, but if his shoulder were to become a problem on Friday, it would likely push the Wolverines toward a more one-dimensional attack.
On defense, Peppers draws all the headlines, but the Seminoles should be just as concerned with Taco Charlton, the big (6-6, 272) defensive end who led the Wolverines in sacks on the way to All-Big Ten honors. FSU’s offensive line has played much better as of late, with switches to Wilson Bell and Rick Leonard on the right side seemingly paying off. But Rick Trickett’s group will be in for another big test against a Michigan pass rush that might be just as good as the one they see in practice.
Florida State: No need to overthink this, it’s Dalvin Cook, one of the finest players in school history and the Seminoles’ ace in the hole against a talented Michigan team. As co-offensive coordinator Lawrence Dawsey said earlier this week, if Cook is doing well, the Seminoles probably are, too.
Michigan’s Harbaugh this week said that he believes DeMarcus Walker to be Florida State’s best player, and he may certainly be right. But in a game where Michigan will likely try to establish the run – and run away from Walker – junior defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi may take a turn in the spotlight. Nnadi has quietly enjoyed a strong campaign. His 44 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks all rank best among FSU’s interior defensive linemen.
Total offense: FSU: 474.2 YPG (23rd nationally); UM: 439.3 YPG (46th)
Scoring offense: FSU: 35.3 PPG (28th); UM: 41.0 PPG (11th)
Passing offense: FSU: 267.6 YPG (29th); UM: 216.1 YPG (81st)
Rushing offense: FSU: 206.6 YPG (38th); UM: 223.25 (30th)
Total defense: FSU: 357.2 YPG (29th); UM: 252.7 YPG (2nd)
Scoring defense: FSU: 24.4 PPG (40th); UM: 12.5 PPG (2nd)
Passing defense: FSU: 225.9 YPG (64th); UM: 135.9 YPG (1st)
Rushing defense: FSU: 131.3 YPG (27th); UM: 116.8 YPG (12th)
Number of note: Michigan’s second-ranked defense has faced only one opponent that ranks in the top 40 in total offense (Ohio State, 21st). FSU’s offense, meanwhile, has played seven teams with a top-40 defense (No. 6 Florida, No. 8 Boston College, No. 9 Clemson, No. 11 Louisville, No. 27 Miami, No. 28 NC State, No. 39 Wake Forest).
“I think it will be revered as a team that had a lot of high character, a lot of morals, and a lot of — for lack of a better word — just pure guts and grit, and it was very good to see in today’s times, because like I say, a lot of kids want to sell it in: ‘I can’t win a championship so what am I going to play for?’ Well, you play for your pride and who you are, and I think it’s going to be remembered in that way” – Jimbo Fisher on the legacy of the 2016 FSU football team
“You’ve got a choice every day: You can come to work and get better, or you’re going to get worse. You’re not going to stay the same. I think our staff and our players, everybody involved, just said, hey, we’re going to develop and we’re going to get better.” – FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly on the Seminoles’ defensive turnaround in the second half of the season
“Michael Jordan said, the way he liked basketball (the same as) like eating ice cream. He wanted to do it every day. That resonates with me. That having an opportunity to play and coach the game you love, it’s as good as it gets.” – Jim Harbaugh
“His versatility is one of the things that jumps out at you on tape. Not a real big guy, but he’s not small, but he plays close to the ball, plays a fairly physical position, and really plays linebacker. He allows them to essentially play nickel defense all the time, and he’s as good as a linebacker, even though he’s not typical linebacker size, and obviously he’s good as a defensive back. He’s able to cover and do a great job that way.” – FSU co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders on Michigan’s Jabril Peppers
“I’m going to miss the great memories, but I accomplished everything I wanted in my four-year window, and not too many people can say that. Not only just personal accolades but team goals, winning a national championship. Not too many people can say, ‘I won a national championship and won two conference championships,’ so it’s very good.” FSU senior defensive end DeMarcus Walkeron the end of his collegiate career
“Every time ‘4’ has his hands on the ball, I can’t breathe. I’m 61 years old, and I just (inhales), and then we get him on the ground and you move on to the next play and start breathing again. But he’s a very, very good player. I would say if he’s not the best, he’s one of the top three players that we’ve played against, will have played against all year, and I have great respect for his toughness, as well.” – Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, who previously coached at Boston College, on Dalvin Cook
Florida State has played Michigan twice, each time when both teams were ranked and each time in games that proved memorable. Harbaugh played against Florida State in 1986 and guided the Wolverines to a 20-18 win, although the Seminoles created some drama by scoring late and nearly recovering an onside kick:
Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat writes that DeMarcus Walker is finishing his career in style.
Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel takes a look at how Jimbo Fisher has prioritized infrastructure and support staff at FSU.
Brendan Sonnone of Noles247 compares the different styles and personalities of FSU’s Fisher and Michigan’s Harbaugh.
Ryan S. Clark of Warchant.com recaps the strides that FSU quarterback Deondre Francois has made in his first year as a starter.
Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press summarizes Michigan’s bowl week schedule: Eat, Sleep, Football.
Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News says that Michigan’s seniors see one final opportunity in the Orange Bowl.
Yours truly gathered memories from several members of Florida State’s 1991 team that beat Michigan, 51-31, in Ann Arbor. The game still ranks among the most memorable and significant in Florida State history.
Reaching the Orange Bowl is a great feel-good story for a Florida State team that needed some reasons to feel good midway through the season. The Seminoles rallied together after a 3-2 start, pushed playoff participant Clemson to the brink and still claimed victories over rivals Florida and Miami. Finishing the season in South Florida is a just reward for this group, especially the seniors who held things together when other teams might have fallen apart.
However, this isn’t Hollywood, and while a happy ending is possible, it’s hardly guaranteed. Standing in the way is a Michigan team that might be the best that Florida State has faced this season. The Wolverines were just a few inches (and to hear Harbaugh tell it, a few missed calls) from beating Ohio State in the regular-season finale. If they had, the Wolverines would likely be playing in a CFP semifinal tomorrow instead of the Orange Bowl today.
With that in mind, many analysts have wondered about Michigan’s motivation for this game. Will the Wolverines be dialed in to face the Seminoles? Or will they still be reeling from their disappointment at the end of the season?
That shouldn’t be a problem for the Seminoles, who can reassert their place among college football’s elite with a win against one of the sport’s most famous programs and head coaches.
Even with a Heisman finalist on the other sideline, the Seminoles might still boast the best player on the field. Cook has established himself as the best and most productive running back in school history – a claim that might have been unthinkable not so long ago, given FSU’s legacy at the position – and he’s a great equalizer against what might be the best defense in college football.
The Seminoles have a difficult task ahead. But with Dalvin Cook playing in his hometown, in primetime, in what may be his Florida State finale, it might not be wise to pick against him.