Michigan Wolverines (9-3 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Florida Gators (10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Date/Time: January 1/1pm ET
Where: Citrus Bowl Stadium
by Evergreen, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -4/FLA +4
Over/Under Total: 41
Happy Holidays everyone and by holiday, I really mean Happy New Years Day. New Years Day is a great time to shake off the sins of the night before in the best way possible, by watching an inordinate amount of college football. So, order some wings, maybe grab a few more beers and kick back as the best single day of Bowl season is here. One of the many great matchups on New Years features a couple of blue-blood powers squaring off as the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators tangle in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. The teams are still a bit off from their traditional high perches but both seem to be trending in the right direction under first-year head coaches. A win for either school will not only finish up this season on a high note but also give a momentum boost heading into 2016.
No matter what the records have been over recent years, Michigan and Florida arent short on talent and this one looks to be a close contest with the online betting sites listing the Wolverines as four point favorites. The over/under total is noticeably low at 41 but that does seem appropriate given both schools are top-11 when it comes to total yards and points allowed. Florida is 5-1 against the spread in their last six bowl games and 4-1 ATS in their last five against Big Ten foes. Michigan has been a good recovery team, winning 5-of-6 against the spread in their last six games following a straight-up loss.
No one was really sure what to expect during Jim Harbaughs first year at Michigan and most thought it was going to be another tough campaign after the Wolverines dropped a 17-24 decision to open the season at Utah. That proved to be a pretty good loss as the Utes finished the season as a top-20 team and Michigan lost only two more during the season, a heartbreaker against Michigan State and a season-ending defeat against Ohio State. Both losses were damaging to the psyche given the opponent and style of defeat but the fact remains that Michigan is suddenly better under Harbaugh, especially on defense. The Wolverines are a disciplined, team-oriented defense that makes the opponent work for every yard and seldom gives up big plays. Michigan limits opposing passing games to less than 160 yards on average, good for 3rd best in all of college football. Given that Florida enters averaging just 210 yards passing per contest, one would think that Michigan is primed for another solid defensive performance.
There were plenty of question marks surrounding a Gators program that dismissed Will Muschamp last year but Jim McElwain put the team back on track and became the first Florida coach to win 10 games in his first season. The Gators jumped out to a 6-0 but stumbled to a 7-point loss at LSU. The next month saw four wins for Florida but the team was clearly not hitting on all cylinders, needing overtime to beat Florida Atlantic at home. Florida was pushed around in a 27-2 loss to Florida State and also looked overmatched in a 29-15 SEC Championship game loss to Alabama to finish the regular season. The offense, or lack thereof, has been the culprit when Florida has struggled and that is always a bit puzzling when you consider how many quality skill position players are in-house at any Florida program. The Gators finished the season ranked 110th in total yards per game and averaged just 24.5 points per contest, good for 98th in the country. The Will Grier suspension further limited the production on offense for the Gators and it appears that some serious work will need to be done during the bowl practice schedule if Florida is going to be successful against a tough Michigan defense.
Jake Rudock has proven to be a steady playmaker at QB for Michigan, completing nearly 65% of his passes, throwing for 17 touchdowns and adding four more scores on the ground. There isnt a lot of flash to the Michigan offense but Rudock has kept them of track for the most part and let the running game control the tempo. DeVeon Smith leads the Wolverines with 644 rushing yards and six ground scores but just about anyone can tote the ball as nine different Michigan players have notched at least one rushing touchdown. All but one of Rudocks passing touchdowns have come to either Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson or TE Jake Butt. That trio is a bit short on flash but give Michigan enough playmaking ability to keep the defense honest and every key third down reception helps give Michigan the time of possession edge that they use to wear down opponents.
Treon Harris is at the helm for Florida and he has been a bit erratic since taking over, completing just 51% of his passes for nine touchdowns against five interceptions. He is a run threat however and his shiftiness will need to be accounted for by Michigan both on the planned keep and the scramble to throw. Kelvin Taylor has been a bit of a plodder while averaging just 4.0 yards per carry but he does have 13 rushing scores to lead Florida so look for him to get his chances if the Gators get the ball in close. Florida hasnt quite found a consistent presence at receiver but six different pass catchers have at least two touchdowns and Michigan will need to look out for Antonio Callaway who enters the week averaging 20.1 yards per reception.
This one really does look like it will come down to which team can get something consistent going on offense. Both teams have the potential to shut the other down so field position, turnovers and the kicking game come into play as well. It is odd that any Florida team would struggle to move the ball as much as this team has given the recruits but the sample size is big enough to suggest the Gators are sufficiently flawed on offense and that will not likely change in a drastic way come gameday. Harbaugh has his brand of magic working already in Ann Arbor, in fact, he is closing in on securing the #1 ranked recruiting class for 2016 so it appears that the Michigan needle is firmly pointing up despite the Michigan State loss and the clunker against Ohio State. For the first time in many years, the Big Ten appears to be the equal to the SEC, at least at the top of the conference, so Michigan is rightly the favorite here. Florida won too many games in what turned out to be an unimpressive manner that you have to wonder what, if anything, will improve this time around and that really makes me think Michigan is the better bet. There are an awful lot of scenarios that have this game ending with Michigan up four points in my opinion so maybe shop around a bit to see if you can find a 3.5 point line as we get a bit closer to the game but ultimately, I am taking Michigan in what I think will be a tough-fought but comfortable win. Florida is going to have a difficult day moving the ball and that puts their defense in the position to be the more fatigued at the end. A three or four point Michigan lead at the half gets pushed another three or four points by the end and the Wolverines come out on top by a 23-16 margin.
Evergreens Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan
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