Ann Arbor — Michigan players without question are looking at the Citrus Bowl against Alabama as an opportunity to get a 10th victory against one of the finest college football programs over the last decade.
The Crimson Tide has played in six national championship games since 2011 and won four, but a 10-2 record this season dropped them into what has become unfamiliar territory — out of the playoff picture and in the New Year’s Day Citrus bowl against the Wolverines (9-3). The teams are 2-2 against each other heading into the matchup.
While securing that win is the priority, the outgoing Wolverines also know this game is a valuable showcase of their abilities with NFL scouts watching. That’s also important and a big reason, as it stands now, no Michigan players will be sitting out the game.
“For me, there’s no doubt I was going to play in this game,” left tackle Jon Runyan, a two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, said Friday. “They’ve got a lot of really good players on the defense. That’s another opportunity for me and my teammates to put some good film out there and put on the winged helmet one more time. It’s something that’s going to be really special and against a great team. Just coming out of this game, just one more time playing for Michigan. Couldn’t have the last game (against Ohio State) be my last memory playing for Michigan.”
A resume isn’t built on one game, of course, but having a strong performance against Alabama can leave a lasting impression and be a boost for NFL prospects.
“I know that NFL scouts are going to be watching this game,” Runyan said. “They’re especially going to watch the last four games you played. Week after week I’ve been building momentum, getting better every week. I actually feel like every game I play I keep getting better.
“They’ve got a lot of good players. Good defensive ends, good rushers, one of their outside linebackers is sitting out, I’m kinda sad about that, but it’s going to be a good opportunity to put good film out there. It’s Michigan vs. Alabama, scouts are going to be watching it. Me and my teammates, just got to go out there and do our thing and scouts will take notice for sure.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban recently told reporters there that while he understands a high first-round NFL Draft prospect thinking the risk of playing in a non-playoff game is not worth it, he believes the game is a chance for others to give NFL teams something additional to consider.
“You have an opportunity to showcase your talents and try to impress people with how you play in the game,” Saban said recently. “That’s pretty much what I told those guys and it’s their choice. Everybody has to live with the consequences of their decisions, whether they’re good decisions or bad decisions.”
Saban in that news conference also questioned the legitimacy of mock drafts and draft grades that can vary widely.
“I think all the guys who have decided to play in the game have made really good choices,” he told reporters.
Michigan tight end Nick Eubanks is playing in the bowl game but still mulling whether he will return for a final season.
“Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem coming back next year in terms of trying to get better as an athlete and to work on my craft next year if I do decide to come back,” Eubanks said Friday.
He has decided to submit for an NFL grade.
Five Wolverines will play in the Senior Bowl — quarterback Shea Patterson, guard Ben Bredeson, tight end Sean McKeon, safety Josh Metellus and linebacker/edge rusher Josh Uche.
“I don’t think anybody has any room to sit out in this (bowl) game,” Patterson said shortly after being named the team’s MVP. “It’s an opportunity for the seniors if they’re thinking about sitting out, it will only hurt them."
Khaleke Hudson, a co-captain, said Friday he was going to play in the bowl regardless. In the Peach Bowl last year, Michigan had four starters skip, including linebacker Devin Bush and defensive end Rashan Gary, both early first-round selections.
While Hudson has pro football aspirations, he is completely zeroed in on beating Alabama.
“I’m not focused on nothing else but the task at hand,” he said.
He called this a “game for everything” in the sense that a win would give the seniors a positive sendoff, while preparing the returning players to begin a new decade of Michigan football and also giving players moving to the next level a final game to show their skills.
“I feel like a lot of guys are going to get a chance to prove themselves in this game,” Hudson said, referring to those leaving and returning to Michigan.
“It’s another chance for our team to really rewrite our story and really go into next season on a high note.”
MICHIGAN VS. ALABAMA
Kickoff: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. Camping World Stadium, Orlando
Records: Michigan 9-3, Alabama 10-2
Line: Alabama by 7