Despite Rankings, Citrus Bowl to Feature Powerhouses Alabama, Michigan

Christopher Walsh

Even though the University of Alabama football team didn't make the College Football Playoff for the first time, the Crimson Tide will still have a high-profile matchup for tits bowl game. 

Alabama will face Michigan in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. 

“I think that this is an opportunity for us to sort of try to re-establish the standard that we want to play to," Nick Saban said during a teleconference with reporters. "I think when you play against a great opponent that certainly enhances that opportunity. 

"It’s an opportunity for a lot of players on our team to have time to practice and prepare for the future, and that’s certainly what we’re focused on right now is the future. This is an outstanding opportunity for them.”

This will be the fifth meeting between the programs, with each having won twice.

The most recent was the first time 2012 season opener in Arlington, Texas, won by Alabama 41-14.

The last time Alabama played in the Citrus Bowl was the three-loss 2010 season (when the game was known as the Capital One Bowl). It crushed Michigan State, 49-7.

“I certainly think it was the first step in the right direction," Saban said. "I thought the players responded well to that season, which was a bit of a disappointment for us, as well. I thought the players played well in that game. They prepared well for the game, everybody played in the game and I think it sort of set the table for what we were going to do the next season.”

Michigan (9-3) has played five ranked opponents this season, which accounted for all three of its losses. It edged then No.14-Iowa 10-3 and No. 8 Notre Dame 4514. 

But it came up short at No. 13 Wisconsin, 35-14, lost a close game at Penn State, 28-21 and was pummeled by Ohio State 56-27. 

"They’ve set the bar for college football over the last many years," Jim Harbaugh said in a conference call with reports. "The model of success. Credit to Nick Saban and his coaches. 

"I’ve already started to look at them. Really, really great on offense. I think they’re averaging somewhere around 48 points a game. Their two offensive tackles look to be guys that could be top-20 picks in the draft. Three, well, a lot of good receivers. This could be the best group of receivers I’ve seen maybe ever. Three top picks, probably three first-round picks in that group. Two really talented running backs. Very impressed with Mac Jones."