The 2016 Capital One Orange Bowl is one of the more anticipated match-ups of the bowl season between sixth-ranked Michigan and No. 11 Florida State.
It is safe to say that while neither of these teams wanted, or planned to be, outside of the College Football Playoff at the start of the season, both teams will still be more than motivated enough to go out and try to capture an Orange Bowl victory to capture solid momentum heading into next season.
Florida State entered the year as one of the handful of favorites to win the ACC, but after losses to Louisville, Clemson, and North Carolina, the Seminoles slipped mightily at the hand of the expectations that they were dealt. Despite having three losses through the middle of October, the Seminoles were able to finish the season strong behind increasingly improved quarterback play out of redshirt-freshman Deondre Francois.
Francois finished a successful freshman season by throwing for 3,128 yards and 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions. In addition, Francois completed over 60% of his passes in his first season under center, as he looks like he has the potential to become the next great Florida State quarterback. There will be a great deal of pressure on his shoulders on Friday evening as he and the passing offense goes up against one of the top handful of defenses in college football in Michigan, led by defensive coordinator Don Brown.
While Michigan’s defense is prolific against the pass, the unit is even better against the run. The Wolverines have only allowed an average of 116.8 yards per game this season, and will need to be on their p’s and q’s again on Friday night, as the Seminoles possess one of the nation’s best running backs in Dalvin Cook.
Cook is likely playing in his final collegiate game, although he will not officially declare his intentions for the NFL Draft until after the bowl game. Cook has rushed for 1,620 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year, and his strong running ability that he displayed in the final six weeks of the season was a major reason why Florida State finished the season wrong.
Make no mistake, this Michigan defense will likely load the box in an attempt to stop Dalvin Cook. In my estimation, the Wolverines’ best path to victory will be by forcing mistakes out of the redshirt-freshman quarterback, Francois, pushing him to throw the football after stopping the elusive Dalvin Cook. If they can find a way to do this, Michigan will have an excellent opportunity to win the game. However, if Francois and Cook are able to get rolling early, the onus will be on a Michigan offense that while decent, has not been nearly as explosive as their Orange Bowl counterpart in Florida State.
Offensively, Michigan prides themselves on running the football with a bevy of backs, to open up the passing game for their game-managing quarterback Wilton Speight. The two primary backs for the Wolverines, De’Veon Smith and Chris Evans, have combined for 1,375 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. They both provide the offense with a healthy mix of thunder and lightning when they run the ball, helping the offense take on different dimensions when they are subbed in and out of the lineup.
At quarterback, Wilton Speight has been solid, doing everything that has been asked of him at the quarterback position. He has thrown for 2,375 yards and 23 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions on the season. At receiver, Speight looks primarily in the direction of Amara Darboh, who is the Wolverines’ leading receiver with 826 yards and seven touchdowns on the campaign. Michigan’s second-leading receiver is tight end Jake Butt, who has 518 yards on the season and four touchdowns. Butt has been utilized heavily in the play-action attack, which is used frequently in the team’s pro-style offense.
When it comes down to it, the match-up of the game will be between Florida State’s Deondre Francois and the Michigan secondary. As good as FSU’s Dalvin Cook has been at running back, it is difficult to envision him having a huge game running the football given the success that Michigan’s rushing defense has had this season. The stat in my mind to watch is 70 yards and two touchdowns. If Cook hits that mark, I believe the Seminoles will be right in the game late with an opportunity to win. The path to victory for Florida State is getting enough of a running game going to open up the passing of Francois. A touchdown pass or two out of Francois, and perhaps more importantly, no turnovers deep in his own territory, will give Florida State a great chance.
Michigan’s offense has been solid, but the Florida State defense has gone up against offenses more talented than the Wolverines’ throughout the year. Getting stops should not be a problem here for the Seminoles, but if their own offense doesn’t produce, it could be a long game for Seminoles fans.
Ultimately, I believe that Michigan may be a bit over-hyped as seven-point favorites. Florida State has a heck of a chance to pull of the upset in front of a FSU-friendly crowd in South Florida, and I think they will behind the play of Deondre Francois.
Michigan 24 Florida State 20