Date: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET on ABC
Location: Orlando, Fla. | Orlando Citrus Bowl
Best moment: Beating Vanderbilt to clinch the SEC Eastern Division for the first time since 2009 was great, but Florida’s best game of the season came when the Gators completely dismantled then-No. 3 Ole Miss 38-10. Florida was fresh off a thrilling comeback win over Tennessee, and Ole Miss had already beaten Alabama. The Rebels had every reason to win, but Florida quarterback Will Grier threw four first-half touchdown passes and the Gators forced four turnovers on the night.
Lowest moment: Without a doubt, Florida’s lowest moment of the season came when it limped out of the Swamp after a 27-2 loss to archrival Florida State to close out the regular season. With its offense continuing to go in reverse during an ugly month of November, the Gators managed a season-low 3.3 yards per play and went 5-for-17 on third down and 0-for-3 in the red zone. The game actually seemed out of reach when FSU was up 10-0 at halftime.
Key player: While he isn’t Florida’s best player, if the offense is going to move at all, quarterback Treon Harris has to make plays. Running back Kelvin Taylor has been solid, but his rushing ability is essentially a non-factor if Harris is bottled up by the defense. Harris is most effective when he can move around the pocket and see the field clearly. A one-dimensional Florida offense is a recipe for disaster.
Motivation level: Well, the Gators already surpassed expectations just by making it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, but this team shouldn’t be satisfied with winning a bad division. Florida hasn’t received much respect because of its offense, and winning a bowl would give the Gators some nice momentum going into the offseason. Plus, first-year coach Jim McElwain would probably see a nice uptick in recruiting with a bowl win.
-- Edward Aschoff
Best moment: Michigan’s 38-0 win over Northwestern, its third straight shutout, showed this team’s potential. With suffocating defense and scores on offense and special teams, anything looked possible in Jim Harbaugh’s maiden season. The victory brought Michigan to 5-1, and placed them back in the top tier of the conference.
Lowest moment: A week later, the Wolverines seemed destined for a special season with a 23-21 lead in the closing seconds against Michigan State. That peak became a valley in a snap. The infamous botched punt that the Spartans returned for a touchdown put a damper on Michigan’s hot start and was an emotional uppercut for a fanbase tired of losing to its in-state rival.
Key player: Jabrill Peppers can affect a game whenever he’s on the field, which is almost always. The Big Ten freshman of the year played in all three phases, and his role is likely to expand into the bowl season and beyond.
Motivation level: A good matchup gives Michigan reason to be excited. After missing a bowl game last year and ending its regular season on a sour note against Ohio State, this team should be eager to try to wash the taste of a loss out of its mouth.
-- Dan Murphy