Chris Wormley was asleep when the Michigan football team learned its postseason fate Sunday afternoon.
The fifth-year senior defensive end was awake to watch the College Football Playoff selection show a few hours earlier, clinging to a shred of hope that the two-loss Wolverines would sneak into the playoff.
Then Michigan flashed up as No. 6, and the dream of a national championship was gone. So Wormley went back to sleep, and he missed the initial announcement that the Wolverines would travel to Miami to face No. 11 Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.
But by the time Michigan players spoke to the media Sunday night, Wormley was refreshed and refocused. There was no point in moping around, he said — it was time to make a statement.
“I think we’re gonna be hungry, we’re gonna be angry and we’re gonna want to take it out on a team,” Wormley said. “Florida State’s just that next team up, so we’re excited for the challenge. … This game’s gonna prove a lot. I hope that it shows that we should be in that top four.”
Of course, after road losses to Iowa and No. 3 Ohio State, Michigan has itself to blame for coming up short of the playoff.
The Wolverines were ranked fifth heading into this weekend, with an outside chance of jumping into the top four if Clemson or Washington lost their conference championship games. But the Tigers and Huskies came out victorious, slamming that door shut.
“We can’t blame that on anyone but ourselves,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “We left our fate in the hands of other teams, and we understand that. With that being said, we’re excited about this game. It’s a big game, a great opportunity for us to compete against a really good team.”
Michigan is a better and more accomplished team than it was a season ago, but it finds itself in a similar place as it did the end of the season. In 2015, the Wolverines finished 9-3 — ending their regular season with a disappointing loss to Ohio State — and felt they had something to prove in their Citrus Bowl matchup with Florida.
That feeling manifested itself in a 41-7 victory for Michigan, one that ended the season on a high note and kept the team trending upward.
The stage is a little bit bigger this year — the Wolverines will be playing in their first top-tier bowl game since the 2011 season — but the mindset remains the same.
“When we played (Florida) last year, we proved to a lot of people that we’re a very good team,” Wormley said. “That’s what we’re gonna do this game, too. … That’s our mindset for the next three and a half weeks.”
Last year, Michigan got into that mindset by running what many of the players called a “Christmas camp” — essentially a shortened version of spring or fall camp intended to push the players and get them in the best possible shape to play one more game.
The prospect of putting yourself through the wringer one last time might not sound appealing to a fifth-year senior, but Wormley is looking forward to taking on the challenge. Not only will it give the younger members of the roster a chance to further their development, but it also gives the seniors a chance to put an exclamation point on their season and career.
“This game in Miami is gonna be a statement game,” said fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow. “I want to leave this program on top, with a step in the right direction.”