Ann Arbor – When Michigan guard Ben Bredeson was growing up and watching football games with his father, he often said he wanted a chance to play Alabama.
“So here we are. Last game. It just seems fitting,” Bredeson said Sunday night.
Yes, here Michigan is, on the doorstep of a second-straight 10-win season, and Alabama, pretty much the gold standard of college football the last decade with appearances in six national championship games and four national championships since 2011, holds the key.
The teams will play in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day and are 2-2 in their previous meetings.
“We want that 10th win,” Harbaugh told the crowd at the team’s Schemmy Awards show Sunday night. “We want it against Bama.”
Michigan players Sunday seemed charged about the prospect of playing the Crimson Tide and said winning not only would give the program that 10th win but it would alter the narrative for how this season finished, while giving the returning players a positive springboard into winter conditioning and spring practice.
The Wolverines finished the regular season losing 56-27 to Ohio State for the eighth-straight loss in the rivalry. They have lost three straight bowl games since winning the first bowl under Harbaugh, so beating Alabama would serve as a salve for several issues.
“When they were doing the bowl predictions and it was San Diego (Holiday Bowl), a bunch of us wanted to go to San Diego,” defensive end Kwity Paye said, “But once we got Bama, we’re like, this is a great opportunity for us to play in this game for us to rewrite the season and make sure we end up on a strong note and get that 10th win.”
Before the season, several national publications believed the Wolverines would be the team to beat in the East and pegged them as a national playoff participant. But now they are early into bowl practices and are looking to rewrite the ending of the season.
“I feel like we didn’t end the season strong,” Paye said. “I feel like this will be a way for us to end the season strong. This last game will be huge for us.”
The Wolverines said they expect a full roster for the bowl game and are not anticipating any players will sit out, as four starters decided to do last year before the Peach Bowl. Rashan Gary and Devin Bush, who were NFL first-round draft picks, and Karan Higdon and Juwann Bushell-Beatty opted not to play.
“I think everybody is very excited to play in the game,” said Bredeson, who will be playing his final college game. “Everybody is excited to play Alabama. There’s a lot of positiveness in the building. I don’t know if that’s an overused word by us, but it’s a general feeling.
“Everybody sees the same thing -- an opportunity. It’s a chance for us to show everybody what we can do this year and it would be a nice way to end the year, especially losing this last game at home. It would mean a lot to the seniors and everyone to win this one.”
Quarterback Shea Patterson, voted by his teammates the MVP, said this team feels different heading into this bowl game versus last year. The Wolverines won 10 straight last fall and went into the Ohio State game with a chance to play for the Big Ten title and a spot in the four-team playoff. The Wolverines instead were badly beaten, 62-39, and wound up playing Florida in the Peach Bowl. In some ways, that felt like a consolation, and the Wolverines lost badly again, 41-15.
“We had high hopes and then lost and ended up playing Florida, so guys were disappointed going into that game, maybe felt like we shouldn’t be playing in that game,” Patterson said. “We felt like we should have been in the playoff if we wouldn’t have lost. I think this year everybody is on board. No matter what the situation is, no matter who we’re playing, we’re going to come ready to play.”
Michigan players said they have been studying Alabama since they learned of their bowl opponent. The Tide lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a hip injury late in the season but maintained its explosive offense with redshirt sophomore Mac Jones leading the way. The receivers are deep and Jerry Jeudy, second on the team with 959 yards and nine touchdowns, already has said he plans to play in the bowl game despite being a top NFL prospect.
Paye said the Alabama offensive line is formidable with Alex Leatherwood at left tackle and Jedrick Wills at right tackle.
“This is a money game. There’s a lot of first-round guys on that team,” Paye said. (Cornerback) Lavert Hill has an opportunity to play against a couple first-round talents (at receiver) and our D-line has a chance to play against some first-round talent. It’s huge for us getting an opportunity to play against that talent and show the NFL scouts what we can do.”
The Wolverines know the challenge Alabama will provide and seem genuinely grateful to have this -- yes, as Bredeson said, it's an overused word -- opportunity.
“We’re going to be playing one of the best teams we’ve played all year and we need to prepare for that,” linebacker Jordan Glasgow said. “Alabama’s been in the contention for the national championship or has won the national championship since I was in early high school. They’re a team that you get a win over them, it’s kind of a statement. To end our season with a win against them would mean a lot for our program and it would mean a lot for the fans and for the players."
MICHIGAN VS. ALABAMA
Kickoff: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. Camping World Stadium, Orlando
TV/radio: ABC/950 AM
Records: Michigan 9-3, Alabama 10-2
Line: Alabama by 10