Jan 02, 2020

Saban and Alabama roll again while Michigan’s search for next signature win continues

By Ainslie Lee, Florida Citrus sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — The coaches in the 2020 Vrbo Citrus Bowl each came into Wednesday’s meeting at Camping World Stadium with resumes that would be the envy of most in the profession.

But while Alabama’s Nick Saban refuses to loosen his grip on the dynasty he has built in Tuscaloosa, the search continues for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh’s next big win away from home.

And after lots of traffic on State Road 408, an iconic playing of the band Alabama’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and four quarters of football, it was red and white confetti that floated above a bowl of Central Florida citrus following the Crimson Tide’s 35-16 win over the Wolverines on New Year’s Day.

As Saban took his black champions hat and cocked it sideways from the postgame trophy stage, the college football world was reminded that the firestorm of a man in Tuscaloosa enjoys winning.

Just hours before, the same white-polo-clad coach Gronk-spiked his headset in disgust as his offense committed a false start ahead of a fourth-and-1.

“It was more fun throwing the oranges,” Saban joked with the media following his team’s win.

With the victory over Michigan, the Crimson Tide have tallied nine straight 11-win seasons — the longest streak in college football history.

“I’m very proud of this team for ,” Saban said. “I’m really proud of the seniors who represented this program and won, I don’t know, 53 games or something in their careers here and really represented the university in a first-class way.

“And hopefully we’ve created some value for them that they can be more successful in life because they were involved in the program.”

On the opposing sideline, the demeanor was much different.

After a strong first half that saw Michigan take a lead into the locker room, Harbaugh and his Wolverines watched their chance at a win slip away as Alabama’s defense clamped down in the final two quarters.

Instead of a fresh cap bearing the word “champs,” Harbaugh exited the playing surface at Camping World Stadium with the same hat he entered it with — a blue cap with a maize “M”.

Harbaugh hasn’t missed a bowl since his arrival in Ann Arbor in 2015, but in five attempts, the Wolverines have only come away just a single postseason victory — a win over the Florida Gators in Michigan’s last appearance in Orlando on New Year’s Day 2016.

During this visit to Camping World Stadium, Harbaugh wasn’t as fortunate.

Following the loss, Harbaugh’s meeting with the media was brief. But he didn’t hesitate to remind everyone at home of the caliber of a team they had just faced – and stayed competitive with for three quarters of the game. Michigan even led at halftime.

“I think their level of excellence has been at the highest level,” Harbaugh said of the Crimson Tide. “I think Coach Saban deserves a great share of that credit, along with the program that they’ve built. It’s at the highest level.”

And that level of excellence doesn’t appear to be deteriorating, even if Saban and the Crimson Tide missed the playoffs or the BCS for the first time since 2011 — the team’s last bowl visit to Orlando. It’s hard not to wonder where Alabama would be if they kept their starting quarterback all year. No excuses, of course, but 11 wins with that kind of setback is fairly rare in college football.

Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines’ search for their next big win away from the confines of the Big House continues.

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