ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s last game for the 2015 season will be its first of 2017.
Friday’s Citrus Bowl matchup between UF and Michigan is a preview of the 2017 Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
In their first year at new schools, Florida’s Jim McElwain and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh helped spark turnaround seasons for two of college football’s most prestigious programs.
Now the coaching veterans will face each other for the first time.
Here’s what you need to know about the Citrus Bowl:
No. 14 Michigan Wolverines (9-3) vs. No. 19 Florida Gators (10-3)
Kickoff: Friday, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Weather: 85 degrees, 20 percent chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Michigan -4
By the numbers
0 — The number of third downs Florida converted in its last game, a 29-15 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship. The Gators were 0-for-11 in third-down conversions, which dropped their ranking in that category to 102nd nationally. It could be another rough day against the Michigan defense, which ranks No. 3 in opponent third-down conversion rate.
15 — If running back Kelvin Taylor rushes for 15 yards and and wide receiver Antonio Callaway has 15 yards receiving, they will each reach milestones for the season. Taylor will become only the second UF player since 2004 to rush for 1,000 yards, and Callaway will set the school record for most receiving yards by a true freshman.
72 — The average number of points scored in the only two matchups between Florida and Michigan. The Wolverines won both games, defeating the Gators 41-35 in the 2008 Capital One Bowl and 38-30 in the 2003 Outback Bowl. Michigan is currently averaging 30.6 points per game. UF is at 24.5 for the season, but just 17.9 since Treon Harris became the starting quarterback.
Storylines to watch
Defense on display
Friday figures to be a low-scoring affair, as Michigan and Florida rank fourth and sixth in the FBS in total defense, respectively. They both rank in the top 10 nationally in a few other categories as well. This game also features two defenses that were run this season by UF’s current and former coordinator. Florida’s Geoff Collins took over for D.J. Durkin, who spent 2015 with Michigan but was named head coach at Maryland after the regular season.
Can Treon Harris find success?
Harris has struggled at quarterback when facing the better defenses on Florida’s schedule. After completing just 37 percent of his passes in the loss to Alabama, things won’t be get any easier for him against Michigan, which has the nation’s No. 3 pass defense. McElwain said Harris needs to “cut the ball loose” and do a better job of finding open receivers in the bowl game.
Big play Callaway
The Gators will need their freshman sensation to deliver more big plays Friday. Callaway certainly has a knack for it. In his last outing, he had an 85-yard punt return touchdown — the longest in SEC championship history — and caught a 46-yard pass. Callaway leads the team in receiving with 603 yards on 30 catches and has eight receptions of 30 or more yards in 2015.
Several of the coaches and players at Florida and Michigan have a history with each other. UF’s Doug Nussmeier was the offensive coordinator at Michigan last year and coached with current defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was a UF assistant from 2005-2007. Michigan’s offensive coordinator, Tim Drevno, and McElwain coached together at Montana State in 1995. McElwain, Nussmeier and Florida running backs coach Tim Skipper all worked with Wolverines special teams coordinator John Baxter at Fresno State. UF center Cam Dillard and Michigan safety Shaun Austin played together at Plymouth High School in Canton, Mich., and Florida’s Bryan Cox, Jr., Richerd Desir-Jones and Jordan Scarlett were teammates with Michigan’s John O’Korn and Jake Rudock at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas.
Prediction: Michigan 20, Florida 14
With Florida’s recent struggles on offense, points could be hard to come by against an elite Michigan defense. The Gators have had two weeks to prepare for this game and address their offensive issues, which may help them have a better showing on that side of the ball.
UF’s defense will keep it close and should be the toughest test Michigan has faced all season. But if the Gators can’t sustain drives offensively and make plays in the passing game, another strong defensive effort will likely go to waste.