Michigan Readying for Capital One Bowl

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Michigan and Florida were at the center of the Bowl Championship Series controversy a year ago.
The Wolverines looked as if they would get a rematch against Ohio State in the national title game, but the Gators -- thanks to some lobbying from coach Urban Meyer -- jumped into the No. 2 spot and then upset the Buckeyes in Arizona.
Both teams were far removed from the championship picture this season, losing to big-time rivals and ending up in the Capital One Bowl.
Still, Michigan and Florida have plenty of motivation heading into Tuesday's game.
The Wolverines (8-4) want to send retiring coach Lloyd Carr out with a win and get their senior-laden team its first bowl victory.
"Definitely, the season was up and down and it wasn't the way we wanted it to go," offensive tackle Jake Long said. "We've been working hard to let the coaches go out on top, let the players go out on top and let the seniors just leave with their first bowl win."
The ninth-ranked Gators (9-3), meanwhile, have Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, speedster Percy Harvin and many more starters returning in 2008 and hope to build momentum for a season that is sure to be one of the most anticipated in school history.
"Momentum is everything," Meyer said. "At the end of a season, if you're not successful in a bowl game, you have to live with that for six, seven, eight months. We haven't had to do that."
Meyer-coached teams have won their last four bowl games. He won two at Utah and both at Florida.
Carr's team hasn't had nearly the same success, losing four bowl games in a row and five of the last six.
Players and coaches are eager to reverse the trend, especially with all the turmoil they have gone through this season.
There was the shocking loss to Appalachian State to start the season, the 0-2 start and the eight-game winning streak that followed. There were the consecutive losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State that ended any chance of playing in the Rose Bowl.
There was Carr's Nov. 19 retirement announcement, which came two days after the 14-3 loss to the Buckeyes. And there was the hiring of West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez and his swift decision to fire all but one assistant coach.
The Wolverines can push all those memories aside with a victory against the defending national champions.
"I want them to be motivated to win," said Carr, who is 5-7 in bowl games at Michigan. "What I have tried to tell them is that there is always a group of guys who are playing their last game at Michigan when we go to a bowl game, and that is special.
"And yet I think it can hurt you as you go into a game if you are not concentrating and focused on the game plan."
Rodriguez was expected to be at the game and watching from the stands with his family. But the players vowed that the new coach would not be a distraction.
"This is our team, coach Carr's team," running back Mike Hart said. "We're not worried about coach Rod right now. His team is next year. On the 2nd, this will be his program. ... I'm sure he'll be cheering for us, but he has nothing to do with this game."
Meyer and the Gators are already focused on the future. They know there will be high expectations for next season, when Meyer's last two talent-rich recruiting classes start to mature and take over nearly every starting spot.
"This is a springboard to the '08 team and there's a lot of anticipation for that '08 team," Meyer said.
There will be even more with a victory. Meyer believes one key will be to match the emotion Michigan will bring given the Carr's finale, all his players trying to get their first bowl win and trying to impress a new coach.
"The first five, 10 minutes of that game is going to be a storm, a storm that we've not experienced in quite a while," Meyer said. "We have to hang in there. But after a while, it's execution and blocking and tackling and taking care of business.
"But the beginning of the game is going to be very emotional. We just have to match their emotion and match their intensity. I think we'll do that because our kids are riled up for this one, too."

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