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It’s another big week in Orlando as Bowl week comes to town.
At 5.30pm on Tuesday 29th December, North Carolina (Tar Heels) and Baylor (Bears) will face each other for the first time ever in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. It will also be the first time ever that both teams have played in Orlando and number 17 seed Baylor will be up against it, as they will be without their top two quarterbacks (Seth Russell, Jarrett Stidham), the team’s leading rusher (Shock Linwood) and leading receiver (Corey Coleman).
The Bears started the season ranked as high as fourth in the preseason polls and the Bears were even considered a favorite to capture another Big 12 championship to earn a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff. Everything appeared to be going as planned, but after starting the season 7-0, Seth Russell went down with a season-ending neck injury during the team’s win over Iowa State on Oct. 24.
Number #10 Bears then called Freshman Jarrett Stidham into action and he led Baylor’s offense over the next three games before suffering a broken ankle in a win over Oklahoma State on Nov. 14 that would knock him out for the rest of the season.
Unable to withstand the spate of crushing injuries at quarterback, Baylor then went 1-3 down the stretch, losing to Texas on Dec. 5 in a game that would have sent the team to the Sugar Bowl had it won in Waco.
North Carolina has no such uncertainty at quarterback and they have a potent force with Marquise Williams accounting for 32 scores and almost 3,700 total yards. The Bowl game will come on the back end of a breakthrough season for their program and its coach, Larry Fedora, who began 2015 on the hot seat and ended it with a seven-year contract extension and a hefty raise. At Bank of America Stadium, the Heels were 0-2. Everywhere else they were unbeaten. After dropping its season opener to South Carolina as well as the ACC Championship Game to Clemson the team has gone unbeaten. It’s been a momentous season for Carolina, which has long been one of the ACC’s sleeping giants, as Fedora has awoken the beast and a win on Tuesday night will give the team a 12 game winning season for the first time in school history.
Perhaps the game that most Floridians are looking forward to is the New Year’s Day clash between Michigan and Florida.
17th-ranked University of Michigan football team square off against the 19th-ranked Florida Gators in the 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on Friday, January 1, 2016. This will be the Wolverines fifth appearance in the Citrus Bowl.
The game pitting the Wolverines (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) against the Gators (10-3, 7-1 SEC) will kick off at 1 p.m. EST at the Citrus Bowl and the match up will be televised nationally by ABC.
U-M will be seeking a double-digit win total for the 27th time in the 136-year history of the program. After dropping the season opener at Utah, the Wolverines rattled off five straight victories, including three consecutive shutouts over No. 22 BYU, Maryland and Northwestern. Michigan rebounded from a last-second loss to No. 7 Michigan State with four consecutive victories in Big Ten play before a season-ending setback to No. 8 Ohio State. The Wolverines have been ranked in the top 25 of the national polls for the past 11 weeks and list 14th in the College Football Playoff rankings.
The Gators, led by first-year head coach Jim McElwain, won the SEC Eastern Division championship and played No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game falling, 29-15, to the Crimson Tide. Listed No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Gators’ only setbacks on the year came against No. 6 LSU, No. 13 Florida State and the playoff-bound Crimson Tide. UF is led by RB Kelvin Taylor, WR Antonio Callaway and WR Brandon Powell on offense and All-America candidate DB Vernon Hargreaves III on defense. The Wolverines have earned victories against the Gators in both previous bowl game match-ups: 2003 Outback Bowl and 2008 Capital One Citrus Bowl.
The Wolverines have compiled a 3-1 record in their previous four appearances in the Citrus Bowl. Michigan defeated Arkansas (45-31) in the 1999 game and Auburn (31-28) in the 2001 game and lost to Tennessee (45-17) in the 2002 game. The program’s last appearance in the Citrus Bowl came in the 2008 game, a 41-35 victory over the Florida Gators in Lloyd Carr’s final game as head coach.