Florida State’s national championship hopes were finished back on the first of October.
Jimbo Fisher says he’s proud his players didn’t give up on their season.
Michigan looked to be a serious title contender although a 14-13 loss at Iowa last month helped derail the Wolverines’ championship dreams.
An overtime loss in the regular season finale to hated rival Ohio State completely ended Michigan’s chances of advancing to the college football final four and sent the Wolverines to South Florida and a date with the Seminoles in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Friday night.
Like Fisher and the Seminoles, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh says his team has something to play for — even if their minds are at a playoff bowl game a few thousand miles away.
“For many of our senior players that are going through their last game at Michigan, it's a last time to be with your team, to connect with your teammates,” Harbaugh said at a pregame media gathering in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday morning.
“This team will never be the same team again after this ballgame. Young players and those players that are continuing at the University of Michigan, playing for the Wolverines, this is a chance to continue to be with their teammates and build the most important relationship that you have on a football team is with your teammates.
“Just taking advantage of that tremendous opportunity is the way we've been approaching it.”
Michigan (10-2, ranked No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings) seem to be taking this trip to South Florida more seriously than past participants — even if Harbaugh bristles at the term “business approach.”
The Wolverines are flying back to Michigan following Friday’s game and have not made trips to the beach instead hanging out at their ‘presidential’ golf resort headquarters in Doral.
“As it continues, it's been a great year,” Harbaugh said. “I'm blessed to be able to do what we do, and tremendously fortunate to have this opportunity to be out there on the field and see the practices come together over the last weeks and get ready to play. Get ready to emotionally, physically watch the team to prepare to play their game.
“You're consumed mainly by your preparations, by doing your duties, coaching the team and putting them in the best possible position that you can as a coach, but definitely as we described in detail here, there's sentimental emotions that have been with us and will be with us. It's been good, real good.”
As for Florida State, the Seminoles (9-3) appear quite comfortable in this element.
Not only is this trip a homecoming for a number of players — it would be fitting for former Miami Central star Dalvin Cook to play what could be his final collegiate game in Miami Gardens — but the Seminoles appear to be genuinely happy to be here.
With all the talk about college bowl games being diminished under the new playoff system, Fisher opened his media comments describing how, as a kid, he would sneak off and stay up late to watch Florida State battle Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl classics in 1980 and ‘81.
“If you're keeping score, it's not meaningless,” Fisher said. “You play your tails off. It's competition. That's your job. That's what you're supposed to do. I don't get the meaningless part, either. There's no such thing as meaningless bowl games.”
And after a 3-2 start with a lopsided loss at Louisville and a heartbreaking home defeat to North Carolina, even the most rabid of FSU fan would have found it hard to believe the Seminoles would end up in a major bowl playing a team once ranked second in the playoff standings just weeks before.
“You know, people asked us at the beginning of the year when we were 3-2: ‘What do you have to play for’?” Fisher said.
“Well, this is what you have to play for. Just because you lose a game here and there doesn't mean your purpose —and you always grind to be the best you can be — but things can be achieved.
“That's why I'm very proud of this football team and what they've been able to accomplish and being able to come to the Orange Bowl, one of the great bowl games ever.”
Hard Rock Stadium has been remodeled and renamed, yet it has been a place FSU has enjoyed playing in over the years.
This season, after all, was turned around after the Seminoles bounced back from a 13-0 deficit to the then-unbeaten Hurricanes and rallied for a 20-19 victory.
The 2016 win over the Hurricanes makes FSU 5-0 in its past five trips to Miami Gardens — including a 2013 Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois.
The Seminoles are 26-16-2 all-time in bowl games and 4-5 in Orange Bowl games.
Florida State won its first national title under coach Bobby Bowden in 1993 at the Orange Bowl.
“Now the key is, you've got to finish,” said Fisher, whose team has won its past four after losing 37-34 to Clemson but has dropped its past two bowl games since beating Auburn for the 2013 national title.
“We've always got to finish the season; we always want to finish on a great note. We've got to go play well. We've got a tremendous opponent in front of us. Michigan is one of the brand names in college football. They had a tremendous season. They could very easily have been in the playoff. ...
“We're going to have our hands full.”
FSU AT HOME IN MIAMI GARDENS
▪ 2010: FSU 45, Miami 17
▪ 2012: FSU 33, Miami 20
▪ 2013: FSU 31, Northern Illinois 10
▪ 2014: FSU 30, Miami 26
▪ 2016: FSU 20, Miami 19