TAMPA, Fla. — You might not necessarily see a kinder, gentler version of the Michigan football team. Instead, you might see one that’s taking a little more of a relaxed approach as it prepares for the Outback Bowl.
A year ago, Michigan took an all-business approach in its preparations for the Orange Bowl. The Wolverines wanted a win against a traditional college football power. They wanted a signature New Year’s Six Bowl victory. But they lost to Florida State, 33-32.
This year, the Wolverines aim to win their ninth game of 2017 in the Outback Bowl. They also want to rebound from losses to top-10 teams in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Michigan’s trip to Tampa is about the business of winning a football game. They’re finding some pleasure in the 70-degree days on Florida’s west coast, too.
It wasn’t necessarily that way last year in Tampa, when the Wolverines keyed in on practices and meetings, and adhered to a rigid schedule that limited their leisure time. There’s a different energy during bowl preparations this December.
“We’re just approaching the game as our next game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday in his only media availability this week. “As a big game, as a great challenge and an opportunity to compete, that’s always the best part. The guys getting themselves prepared, doing things that you do in a game week to get yourself prepared. Meetings, film-watching, practices, training.”
‘Like a pig in slop right now’
Harbaugh also has found a certain respite in the first three days in Tampa. He likes the hotel the team is staying in this week, and he likes the proximity to its practice fields at Berkeley Prep, which, coincidence or not, is the high school of 5-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere — a targeted recruit.
He also likes the proximity of his team to each other. And, dare he say it, the Wolverines are having fun.
“We’ve had a few activities we’ve been doing as a team. Everything is real close. It’s just fun being together. We like being together as a football team. We have fun, working on football, eating good food, staying at a great hotel, practicing at a great practice field, the weight room is really good.
“We’re like a pig in slop right now.”
Two years ago, Michigan held its Citrus Bowl practices well away from Orlando — about 20 minutes west at West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Fla.
A year ago as it prepared to play in the Outback Bowl, Michigan whittled its appearances at charity events down to a matter of minutes; Michigan had team meetings, practices and a schedule to adhere to.
All on the basis of it being “a business trip.” Some of that still carries on this year, as the Outback Bowl awaits.
Michigan’s practice Thursday overlapped with a scheduled visit to Busch Gardens, and its practice Friday at Berkeley Prep overlaps with a scheduled visit to the children’s wing of Tampa General Hospital. A Michigan spokesman said several injured players will make the scheduled hospital visit.
“It’s still business but it’s also relaxed, as well,” safety Tyree Kinnel said. “We have down time with ourselves and our families, and a lot of people get to see their friends down here that live in Florida. It’s definitely relaxed, but at the same time, it’s business. So we’re definitely taking this time and this trip as fun as we can get, and as business as we can get.”