The last 12 months have been a roller coaster ride for the University of Michigan in terms of bowl aspirations. After dropping its final two games in 2014, the Wolverines failed to qualify for postseason play for the third time in seven years. Fast forward to just over a week ago, and Jim Harbaugh’s team had an outside chance to land in the College Football Playoff.
But after being blown out at home by Ohio State and finishing the season at 9-3, the 2015 Wolverines sit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Michigan’s resume is impressive, but the Big Ten is loaded with elite teams at the top.
Michigan State will move on to the final four while Iowa and Ohio State will land in New Year’s Six bowls – likely the Rose Bowl and an at-large bid.
Once those three top 10 teams are placed, Michigan and Northwestern are the remaining ranked teams in the conference. So how does it work from there? Since the Orange Bowl is hosting one of the national semifinal (playoff) games, the Big Ten will send a team to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
I think the Citrus Bowl is Michigan’s most likely destination, though the Big Ten has to approve the bowl’s request before anything is finalized. Formerly the Capital One Bowl, the Citrus Bowl is an upper-tier bowl that pits a Big Ten school against an SEC school.
|Potential Citrus Bowl matchups
Florida vs. Michigan: Since the Gators couldn’t upset the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game, Alabama will move on to the College Football Playoff and leave Florida as the top non-final four team in the conference. Florida’s Cinderella season lost most of its steam when starting quarterback Will Grier was suspended for using a banned substance. In the final four weeks of the regular season, Florida nearly lost to Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic before getting crushed and failing to score on offense against Florida State. Though the Gators did win the East, they aren’t trending in a direction that will make them a sexy bowl pick. But if these teams do meet, it would be a rematch of Lloyd Carr’s last game as Michigan’s coach, when the Wolverines won an entertaining shootout over Tim Tebow and the Gators.
Ole Miss vs. Michigan: Mississippi got dumped by Florida, 38-10, back in October, but the final few weeks of the season could give the Rebels a leg up on the Gators in the bowl selection process. Ole Miss has a road win over Alabama on its resume, the crowned jewel on an otherwise average resume. The Rebels lost to Memphis and Arkansas but picked up a pair of solid wins over LSU and Mississippi State to close out the season. Michigan has struggled to stop the run since losing Ryan Glasgow from the defensive line, but Ole Miss is led by quarterback Chad Kelly, who would meet one of the best secondary units in the country in this matchup.
If Michigan isn’t picked for the Citrus Bowl, it would likely head about 100 miles southwest to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. The Outback Bowl will host five different Big Ten teams from 2014-2019, so Michigan could land here for the second time in four seasons. The Wolverines lost a shootout with South Carolina in the Outback Bowl under Brady Hoke on Jan. 1, 2013. Like the Citrus Bowl, the Outback Bowl would match Michigan up with an SEC team.
|Potential Outback Bowl matchups
LSU vs. Michigan: The Les Miles vs. Michigan storyline would give this matchup a little extra steam, but LSU was dreadful during the second half of the season. Three straight blowouts at the hands of Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss proved that if you can stop running back Leonard Fournette, you can roll past the Tigers.
Mississippi State vs. Michigan: If this matchup brings back bad memories for Michigan fans, that’s because Mississippi State was responsible for putting the nail in the coffin to send Rich Rodriguez out of Ann Arbor. It took Michigan three seasons to make a bowl game under Rich Rod, and when it did, the Bulldogs smashed the Wolverines 52-14 in the Gator Bowl.
Georgia vs. Michigan: I really don’t see this happening, because Georgia would have to be selected above some of the much more impressive teams in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs did finish second in the East. Though Georgia won nine games and reportedly hired Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt, this team might be a bit of a mess in the bowl game.
The only other potential landing spot for Michigan would likely be the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Holiday Bowl is the final top-tier bowl game with a Big Ten tie, and it would give Michigan a chance to play a Pac-12 team.
|Potential Holiday Bowl matchups
USC vs. Michigan: USC put up a bit of a fight against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but the Trojans finished the disappointing season with five losses. At times, like in a runaway win over Utah, USC’s elite talent shone through and it looked nearly unbeatable. But Pat Hayden’s crew is very hit-or-miss, especially after a month of preparation.
Oregon vs. Michigan: This is definitely not a matchup Michigan wants to see. With Vernon Adams back healthy at quarterback, Oregon’s offense is rolling and the Ducks are extremely dangerous. Michigan would have to win a shootout to win this matchup, a tall task against a team like Oregon.
The College Football Selection Show will air on ESPN at 12:30pm Eastern time today, beginning with the playoff teams and pairings. The rest of the New Year’s Six bowl pairings will be announced along with the rest of the Top 25. Michigan will know its destination and opponent by this evening, so stay tuned for a preview.