Quarterback Wilton Speight says Michigan's approach to the Orange Bowl created by head coach Jim Harbaugh gives the Wolverines "the best opportunity to win.” ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. — When Michigan’s team plane touched down Christmas night at Miami International Airport, it didn’t signal the start of a holiday vacation at the beach.
The Wolverines traveled to South Florida to practice and win the Orange Bowl. They aren’t spending the night Dec. 30, choosing instead to fly back to Ann Arbor in the wee hours of the morning.
Don’t expect many side trips to South Beach — as in zero.
“I’d much rather win a game than go down there and enjoy a vacation in Florida,” junior center Mason Cole said.
On the team’s first full day in South Florida on Monday, sunshine and temperatures in the 80s greeted players and staff at Barry University, their practice headquarters for the week. Michigan practiced from 4 to 6 p.m. before participating in a charity dinner in Doral, Fla.
“Preparation has been good,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said about the team’s practices in Ann Arbor. “[I] feel good about where it’s at. We’re not there yet, we’re going to need good work down here. We need to get sharper and we need to get as dialed-in as we possibly can. Focus has to be great and go out and play the best game we can.”
The theme isn’t far removed from last year’s Citrus Bowl itinerary. Harbaugh opts to limit outside distractions at bowl games, with the bare minimum required for players. The Orange Bowl only organizes a handful of events, leaving the teams with time to fill on their own accord.
But that doesn’t mean they left their sandals, sunscreen, and swim trunks in frigid Michigan. The team’s palatial resort — Trump National Doral, spread over 800 acres, includes a spa, multiple pools, and four golf courses — offers plenty of options for extracurricular activities.
“I don’t think anybody approaches a bowl game like coach Harbaugh and the rest of his staff,” sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight said. “I know we’ll be focused and ready to go just like last year.”
Jake Butt said the preparations in South Florida have an air of mystery to them because of Harbaugh’s emphasis on uncovering every possible advantage.
“You never know what coach Harbaugh has in store,” the senior tight end said. “But we’re just going to follow his lead. We have to use all the preparation time that we have to get ready for [Florida State].”
When asked why Harbaugh’s and business-like approach to bowl games is good — Michigan has a curfew each night — Speight responded, “Because it puts you in the best opportunity to win.”
“As long as coach Harbaugh is here, any bowl game we ever play in will be a 100 percent business trip,” Butt said. “You won’t see a lot of messing around. I can guarantee you that. It’ll be that way again this year.”
Chris Wormley, preparing for his final game at Michigan, is taking part in his fourth bowl game. The Toledo native said that under Brady Hoke free time was more evident. That’s not the case under Harbaugh, which Wormley readily supports, adding that temptation in Phoenix, Orlando, and Miami can lead to trouble. Nothing good happens after midnight, after all.
Regimented schedules — breakfast, meetings, practice — contribute to a steady environment, similar to a typical game week.
“It paid off for us [last year],” Wormley said. “We got our sleep when we needed to, we practiced hard, had some down time, and we beat [Florida] by 34 points.”
A caveat to this week’s storylines is Michigan can tally win No. 11, which has only happened nine times in the history of the program.
For a collection of players who experienced some of Michigan’s lowest moments, continuing the progression of a program rebirth with an 11-win season would provide a capstone and proof of grit.
“You see a lot of teams treat the bowl game and view the trips as a vacation,” senior linebacker Ben Gedeon said. “But coach Harbaugh makes these plans for us. We practice just like it’s a regular-season game week and you saw how that paid off for us. We’re going to go into this game with the same mindset.”