ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The last time Michigan and Florida State met was more than 25 years ago at Michigan Stadium. Jim Harbaugh was in his fifth season in the NFL when the Seminoles defeated the Wolverines 51-31 in September of 1991, both teams en route to top-6 finishes that season.
This time, it will be a much different venue, and for different stakes. No. 6 Michigan (10-2) — coached by Harbaugh — will face No. 11 Florida State (9-3) in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Michigan’s second-year coach, though, is no newcomer to South Florida. Harbaugh traveled with Michigan when it lost to Oklahoma 14-6 on Jan. 1, 1976 in the Orange Bowl in Miami — when the Orange Bowl stadium was in Miami. Harbaugh’s father, Jack, was an assistant coach on Bo Schembechler’s staff.
Harbaugh played against the Miami Dolphins during his 14-year NFL career, and even played against Florida State in 1986, his senior year at Michigan.
Harbaugh coached Stanford in the 2011 Orange Bowl, a 40-12 win against Virginia Tech for the Cardinal in which Cardinal QB Andrew Luck threw for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“We all watch Florida State and see what a fine team they always have,” Harbaugh said. “The war pony and spear, it’s all cool. Everything about it. It’ll be a great matchup.”
The pleasantries and nostalgia will likely be cast aside soon enough, though, as Harbaugh and the Wolverines prepare for the Seminoles.
Here’s a look at the matchup:
How Florida State got to 9-3
The Seminoles opened the 2-0, including a 45-34 win against Mississippi in the season opener, but appeared to be ruled out of any playoff talk after a 63-20 loss Sept. 17 at Louisville.
Two weeks later, Florida State lost 37-35 to North Carolina to fall to 3-2 … then won all but one game for the remainder of the season, a 37-34 loss Oct. 29 against Clemson. That game was notable, as the Atlantic Coast Conference reprimanded Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher for his postgame comments that were critical of the game’s officiating.
That reprimand (and the $20,000 fine against Florida State) became a small bump in the road. Florida State finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division and ended the season on a 4-game winning streak, including a 31-13 win against No. 17 Florida to close the regular season. The Seminoles have 1 win (Florida) and 2 losses (Louisville and Clemson) against teams currently ranked in the College Football Playoff standings.
Florida State’s offense
Florida State will face the nation’s No. 2 overall defense (252.7 yards per game) and No. 1 pass defense (135.9 ypg).
So it would make sense for the Seminoles to focus on running the ball. Especially when QB Deondre Francois can hand the ball off to RB Dalvin Cook, the nation’s seventh-leading rusher at 135 ypg. He led all Seminoles rushers this season with 1,620 yards, 18 touchdowns and 268 carries.
Through the air, Francois was 226 for 373 for 3,128 yards with 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while Travis Rudolph led all FSU receivers with 53 catches, 807 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Florida State’s defense
Florida State allows 24.4 points and 357.2 yards per game, including 225.9 yards passing. Florida State’s defense will first have to contain the pass, and will have to prepare for Michigan QB Wilton Speight. The redshirt sophomore says he is on the mend following an unspecified shoulder injury sustained Nov. 12 in a 14-13 loss at Iowa. Speight said Sunday he expects to play in the Orange Bowl.
Speight averages 215.9 passing yards a game and Michigan’s pass catchers, led by Amara Darboh (52 catches, 826 yards, 7 touchdowns — all tops on the Wolverines), average 216 yards a game.
Michigan’s offensive line, meanwhile, will have to be acutely aware of Florida State DE DeMarcus Walker, who is tied for the national lead with 15 sacks (1.25 per game).
“(Michigan defensive coordinator Don) Brown did a great job at Boston College, and Jim does a great job with the offense, and so does (passing game coordinator) Jedd Fisch, who was at Miami,” Fisher said. “They’re going to be able to move the ball. Every week, they’ve been up there in the rankings, and we’re going to have our hands full.”