Chase Winovich would have had every right to skip out on the Peach Bowl.
The fifth-year senior defensive end will enter the NFL Draft this spring, and many players with similar prospects choose to sit out bowls due to the risk of injury. It wouldn’t have been a surprise, and it would have been completely understandable, had Winovich done the same.
But when asked if he would play in the No. 7 Michigan football team’s game against No. 10 Florida on Dec. 29, Winovich cracked a smile.
He elaborated: “(The Peach Bowl) is a great bowl game and it’s a huge opportunity. I think because it’s not as historic as the Rose and the Orange and so forth, I think it often … gets overlooked, but this is … a huge opportunity for the team. It’s a must-win game against Florida and it really will set the tone for next year, good or bad.”
Bowl games can often feel meaningless, a hollow consolation for not being good enough to make the College Football Playoff. In the Wolverines’ case, after falling short in the last game of the season against their biggest rival with a Big Ten Championship Game appearance on the line, it’s even more so. But with the way the season ended, there’s a sense of unfinished business. The only thing left to do is move forward, and a win against the Gators would allow Winovich to go out on a high note.
“I’ve had the most fun of my football career suiting up here at Michigan,” said junior quarterback Shea Patterson — who also confirmed he would play in the game and said he would be back to 100 percent after suffering minor injuries against Indiana and Ohio State. “It’s been such an honor to do it and I think there’s a lot more to be done, but like I said, I’m just so excited to get one more win and possibly finish top five in the country. I think that would be pretty big for us.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said very little about the loss in Columbus on Sunday following the team’s awards banquet. Instead, he praised his team for how it overcame adversity after a loss to Notre Dame to rattle off 10 straight wins and how it fought through an early 17-0 deficit at Northwestern for a comeback victory.
But how the Wolverines respond to the loss to the Buckeyes is their biggest trial yet, and a win in Atlanta could do a lot to wash out some of the bad taste in Michigan’s mouth and set the tone for next year.
“(We) started our practices (Saturday) and continue (Monday),” Harbaugh said. “It … was better than any I can remember where there was a break, two weeks where the team came back sharp and good.”
And despite the crushing end to the regular season, there are still things to look forward to at the Peach Bowl. The pre-bowl festivities will include trips to the College Football Hall of Fame and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, a competition for a WWE-style belt in the Battle for Bowl Week and service with kids from a local children’s hospital. And the Wolverines still have a goal to focus on: getting to 11 wins for just the 10th time in program history.
“Getting our team prepared to play a really good, uber-talented and twitched-up team like Florida, I’d say that’s a great challenge,” Harbaugh said. “The competition’s always the best part and the objective’s always to win. (We’re) hungry for that 11th win.”