Resurgent U-M, Florida set for Citrus Bowl clash

Posted at 5:30 PM, Dec 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-31 17:30:17-05
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Michigan and Florida both entered the 2015 season hoping to revive storied programs that had begun to look more pedestrian than they were accustomed to.
Enter Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh and Gators coach Jim McElwain, who both brought their own style and approach to the sidelines in their first seasons on the job.
But after each experienced disappointing endings to the regular season -- a lopsided loss to rival Ohio State for Harbaugh and a Southeastern Conference championship game loss to Alabama for the McElwain -- Friday's Citrus Bowl has special significance.
"It's been a heck of a good year," Harbaugh said. "Personally, I would look at this as the best year I've had in football -- if we win this game."
No.  17 Michigan (9-3) is looking to notch its first bowl victory since 2012. No. 19 Florida (10-3) is hoping to post consecutive bowl victories since 2012.
Though he might have had better records as a coach in both the NFL and at his previously college coaching job at Stanford, Harbaugh said there is something special about doing it with this particular group.
"We just started," Harbaugh said. "And every single day, we'd get up and work and see if we couldn't make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than it was today.  That remains the expectation...When I look back over this year, it's been a joy to coach this team.  I love the players.  A great bunch of guys.
"To get this win, to get the 10th win and be Citrus Bowl champions, that would make it the best year I've had in football, in my opinion. "
While McElwain's approach and demeanor is certainly more playful than Harbaugh's sometimes fiery antics on the field, no one can argue with the results he's produced in his first season.
Even coming off of the setback in the SEC title game, McElwain said his team's enthusiasm has remained high the past month.
"It's a choice," McElwain said. "In a first year, I think that that outstanding thing is we got a taste of it."
Here are some other things to watch for in Friday's Citrus Bowl:
READY TO GO? The bowl availability of Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock was in question after he was forced to leave the Wolverines' loss to Ohio State on Nov. 28. Rudock had his left shoulder slammed into the ground and did not return. He said upon his arrival in Orlando this week that he felt better and didn't have the same restrictions he did right after the injury.
MISSING PIECES: The Gators will be without both starting right tackle Mason Halter and backup linebacker Anthony Harrell on Friday. Both players are redshirt seniors, so their college careers are over Halter, a graduate transfer from Fordham, started each of Florida's 13 games this season. Harrell has played in every game this season, mostly on special teams. Without Halter, the Gators are expected to start freshman Fred Johnson at right tackle. Johnson made one start this season, against Vanderbilt on Nov. 7.
STATE CONNECTIONS: Florida has two players on its roster from the state of Michigan, while Michigan has 10 on is squad from Florida. Florida offensive lineman Cam Dillard and Michigan safety Shaun Austin played at Plymouth High School in Michigan for three years. The Gators' Bryan Cox Jr., Richerd Desir-Jones and Jordan Scarlett were teammates with the Wolverines' John O'Korn and Jake Rudock at Florida's St. Thomas Aquinas High School.