Breaking down the bowl: Gator BowlWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
We have reached the end of the regular season in college football, and the postseason is upon us. For collegiate football that means bowl games. Grant it there are plenty of teams (70 to be exact) that make it into a postseason bowl game, but three of our local teams made it into bowl games including Michigan.
Gator Bowl – Michigan vs. Mississippi State
1/1 – Everbank Stadium – Jacksonville, FL
Michigan (7-5) became bowl eligible after consecutive seasons of failing to qualify for postseason play in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first two seasons in Ann Arbor. Mississippi State comes in on the heels of an 8-4 season in coach Dan Mullen’s second season with the Bulldogs.
This game won’t really pique the interest of the national fan base, but locally the story lines that have dogged Michigan will once again play a major role in the lead up to this New Year’s Day game.
Is this Rich Rodriguez’s last game as head coach at Michigan? Will the Wolverines’ defense get better between now and the bowl game? Will Denard Robinson be able to regain his early season form?
It is ironic how Michigan centric the storylines are at this point, and that is a bonus for MSU.
The teams are pretty even on paper. Both teams had winning records at home and on the road. Neither team’s conference record was all the impressive, although the Bulldogs did almost beat the Auburn Tigers, who are playing for the national championship.
Both teams run the spread offense, but the Bulldogs favor a more power attack than a finesse game. Their rushing attack is led by junior Vick Ballard. Ballard ran for almost 900 yards and 16 TD this season.
The maize and blue’s defense has been awful almost the entire season, especially to round out the regular season. The Wolverines gave up 258 yards rushing to Ohio State and over 300 yards to Wisconsin in back to back games.
As always, Michigan will rely on its dynamic offense led by the aforementioned Denard Robinson. The Big Ten’s offensive player of the year will have to have a huge day in order for Michigan to win.
The early favorite for the game was Mississippi State by six points, and that might be accurate; but the Wolverines have so much more to play for this bowl season.
The fact that Michigan may be exploring a coaching change has been one of the worst kept secret in sports.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has insisted he will not evaluate Rodriguez and his performance until after the bowl game, but only the naïve would believe that is true. Brandon and the Wolverine brass have been discussing a possible coaching change for months now, but it is possible they have not made up their mind.
After last week’s story of an emotional breakdown at the Michigan team banquet and vocal support from his players, Rodriguez does have his team’s backing even if not from the athletic office.
Most pundits think nothing short of an impressive win over the Bulldogs will save Rodriguez’s job, and despite whatever corny joke the Ohio State fan in me wants to throw out here, Michigan players can read and have seen the headlines and innuendo surrounding the fate of their coach.
If these players are being truthful and they want Rodriguez back as head coach, it will take a strong showing on their part in the Gator Bowl, and it makes this team’s bowl preparations even more important than ever.
Yes there has been improvement this season, but the status quo is not going to get it done just like it didn’t against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.
If this team wants Rodriguez to stay a “Michigan man”, it will largely rest on their shoulders.
Prediction: Michigan 45 MSU 38
Chris Schmidbauer is sports editor for Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com. He is also the co-host of the “Odd Couple Sports Show” on Fox Sports Radio 1230 WCWA and can be heard every weekday from at 10 a.m. to noon. He can also be seen weekly on the “Friday Night Frenzy Tailgate Show” on NBC 24’s America One.