ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan is going back to business.
The Wolverines might be taking their suntan lotion and sandals with them, but they aren’t heading to Florida for a leisurely vacation.
Preparing for the Orange Bowl is a vocation.
“I’d much rather win a game than go down there and enjoy a vacation down in Florida,” Michigan center Mason Cole said Sunday. “I’d rather go down there and work and get the win, and relax after that.”
Sixth-ranked Michigan (10-2) faces No. 11 Florida State (9-3) in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla — Michigan’s second bowl trip to Florida in as many seasons. But one thing that first trip taught them: Jim Harbaugh goes to bowl games to work.
In the week leading up to the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 of this year, the Wolverines spent a week practicing in preparation for SEC foe Florida. There wasn’t much, if any, leisure time in the Orlando area, save for a trip to Disney World. Even that trip only lasted a few hours, and was after a day of practicing.
Michigan practiced at West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Fla., about a 20-minute drive from Orlando. The Wolverines had curfews and a set schedule each day leading up to the New Year’s Day bowl game.
“I don’t think anybody approaches a bowl game like Coach Harbaugh and his staff,” Michigan QB Wilton Speight said. “I know we’ll be focused and ready to go, just like last year. I know Coach (Jimbo) Fisher and his staff will have Florida State in the same mindset. It puts you in the best opportunity to win.”
Michigan anticipates its itinerary in South Florida will be very similar to last season.
“Even with the preparation, even though it’s not a national championship game, it’s still an important game in the season,” Michigan CB Channing Stribling said. “And we’ve got to close out the season in a good way.”
How did approach help last year in Orlando? Stribling pointed to the Citrus Bowl outcome: a 41-7 win against the Gators.
While Michigan didn’t make this year’s four-team College Football Playoff, there wasn’t much time to dwell. Instead, the Wolverines are looking at the Orange Bowl not just as a business trip, but as an opportunity to make a statement.
Stribling also considers where the program has come from in the last two years; in 2014, Michigan was 5-7, and fired head coach Brady Hoke after 4 seasons.
“I wish we could have slid in there,” Stribling said of the College Football Playoff. “But this is still a blessing, to be able to be in the conversation. Going from the seasons we’ve had to big-time wins. We’re getting close. It’s not there, but it’s still close. And it’s a blessing.”
The Wolverines have another goal in front of them: Earn an 11th win, which isn’t an easy feat in college football, or for the program. Michigan has won 11 games only three times in the last 20 years: 2011 (11-2), 2006 (11-2) and 1997 (12-0).
“To go out there and win against 11 opponents, and to do that over and over again, week in and week out?” Cole said. “It’s tough to do, in any conference in any part of the country.”
First, to prepare for that goal, the Wolverines have to get to work.
“As long as Coach Harbaugh is here, any bowl game we ever play in will be a 100-percent business trip,” Michigan TE Jake Butt said. “You won’t see a lot of jacking around, I can guarantee you that. It’ll be that way again this year.”